One of the challenges in creating a new piece of furniture from antique machinery — in this case, a dining table/kitchen island from a table saw — is marrying inspiration with the limitations of working with an existing utilitarian product. Certain aspects can be altered, others can be removed, but ultimately the character and history of the item need to be respected and highlighted.
When acquired, the early-20th-century table saw that became the platform from which to create a new, home-friendly furniture piece had immediate appeal. Not only was its hefty frame solid and well constructed, it contained all of its original details, including iron hardware and a start/stop switch. The hand-painted number adorning it, “48,” suggested that it was one of many machines operating within its native wood-mill habitat.
After we removed the saw-blade mechanism and belt, then unbolted the hardwood top, the opportunity arose to utilize some of these residual parts to create a lower shelf. Sections of usable material were cut and carefully pieced together to produce a sturdy storage space, perfect for pots and pans. A thorough cleaning of the original base revealed rich grain tones that, once clear-coated, intensified in color. A salvaged workbench butcher block proved aesthetically complementary while also adding a much larger surface area for additional seating. The finished table not only serves as a practical decor item but also becomes a gathering place conducive to conversation and shared experiences.
Posted in Factory, Industrial, Machine Age, Tables, Tools
Tagged antique, industrial dining table, kitchen island, repurposed, salvaged, table saw, Vintage Industrial
Debate has been sparked over the last couple of years among insiders as to the longevity of “industrial” as a decorative genre. Like any stylistic movement, this one will make way for the next, whatever that may be. Inexpensively produced cookie-cutter furniture pieces — generally manufactured in India or China — have entered the market, sometimes giving design enthusiasts pause before they invest in an original item with historical provenance.
Artificially distressing steel and wood to give the look of decades-old, utilitarian factory items is not uncommon. Even fabricating gear-shaped patterns in steel to embellish stools and tables is not unheard of. It’s a way to loosely capture a factory look without, perhaps, going through the time, effort and expense of seeking out an original.
The idea of reproduction furniture is hardly a new concept, but does it kill a design movement when copies or non-authentic items enter the market? I say no. From what I can see, Herman Miller, Knoll, Emeco and many other furniture brands have done very nicely, thank you, simply by providing well-made originals, manufactured to a high standard. The debate over the integrity of materials used in new originals versus vintage ones we’ll leave for another day, but so long as there’s an interest in authentic design, quality and durability, industrial pieces will remain relevant. I’ve long used the example of the Toledo stool, which is now an icon of 20th century design and will hold both its aesthetic appeal and collectibility long after the movement that thrust it into the limelight has passed. The key is to focus on what you like and buy quality.
When this old cast-iron base — removed from a decommissioned wire-spinning machine — was first spotted, the pressing question was: How can this fixture be transformed into a functional dining table? Through some trial and error (and a good deal of grease removal), the custom table was completed via its pairing with a large section of refinished antique bowling alley.
While admired today for their aesthetics, vintage and antique industrial furniture was considered utilitarian in its day. It was built using durable materials and therefore fabricated to withstand considerable punishment. Though it is appealing to unearth an unusual piece like this shop bench, it is doubly worthy of attention when the item possesses its original and untouched configuration and presents in superb condition.
The Industrial Workbench and Equipment Manufacturing Company was a later incarnation of The New Britain Machine Company, headquartered in New Britain, CT. They began churning out heavy-duty industrial furniture at the beginning of the 20th century and by the 1940s were known as, I.B. (Industrial Bench). The olive hew finish of their products was even referred to as, “IB Green”.
The discussion of quality is a common thread when referencing items of this era and I.B. prided themselves on creating equipment of a higher standard than many of their peers.
The heavy-gauge tubular steel leg sections are welded together, making a single-piece, rigid leg. This results in less sway, irrespective of whether or not the table rests against a wall. The legs and expansive feet are totally closed thus ensuring that dust and other unwanted waste does not accumulate in cracks and crevasses. A variety of optional extras existed including, rear and side plates (to ensure that materials did not fall from the work surface), maple or plain steel tops, lower shelf and drawers, complete with sliding inner tray.
This clean, original example not only possesses its factory configuration, including a drawer and lower shelf, the IB Green finish is excellent and the maker’s labels are clear and visible on the trademarked positioning of the two front legs.
*Special thanks to the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the National Museum of American History Library for their generous contributions to this post.
