Anyone who has restored antique furniture will likely have worn out one or two pairs of shoes walking round a chair, table or chest, dabbing a spot of polish here and another there. Like many, I suffer a few aches and pains, and stooping to work is a recipe for a visitation to the doctor or chiropractor.
To extend the life of my shoe leather and generally make life easier on myself, I have always employed a work table on which I place the piece of furniture I’m working on. The height of the table is adjustable and as I stand between my bench and the work table, I can rotate the table to work on any side of the piece of furniture without straying far from the bench. The table’s rotation can be locked so I don’t end up chasing the thing in circles when carving or planing repairs etc.
“How is this ingenuity achieved?” I hear you ask. It’s very simple; by unbolting the seat of a 1920s – 1960s cast iron barber’s chair and bolting a welded RHS or SHS frame onto the chair base in its place. A sacrificial work top comprising a sheet of 19mm (3/4″) thick plywood or HMR particleboard is then attached to the steel frame with self-tapping screws (fig. 1).
Many of the old iron barber’s chairs are operated by hand levers and while these can be successfully modified, by far the simplest to convert are the chair bases that incorporate two or three foot-operated pedals: One or two of the pedals (depending on the make) are employed to raise and lower the hydraulic column and a third, brake pedal, locks the column preventing it and the work table from rotating (figs. 2 & 3).
Some barber’s chair bases have gibs attached to the hydraulic columns to prevent the chairs from rotating, but by simply removing the gib screws and gibs the columns will rotate freely.
Some dentist’s chairs from the same era are also suitable for converting, but may require a bit of fiddling to make them operable as tables, as some of the raising and locking controls are located conveniently (for the dentist) in the chair itself.
Later dentist’s chairs are usually electrically operated which can be a boon if you have (or can retrospectively install) a power outlet in the floor of your workshop.