The Old Oak Table

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Blog entry by Dave Owen posted 01-22-2010 05:04 PM 5526 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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.

10 comments so far

View GMman's profile


3902 posts in 3694 days

#1 posted 01-22-2010 05:14 PM

You did a great job; I did a complete set at one time table with 2 extensions and 4 chairs.
It is lots of work but it is worth it.

View Gary's profile


9331 posts in 3430 days

#2 posted 01-22-2010 05:25 PM

Nice work Dave. That table has more lives than a cat.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View HallTree's profile


5664 posts in 3764 days

#3 posted 01-22-2010 05:27 PM

I enjoyed your story about the history of this project. Good job.

-- "Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" Solomon

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3574 days

#4 posted 01-22-2010 05:29 PM

good save looks great

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3331 days

#5 posted 01-22-2010 06:59 PM

I enjoyed seeing what a fine restoration you did on this table and the story about it’s being used by so many close family members. I believe wood is one few materials that can serve so well for so long. It sort of made me wonder how many other generations of your family will eventually have it in their homes.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3071 days

#6 posted 01-22-2010 07:05 PM

Good job. I have one of these tables also. It’s been in the family over 100 years. It has an interesting feature I have not seen elsewhere. When you pull the table out to insert the leaves, auxiliary legs drop down to support the table. The table will extend over 50” to accommodate 6 leaves, each one 8” wide.

As an FYI, I once saw a 1906 Sears and Roebuck catalog and a table like this sold for $15 then.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3819 days

#7 posted 01-22-2010 07:45 PM

Dave, you did a nice restoration job on the table. I know doing this was a lot of fun, not only in simply giving an abused piece of furniture a new lease on life but also because of its significance from a family history standpoint.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Dave Owen's profile

Dave Owen

254 posts in 3071 days

#8 posted 01-22-2010 10:29 PM

Thanks for the nice comments everyone!

Rich, I had all the wood selected and sized to make three new 10” leaves for this table – but ran out of time. Someday, perhaps I will. When (and if) I do, the table will extend to six feet overall.

-- Dave O.

View rustfever's profile


752 posts in 3307 days

#9 posted 01-23-2010 09:23 AM

I love it when a piece of history and a part of a family, are lovingly returned to it’s original glory.
Very nice work.
I am sure many members of your family will bask in the warmth given off by this grand old piece.

-- Rustfever, Central California

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1567 posts in 3562 days

#10 posted 01-23-2010 12:28 PM

Nice restore on the table and enjoyed the story, the table looks exactly like the one my parents had.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

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