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  Coffee Table Conversion by Tom Holloway

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This past spring my brother gave me an old stand-up clerk's desk, the type used on top of an existing counter, with drawers for cash and supplies and a sloping top. 

It was unusable as furniture, and hardly a priceless antique, but had lots of well patinated oak lumber.  He had acquired it some years ago in Walla Walla, WA, and it has spent the past several years in his storage shed in central Nevada (Smith Valley).

He thought maybe I could restore it, but I concluded that I would then have a restored piece of old furniture that served no useful purpose, and was too large to be an item of decoration. 


Tom Holloway

I decided to convert the desk into a coffee table, using two of the three original drawers, and give the now usable item back to my brother (who needs a coffee table, in any case).  My one regret is not getting a shot of the original desk before the conversion.

It was nearly 6' long, with three drawers (two of which I built into the coffee table) with built-in brass locks.  What I used for the table top was sloped up about 15 degrees from the drawer, where a clerk might open a ledger or similar.  Then there was a flat part about 10" wide beyond the slope.  No legs - I think it was meant to place on top of a flat counter or maybe some sort of trestle. 

I envision it being set up at a logging camp in the Pacific Northwest, where on payday the loggers would line up on one side and the clerk on the other side, where cash pay was distributed and recorded in the ledger open on the sloped part.  From construction details I would estimate a date somewhere in the last couple decades of the 19th century.

As I suggested, it was not fine furniture, and was dried out and coming apart at the joints, some of which were simply nailed (with modern-looking finishing nails).  Large expanse of clear red oak lumber, however, which now has a new lease on life as furniture. 

The wear and stains in the top and drawer fronts got there honestly, and will go well with my Brother's somewhat rustic "Nevada bunkhouse" style of house furnishings.

Chopping mortise

Preparing legs for conversion of an antique stand-up clerk's desk into a usable coffee table. Two Holloway Holdfasts visible here.

Chopping mortise

Making new legs (from 3 layers of 3/4" stock laminated) to convert an old standup clerk's desk into a coffee table. Special prize for first to name all tools visible.

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