An old radio table

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An old radio table Empty An old radio table

Post by Wildcat445 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 6:16 pm

I have a Philco 116-B and a Crosley 170.  My wife has been looking for small tables to display these radios on.  Nothing modern is finished appropriately, or looks right to display an old radio on.  There is something about particle board that kills the theme of an old radio.  There are a couple of old tables that have been kicking around my garage for years that are being pressed into service to display these old radios on.  They have a somewhat interesting background, so I would like to share that and what I have been having to do to bring these tables back from the dead.

These two tables are basically made the same.  The legs are slightly different on each table.  One table was made in 1915, and the other around 1918.  Both were built by my grandfather, who was born in 1900.  They are approximately 2'x2' on the top and are each 30 inches tall.  There is one drawer, made of plywood, with a hardwood front and pull.  These tables are made from a black cherry tree that blew down on my great-grandfather's farm in 1913.  My grandfather had a half-brother, 20 years his senior, who was a sawyer.  He owned and operated a sawmill and was famous for his quarter-sawn lumber.  According to grandpa's notes, this sawmill was powered by a Reeves 40 horsepower, double acting engine.  A steam engine.  40 years later, this sawmill would be powered by a Buick straight eight engine, but that is a story for another time.  Uncle Fort sawed this black cherry tree into dimensional lumber and allowed it to dry naturally.  One table was made of planed lumber and one was made of semi-planed lumber, planed on one side, and rough-sawn on the other.  There are no screws in these tables.  The were drilled and pegged and then glued with animal glue.  You remember the old saw of how Old Paint was headed for the glue factory when his plowing days were over?  That is how they made animal-based glue back in the day.  There are a total of 12 pegs holding each table together. These tables were in a back bedroom of my grandparents' home when I was a kid.  I remember my grandmother refusing to use the tables for any substantial purpose because the were "rickety and wobbly."  I got the tables in the late 1960's and my wife agreed with grandma.  They went out to the garage, and, for some reason, I just never tossed them.

I decided to rebuild the one with planed lumber first.  It was the most deteriorated.  The top had come completely loose on it.  I rigged up a steam tent out of a vaporizer and a chunk of plastic and steamed the rest of the glue to make it come loose.  I took the table totally apart and removed the finish from all the individual pieces.  Originally, grandpa had used shellac and varnish on the table.  Sometime much later, someone, probably grandpa's son, my uncle, brushed on a thick layer of lacquer.  Over dirt and furniture polish.  The reason the tables were wobbly was that apparently grandpa did not use a drill press to drill the lumber.  He used a brace and bit.  This allowed the holes to be oversized.  The pegs appeared to have been hand hewn.  Maybe even whittled with a pocket knife.  No two were the same size and none fit the holes.  Some had been broken for years.  Time and humidity had taken their toll on the animal glue.  I drilled the holes out to 3/8" on my drill press.  A friend with a wood lathe made some red oak pins about 1/32" larger than the 3/8" holes.  I glued the pegs with Tightbond glue and clamped them.  Then I glued the individual parts together with Tightbond and clamped them.  The drawer actually had dado joints in it.  My mother told me that my uncle, her brother, had rebuilt at least one of the tables in his shop class, in the late 1940's.  The more precise drilling, correctly sized pegs, modern glue along with discreetly placed finishing nails, rendered this table to be solid and suitable to support an old radio.

For the finish, I wanted something durable.  Something that would duplicate the original finish that grandpa put on nearly 100 years ago.  I wiped on a thin coat of red cherry stain, to even out the wood.  Lacquer was not an option.  I decided to put on "wash coats" of shellac to use as grain filler.  I thinned shellac with mineral spirits to a thin consistancy and mopped it on with a rag.  I did not care about runs.  After it dried overnight, I block sanded it with 600 grit dry paper.  I put on five wash coats of shellac and sanded similiarly after each coat.  This filled the grain without it looking too "manufactured" or "modern" and retained the homemade look.  Then I sprayed five thin coats of semi-gloss polyurethane.  I let that dry for 72 hours, and wet sanded with 1000 grit.  I did that three times.  The finish is smooth, not too shiny, and looks like old varnish would have looked.  It won't break and fall off in 40 years like lacquer did.

