Giving New Life to an old Hamilton Drafting Table: The Beginning

Follow along as guest blogger, Doug Murray, goes through the process of refurbishing an old Hamilton drafting table found in a barn!

Oay, Here we go! I found this desk on Craigslist stuffed in the back of an old barn in Massachusetts. The project was massive from day 1. I somehow managed to stuff the entire collection of scraps and boards into my pick up and headed off down the road wondering how the hell I was going to fit this project in my studio!

The good news is that everything fit in the studio, the bad news is, there's very little working space. When the previous owner declared the desktop to be 88 inches wide by 48, I laughed and figured he had messed up his measurement. My jaw dropped when I starting grasping the scale of the drawers, cabinets and that massive desktop. His math was accurate, much to my chagrin.

When stepping out and committing to a restoration project on any piece, you should really learn from my situation and ask yourself if you have the proper workspace and mindset to step up to the plate. I was nervous at first, but after spending a few days exploring the individual pieces and getting to see the big picture form in my head, the excitement of the process sucked me right in.

My first major challenge was to figure out the odd bits randomly assigned to bags and bins. I had a multitude of screws and bolts, handles and supports that needed to find their way back home. This has been the biggest challenge so far, as the original hardware also is rusted and requires a lot of work.

My first few days have been organizing the hardware repairs with steel wool, oil and a good brush. I've also started making repairs to all the wear and tear on that tarnished oak. There were several areas where you could see the original owner had rested his feet or tools as they drafted and wore deep craters into the wood.

When handling repairs and restoring furniture pieces, some say you should leave all the wear and tear as it shows the years of useful life. Some say to work around the worn areas and pretty much leave them alone. I myself take a lot of time to think about what the goal of the project is. Am I restoring this as a museum piece, or do I want to return the piece to an as-new condition for future usage? In this case, I felt like I could make modest repairs while still preserving the age and grace of a gently worn table.

I repaired the foot rest by cutting out a 36 inch section 1 inch deep and laminating a new piece of oak in its place, routing the corners and sanding it in to a smooth finish. There is a slight shade difference between the old and new wood, but I can make a subtle correction by blending the new piece with some custom stain. That will be a challenge!

Further repairs involved removing sections where chunks have been torn out probably while in storage. The cosmetic dings and scratches cover almost 100 percent of the desk. This will require a complete removal of old stain and varnish, and sanding the scratches out of the surfaces. Presently I am working on 26 individual pieces.....wish me luck!

To see more of the story check out Doug's second blog post.

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