Restoring furniture from the Golden Oak period.

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Blog entry by poopiekat posted 10-05-2010 05:43 PM 8609 reads 0 times favorited 6 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.

Larkin Chest of Drawers
Office chairs
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!!

6 comments so far

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4166 posts in 3094 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!!

View mpounders's profile


817 posts in 2255 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,

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4166 posts in 3094 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 2794 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.

View Chuck's profile


27 posts in 2603 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,

View poopiekat's profile


4166 posts in 3094 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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