LumberJocks

Restoring furniture from the Golden Oak period.

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Blog entry by poopiekat posted 10-05-2010 05:43 PM 8878 reads 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I was hooked on woodworking as a lad in the 1960’s, my junior-high shop classes sealed the deal for me. I have always had a workshop of some kind, and apprenticed in architectural interiors when I started working for a living. When this was my vocation, I dabbled in antiques also, specializing in oak furniture which by the ‘70s had generally fallen out of favor with new households. This type of furniture was coming onto the market in droves at the time, in favor of the emerging fiberboard crap that everyone wanted! I’d go to auctions and buy large quantities of the so-called ‘Golden Oak’ era furniture, which by the time I’d purchase them, were in sad shape. Often there would be half a dozen coats of that hideous alkyd enamel in all those horrid colors, the industrial greens, MaryKay pinks and sickly french vanillas. I’d strip them, break any weak joints and re-set them, re-fabricate missing parts, and whatever else needed attention. It became obvious to me that I should be buying the really sorry looking pieces that needed fabrications, since these were usually never bid on by auction attendees. Chests of drawers, for example, often had blown-out drawer bottoms. An easy fix! But people did not want to spare the time on anything less than house-ready. So I’d get them cheep, and found it quite rewarding to restore the unwanted items. I then would bring these restored pieces to the outdoor antique shows and did quite well, sometimes selling my work to the auctioneers that sold me the unrestored pieces in the first place! And now, folks, the market has again changed. The antique shows barely exist anywhere anymore, the interest in Golden Oak has passed, except for a few diehards like myself. The money came from the age 50-plus people back in the 70’s and 1980’s who had a frame of reference: “My mother/grandmother/uncle or whoever, had a bookcase like this, I want it” but those people who made my clientele are either dead now, or too old to bother with collectible furniture as they knew it. Oh, well, my niche is gone! So I just do the occaisional piece that strikes my fancy.

Photobucket
Larkin Chest of Drawers
Office chairs
Sorter/shadowbox
Postmaster's desk
Larkin Bookcase
Restored Rocker

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!



13 comments so far

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poopiekat

4180 posts in 3129 days


#1 posted 10-05-2010 05:56 PM

Okay… grrr I’m kinda new at this photo-pasting thing. First two pics are of my “Larkin” 5 drawer chest. Larkin Co was a manufacturer of soaps and other household goods in the first half of the 20th Century. You saved the coupons and redeemed them for just about anything in the catalog. This one retailed new for $34 plus the coupons, of course! To me, this is the quintessential everyday furniture in American households for decades. Third photo: Genuine ‘Douglas’ chairs, awaiting restoration in my shop. These were built in 1938, and all had their original finish, or what’s left of it! #4 Sorting cabinet/shadowbox, left outside for a long time, resurrected by me and sold to a new owner, who showcases her collection of miniatures in it. It is appro 20” wide by 28” tall. #5 Postmaster’s desk, decommissioned as scrap, I did an extensive resto, and it was purchased back and sits in the corner office of the USPS near the house where I lived. All quarter-sawn oak, and quite nice! #6 Larkin bookcase, circa 1925. Had a billion coats of paint on it, but perfectly sound, and stripped easily. #7 Customer’s ‘nursing rocker, was brought to me in pieces in a hefty bag. About half the tenons were broken, and it sat in a flooded basement for weeks. I got it back together, even found a matching round leather seat! More on methods and stuff as time goes on, if people are interested. Enjoy!

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

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mpounders

817 posts in 2290 days


#2 posted 10-05-2010 06:25 PM

Very pretty pieces! Your post brings back some memories for me. My wife and I could only afford “old” furniture when we first married and we especially looked for the great deals on items that needed stripping or were missing pieces. I learned a few skills and made a little money, but it sure seems to be different today! People seem to be quite proud of really horrible junk….we still look occasionally but haven’t bought anything in years. It appears that the market has changed, as you so astutely identified, and it seems that people are looking for antiques from more recent eras. Less oak and more 50’s stuff, like formica tables and vinyl chairs. Retro furniture and items are popular, just not as retro as we are used to!

-- Mike P., Arkansas, http://mikepounders.weebly.com

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poopiekat

4180 posts in 3129 days


#3 posted 10-05-2010 06:39 PM

Hi Mike!
Yes, if only I knew then what I know now…I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last few decades, browsing the antique shows and flea markets. I used to laugh at the REALLY old-timers trying to peddle their high-priced “Buck Rogers” or Gene Autry collectibles….I mean who cared about that old crap anymore? And so it goes… we seek out the items we identify with our youth, and we have the deepest pockets. As people age, they take their own frame of reference with them. Gradually, they age to a point where they don’t part with their money anymore. I used to collect tube radios. Then, nobody I knew gave a darn about them anymore, so I sold them all off for whatever I could get. Yes, the market moves along generational lines. Heck, I sold an IBM 8088 computer a few years ago for $175!!! But any electronica earlier than that(1980’s, stereo, TV, etc) is a dog nowadays in the collectibles market. We need the new generation of buyers to come forward and re-define what’s hot and what’s not. And yes, those 50’s furnishings are holding their own, but mostly it’s a kitschy cultural thing. Pretty soon we’ll see people collecting mint ‘Sauder’ knock-down pressboard entertainment centers, the kind their parents bought at Walmart back in the, umm ‘90’s? heehee!!

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Roger Clark aka Rex's profile

Roger Clark aka Rex

6940 posts in 2830 days


#4 posted 10-06-2010 02:33 AM

Certainly brings back memories, I remember when items like these seemed to be everywhere and in demand. I particularly remember the school desks that had an inkwell and a groove for a dipping pen. There was also a matching chair and also the movable chalk board, plus the teacher’s desk that were all part of “the set” Fond memories of flipping ink balls around and making a loud noise when slamming shut the desk top.
It is so nice to see pieces from different eras, lets you know you didn’t dream it.
I am glad there are restorers around to keep the woodworking furniture evolution alive and available to see. I don’t think it ever matters what something is worth in money terms, just looking at items of another time is rewarding enough.
Keep up the good work, glad there is a historian – restorer in our midst.

-- Roger-R, Republic of Texas. "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" - An eyeball to eyeball confrontation with a blind person is as complete waste of Time.

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Chuck

27 posts in 2638 days


#5 posted 10-19-2010 09:28 PM

Poopie… A good discussion. I hadn’t been exploring the blog part of the site, but think I’ll have to start keeping track of it.

I haven’t done any restoration yet, but have some pieces that could use a little work. What do you use to strip the oak? Are the pieces above stained? It looks like the darker chair may be stained… Once you strip the pieces, do you stain them, or just put a finish on?

-- Chuck, Preston CT, http://www.curtishome.net/

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poopiekat

4180 posts in 3129 days


#6 posted 10-20-2010 02:53 PM

Hi Chuck!
I prefer using non-flammable, but hot solvents like methyl chloride (I Think that’s the active chemical name) instead of ones with acetone, or methyl ethel ketone which are highly evaporative and quite flammable.
Larkin furniture, as was the practice with all major oak furniture manufacturers of the day, used a process called ‘fuming’ where they were put in a chamber with extremely high concentrations of ammonia. The ammonia reacted with the tannin of the wood, producing that glorious golden color. I’ve built complimenting pieces out of other species, and the Minwax golden oak shade really does come close to matching, but without that beautiful ‘shimmer’ that makes true Golden Oak outstanding in your home. If the shading is intact after stripping, simply a few coats of white shellac with a light scuff with fine steel wool between coats will be all you need. Avoid overfinishing! This furniture was cheep when new and mass-produced and I like preserving that look. Oh, yes, the rocker was maple and birch and other mixed species when it was built, probably 1940’s, and had that one-size-fits-all dark, heavily pigmented stain that concealed the mishmosh of species. I had to go dark in the refinishing phase, the adsorption rate was different on every piece! But it now is back in the home of the owner, in its hearthside location.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

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glenntj

3 posts in 33 days


#7 posted 08-26-2016 07:36 PM

I know this thread has been sitting here for six years without any comments, but I just picked up a golden oak era chair and haven’t been able to find it anywhere. Then I noticed that THERE IT IS in the photo above with the 5 chairs, right there in the front. (Actually there are 3 of them) Can anyone tell me when these chairs were produced? I understand that the golden oak era was the 1880s through the second decade of the 20th century. Would anyone have a more specific time frame for these chairs? Thank you!

