Giving New Life to an old Hamilton Drafting Table: Final Construction

Follow along as guest blogger, Doug Murray, goes through the process of refurbishing an old Hamilton drafting table found in a barn! This is the final installment, so make sure you start at the beginning with his first post.

The end of an era! I can’t believe it’s over. This desk started as a massive pile of flotsam and materialized into a serious labor of love. I had no idea how satisfying it could be to restore such an amazingly classic Hamilton drafting table.

The initial phase of construction was the frame, which went together very smoothly. Long eight inch bolts ran through all the preset holes and mated up with their specific support posts and beams with half inch nuts. The frame was only seven pieces, but this was an excellent “footprint” to see where this large desk could actually fit. Moving around the frame was ideal. I was about to add another 300 pounds to the frame, so I better have found a happy resting place for it before I started piling it on!

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I was worried about the weight of the desk so I went out and purchased four flat plastic disks that could sit under each support post. This was a blessing, as the desk would have mangled the carpet or a hard wood floor as it was slid into its final position.

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After framing it up and finding a nice corner for the desk, I began installing the upper and lower cabinet housings and all the subsequent drawers. The drawers of this desk had a strange indentation in the middle of them. I thought they were handles at first, but that would just be redundant as there are handles already installed on the ends of the drawers. I later discovered that the round indentations were actually designed to allow each drawer to be individually marked, by sliding paper or some other indicator down a pre-sawed groove which would sit in the indentation. I thought of leaving this area bare wood, as I had no idea how or what to label the drawers with. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this would be an excellent location for a brass accent. I had all sorts of brass sheet lying about in my studio for hinge making and so forth. I cut a paper template and verified that the shape was perfect for the cut-outs. I then used a jeweler’s saw to cut out the brass inserts. I polished the brass to a high sheen and slid them into position.

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The brass was not part of the original design, but I think it gives the drawers a unifying look and a uniquely professional level of detail. The subtle brass patina marries well with the golden oak highlights.

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After the cabinets were complete, there were a number of fastener tabs used to lock everything in their respective locations. I was constantly impressed with the overall craftsmanship and architecture of this desk. The folks at Hamilton thought of everything. They even designed a Masonite cover to sit between the cabinet top and the drafting table surface. This was an excellent element which would allow full security for the drawers and act as a dust guard to keep the drawers protected. These covers are usually never intact and normally discarded while the desks like mine were moved around. I was lucky to find mine with the original template painted on it which warns people not to throw it away!

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So up to this point, construction has been very manageable and straight forward. I placed this desk on a second floor so my only complaint was running the stairs about a thousand times. On a plus side, it was a great work out! But now all the fun and games are over. The desk top was calling my name.

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I guess I’m sounding a little overly dramatic here. Picture this, a hundred and twenty five pound table top, eight by four feet that needs to go out my basement, up the driveway and up a staircase; FUN!

The real fear during this process was damaging the beautiful stain and varnish. I was especially worried about the black paint on both of the side edges. The paint and varnish were completely dry, but even a slight rub around a corner could do serious damage just due to the sheer weight of the piece.

I wrapped the edges of the desk with bubble wrap and old linen sheets and began my trek. A few obstacles aside, I managed to lug the beast to its awaiting framework with only a few hernias.

I had to wait a few days to get my nerve up to install the desk top. I wish I could have had someone take a photo. I thought for sure I was going to drop it off the top of the frame and watch it go right through a wall. Luck was on my side. I hauled the desk up on the edge of the frame, aligned the catch-hooks and slipped the massive chunk of wood into its support locations. I then walked the desk back to a 30 degree angle and fasted the knobs to lock the set pins into place.

When I was finished, I just sat and starred at the desk for a good hour. I was amazed at how a little bit of work, okay, maybe a little more than that, could take such a classic piece of furniture and give it new life. Throughout the process, there were days when I wondered if it was going to be worth the effort. All I can say to anyone else who has been in a similar situation is to never lose track of your final goals. It’s always worth the blood, sweat and tears. You have to expect plenty of that, but if you persevere, you will be rewarded just like I was, and you will wonder how you could have ever doubted what you have actually accomplished.

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Thanks for taking an interest in this process! I hope I was able to inspire the next individual to rescue one of these beautiful pieces of Americana and breathe new life into it. Good luck with all of your future projects!