Much is made of a handful of manufacturers’ interpretations of the task lamp. Some have been highlighted in this blog: Ajusco, O.C. White, Edon, American Fixture Co. and more. These producers adhered to a strict code of pared-back design and unadulterated utility.
Add to this group Weldon Manufacturing Co., a quiet achiever in the brass, drafting-style light arena. This New York company created ranges that included desk, clamp-based and floor lamps.
This example, with a dual-clamp base, maximizes the ease in which the fixture can be relocated. While this feature proved advantageous in drafting scenarios, it was also embraced in workshops and garages alike. Also, the wide, embossed wing nut proved an ergonomic method of tightening the joint around the lamp’s telescopic arm.
Dorset Finds is frequently asked what to look for when buying a Uhl Toledo stool or chair. Generally speaking, these items were built to last; however, below are some invaluable guidelines that will ensure the piece purchased meets your needs and continues to perform for many years to come.
1. Establish the height you need. Much of Toledo’s seating is height-adjustable. That said, Draftsman stools are generally too tall for standard-height dining tables and desks, so you may require a chair instead.
2. Assess the condition of the plywood seat and backrest. Being the most fragile components of the piece, the wood sections are prone to chipping and delamination. Minor separations can be easily fixed with wood glue.
3. Assess the wishbone lever arm. Look for any separations or breaks in the steel loops that cover the ends of the lever. These loops are susceptible to metal fatigue, especially if the original spring has been lost (major red flag) or replaced by a non-original part. The lever arm’s anchors are a crucial stress area in the chair’s design. A key sign that the integrity of this piece has been breached is wobbling in the seat post. If a break is detected, the example is best avoided.
4. Look for non-original parts. As time passes, utilitarian furniture within an industrial setting is expected to be mistreated and continue to work. If damage was sustained, in some cases readily available parts were retrofitted purely out of a need for the chair to remain functional. Older models should feature a wing nut and brass spherical nut cap at the rear of the backrest. In later versions this was replaced with a black, round, hardened-plastic turning knob. Ensure that both the backrest and seat have contours. If either of these parts are flat, they’re replacements.
Aside from these structurally driven suggestions, the aesthetics are really a subjective element. Whether one likes rust and chipped paint, wood that’s faded or a glossy varnish, these tips will arm one with the necessary tools to go forth and buy well.
An occupational hazard of repairing and restoring old wares is that one becomes a magnet for a diverse collection of tools, parts and hardware. As time passes, one tool box is filled, then another and another. The resulting game of multiple choice when searching for the right item can be harrowing.
When the time came to upgrade to a larger source of storage, Dorset Finds was pretty thrilled to stumble across a heavy-duty rolling work station.
The only thing better than a tool box with 25″ deep drawers is one with a solid butcher block top and a retrofitted shelf. Other customizations include a row of hooks that line one side of the piece; perfect for organizing readily used tools and parts and keeping them off the work surface. Frequently misplaced in other examples is the original solid steel lock plate, that when dropped into a lip on the lower front of the unit, forms part of a mechanism which secures all the drawers. As we found out, large cast iron casters are also a godsend when shifting the full cabinet from one side of the workshop to the other.
With each new project that Dorset Finds undertakes, an appreciation for implementing the correct tool for the job intensifies. Overhead costs and environmental concerns are always front of mind, therefore buying older American-made tools ticks all the boxes in a practical sense. They were built to last and the carbon footprint of one of these gems is much smaller than a new, cheaply made imported version. The bonus with the Delta DP (drill press) 220 is that not only was it engineered to a high standard, aesthetically its Buck Rogers styling cues speak to the design ethos of that era.
In 1919, the Delta Specialty Company was founded by Herbert Tautz and run out of his garage in Milwaukee, WI. Started as a manufacturer of tools for the home shop, the company quickly expanded to produce light-industrial machinery. The Delta brand – which quickly became synonymous with quality and affordability – specialized in drill presses, heavy-duty saws, grinders and lathes.
Vintage tool and machinery enthusiasts are growing in number and recognize not only the collectibility of these fine artifacts of industria, but also the need to preserve them.
Though well-used, this drill press retains much of its original battleship gray finish. The motor purrs from behind the cast iron front pulley guard while the original Delta aluminum light provides illumination to the work space below the chuck. This unrestored example also possesses a particularly fine example of the maker’s badge.
*Special thanks to Nick and the other members of the Old Woodworking Machines forum.