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poopiekat

4180 posts in 3129 days


#8 posted 08-27-2016 05:40 PM

As you can see, the tide has ebbed on Golden Oak. Absolutely no interest. A month ago, I brought home a table top in QSWO, and expandable 48” round top sitting in the rain in my backlane. I just shake my head, time was, this top could have been retailed for $400 or so 20-30 years ago. Then, my wife reminded me that I took home the very same pedestal, apron and legs to this unit about 4 years ago. ‘Tis a shame.

Anyway, your chairs, Glenn, are from probably either the Douglas MFG, Palmer Industries or other gov’t-subsidized factory. These do not fit the quintessential Golden Oak category, but were built in the early 30’s as government WPA projects to help revitalize American industry during the Depression. Having been involved in many Postal contracts, I’ve known those chairs to be quite common as original appurtenances in 1930’s Schools and government buildings. Usually, they are created from “mixed hardwoods” with maple and birch more common than oak which is why they can’t be “fumed”. They are slowly fading away as these buildings come down for asbestos and lead contamination, and the chairs end up in commercial dumpsters, just as sturdy as the day they were made. It’s a dirty shame!

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

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glenntj

3 posts in 33 days


#9 posted 08-27-2016 11:43 PM

My apologies! I neglected to mention that the below label was found under the chairs! The BL Marble metal insignia is also on the back of both. While the chairs appear to be identical to those in your photos, they are painted white and I cannot see the original color. These chairs are HEAVY and appear to be made of GRANITE. You have to love the durability to fully appreciate things like this. Dirty shame indeed! I spent 17 years in Europe where I ran into many things that stand the test of time. I am going to use these chairs to PERMANENTLY replace the crappy commercial swivel chairs that were in front of my computer and desk.

The B. L. Marble Chair Co.
Bedford, Ohio, U.S.A. Chair no 2109
Golden Oak No 2 color Series 5-E

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summerfi

3244 posts in 1082 days


#10 posted 08-27-2016 11:57 PM

This topic made me smile. My entire house is furnished with this kind of furniture acquired in the 70s and 80s when my family was young and I had to find furniture anywhere I could. Some of it was bought at auctions. My wife found a buffet in the middle of the road that had fallen out of someone’s truck. I found a rocking chair floating in a creek. All of it required repair and refinishing. I liked it so much that I even made several pieces of reproduction furniture in the golden oak style. It has lasted a second lifetime and no doubt will go to some other owner for a third lifetime when I am gone.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works http://www.rmsaws.com/p/about-us.html

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glenntj

3 posts in 33 days


#11 posted 08-28-2016 12:41 AM

I hear ya Summerfi! I lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean back in 83-85. There I found an American roll-top desk made at the turn of the century. Apparently there had been a shipment of several hundred sent there. Due to the tropical humidity and wood-boring insects there were only a handful left. I snapped it up and it has been with me ever since.

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poopiekat

4180 posts in 3129 days


#12 posted 08-28-2016 02:24 PM

Thanks for the kind comments! Yeah, I too have a house full of golden oak, regardless of what the home decorating magazines say is currently the ‘right’ stuff. I prefer the pieces which came into my ownership with a story to tell. I really like pieces which I have reconditioned and refurbished myself. Will future generations be learning how to put a Dutchman’s patch on a knockdown pressboard table?? I don’t think so…
Bringing old furniture back to life compliments our passion for restoring the old tools that made them.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

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CarolinKC

1 post in 6 days


#13 posted 09-23-2016 03:39 AM

I was so happy to find your blog. We purchased 5 chairs that look like the straight leg ones in your third picture with added casters. The chairs were in a shared cabin and sadly one of our group decided they were too dated :( and got rid of two of them. I would love to find a fourth to go with our remaining 3. Do you still have any? I would post a picture of the ones we have, but I will have to figure out to use one of suggested sharing sights.

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