Cleaning and restoring Hamilton trays - help plz!

I’m looking for some recommendations on cleaning and restoring some old Hamilton trays.

I bought the entire chest from an antique dealer but I cannot find any markings on it so I’m thinking it was just a personally built one. It’s in pretty rough shape.

I’d like to use the trays to house all of my bottles of essential oils. Either hanging them on the wall or if I can get the chest in decent shape, using them in it.

I’m attaching photos of all of it - the first drawer I’ve attempted to do anything with, I used a paper towel and a gentle baby wipe and that’s where I got those two slightly clean spots that you can see.

From there I decided to hose it down (don’t hurt me!) and my water hose nozzle got all of the black bottoms out but kind of splintered the bottom board, as you can see.

I’ve taken a light sandpaper and cleaned that off and am considering spraying it down with a lacquer… is that good?

My granddaddy retired as the Production Manager of our local newspaper years ago. My dad worked there for a long time too. I’ve worked there, my sister, my uncle, my husbands step dad… this piece has a lot of sentimental value to me because it reminds me of my granddaddy and things he has in his home from his newspaper days. So I don’t want to ruin the integrity of the trays but I want to be able to use them daily so they’ve GOT to be truly cleaned somehow.

I’m not 100% comfortable with spraying down all of the trays. I don’t like that it splintered the bottoms but if that’s the best thing, I can do that.

My dad said to just lacquer over them after vacuuming out the dust and dirt and leave them as is ;-) ha!

Suggestions would be great! Thank you so much!!

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Trying to attach more photos but it’s not allowing me.

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I do a lot of this.
First I vacuum or blow out the case to get any loose stuff out.
Then I use redwood fence restorer from the hardware store.
Redwood type is not necessary if you live where that is not sold. I dampen the wood with a sprayer and then use the restorer straight and scrub with an old toothbrush. Before it is completely dry, hose it out. Set out to dry in the sun. The plywood in the bottom isn’t real happy with the water, but it will work.
Finish with a clear spray finish.

Thank you Inky!

Are the plywood backs easy to remove? My husband wants to try taking the back off and sanding it down clean and then putting it back on.

Back removal.
You won’t know until you try it. My experience has been unsatisfactory. It is nailed in many places and difficult to remove.
I have removed some very badly deteriorated case bottoms and replaced them with 3/16” plywood available from a large lumber supply house as door skins

The answer is probably (unfortunately) NO.
From A U.K. perspective only, examine the back closely, You will find that the *Panel Pins* that show at the front, (pictured) are actually 1/16” or thereabouts, a form of rivet, that go all the way through the intersections, and are effectively *peened* over at the back, + the 2 vertical sub-dividers are Glued and Pinned as well.
(Author) assuming Your cases are of the same format as U.K. Cases, we have repaired/replaced the backs occasionally, only because Woodworm had decimated the backs, (generally) the backs in ply, are a soft target.
The method employed (sacrificing the back) with a tiny Dremmel Grinder remove the *head* at rear, just enough to tap the Pin/Rivet! through at the front, to Pull Out the remnants, ? then again (generally) the back is slotted in at both sides and the entire length of the front, under an behind the Handle(s) with the vertical bar *PINS* removed??
Old fashioned, conventional Printing Plate >TACK< remover works, = like a *Vipers Tounge*!!!
A Modern Upholsterers staple remover, is exactly the same animal. ??

Followed by all the cleaning necessary, new back, slid in from the back.underside,! with luck and a fair wind and CAREFUL prior removal of the previous through *Pins/Rivets* the through holes at the intersections should be a doddle, as PILOT Holes for re-drilling the new Back,s, followed by Long Series Panel Pins, and a lot of patience.

Not Quick, Not easy, but satisfying to bring Cases back to life.

Apologies IF U.S. & U.K., Type Case formats and construction are NOT synonymous. - Good Luck. Mick.

I think I’ll just continue with the cleaning instead of trying to disassemble them!! These seem to be still in very good shape so I think taking the backs off would be more trouble and cause more damage than necessary.

Thank you so much for all your help!!

I would suggest using them for their intended purpose and then you don’t have to worry about all this cleaning bs.

Yeah, Gachap—type cases are for type, but it appears to me that these cases have a paper covering over the wood bottom which was a short term solution Hamilton and others used to cover the cracks in the wood bottoms made from 2 or more pieces of wood. That is why the wood bottom shows up so clean—it was protected by the paper which washed away, some clinging pieces can be seen in the picture posted. The wood was not cleaned—it was already clean. And Mick is right—the nails holding the partition pieces to the bottom are cinched over or in heavy cases, say 50 pounds of type or more, the bottom will fall out. The object is to not destroy the type case in order to preserve it.

The last picture posted shows where the paper overlay has worn through in the A and H box. I personally dislike these cases because the paper picks up so much dirt and crud, and when it finally starts to lift from the wood, makes setting type unpleasant.

Fritz, Thank You for the *Nod* - Yes, several of our cases were Paper Lined, more so where the bottom Panel was a single sheet, slightly thicker than normal 3 Ply, and as You so rightly imply, the paper lining (floor) did act as cover for the cracks in single sheet form, 3 Ply was, (and still is here) more durable. Both still quite acceptable to the *B****Y, woodworm.

Along with several other(s) it grieves me sorely, when poster type is turned into ornaments, and type cases are used as display cabinets, they should contain Type, in the ideal world, but commendable that the Original *Postee* is preserving the Whole Rack/Cabinet with cases intact.
O.K. Essential Oils are not quite *Type* but the >Good Ladies< paragraph 7 was/is Good News from a custodians point of view.

Productions Grand-daughter,!! Thank You, for the Principle, ? Fritz Thanks also. Mick.


So I did another drawer and didn’t spray it down. I hated the way the bottom splintered in my first attempt.

I believe this photo is loading upside down but you can see this one is much much better.

And yes yes I know, ideally type would be housed in said typeset drawer but I have no type, sans the few pieces that came still stuck in these drawers. Obviously the antique shop that I bought this from didn’t even attempt to clean it or do anything with it except sell it. So I guarantee it’s in way better hands with me, even if I put essential oil bottles in it instead of type :-)

It’s definitely lined with paper, but it’s scrubbing out a lot easier than I expected. I’ve gotten two finished, not counting the first attempt where the bottom splintered.

Thank you for your help!

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P.G.D. Looking Good, whilst You are cleaning the whole *shooting match* Cases & Cabinet perhaps check for >woodworm< all over,? Your Hardstand/Floor/Deck appears to be Wood, very inviting for the above mentioned.!

Whilst You have the option to turn the Cabinet every which way, maybe take a close look at all 4 Feet, especially bottom left to view, (dry rot maybe), remedy possibly, take all 4 feet back to good timber, to achieve common height.

We actually, and occasionally, have made and fitted, >FEET< from hardwood, to increase the load bearing capacity, mainly for Racks with a full compliment of cases, filled with 30/40/50, Lbs./Pounds, - by weight, of Type, EACH.?

Irrelevant in this case, but 4 Hardwood Feet 1” bigger, (or thereabouts) than the vertical timbers, chamfered off (as in skirting board).
For an indoor setting, rather than a workshop setting, can look pleasing.

One more,? during the reassembly, for whatever eventual purpose, generous application of *Beeswax*, or *Candle Grease* where the cases Run on the side frame Rails. !!!

Good Luck. Mick

Thanks Mick!! I have an orange oil/beeswax combo stuff I’m using to condition the wood so that’s perfect!