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“We got trouble my friend, right here in BAB City…”

October 14, 2011
by

“Right here in BAB City.
Trouble with a capital “T”
And that rhymes with “P” and that stands for POOL!”

Yep – I bought a POOL TABLE last weekend!

(For those of you not up on your movie musicals, one of our favorites is 1962’s “The Music Man” with Robert Preston.)

On Sunday, I went to an estate sale that promised some tools. Tools were a bit of a bust, but this pool table in the basement attracted my attention…

"Pool Table For Sale"

While I wouldn’t say I’m a pool hall rat, I will admit that a lot of my misspent youth was playing pool at smoky pool joints with my best friend Brian. And most of my life I’ve owned a pool cue that I carried to various pool halls. Wait – does that mean I was a pool hall rat? (I can’t say I never played for money…)

Anyway, while a pool table wasn’t in the immediate plans for our BAB project, I thought eventually a pool table would be the perfect addition to the basement “Sue-will-never-go-down-there” place that will be what everyone-but-me will refer to as my man-cave.

When I imagined what my basement pool table would be, I thought I wouldn’t want anything fancy, or super cool, or even “expensive”, because I figured it would all be about the quality of playing pool, and not what it looked like. I also didn’t want it to be a small rinky-dink table like those 6′ coin-operated jobs.

I wanted it to have “gusto”.

So I’m in this basement of this 60’s ranch house out in St. Louis county, and you can’t ignore this beast in the corner. It felt like a good length – at least 8′ long. I started running my hands all over the wood rails, the bumpers and I felt the felt – while maybe there’s a few nicks in the felt surface, everything about it felt… well, it definitely had “gusto”.

Everything was solid wood. I could feel a slight step in the joints between the slate pieces, but I knew that could be corrected when it was finally setup in my basement.  It looked like the rails were solid walnut, and they were attached with some interesting, maybe “primitive looking” bolts on the sides. It appeared to be lacking in “decoration”, which appealed to me. There was something odd about the base though – it was painted a pale brown, and it looked like there was some missing trim at the top. I had a brief thought that maybe this was a hybrid; like a table bed had been grafted onto an older table base, to explain the missing trim all around. But the best news was that it had a cast brass emblem/plate of “A.E.Schmidt”, which is a famous St. Louis pool table company that has been making pool tables for over 150 years. Anything they put their name on was good.

But the total package: an excellent slate bed; solid wood construction; a dozen pool cues, cue rack, table covers, accessories; blah blah blah… and a table that seemed full of g-factors: “grrrrrrrr”, “gusto” and “grrrreat deal”… I was able to negotiate down to $250… SOLD!

I had to arrange an expert to move it though; fortunately the estate company had already contacted a pool table expert dude; so I called him and arranged to move it. After arranging a time with the house owner, I met them there and the following is a pictorial documentation of the dismantling…

These guys were definitely experts – they spent about 29 seconds looking at the table and threw all of their tool bags on the table bed and went to work immediately.

Detaching the pockets and loosening the felt.

Some rails removed

Pockets are old; not sure if I can salvage them...

The pocket substructure is actually wood...

Separating the slate bed pieces

For some reason the third section is different color

Base frame now exposed...

It was around this point that the pool table guys said “Dude, this table is like over a hundred years old…”. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing; I decided it was a good thing cuz that added to “gusto”. While I wasn’t too concerned about vintage value, or resale amount, I just wanted a beefy table to play pool in the basement.

It was also around that point when they started telling me about the quality of the table: “Dude, [okay, they didn’t really say ‘Dude’], if you pay someone to refinish this and fix it up, you’d have a table worth well into the thousands of dollars…” Unfortunately, the owner/seller happened to be right there in the basement when they said that and he quickly turned away and mumbled “Damn! I wish I’d known that…” Fortunately for me we’d already agreed on a price and I’d paid at the estate sale. (yeah!)

Back to the dis-assembly…

Final piece of slate

Base construction revealed.

