For our office we wanted a wooden filing cabinet to match some of the other furniture- the printing drawers shown below and a Victorian oak desk. After quite a lot of searching I struggled to find something suitable at a reasonable price, so ended up deciding to go down the restoration route.
My favourite antique seller Junktion, turned up an Amberg 4 drawer oak cabinet which was complete, but needed work. This was shipped to us, but stayed un restored on for a couple of years until I got round to the task.
The cabinet is an Amberg one. There are some patent dates of 1907 cast into some of the hardware, so that gives us an earliest date. I estimate it to be no later than about 1920 from the style, so contemperous with my Hamilton drawers (I would like to date it more positively so would appreciate any further info that may help).
The finish had gone very dark brown, and wasn't in very good condition, so I stripped it of using copious amounts of methylated spirits, wire wool and wipes, being careful not to lose the patina on the timber.
Untouched Panels & Carcass
Panels Being Cleaned
Once cleaned up, I was able to make repairs. In most cases this was just joints pulled apart, but there were a couple of splits that needed repairing. These were all repaired using Titebond liquid hide glue. The adage of you never have enough clamps was true here, even with 19 g-clamps in use plus sash clamps, I could have done with more!
I put a couple of reinforcing screws in some of the side joints to aid clamping up whilst glue sets.
Clamped up for Gluing
The top of the cabinet and the drawer fronts are all veneered. At the top edge of all the drawer fronts, and in some cases the bottom as well, the veneer had de-laminated. In some cases there were historic nailed repairs. This veneer was therefore stuck back down.
The handles and card carriers on the drawer fronts were all removed, cleaned and straightened out- the handles were all distorted in shape.
Drawer Before Restoration
Clamped up Veneer Repair
The whole cabinet was finished with Mylands French Polish and beeswax furniture polish.
I'm very pleased how the cabinet turned out- It is now doing its job admirably in our office.
Further Views of the Finished Cabinet
I was looking for a multi drawer cabinet for storage, ideally an antique piece, but none of the cabinets I found seemed to fit the bill, especially due to their price. I had looked a bit at printer’s cabinets, but unfortunately most of these are fairly large.
After some searching, and a chance find on the web, I ended up buying a Hamilton Printer’s cabinet from an antique dealer in Lincolnshire. The cabinet looked fundamentally sound and complete in the photos, although very dirty and somewhat bashed about, so I took a risk and bought it unseen. Thankfully when it arrived it was pretty much as I expected.
The Hamilton Manufacturing Company were a massive supplier of printer’s cabinets, wooden type and medical cabinets and are still in existence under another name. A full history can be found in the links below. The cabinet doesn’t appear to have any date marks on it, but Hamilton started producing these items around 1890 and finished manufacturing in timber in 1917 so it will fall in that era. The carcass and drawer fronts appear are almost certainly oak, with rge drawer runners of a different wood (maybe beech?). I believe it to be a paper, card or form storage cabinet.
The first physical job after doing some research was to start by removing all the drawers. The majority of these turned out to be sound, with just two needing some repair. The carcass could then be seen to be in similar condition- 2 damaged runners and two opened up joints that would need repair. I want this cabinet to be a practical, usable piece of furniture in my house, and so it wasn’t really possible to leave the finish as was. As the cabinet was made around 100 years ago, there was a very high probability that it had been finished in a shellac varnish. This meant that stripping could be done with methylated spirits, rather than harsher paint & varnish strippers. In turn this means less need to use abrasives, and retention of some of the colour and patina of the base oak. The main carcass was stripped in a few evenings work, although I found the carcass front and drawer fronts had been re-varnished at some time in its life, so took significantly more time and effort to remove. This included having to use paint stripper on the drawer fronts to remove modern varnish, followed by meths to remove the shellac remnants.
The next main job was to make repairs to the cabinet. For this I used liquid hide glue so that it could easily be removed in the future if necessary. The main tasks here were to re-secure two mortise and tenon joints at the cabinet base and to turn over two of the drawer runners so that a fresh running edge was exposed. There was other damage to mouldings but i decided to not repair these to keep the character if the cabinet, just sanding back to smooth splintery edges where necessary.
I stripped the drawer handles back to bare metal by soaking in meths and using fine scotch-brite and dental probes to remove the varnish, followed by a coat of clear lacquer to protect from rust.
Two drawers needed repair, both due to excessive wear and splintering on the drawer runners. One was too bad to be repaired, but I was able to salvage usable wood from this runner by dismantling it that could then be cut to build up the runner on the other drawer. This left me with one new runner to make from scratch. For this I used a length of beech salvaged from an old settee. Unfortunately I hadn’t been able to find a suitable piece of wood of the same type as used on the existing drawer. The beech was however a similar colour, and well seasoned.
I sawed and planed the plank down to the right size, routed a slot for the drawer base and drilled new dowel holes before gluing the new side on with hide glue, and tacking in place.
Finishing was carried out by applying two coats of French polish to all parts, ‘de-nibbed’ (very lightly sanded) between coats followed by a polish with good quality beeswax.
In all I have ended up with a sound cabinet, fulfilling the needs I have, and have learnt a fair amount about restoring furniture. The main thing I’ve learnt is to not underestimate the time needed in cleaning or how much kitchen roll is needed!
Mar 2016, Updated Nov 2020