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.
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 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.
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.
Though commonly associated with industrial seating, the Toledo Metal Furniture Co. made a range of tables that included compact typewriter desks and this recent find: a small cafe-size table, typically found in soda fountains in the early part of the 20th century.
This particularly early version is as rare as hen’s teeth and almost impossible to find in any condition. It features a solid oak top — rather than the wood laminate found on later Uhl pieces — and an ornate steel base with a copper oxidized (Japanned) finish.
In a thorough restoration, the modern gold repaint was removed to ensure that the dormant original finish was left unscathed. The oak’s surface was stripped of its tired, black paint and refinished, ready to be used and enjoyed for decades to come.