It was around this point point where I started to compare the construction of the table base to that of an old wooden ship. Everything felt really chunky and solidly connected; there are really long bolts; the adjacent beams have huge recesses carved out to accommodate the insertion and removal of those long bolts and there was just this “marine heaviness” about the construction. I mean – just LOOK at it! Big ol’ hunks o’ wood!

The side, without the top

While I didn’t notice this while in the basement, I see in the last photo that there was some kind of design or lines appearing on the side panels. It wasn’t visible while I was there due to the poor lighting in the basement; only the camera flash revealed it. Continue reading to see the importance of this…

Separating one end component...

Last disassembly of base...

So the pool table experts loaded up their truck, got directions to BAB from me, and a few minutes later we were ready to unload. I’d setup pallets in advance in the basement. I didn’t feel the need to document their unloading and carrying the parts into the basement.

But maybe I should have…

So about the third trip down into the basement, one of the guys brings a piece of the base over next to a shop light. He says “Hey, you should look at this… maybe there’s some kind of detail in this, can you see these lines in these panels?” I looked where he was pointing; there was definitely some kind of pattern revealed in the light. They first noticed it in the sunlight as they were unloading in the alley.

I said “Huh – it looks like it could almost be some kind of marquetry or veneer inlay…” They said “Maybe – that would be pretty cool with this vintage of table…” I didn’t get my hopes up and figured I could check it out later.

When I decided to buy the table, I didn’t really think of it as a restoration project, or any kind of fancy shit; I just really wanted a solid good quality table and I figured I’d just repaint that base a shiny black with some interesting gold accents – to minimize the work.

So a couple of days pass and I finally had a couple of free hours one evening, and my curiosity got the best of me.

I carried one of the big sides of the base out of the basement up to the dock and I wanted to remove the old finishes to see what’s underneath.

The next photo is what it looked like “as is”… you can see some lines of a pattern in the bright dock light.

Lines in finish - what do they represent?

Trying to stay realistic, I thought, maybe these are just carvings in the surface, or the separation between painted-on decorated colors. But in the back of my mind was the twinkling of “WOW – what if this was actually INLAY of different woods?! THAT would be AWESOME!”  It was just too early to tell – they were just telegraphed lines on the surface of a coat of paint.

I started with hand-sanding. I got nowhere fast. I kept at it for 10 minutes until I scratched through two layers of paint and found what was probably an old layer of shellac. It didn’t reveal anything, except that I needed to up my sanding game.

I upgraded to the motorized oscillating sander. But even then it took me another 15 minutes to break through that first finish and see the original wood beneath. I couldn’t see the grain very well yet to figure out what the lines meant.

Not quite sure of the pattern yet

The wood material itself is very hard – and so is the finish. I started with a 120-grit sandpaper and it seemed to be slow-going; so I switched to a rougher 80-grit. That made better progress without really damaging any wood below.

Enough old finish removed - but pattern not readily visible

I was starting to see what the lines represented; I believed that they really WERE the joint lines between inlays and different wood veneers. THAT was exciting! It didn’t photograph well though. And I wasn’t sure yet what kind of species it was – the sanded paint created a lot of dust.

Fortunately I have a trick that I’ve used when I’ve been buying wood to get an idea of what it will look like when a finish is applied. I’ve typically taken a piece of wood and just licked it. Yep – that’s right, standing in the middle of a wood store, pouring over exotic woods, I’ll admit to just raising a piece of wood to my mouth and licking it. The wetness of saliva mimics the saturation of an oil or varnish finish on wood and darkens the wood just enough so that you can see how the highlights in the grain will be revealed in the light. It evaporates quickly, does no damage (unless you’ve got some kind of poison-breath) and is pretty much 95% accurate.  Try it sometime. (The side benefit – you will learn to identify wood species by their taste and smell. Huh – is that really a benefit?)

I DEFINITELY wasn’t going to lick this large surface just to photograph it for this post, so I dampened a small cloth and wiped it over the panel.

Pattern revealed - sort of...

While the water on the panel got rid of the dust, and highlighted the difference between the patterns, when I reviewed the picture on the camera screen it still didn’t have the pop that was there in person.

But still – WTF? Look what was lying below those coats of paint! Even if you can’t see it in the last photo, I was ecstatic – what a bonus! I WAS planning to just paint over this stuff!

