If you know me at all, you'll know I have a penchant for old stuff. I'm particularly fond of every day items that where made with a level of care and beauty that is largely missing in their modern counterparts. I don't have a huge budget to feed my addiction, so most of the items that I pick up would look right at home in a landfill.
Plucking them from the jaws of destruction and "bringing them back" also appeals to me a lot.
I've mentioned a recent trip to the Trade Day (flea market) in Bowie, where my Wife and I picked up a couple of nice finds. One of those finds was an old Oak dovetailed phone ringer box. Here she is, just as I found her:
The bottom is cracked, but it's not real noticeable unless you turn it over. The door is cracked, and warped as well. Its really dirty, and the finish is all but gone. However, box itself is sound and the dovetailed corners look solid.
Here's what the inside looks like:
Its missing the magneto, the crank handle, the bells from the front, and the latch that held the door closed. About the only thing left is wiring remnants, resistors, and dirt.
All in all, its a mess.... but it's a mess with POTENTIAL! Due to its condition, I got it for next to nothing. The purchase price was less than I would have paid just for shipping had I bought it on ebay. Most people wouldn't have looked twice at the old dirty wooden box. Having refinished old oak boxes like this before, though, I had a clue as to what it would look like with a little effort.
I stripped out all the old wiring, and removed the door - if it had been just cracked, I might have salvaged it too. With it being warped as well, though, it just didn't fit into my plans. Next, I used a product called Formby's Furniture Refinisher. This is great stuff on items like this. When you follow the directions, it removes the remnants of old finish, and helps you clean a lot of the gunk and grime from the pores of the wood. Its very easy to use. You basically just dip squares of scotchbrite pads into the refinisher and scrub the wood a bit. The entire process took less than 10 minutes.
When the box was clean, I wiped on some Watco Danish Oil (natural). Again, this is a no-brainer when it comes to application. Just wipe it on, let it set a few minutes - then wipe any excess off. If you think it needs more, just do it again. I'm always amazed how it really brings out the beauty of old oak, without covering stuff like a traditional wood stain might. A left the box to sit for several hours after applying the Watco, then sprayed on a couple of light coats of clear sealer.
I had a victorian brass escutcheon plate and an old brass skeleton key, that I added to cover the crank hole as a decoration. If you didn't want to do this, you could just as easily just turned the box around so the hole is in the back.
I gutted an old wicker planter we had with a silk plant in it. After trimming the foam insert down a bit, it fit perfectly inside the box. Here's a shot of the completed planter sitting on my mantel :
The old oak takes on a really warm look after cleaning and application of the danish oil. Here's a detail of the escutcheon and key. The key is just stuck into the florist foam inside the box that holds the silk plant.
Total actual time involved from start to finish - less than an hour.