I am going to take the second table apart and rebuild it similiarly.  I am going to run the material thru my planer to make it more even.  We now have a unique, solid black cherry table to hold our old radio, probably the Philco, that nobody else has one like it.  My wife is thrilled, and you know that old saying.......Very Happy 

Regards

WC

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Post by 75X11 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 7:58 pm

You ought to print this account of the tables to keep with each of them. It would be a nice provenance for a heir or future owner. My grandparents had a number of such radio-sized tables and with all the auctions they attended, they each held a radio. after each of them passed, my uncle had them auctioned off with the rest of their things and scattered to the four winds, I seldom see a proper sized table (they have a proper name but I can't remember it) to put a radio on.
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Post by Bill Cahill on Fri Sep 06, 2013 8:02 pm

Whilst you are at it, how about some pics??

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Post by Wildcat445 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 8:34 pm

I've got pictures, and tried to put them on here. No dice. Something else I need to learn, I guess

My grandpa gave me some history of the table. He typed it in the 1970's after I asked him about the table. My mom added some information as well. There will be nobody after me who will care one way or the other. That is the bad part about redoing all this old stuff. It will eventually end up as junk and will be sent to the landfill.

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WC

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Post by 75X11 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 8:47 pm

Even if you were to sell it, a letter would carry more weight the florid prose one sees on craigslist, etc.
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Post by Wildcat445 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:38 pm

75, you got me to thinking. Thanks for a brilliant idea. Not Craigslist:lol: 

I will write a short article about what I did to this table, and the radio sitting on it, and place it in a clear plastic bag, and tape that under the top of the table. That way, sould anyone after me get the table, they will know what I did to it, and how it came into being. They might not know the people who are mentioned, but it will give some chronological order to the table and its history. I can add that to the information that I was given by my forebearers. I am not very good at "florid prose", as you put it. Maybe Bill or somebody else can show me how to put pictures on here. What I am trying is not working!

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WC

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Post by 75X11 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 10:18 pm

My pics aren't the greatest, but ImageShack has been handy for posting to this forum.
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Post by Wildcat445 on Sun Sep 08, 2013 5:55 pm

I started on the second table. I got the top apart, after steaming out the rest of the glue. The individual boards also came apart that made up the top. Only one side had been planed. 100 year old black cherry is REALLY hard. I could only take just a skim off at each pass of my planer. It took about 20 really thin passes to make the top smooth and to take out the warp. The bottom is better than it was, but that old wood is just so hard, and I am worried about chipping it or causing it to split. It is like trying to cut down 1" metal that has been reinforced with rubber. I put new knives on my planer, and I still had to take just small cuts. Now I need to do a good sanding to smooth is up more. Then stain, then a wash coat of shellac like the other table. I had sourced some black cherry just in case I messed up and had to make a new top. I was shocked at the price. These two old tables may be my ticket to the big time, judging by the cost of black cherry wood. This table has a varnish and shellac finish. The finish has turned almost totally black. My furniture refinisher concoction barely does anything to it. I am having to resort to using paint and poly remover to get that old glop off. This table will be a bigger PITA to do than the other one was.

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WC

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Post by jerryhawthorne on Sun Sep 08, 2013 7:17 pm

WC what you are doing is saving history. What a nice story and all we need are some pictures. I don't care what one pays for a table that is new, it will never have the quality of wood and history that yours have.
Nice job.
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Post by Wildcat445 on Sun Sep 08, 2013 7:31 pm

If I can figure out how to post pictures, I will. I have taken some of the first one. I need to get some new batteries for my camera. That old black shellac and varnish are almost impossible to remove.

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WC

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