I’ve never done a multi-part “Ideas” column until now. This one deserves the extra work because I wanted to show all the little steps that most anyone can do to save a small piece of furniture.
At least, that’s the plan. I’m doing this article at the same time as I’m doing the work, so it may or may not pan out like I hope. In other words, if the end result is a disaster, you’ll see it, and if it’s incredible, you can “Ooh” and “Aah” right along with me.
This old table was tucked away in the basement of my parents’ house. At one time, it was apparently a bassinet but the top wicker portion has long been gone. I’ll continue to refer to it as a table, because that’s about all it’s good for now.
You’ll note that the top is coming off, there are nails and screws sticking out everywhere, some of the leg spindles are broken, and basically it’s something that 99% of people would throw away. The only remaining remnant of the wicker basket is a small piece that somehow managed to stay attached to the side. It’s only about 1 inch long:
One neat thing about this table is that is folds up!
This table must have been painted when first assembled, because the paint extends into places that are pretty inaccessible unless done while still in pieces at the factory.
Why, you ask, am I spending time on this? There’s no good answer, but I’m the kind of guy that will spend 8 hours fixing one of my kids’ $1 toys rather than buy a replacement. Am I “cheap?” YES, but I get incredible satisfaction from actually repairing something and making it as good as new.
The plan for this table began with the disassembly. I cut off the electrical tape that was holding the spindles to the legs (aren’t those spindles awesome?!) and pulled out a lot of nails.
I took off the casters and their cup shrouds by gently prying with a screwdriver.
I had no trouble removing the folding hinges from the wood, but the legs and their U-shaped brackets had rivets that held things in place. (Actually, some old repairs were evident because one bracket was bolted on.) I had to drill out the flared ends of the rivets to get everything free. I already pulled the top off, too.
Here’s a picture of the pile of pieces:
The table was poorly constructed, and I decided that it would actually be easier (and better) to build a new top/frame from scratch rather than repair the old frame and put a top onto it. You can see that the center support was attached to the frame rails with driven-in connectors, the pieces don’t align well, and the curved edges are actually beveled. A new top would be much nicer, and since I’m making it into a table rather than restoring it as a bassinet, that made sense to me.
I then began work on the hardware. I keep several small pieces of metal of various shapes to use as “anvils.” I tapped the bent hinges as straight as I could using a ball pein hammer on one of the anvils. Next, I used one of my all-time favorite tools. I’ve spoken about it before, but every restorer needs to have a good power-driven brass brush/wheel. It can’t be beat for a quick buff, but is also great for removing paint from small hand-held items like door hinges and locks. Here is my setup, a ¾ horsepower motor held in my workbench vise. When using something like this, be sure to have eye protection because pieces of the brush do come loose. It’s also good to have a filter over your mouth and nose, especially if removing old paint, which could be lead-based.
The wire wheel makes short order of cleaning up parts like the casters, the hinges, and the leg brackets.
Working on the spindles and legs was the next task. I had to re-drill one of the leg holes where a spindle end had broken off. To do that, I used a Forstner bit in my drill press. I set the spindle in a V-block to cradle it, and set the V-block at the proper angle since the spindles aren’t square to the legs.
To repair the broken spindle ends, I had to clamp the spindles in a perfect vertical orientation, then use the same Forstner bit to drill out a cavity so that short pieces of dowel rods could be glued in. The extra length of each would be cut off once the glue dried.
I haven’t thought much yet about whether I’ll repaint the hardware (or even the wood) but either way, things are nice and clean now. If not repainted, I’ll likely spray on some clear satin finish just to help prevent the metal from rusting.
To get the wood clean, I used a paint stripper gel. I am not promoting any particular brand or type of product in my columns – I just show you what I use/used. I generally prefer the “safe” type of strippers (that don’t contain methylene chloride.) They take a lot longer to work, but can be used indoors and don’t even require gloves. For this project, I used this stripper and soaked the spindles and legs long enough that the paint could easily be removed using the side of a knife and a wire brush:
Here’s how they turned out:
For the top, I purchased a glued-up pine/fir/spruce panel. The table top should be 12 ½” x about 25”, but I bought a panel that is 16” x 36”. By knowing the needed size, I was able to rifle through the panels at the big-box store until I found one that had enough “clear” (knot-free) area that the finished tabletop would be free of knots. Depending on your desires and budget, the top could be made from veneer-faced plywood, a panel made of a different wood, or whatever you prefer. Why didn’t I glue up my own panel from pieces of wood that I had? There are actually 2 reasons. The first is that I like to run larger pieces through my planer to get all the surfaces smooth, but my planer only accommodates up to 12” wide material. Second, since I’m trying to demonstrate that this project can be done without fancy tools or extraordinary skills, I wanted to show that purchasing a panel already assembled makes it easy. I’m sure you all know that it’s not wise to use a single piece of board for the top, even if one could be found that is wide enough. A single board is very likely to “cup” over time, resulting in an unsatisfactory surface. (That’s why plywood is more stable that plain boards.)
Here is the panel I bought. It was something like $14. Next to it is the panel after cutting to rough size on the table saw. Note that there are no knots.
I think that’s where we’ll end for this month. Next month I’ll get the top shaped, figure out how to re-assemble things, and get it all stained and completed.
I hope all your projects go well. Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!
If you’d like to download a PDF of this “Ideas” column, click here: