I first saw this 1900 – 1920 era table in the early 1950s when my Father bought it from a neighbor to give to my young bride and me for our first dining table. Many years earlier, the neighbor or some prior owner stored it in the neighbor’s attic directly beneath an un-insulated tin roof. To give it some protection, they placed newspapers on its top. Over the years the attic heat self-decoupaged the newspapers through several layers of Varnish all the way down to the wood.
Excluding the finish, the table was in surprisingly good condition. It looked terrible, though, with the old brown newspapers hardly visible through the yellowed varnish. I had little success using the ineffective paint removers of those days, and inexperience and frustration drove me to use a belt sander. So much for it’s later value as an antique. With the sander (and considerable effort), I was able to remove the varnish, the newspapers, and the dark stain without actually removing much wood. After applying what was sold to me as “Paraffin Oil”, my wife and I had a beautiful table that served us well those first few years of our marriage.
After moving to Florida from Colorado, following discharge from the Air Force in 1956, I again refinished the table using a walnut “Rubbing Oil”. Several years later we bought a contemporary table, and returned the oak table to my Father who then used it in a rental apartment he owned. Many years later I retrieved the abused – but still useable table for my daughter’s family. After my daughter bought their family a new table, my son and his wife asked for the table. Soon after moving it to his home in Tennessee, it was found to be too rickety and in badly in need of a new finish so they stored it away in their attic for later use in a new room they were planning. The cost of re-finishing the table turned out to be prohibitive, so I offered do it for them, and returned it to my shop in Florida.
I soon discovered that the table was in far worse shape than I had realized. The walnut finish I applied in 1954 was in terrible shape – the top was warped and ‘out-of round’ – one piece of the cross-brace supporting the top was broken as were pieces of the extension slides – the square base was held together by a nails, the glue having long since deteriorated – and all fastenings were badly rusted. In short, the table was a disaster. I took the picture below as a “progress photo” to send as a joke to my son and daughter in law.
This is what I did to finally get the table in the condition shown in the photo at the beginning of the blog. I made a new cross brace of oak – built a new pair of maple extension slides, duplicating the original slides – stripped the stain finish to bare wood (once again by sanding) – replaced a damaged piece of the top – replaced the table alignment pins – re-glued the base and reduced it’s height by 1-3/4” (the original table was a ‘too high’ 31-1/2”) – replaced the fastenings – routed the table top round with my trim router and ‘psaltery’ base (see earlier blog) – replaced the damaged floor slides – reassembled it. Finally, I applied a ‘preliminary’ finish (Watco Clear Danish Oil – 2 thin coats on top; 1 on the remainder), to give it some protection during transportation, and until such time that my son could top-coat it with a Minwax Polyshade finish to match the chairs the want to use with it. Without having the chairs at my shop, I knew I could never match the reddish tint of the chairs, and I verified that ‘Polyshade over well-cured Danish Oil’ was a workable solution.
Needless to say, this was a ‘labor of love’ – not practicality. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the challenge, and while working I was often reminded of pleasant earlier times.
-- Dave O.