Ramblin' Dan's Workshop

The Sanctum of Fine Art and Invention

Saving the Table


This article first appeared in The Hobbyist Machine Shop under the "Sawdust" tab. Now that I have this web site in operation, it seems more fitting to appear here. 

In the THMS web site is the story of the "Great Wreck." That story mostly deals with my workshop and all the damage to the tools and machines when a neighbor accidentally drove through my garage door. The old hit-the-accelerator-instead-of-the-brake trick seen on TV from time to time.

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That is only half the story. The other half is all the household items that were only temporarily stored in the garage while the interior of the main house was being painted. He is my wife's 150 year old table that was holding a lot of her glass items. (They were removed in this picture.) This is the first thing we saw after the wreck. The legs to the left were broken off and both swing legs were twisted and split.The legs and top are Cherry and the base is Mahogany.
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This is a picture from the other side from the previous picture. There is the car that hit it still in the background. Note, the garage door is DOWN. Everything on the table has slid to the right or crashed to the floor. Note the broken leg on this side. Here is a close up of the twisted and split swing leg and the rear legs. Note the damage to the side of the table top.
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After restoration by me. The table is 150 years old and had severe water stain damage to the top before the accident. The table had been used for everything from an ironing board to a tomato starting garden. The finish was only shellac so that was the reason for the water damage. I was able to completely remove the shellac with pure alcohol and get down to the original surface. I did no restoration to remove dents, lines or other "ageing." Note the pattern and width of the board used for each wing and top! Looks a lot better than it did in the garage. The top was refinished with three hand rubbed coats of yellow shellac and then three coats of hand rubbed polyurethane. We checked with antique dealers and they suggested if we really use the table in everyday activities (and we do) then apply the polyurethane to the top.

The chair in the back my grandfather rescued from a dump and restored the broken parts. I refinished it once myself and Gloria has had it reupholstered twice. Still going strong. 

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The remainder of the table is finished only with shellac. It will get surface finish scratches where there is shellac but they are easy to touch up with a light alcohol wipe or well thinned shellac. This is a daily user table so it is nice to have it back in the family again and looking better than ever. We have no real idea of the value, but it is great to hang onto something from the family's past. That is the sort of goal I would like to obtain from the furniture I build.


It is nice to build things totally from scratch. But there is also great satisfaction from restoration and refinishing. I learned a lot of the process from an early age. So I don't see doing this sort of work as an unachievable goal. Repairs are kind of like being a doctor setting broken bones. The patient doesn't complain but I can feel the pain looking at something as bad as this table.

This table is not (I suspect) any sort of long lost heirloom of untold value. There is no fancy finish work or master craftsman or makers mark. It is probably a table that was available to the masses. Its only rarity is that it has survived so long. Also it is a piece my wife remembers from early childhood as being an "old" table.

It is our only dining table and is used for every family "big meal". We thought of trashing it after the wreck. However, I had to uphold my reputation than Dan can fix ANYTHING! Any other table would not have been the same. 

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