It’s always a pleasure to unearth a Uhl Toledo piece, but it’s all the better finding one that’s rare or unusual. Regardless of whatever poor state the item arrives in, its restoration can lead to further discovery. With dozens if not hundreds of variations that existed within the product lines, the desire exists to seek out something that you’ve not had before.
Early Toledo products received a copper oxidization treatment to the steel, known as japanning. This effect of marbling matte black with the sheen of copper was popular during the turn of the twentieth century.
Aside from the japanned steel, there are other characteristics this stool possesses that set it apart from its descendents. Rather than using a sprung lever arm, one adjusts the height by swiveling the seat up and down. The footrest ring is a strap of steel, rather than a thick wire, as it appeared in subsequent designs, and the wood is more substantial due to the lack of a metal support framework.
With each passing month, the depth of tools that Dorset Finds accumulates increases. Some are acquired out of necessity, and others because they just look so damn cool: worn-down wooden handles, stained from the hands of previous craftsmen; steel, flattened and grooved, and possessing a patina that comes from decades of age.
If every task has its corresponding perfect tool, then where do these tools go when they’re not being used for their intended task? Our suggestion is that they be placed in a rolling tool cart like the one pictured, a piece manufactured in the 1940s by Lyon Metal Products Inc. The convenience of having a plethora of tools at your fingertips can’t be underestimated.
These heavy-gauge steel carts have rolled themselves into the home environment for some time due to their durability, versatility and functionality. Commonly, this item is repurposed as a media stand, kitchen island or bedside table. A single rolling tool cabinet can bear more than a few hundred pounds, which may be irrelevant to most applications, but having that level of strength is never a drawback. Neither is the ability to padlock the front to keep others out of your drawers.
There’s a certain deliberation process that unfolds before undertaking a laborious project that has the potential for minimal payoff. The resurrection of an object due to the mismanagement of others is a commitment financially, physically and, more specifically, psychologically.
This Uhl Toledo Draftsman stool is a rarity, and not just for the clown makeup it was dressed in when acquired. While drafting stools with standard seats can be found without too much sweat, an example with a round seat and backrest is far more scarce.
When confronted with such a butchered piece of iconic 2oth century design — masquerading as some sort of oversize children’s candy — the biggest question that goes through one’s mind is whether it’s worth the effort in unwrapping its outer layer. Once the restoration commences, there’s no turning back.
After all, is it the clown that we dislike or is it the clown’s brightly colored exterior? Next time you see one, throw some paint stripper on him and perhaps you will be given a pleasant surprise, as I was with this stool.
To create a table it sometimes requires a table. Or in this case, the workbench to end all workbenches.
Traditionally, benches like this were found in wood shops, basements and garages. Generous enough to hold large and, in some cases, multiple furniture items, the 4-inch-thick maple top provides a stable station. Located on the front and side are vises that keep the project in place. At the rear of the horizontal surface is a gutter where tools and shavings can be pushed aside, while below a later addition including walls and a hinged door form a compartment for storing other tools.
Today, this 7-foot piece is as likely to be found in an open-plan kitchen surround by people sipping drinks or preparing food as it is in a carpentry shop. A thorough cleaning and several coats of polyurethane converted a workhorse like this into a show pony worthy of all the praise and attention it attracts.
Regular visitors to this blog are well aware of the tributes Uhl Toledo products garner here.
Possessing the strength and durability of an American-made tool of the mid-20th century and enjoying a classic design status on par with the Eames lounge chair, the Toledo stool is a timeless piece of furniture crafted from steel and bent plywood.
Through our travels, Dorset Finds has unearthed dozens of Uhl product variations: round, all-steel versions, short, medium, tall, fixed-height, double-width backrests, wooden casters, plastic casters, standard and extra-large footrest rings… When it came to ordering your stool from the manufacturer, the number of options appears to have been almost endless.
Though research provides images of the near-mythical “A-frame” Toledo stool, we had not seen one in the flesh until recently. Similar in silhouette to the traditional model, the A-frame’s vertical steel supports lean in toward the top creating a pyramid. A wider center of gravity and larger, 18.5-inch footrest ring (rather than the standard 16-inch) give this piece a stockier stance while retaining all the elegance of its sister models.
The transition of the drafting stool, from a staple of the office environment to a prominent home decor fixture, has been swift. Its functionality and versatility is unquestionable.
