Super Top Secret Source: Hank Tosh

Hank Tosh specializes in refinishing mid-century modern furniture, and he's my Super Top Secret Find of the month. Hank's clients include Emily Summers, the Stoneleigh Hotel, Sputnik Modern, and Century Modern. Designers almost never reveal where they get their work done, but I stumbled on Hank's website by accident. Last week, I paid a visit to his workshop in Oak Cliff: 

So, Hank, you specialize in refinishing mid-century modern furniture. Why?
I have been into mid-century/ 50's era things as long as I can remember and had collected and fixed up many things of my own just as a hobby and out of necessity (plus I had a little background in finishing and woodworking from working in other mediums)  before I actually started doing it for a living and many of my friends were into this as well, so eventually that just became a specialty.

I've been doing it 18 years, roughly. I learned under the tutelage of Billy Keith at Lakewood Furniture, doing grunt work -- sanding, stripping, a little staining. He taught me a lot. The rest I've learned by reading everything I can get my hands on, and lots of trial and error and my trusty friend and mentor Rick Wood, 3rd generation craftsman, who learned from his father.

Hank is stripping an old longleaf pine door, salvaged from a church, for a client's home. It was peppered with hammer dents, so Hank tried this amazing trick, which works on bare, unfinished wood: Place a wet paper towel on top of the dent, rewetting occasionally. It takes several hours, but the wood eventually plumps back up. He then goes over it with an iron to make it flat. "I probably shouldn't be telling you this," Hank said, half laughing. "These are trade secrets."

Beautiful, solid quarter sawn oak and long leaf pine doors, stripped and waiting to be stained.

The ToshMahal workshop off Hampton Road.

Hank: One of the craziest jobs I've ever done, which I'm in the middle of right now, is this old Philco radio cabinet, which I'm basically rebuilding. I have re-built cabinets before that have just needed re-gluing and clamping, but this one takes the cake. I basically had to separate the cabinet from the top (by steaming, which with the old hide glue is near impossible) and replace a lot of missing veneer. I'm remaking what is called the waist piece, which is a bent ply piece, which involves making a form and cutting the board to size. Then, I am applying 6 different cuts of matched veneer, and rejoining the top to the base and refinish the whole thing. It's almost like a museum restoration, but no customer would ever want to pay what it takes to complete the job. Normally you'd just buy another radio cabinet for the same price and fix it up. But this one was sentimental for the client, so I did it for a little less. It's been quite an experience.



Before! Is this rosewood? 


Before! Who knew?

Hank: I love all the Danish walnut stuff. I had a beautiful Walter Kegan chair in here and it was one of my favorites. I also love all the Heywood Wakefield stuff. A lot of it is right at the juncture of Deco and modern, so it's almost as if it doesn't know exactly what it is, but that's what I love about it.

Hank: Older antiques are challenging because of some of the more intricacies such as turnings and scroll work and such, but there are mid-century pieces that are just as challening in different ways. That's something that is hard to get people to understand sometimes, is that a Dunbar cabinet is not a Dunbar cabinet is not a Dunbar cabinet if you catch my drift. Every piece is different, presents its own unique set of characteristics, and has its own personal history as to how it eventually came into your hands. This takes some time to disect sometimes. It is necessarry to do this in order to come up with a plan to cure what ails it.

Can we have just a few more top secret tips before you go?
Hank: Use a coaster! It doesn't matter what type of finish you have on your furniture, it is succeptible to rings. What causes this is when you put a cup/anything with moisture and especially a temperature difference directly on the piece, then you have a moisture build up in between the wood and the finish and this is what will cause a ring and the only way to fix this (I don't care how many so called remedies are out there) is to repair/redo the finish. Also, I always finish with a coat of heavy, uncut carnuba wax. This is a free service I provide at the end after the lacquer has cured. This will protect a little from water spots and the wax I use has enough carnuba in it to act as a great cleaning agent. You can wipe on with a damp sponge and immediately polish off with a soft cloth. This will not only clean but help to protect. And unless you really know how to refinish furniture, don't try it. I've gotten many pieces where people have tried this and it just makes my job harder and more expensive.