Restoring an Old Cabinet

My lovely drawers of wood type came with a battered cabinet. I am working on the idea of having this restored: modified, sanded, waxed. To make it usable and of a size that will fit into a small dining area, I would cut back on the depth and eliminate some drawers. Also, a shelf seems to be missing on the top. Any other ideas regarding restoration?

I am fuzzy on how the cabinet functions: did one take out a drawer and place it on a slanted top? Then what was done? I would appreciate any information or references about such cabinets.

image: Type Cabinet.jpg

Type Cabinet.jpg

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In keeping with my New Year’s resolution, I will leave it to others for comment. (Silently: ARRRRGGGGHHHHH!)

Your cabinet is also called a composing station. It was intended to be a very basic piece in the print shop and was not intended to be a piece of furniture in the parlor. They do however finish up well and can be quite attractive. One should probably not attempt to restore it to look new. Some of the dings and stains give it a patina of authenticity. Sand it to the degree you wish and coat it with boiled linseed oil. Perhaps also a second coat well rubbed down. Then when that is well dry, a coat of furniture wax or oil if you wish. Well rubbed down

Metal and some wood type used to come in two cases. The printer calls the drawer a case. The small letters came in one case and the capitals in another. The case was placed on the slanted surface. If both the small and large letters were to be used as was normally the case, the case with the small letters was placed on the lower slant and the case with the larger letters was placed on the high slant. Thus: Lower case and upper case letters as we know them

Oops! I did not intend to offend any collectors/printers by restoring what I now know is a composing station. I am not looking for a “finished” piece of furniture, just some good housing for the cases, so that I might have them at hand, rather than the 33 years they have been lingering in the garage!

Thanks, Inky, for your thoughtful suggestions.

It’s not a cabinet. Rather it is a simple single case stand. Quite possibly of Hamilton origin. Your stand is missing the upper center strut, there is no ‘top’ as such, and the back boards appear unoriginal as well. Interestingly, it shows little overall wear.
The depth of the stand has purpose: the cases were slid to the rear, thus, when composing from a case, which as said was placed on the slanted top, the set-back allowed the compositor to stand comfortably at the stand, one foot on the lower crosspiece, with the knee in the opening. Try standing for any time with the cases flush-to-front - your back would seize quite quickly.
As to your proposed ‘restoration’. Stands are no longer manufactured, plus becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Butchering the stand to fit your dining area is akin to changing the colors on a Monet simply because it clashed with the drapes. :o)


I would refrain from any sawing/modifying; refinish as Inky suggests and use the drawers for silverware, place mats, tablecloths, napkins, puzzles, needlepoint, fabrics, etc. It’s great that you brought it in out of the garage but please recognize that if you do go ahead with your planned “shortening”, you might not get an appreciative audience here; press room furniture is more our thing. While I’m not very familiar with these case stands, others here, like my friend forme, are, and this unit seems to have some historical importance. Can you make it fit as is? Or better yet, can you use it as intended …and just print in your dining room? I’m a kitchen printer …it can be done!


These case stands are usually fairly old and went out of favor as soon as enclosed cabinets came into use and were ‘tight’ enough (because they had handles on the cases and did not require the high-lipped front so they could be pulled out from the left and right edges. This was a great advantage because it eliminated a lot of the dust and lint that accumulated in these older stands and one could also stack more cases in the same amount of floor space. Your stand will store 12 cases whereas a standard ‘dustless’ cabinet will store 24 or 25.

As you can see in your photo, all the dust in the shop is going to eventually cover everything stored in those cases.

An added note is that your stand should be designed to simply come apart easily by removing all of the bolts. They were easily transported when broken-down in that manner.


This style of case stand in the U.S. had several names, basically City, News, and Open. The two major manufacturers were Hamilton and Thompson. These were made into the 1950s by Thompson though it looks like Hamilton may have ended them by WWII. In the 1912 ATF catalog, there are some 31 different styles of these case stands listed. They were cheap, shipped as knocked down kits, and were favored in small shops and weekly newspapers because of the low cost.

The double open stand we have is made from soft wood and it came out of the Oakland (Calif) Police Department’s print shop where they printed wanted posters, among other things. There is part of a wanted poster pasted to the back of the stand of a 1930s era woman along with the department’s stencil painted on the stand. I’ve had it now for over 50 years. Our other open stand was made by Thompson and was built from a hardwood, probably Ash.


There was some Joker on e-bay who apparently couldn’t get the price he wanted for his cases, so he cut them in half to make two. Well, I have nothing for that person.Some might say, “they are his to do with as he pleases”. Or, “maybe he didn’t know how scarce they are”. Well, he knew enough to say they were rare, antique and collectible. I guess this is my rant. Don’t know if I ever had one on social media. So, as Phil Ambrosi says, “there you have it!”.

Winfred Reed
Black Diamond Press (Kentucky)

Gads, I may be forced into type case production. I have in their original shipping containers parts for maybe 4000 2/3 and full size type cases, but this material is only the fronts, backs, sides and major dividers. What I haven’t found are the slats that make up the individual compartments and those we will have to mill. These are high quality parts made by Stephenson-Blake in the 1950s and never assembled. I also have boxes of new case pulls identical to the ones Hamilton used. This was supposed to be a project for retirement but I’m still working.

First, thanks for all for your comments. They have helped to clarify my thinking and perspectives on the project.

Yesterday I found a picture of a case stand that I hope to use as a model in restoring my case stand. While my stand has the original basic structure, there had been a number of alterations . Some missing elements, too.

I want to keep the integrity of the original as much as possible, but I also want a functioning stand, which I will incorporate in my home. I consider the wood type as “art,” but not “artsy.” (I was an art dealer and enjoy living with beauty.)

So many decisions! But I value the concerns and caring I’ve received.

image: Dining room.jpg

Dining room.jpg

image: Hamilton Cabinet.jpg

Hamilton Cabinet.jpg

Hi Judith,

The photo that you found is of a double-wide type cabinet, NOT a case stand such as you have. It has solid (paneled) sides as well as a back. It also has a solid top. Your case stand will not have a solid top. One of two of your cases can be set on top to make it look more attractive.

Look at the image that Fritz attached above to see what you are dealing with.


no one has yet mentioned that these are not difficult to replicate, considering you wish to make a smaller/adapted version, probably easier, in some nice reclaimed timber, contact a local college with woodwork shop for a student project for example.The original is of course yours to do with exactly what you wish, but could be donated to a letterpress shop etc.