Likewise, the drafting lamp, which historically held its place mounted to drafting and illustration tables, has repositioned itself as a useful tool in the domestic arena.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous of the drafting light manufacturers is Dazor of St. Louis, founded in 1938 by Harry Dazey and Washington University professor Albert Perbal.
During World War II, the company became widely known when the U.S. government selected Dazor’s products to replace much of the costly overhead lighting that had previously illuminated its offices. Not only did Dazor pieces fulfill the much-needed directional light application — thanks to its patented Floating Lamp system — they were also considered the more energy-efficient option in the market. (What? There was a time when the U.S. government was genuinely interested in energy efficiency?)
At the 1938 World’s Fair in New York, General Electric highlighted the uses of the Dazor lamp in its display.
B.K. Elliott (Pittsburgh), the drafting and surveying equipment retailer, touted the patented Dazor Floating Lamp in its 1948 sales catalog as working “like the human arm.” It says: “A strong spring force, acting through a shifting fulcrum and parallelogram on both sections of the double-arm, equalizes the varying forces exerted by the arm, thereby balancing the arm in any position.”
Pictured is the earliest, patent-pending version, which provides fascinating insight into the lamp’s inner mechanism. Later, this section was completely encased to avoid dust intake. It reveals heavy-duty bolts and a large, sprung steel coil, which is the muscle that powers the arm’s reach.
At Dorset Finds we’ve been vocal about our appreciation of the Ajusco lamp. For more that a century, the family-run company, based in Mequon, Wisconsin, has churned out quality industrial lighting solutions. Not only do these virtually indestructible pieces perform the invaluable task of directing light to a specific work area, the patented Ajusco-Loc fixture design, with it’s three-pronged reinforcement, means that even under the most harsh conditions, socket breakages do not occur.
This exceptional pair were cleaned then stripped of their original decaying finish, leaving a desirable matte patina. After being rewired, each light was mounted to solid steel repurposed factory gears. The restoration of these lamps has given them a life of their own. Intertwined, they create drama with almost limitless flexibility of movement.
At Dorset Finds, we like a table. No surprises there. But a hefty, solid work table we love all the more…
Exploring the boundaries within this realm, it was decided that a heavy-duty workbench would be constructed out of salvaged pieces: a set of 90-pound, cast-iron lathe machine legs paired with a 2.25-inch-thick, 1930s work tabletop. Neither item was embraced with joy when negotiating the transportation to my third-floor walk-up. During the move, there may have been a curse or two hurled in the direction of the 30-year-dormant freight elevator, but the effort paid off.
Scale and proportion are always considerations when undertaking a project such as this. The finished piece needed to be dimensionally generous while also being manageable enough to place in any average living space.
After a thorough cleaning and light sanding, the true character of the timber surface was revealed. Scratches, crude saw cuts and paint stains mark its history beautifully. Therefore, plans were abandoned to strip the item down to bare wood. Instead, three layers of clear-coat were applied, preserving each flaw and blemish.
Heavily distressed, the patina of the green iron legs mirror the war wounds of the workbench’s surface. Once again, the imperfections were entombed rather than being sanded away. The marriage of the iron legs to the wood top has resurrected the table, now ready to host many decades of meals, conversations… and perhaps one or two backaches.
In the latter stages of the 19th century, brothers Joe and Clem Uhl came up with the idea of a durable steel seating option while working in the bike shop they ran together.
It’d be nice to say that their concern was for forest conservation, given that in this era the primary material used in manufacturing stools was wood. But that would be a bit of a stretch. In reality, they knew firsthand the benefit of being able to plant your caboose on something sturdy yet comfortable, without fear of the structure giving way after weeks, months or even years of utilitarian use.
The brothers Uhl foresaw that industry-grade steel furniture would surpass timber, which historically had dominated the market. Harnessing the strength of cold rolled steel, fabricated into U-shaped chair and table legs, their company, the Toledo Metal Furniture Co., stood (or in this case, sat) without peer. So strong were their convictions that they were on to something, they guaranteed their products as the strongest, handsomest and most durable office furniture on the market.
Pictured is an early example. Imperfections such as dents and dings from heavy use are present in the perforated seat. Stripped of its original paint, this piece was buffed to reveal its coveted raw metal patina. Rather than the trademark Toledo footrest ring, rudimentary steel straps are located midway up the 30-inch stool to provide leg support. Primitive feet are affixed; later models employed ball-jointed glides.