Refinished Architect’s Table from The General Fireproofing Co.

The Newest Piece Comes Home

It’s been far too long since I’ve done a furniture refurbish project, so it’s extra nice to finally have this fantastic piece move into the family room today.

I’ll probably post something more detailed at a later date with some “before” pictures, but these few “after” photos will have to suffice for now.

History

I acquired this 20 gauge steel, stick leg, architect’s table originally manufactured by The General Fireproofing Co. of Youngstown, Ohio eight or so years back as part of a scrap sale. It was once owned by the National Bureau of Standards and had some markings and scrap paper hiding underneath the drawer which made me think that it was previously owned by a college, university, or similar institution in the Southern California region. It’s been hiding patiently in the garage as a general work table in service to my Little Free Library. I’ll have to dig into some paperwork to find it, but I recall this being circa 1959 from my research. It wasn’t in as bad a condition as some of my past projects. The original linoleum top was almost in good enough condition that I seriously considered keeping it.

Refinishing and Specifications

I started cleaning it up in November 2021 and have finally moved it into the house today with a 1/4″ clear annealed 29 3/4″ x 49 3/4″ polished glass top with 1 1/2″ radius corners.

The table itself is refinished in an electric sort of robin’s egg-color called “Waterfall” (SW 6750, loc #162-C1; DE 5722 RL#267, LRV 68, Munsell: Hue=7.36BG, Value=8.5, Chroma=2.6; BM 2050-50, LRV 55.75). The original linoleum top, which actually wasn’t in horrible condition, was completely stripped off, and I did the same sort of brushed steel process as my last tanker desk. There is a bit of blemish on the table top surface in the form of black flecking with a few small manufacturing blemishes that were left untouched for show before throwing down eight layers of clear coat. I also left a few incredibly minor dings to the body and legs for character instead of doing any bondo work.

It’s still got the original General Fireproofing Co. badging. I’ve also left all the original drawer pulls and metal leg caps, though I’ve cleaned them up quite a bit. It has presently got all the original screws, nuts and bolts as well, though many are rusted and in poor though functional condition. Perhaps I’ll replace those with new fittings in the near future, but I’ll have to hunt down the specs and find something that will stand up a bit better for the next century.

I’ve added some 1/2″ thick heavy felt pads on the feet to prevent scratching on the floor as the table is quite heavy. I’ve also got some temporary cork pads between the tabletop and the glass which I’ll probably replace with some decorative felt sometime soon.

You never know what you’ll find when you strip the tops of these types of pieces, but all-in it came out far better than I expected. It truly is stunning.

What’s next?

Still in the queue for future projects, two stick leg chairs, a panel leg architect’s table, and a 1930’s double pedestal tanker desk all of which I have on hand. I’m also due to reupholster a few chairs. If anyone comes across any, I’m on the look out for a 4×6″ index card filing cabinet, a multi-drawer flat file I can convert into a coffee table, and a credenza. 

Commissions

I’ve done this enough times now, I’m contemplating taking commissions from folks who have ideas for pieces. I’ve seen some of the tanker desks go for between $3,000 and $5,000 on Melrose or at HD Buttercup in Los Angeles, but by comparison, I’ve got a far better finishing process for these with better results than I’ve seen in any of the high end showrooms. With the right price on a scrapped or distressed piece, I think I can significantly beat the high end shops and provide a better look and value.

I suspect that when I refinish my next tanker desk for my office, I might be willing to sell the one I’ve been using for the past 13 years

Little Red Wagon Cocktails

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Vintage Tanker Desk Hobby

I had always wanted a nice McDowell & Craig vintage executive dual pedestal tanker desk, but the $2,000-$3,000 price tags for the ones in excellent condition or that had been refinished was way too steep for me. Some of the others I’ve seen for sale at lower prices were in mediocre shape and were in such ugly institutional colors, I couldn’t imagine having one at home.

Unfinished Desk

Unfinished Desk - Rusted Top

Late last year, I found a couple from the 1950’s and 60’s that were in horrible physical shape that were going to be scrapped for their steel. I got both of them for $10 bucks and did some research on how to refurbish them myself.

I stripped off the corroded, stained, and torn linoleum off the tops, took them to a local place that does sandblasting to have them stripped and then sanded down the heavily rusting portions. (These desks are usually made of heavy 20 gauge solid steel, so they’re literally the “tanks” of office furniture.) Both were in relatively good condition structurally and didn’t have any significant body damage aside from some significant rust, so I decided not to bondo the couple of dings they had, which in the end I think just adds to their vintage beauty.

Jr. Tanker Desk - Unfinished with rusted bottom

For the blue/gray one I found an industrial paint shop to do an old style enamel process. For the smaller red one, I sandblasted and painted/sealed the undercarriage and inside drawers and then used a special brushing process to obtain a nice brushed steel effect followed by a 5 layer clear coat seal to give it a high shine while still having the brushed steel visible through the clear coat.
Partially refinished tanker desk chair with blue upholstry

Finally, I tried to find a place to recreate the original linoleum desktops, but there really isnt’ a supplier who does this and some of the alternatives were prohibitively expensive as was the process of redoing the metal trim to hold it on after the fact. I contemplated doing some various laminates and even formica, but ultimately decided that the bare metal top was too pretty to cover up. I finally gave a local glass shop a template for the top of the desk and had them cut out custom 1/4″ glass tops with rounded corners to match the desk shape and then bevel the edges slightly.

Finished Executive Tanker Desk in gunmetal grey with blue highlighted drawers

At long last they’re now both finished!  They are truly beautiful and it’s nice having a desk about the size of a compact car and certainly as heavy! When I originally got the desks, Sonia refused to let me keep them they were in such terrible shape, and I spent a while convincing her to let me keep them. Once the first one was done she forbid me to “hide” it in our office and insisted that I put it in our living room because it was so pretty. I finally got the second one finished and gave it to her for her birthday in September.

Jr. Executive Tanker desk with clear coated metal and red highlighted drawers

It’s been an interesting enough process with such a beautiful end result, that I’m in the midst of acquiring a few additional desks including one that may be from the 30’s/40’s with some nice art deco design touches.

So I suppose I’m calling it my “hobby” at the moment.

I’ve posted a gallery of additional photos of the desks on Flickr.