Then I realized that perhaps I could change the lighting; I was shooting without a flash under a super-bright mercury-vapor lamp hung in the dock. So I toggled on the camera flash… see next photo… I also switched on the macro focus of my camera so that I could get closer and really see the wood grain.

Better lighting reveals the beauty of wood inlay...

OMG!

What amazing colors! It looks like the background could be walnut and the and the inlay cherry. And for those of you that really know wood, or are into kinky stuff (even better if you fall into both categories) – I think I have some “burl-on burl” action going on there!

The next is a close-up…

Close-up detail of inlay

So… I ended my investigation there. I didn’t need to make this table playable anytime soon and we certainly have higher priorities at BAB.

I could assume any other parts on the base had similar detail, and I felt pretty sure that the rails (still untouched) were solid walnut.

While I really just wanted a cheap but solidly constructed table with “gusto” for my basement bar, I actually have ended up with much more than that. I’ve decided that I’ll have the guys install a RED felt instead of the traditional green, and I’ll end up with a pool table that has rich veneer inlays, could possibly be vintage or even Victorian era, and I’m assured it’s got solid construction that will last through my lifetime. Hopefully whoever has it after me will appreciate it just as much.

I think I found a SUPER deal at this estate sale.

(Stay tuned for updates on the completion of the pool table project. No schedule though at this time.)

19 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2011 10:55 am

    Tom,

    I think I might have an old pool table light at my Mom’s house. I am not sure if it is Stag or Pabst but if it is still there you are more than welcome to it. It belongs in a man cave.

    Great piece of writting! Thanks Tom & Sue.

    -Todd

  2. Mary Beth permalink
    October 14, 2011 10:47 am

    Who would paint over that???

    • Tom permalink
      October 14, 2011 11:03 am

      I think it got a little beat up over time – I found a few tears or splits in the base where screws that were holding the slate beds down went in at an angle and popped out the front; and then patched over with old wood putty, and I can imagine someone long ago finding it neglected it and then voila… “Let’s just paint that sucker!” Just like architects of the 60’s and 70’s didn’t appreciate older buildings and ripped off ornate terra cotta to cover it with metal panels. If the pool table IS really old then it likely got taken apart a lot.

  3. Greg Brunkhorst permalink
    October 14, 2011 10:33 am

    Very cool burl walnut and burl cherry inlay. You wont need to lick it if you just let me drool on it. You may need to up grade your man cave.

    • Tom permalink*
      October 14, 2011 7:33 pm

      Thanks Greg – it’s some beautiful stuff!

  4. Nancy permalink
    October 14, 2011 9:17 am

    Fabulous! What a find.

  5. DBY permalink
    October 14, 2011 9:12 am

    I’ve got a hunch the guys at A.E. Schmidt would know exactly when and where the table came from. That thing is awesome. Red felt, definitely…

    • Tom permalink
      October 14, 2011 9:56 am

      Thanks DBY… I could probably take my pictures to them and ask.
      The pool table movers said that years ago A. E. Schmidt would sometimes attach their plaque on tables that they overhauled, much like a car dealer likes to put their stickers or license plate frames on your car…

  6. Brian Jones permalink
    October 14, 2011 8:19 am

    I’m really curious about how old that table is… That pattern may help you figure that out.

    • Tom permalink*
      October 14, 2011 7:18 pm

      Yep – I bet the pattern will be the key.

  7. Susan permalink
    October 14, 2011 7:27 am

    Beautiful – and what a steal! =D

  8. rick peterson permalink
    October 14, 2011 7:22 am

    WOW Tom, you REALLY can find some AWESOME things.
    Nice pool table !!!!
    When it’s done, I’d like to play a game or two

    • Tom permalink
      October 14, 2011 10:10 am

      Yep – I got pretty lucky with this find.
      thanks Rick

      • carolyn permalink
        October 24, 2011 8:27 pm

        I want to play too! I used to when I was a teen. fun!

        carolyn

        • Tom permalink*
          October 24, 2011 10:31 pm

          bring it

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