Union Machinist Tool Chest Restoration

Have a questions on finishing, refinishing, or restoring <br />wood furniture or cabinetry? This is the place to ask!

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dabard
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Union Machinist Tool Chest Restoration

Postby dabard » Sat Jan 04, 2020 4:20 pm

Here's the back story: A year ago, after my hoarding father-in-law passed away, we discovered the chest amidst his packed out 3-car garage (and 2 storage lockers). I didn't know what it was, but it looked neat, and I grabbed it so it didn't go to the auction house or the trash heap. It was completely stocked with a variety of calipers and other tools that I don't recognize! Now I know it likely belonged to my wife's grandfather, who was a pre-WWII engineer. My wife would like it restored as an heirloom, and I'm ready to start the task.

The handle has no leather remaining. I'm concerned about that as I have no experience with leather. The front panel is missing, although I did find the lock and keys in one of the drawers. I'd like to have that remade, but I can't find good pictures of what it should look like on the inside. The one pull that is missing I also found in one of the drawers, along with the 3 small nails! The felt in the drawers is intact, but a little on the gnarly side. It should probably be replaced. The entire box is dirty, but the wood is in very good shape. I'd like the box to look nice for its age, not new.

This link will hopefully take you to pictures of the chest: https://utdallas.box.com/s/wojcr6wohx2z ... 8ow4dcemh2

If I interpret correctly, the box was made in Rochester, NY. If the stamp on the inside means what I think it does, the box may have been made in 1931 when the company was falling on hard times and was soon to be sold.

I would love any and all input from those of you who have experience with restoring boxes like this. Many thanks!!!

AsonnyA
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Re: Union Machinist Tool Chest Restoration

Postby AsonnyA » Sun Jan 05, 2020 9:34 pm

The leather for the handle was likely originally hand stitched, maybe similar to baseball stitching, using a curved needle. Your local upholsterer may have a small piece of leather, if you'd like to try that sewing. If so, get 2 or 3 pieces of leather, for practice or learning from mistakes. The leather industry uses Barge cement, specific for leather. You may be hard pressed to find it in a local store. A local shoe repair shop will have an appropriate adhesive. Shoe repairman might can repair the handle.... or a saddle maker.

A pool table (w/ parts, supplies) dealer/outlet/sports center will have some thin felt for the drawers' interior lining. *Green is a nice color for tool chests. Supplier likely has the adhesive, also. Maybe, maybe... maybe(!!!) your local fabric store has thin felt for those drawers, but I've never seen as high quality of felt at fabric stores, as the quality of good pool table felt is.

If you use a spray adhesive, for felt, be very careful where you spray.... you don't want to get any adhesive on other areas. Local auto parts stores have spray adhesive, for headliner installation and also used for foam-to-foam or fabric-to-foam adhesion. As an upholsterer, I use it often and at times for similar tasks as cloth to wood, but your drawer spaces are too small for good results with a spray. This stuff is very sticky, cleans up with mineral spirits, BUT again, the spray pattern is hard to control, so may not be good for small precise areas to be glued. You can't spray a glob, then wipe/brush it into place. It won't wipe or brush smooth, at all. Best bet is to get adhesive from the pool table guys or a sports supply center. I've never used pool table adhesive, so ask for instructions on its use. Pool tables are large areas, edges can be taped off, so a spray glue can likely readily be used. Don't know if any instructions would accommodate small area applications.

If the only thing available is spray adhesive, then you'd have to tape off each drawer before spraying. There's a pool table supplier near me... 6-8 blocks away. I'll go ask them for some advise.

At any rate, when prepping for the felt application, do a dry fit (or 2) first and carefully, before committing to any gluing. You might want a dull knife-like tool to crease the felt into the corners and such. Use the creasing tool during the dry fit practice/procedures, also. Maybe do some practice gluings, with some scrap felt, on a small cardboard box.... see how things work, how to prevent wrinkles, etc. Thin felt may not always lay flat, as you work it, so practice to prevent wrinkles. Maybe get the (delicate hands) wife to help?

I don't think I do enough restoration to comment on refinishing that antique chest. I'll default to Bob.

Sonny

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Bob Boardman
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Re: Union Machinist Tool Chest Restoration

Postby Bob Boardman » Mon Jan 06, 2020 12:55 pm

Here's some thoughts and info:
1) There was a company called "Union Instrument Corp" in PLainfield, NJ. They've gone out of business, but you may want to do some sleuthing to find out more about the company and it's products.
2) Based upon the photos, the slight "crazing' of the finish, and the fact this was made in 1931 I'm guessing that this is a shellac finish (that's a good thing). It doesn't appear to have a newer coat of finsih added to the original finish. Lacquer wasn't in common use then, an oil finish would be "in the wood" not on it, so crazing would be unlikely, and a varnish finish would peel or crack off instead of crazing.
3) All that said though, I'd still test to determine the existing finish. Start by getting so me denatured alcohol - not the medicine chest "isopropyl alcohol" or the ones you drink cuz they have water in them. Place a small amount on a cotton swab and lightly rub on a bottom corner or other inconspicuous spot. If the finish comes off, smooths out or becomes sticky - it's shellac.
4) If it is, that's good because you can easily 'revive' the old finish, or add new shellac on top of the old. Shellac is one of the few finishes in which a new shellac coat will "melt into" the previous shellac coat. Before adding a new coat, try reviving the finish. To do this, If so, make a ball out of cotton (an old T shirt taken out of the dryer works great). This is called your 'pad'. Pour some denatured alcohol into the pad and pat against palm of your hand to get rid of excess...you want it damp, not wet. Then in quick, back and forth pendulum type motions ( think of an airplane coming in for a landing, touching its wheel for a second, and then taking off again) brush the pad briefly against the surface. NEVER let the ball stay on the surface for more than a quick second. This will take some practice, but the results are worth it. If the pad starts to stick, first use a bit more pressure, and if that doesn't work add a bit more alcohol

Let us know how you make out
Bob "Boardman" Borders

dabard
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Re: Union Machinist Tool Chest Restoration

Postby dabard » Tue Jan 07, 2020 5:43 pm

Thank you both!


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