Bugged by fine sawdust in an antique cabinet

Posted: February 19, 2010

Question: We have an antique wooden cabinet we have owned for more than 30 years. Recently, some fine sawdust has appeared on the inside of the piece. Cleaning it out and spraying a general insecticide did not work. The sawdust has returned.

Is this something for an exterminator? The piece is not of great monetary value, but obviously we would both like to keep it in good condition. And do we have to worry about this spreading to our hardwood floors or other wooden pieces?

Answer: If you haven't seen live insects, it is difficult to determine what, if anything, might be creating the sawdust.

We had kitchen cabinets dating from about 1910. The drawers were so old that the act of pulling them out and pushing them in created sawdust, which then fell into pots and pans stored on shelves below.

So the age of the antique might be a factor.

Still, it could be a wood-boring insect, as a Web site I found - www.powderpostbeetles.com - talked about powderpost beetle infestation in oak flooring and an armoire.

The Web site explains that these tiny pests bore into wood at some point and lay their eggs - something akin to what carpenter bees do out-of-doors, but the holes aren't as large and obvious.

When the eggs hatch, the little ones bore their way out of the wood and leave sawdust as evidence of their presence.

The Web site has an extensive section on beetle treatment: go.philly.com/beetle. Eradicating the pests, if that is the problem, could be costly, and might affect the quality of the piece, or its structural integrity.

If the antique has sentimental value, perhaps having a furniture refinisher or an antique dealer in to look at it would be well worth the cost.

More on garage doors. Responding to a recent column, reader Art Mackin said that several years ago, while he was rehabbing his daughter's new house, he encountered the garage door opener problem I wrote about (see go.philly.com/garage).

"I was very familiar with the laser alignment requirement to get the door to work properly. I made sure the transmitter and receiver were properly aligned, but the door still acted as if there was an obstruction preventing it from closing with the remote control.

"It took me several days to figure out what was causing this and to solve the problem. The interference was caused by sunlight shining on the receiver.

"I made a baffle out of cardboard and mounted it on the receiver end and blocked the sunlight from entering the lens. The door opened and closed properly using all the remote devices. A simple test to determine if sunlight is causing the problem would be to test the door at night using the remote control. If it works OK in the dark, then installing a baffle on the receiver end to block the sunlight should solve the problem.

"Since the sun shifts during the year and depending on the time of day you use the remote, this can appear as an intermittent problem and be difficult to diagnose."

James Jetter of North Liberty, Iowa, chronicles a similar problem, but offers a different solution:

"Bright sunlight just after sunup [low angle] may cause a glare condition that prevents a sensor that looks east from reliably distinguishing the beam sent from the sensor on the east side.

"I have overcome this condition by standing at the east side of the garage door, blocking the sunlight. Although still an annoyance, it avoids the need to close the door from inside and exit through another door."

More on laminate refinishing: Susana Ash said she refinished hers with Hammerite Rust Cap in the bronze hammered finish (see go.philly.com/laminate). "It produces a very interesting metallic textured surface, with metallic chips settling along the bottom and a resin topcoat rising to the surface.

"I did scuff and apply an enamel primer first, although they say it is self priming. The only thing I would do differently would have been to apply a series of thin coats versus the thicker ones I did - the curing took much too long, but that was my fault to rush the process."

Each can costs $20, Ash said.

Questions? E-mail Alan J. Heavens at aheavens@phillynews.com or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies.

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