Printer trays were used between 1890-1960 to hold the various pieces of an alphabet set. Let me share a fun fact I learned during my internet research: these trays were organized in font families and stored in vertical racks- which is where the terms "upper case" and "lower case" came from. You can thank me when this question comes up at your local bar's trivia night.
My first stop was eBay, where I fired up my bidding skills and landed myself an antique printer tray for $36 plus shipping. It measures 16.5 x 32", an inch deep, and weighs about 9 pounds. Here is what it looked like when I first received it- some sanding and refinishing were definitely in order:
Day 1: Sanding
I devoted an entire evening to just sanding the tray. I had to use a coarse sandpaper on some of the rough spots, and even busted out the Dremel with a sanding drill bit to get the worst spots, like on the top where there was still a coat of gray paint. Then, I went over the whole tray with a very fine sandpaper. That was only three sentences to describe this step but trust me when I tell you that this was A LOT of work- but definitely worth the elbow grease.
Days 2 & 3: The Back
Knowing that the front side would be difficult with all its nooks and crannies, I chose to ease myself into the task and spent the next two days working on the backside of my printer drawer. It was a two (or three) step process: wood treatment (I chose Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner) and two coats of a one-step stain & finish, Minwax PolyShades in Antique Walnut. This part was the only step of the whole process that I could say was a piece of cake.
Day 4, 5 & 6: The Front
It was finally time for the front. The process was the same as the back with the wood treatment followed by stain & finish, but took about a million times longer to complete. I had to go back and sand off some of the first coat that dripped off the sides and dried a little funny before going back in with the second coat. The picture below is after the second coat- I later decided to give just the edges a third coat to give it an even richer color.
Day 7: The "AFTER"
It was finally time to add the hooks! I used eye screws in size #216. It took a quality brainstorming session to figure out how to actually attach them, but once I got there it was smooth sailing. I used my Dremel Minimite to make little holes, being careful not to go all the way through the divider, then was able to screw them right in. I chose to leave a few compartments without screws to use for post earrings and rings. This was definitely time consuming but a great job for multitasking during the Golden Globes. Go Glee!
Before & After - Comparison:
- Bluebirdheaven's Etsy Shop: This seller owns the Etsy market on these jewelry displays
- Completely Coastal has some other neat uses for the antique printer tray
- And another link from Completely Coastal, scroll down to the fourth photo: they turned an antique printer tray into a coffee table! I LOVE this.