I had an interesting telephone call yesterday; from a ‘senior’ and very genteel lady whose picture had fallen off the wall, which had shattered the glass as well as causing severe damage to one of the corners of her frame. Would I please be so kind as to call round and sort everything out for her?
I duly went to the address provided, to find, on being admitted to the lounge, that the picture in question had been hanging upon the centre of a chimney breast above an open fireplace, with what seemed to me to be a very moderate width of mantel above it.
Now for those belonging to a modern generation, and not familiar with the presence of an open fireplace in a living area, allow me explain some possibly historically unknown domestic facts to you.
The first fact is that the majority (anything up to 80%) of the heat produced by an open fossil burning fire disappears up the chimney, thus making the facing brickwork and plaster of the chimney breast very hot: and the relatively small remainder of the heat produced is radiated into the room. And because the radiating effect is quite small, almost as soon as the heat (accompanied by a significant amount of residual smoke) leaves the proximity of the fireplace, it disperses upwards.
The purpose of the mantel, traditionally a slate, stone or timber shelf, positioned above the fireplace, is to divert the heated air (smokey and soot impregnated – hence the necessity for the annual ‘spring-clean’ ) into the room and away from the decorated chimney breast wall area immediately above the fireplace.
(this explains the alacrity with which the comparatively clean, silent and efficient first central heating systems were embraced during the 1960 -70s)
What had happened with my lady customer was that because the mantel was so narrow as to be ineffective in its purpose of diverting hot air, combined with the tendency of the ‘senior’ lady in question to have the fire lit more often than perhaps most of us would consider strictly necessary, was that the cord from which the now displaced picture had been hanging, had become smoke and soot impregnated, brittle and correspondingly weaker as time went by, until it could no longer sustain the weight of the picture and its frame.
Down it came, bouncing on one of its corners onto the mantel, before crashing to the hearth of the fireplace.
So, it came back to workshop with me.
The cord was replaced with a stainless steel wire and crimped ferrules; which should easily outlast my lady customer. The damaged corner of the frame was cut away and two new pieces of wood spliced into position. Today I have refinished the spliced corner, re-glazed the frame, reassembled everything and it looks as good as new.
I’m quietly confident that my customer will be pleased with the result: and I’m not going to tell her why her hanging cord snapped. She’ll be very happy just to have the picture back on the wall. (she doesn’t read blogs, because she doesn’t have a PC)
For us who frame however, it may be worth bearing in mind that some of the old natural cords, as well as the modern nylon ones, don’t perform indefinitely, or even as may be anticipated, when subjected to relatively intense heat.
Wire is an infinitely better proposition, in such situations.