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.
National Carbon Co., which released the first commercial dry-cell battery in 1896, purchased the American Eveready Co. in 1914. Eveready’s founder, Conrad Hubert, invented the first flashlight in 1898, and the accompanying D-size battery, released the same year, became an instant necessity. Easy, convenient and safe, this new handheld product was relatively inexpensive, reliable and allowed for directed light without the production of heat or flame.
At Dorset Finds, we’re rather partial to 20th century advertising pieces. This item, a tin lithograph display stand, lacks some of its original luster. The red panels that once burned bright have dulled to a mustardy hue. There are areas of heavy pitting and scratches, but this is somewhat expected given its utilitarian function. More importantly, one can make out all the text, including the Eveready slogan of the day, “They Last Longer.” All the components are straight, and the wonderful, hinged sections maneuver correctly: The sprung header-sign moves forward and back into place; the bottom drawer slides in and out using the original curved handle; the inner tray can be raised and lowered (presumably to restock the battery supplies); and the pressed front, made to look like rows of batteries, clicks perfectly into place to shield the inventory that remains behind.
The mortality rate among vintage office furniture is high to say the least. It’s a steady stream of out with the old, in with the new. In most cases, the need for physical files has been superseded altogether by their digital descendents. Streamlining the way we utilize office storage has meant that only in rare circumstances have filing units survived the test of time (and punishment). Our interiors are made all the better for their presence.
John and Wilson Berger started the Berger Manufacturing Co. in Canton, Ohio in 1886, producing lengths of metal conductor pipe in their basement workshop. The United Furnace Company merged with Berger in 1921 and Berloy was born. It quickly developed a strong presence in the market with its lines of shelving, storage, lockers and steel furniture.
The set of eight modular file units pictured possesses its original, dark military- green finish. A patent date of 1918 is embossed, making this a very early production run. Each 26-inch-deep section locks to the one below via a steel rail system and further secures its connection with the closure of a latch located below a rear carry handle. A brass metal card frame adorns the face of each file.
* While a hard drive may be a damn sight smaller and lighter to transport, you’d be hard-pressed to find one as good-looking as this set.
Playground politics are not to be taken lightly. Attitude comes second only to the hardware a child packs. Whether challenging one’s competitor to a car race down the driveway or excavating the dirt hill of the schoolyard, one is expected to produce from one’s pocket a die-cast gem to rival all others.
In the pre-War era of the 1930s, when a kid chose to throw down, chances are their car or truck of choice was a Dinky toy.
The Frank Hornby firm Meccano was founded in 1901. Best known for its electric trains and metal erector construction sets, the company began selling Modelled Miniatures in 1933 to complement its O-scale railway sets. By the following year, these products had been rebranded Dinky Toys. Production of the die-cast models took place in Liverpool, England and Bobigny, France. Prior to halting manufacturing during the second World War, the company had in its repertoire a broad range of cars, trucks, military vehicles, aircraft, ships and earth-moving machines.
The pictured collection includes a selection of 1950s Dinky Toys and larger Dinky Supertoys. Examples such as the red Blaw Knox Bulldozer come compete with driver and movable levers to raise or lower the shovel, while the Nestlé delivery van possesses some of its original, and very rare, milk cans. The maroon Foden flatbed log-delivery truck retains its chain and post guards as well as all the wheels, including a spare located under the bed of the vehicle. The previous owner was adept enough to fashion four wooden stumps out of dowel to complete the picture.
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.
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.
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.
If your desk is anything like mine, bills, invoices and pesky Netflix envelopes seem to conquer an unsatisfactorily large amount of real estate. Discovering storage solutions that hide quantities of clutter are a godsend.
The Art Steel Company of the Bronx, N.Y. manufactured a range of administrative-grade storage and filing solutions in the early 20th century.
Conveniently, this piece — which, aesthetically, looks like an old book made out of army green steel — is small enough occupy little surface space on a desk, yet substantial enough to accommodate approximately 150 sheets of standard-size letter paper. This is an early example with the original “Art Steel Co. N.Y.C.” label, rather than the later embossed logo.
It can be a delight when seemingly random items come together to form a unifying, functional object that echoes its past while reimagining the piece for a sustainable future. Not only do we preserve a piece of history by salvaging and repurposing, we lend to it new life.
Messrs, Morse, Williams & Co., known as the Morse Elevator Works, was founded in the late 19th century. Demand for their freight elevators was intense due to their use of superior safety devices and automatic hatch doors, features uncharacteristic for the period. Their reputation won them not only product orders from across the country, but from overseas as well. Stephen A. Morse, who supervised manufacturing, was also known to mechanics the world over for his invention of the twist drill.
Established in 1911, the Burke Machine Tool Co. of Ohio produced large, heavy-duty milling and drill-press machines and corresponding bases.
Shying away from heavy, oversize objects isn’t part of the Dorset Finds mind-set. In fact, if it’s too large and too cumbersome to transport back to the workshop, it generally gets snapped up faster that you can say, “lower back pain.” That said, the prospect of combining three weighty items seemed a little daunting on first consideration.
The goal: Join two, solid oak, antique Morse signs (which were originally housed within the framework of a factory’s freight elevator) along their flat edge to make a seamless tabletop and attach to this an early-20th-century, cast-iron Burke pedestal base. With some help from the woodworking mavens at Brooklyn Design + Fabrication, coupled with some reflective days spent scrubbing, repairing and refinishing the dark timber surfaces, a new, custom dining table was born.
The appeal of old factory items is easy to grasp, especially when they’re repurposed to fulfill a new duty in a modern setting. They’re durable, show their wear well and perform a function.
What then, when objects — such as this collection of wood foundry molds — are presented as purely decorative? Generally, I would instinctively shy away from this concept. My preference is to gather useful, purposeful items. That said, there’s always room for exceptions to the rule.
This collection is a tribute: an assemblage of trophies commemorating the successful engineering of… something. These wooden parts were carefully designed and then put to use creating casts for what would become steel products utilized in machinery. The molds needed to be precision-made, because any miscalculations or flaws would render the resulting part incompatible with corresponding components.
Unexpectedly soulful, these patterns are mounted on heavy-gauge, steel bases. The paint hues are muted yet still draw the eye to the elevated presentation of each mold, creating the illusion of them hovering above the table’s surface.
Here at Dorset Finds we’re always excited to acquire retired factory lamps. If we can find a way to expand on their function, all the better.
The Fostoria light pictured is in remarkably good shape; clean battleship gray paint, clear manufacturer’s label and an unusual anodized switch. The three knuckles are tight and allow for easy maneuverability.
Forming a base to this piece is a construction-grade, steel bracket which doubles as both a writing station – with space for pens and pad – and, as a non-fixed support clamp that can be inserted into just about any vertical shelf or table space.