People often contact us to ask if they can buy replacement inserts—also known as leaves—for their vintage Heywood-Wakefield dining tables. It’s a simple enough question, but the answer is more complicated than you might think.
A Few Words About Crafting Our Dining Tables
As one of the final stages before applying finishing materials to our dining tables, our craftsmen sand down those hallmark rounded edges by hand. Although the fixed sections and inserts are first machined on a sophisticated CNC (computer numerically controlled) router, the rounded edges are “blended” by hand at the end. The inserts and other components are laid out on a work table in their final position, alignment pins are installed, and the edges blended by a skilled worker using sanding machines and handheld sanding blocks and papers.
When this process is finished, the inserts match the fixed sections of the table exactly, in an unbroken line. However, they won’t necessarily fit exactly into another table. Because this process involves work by hand, slight variations do occur. A leaf that isn’t sanded with a table may not fit it precisely, resulting in a “flaw” that’s generally unacceptable to people with a discerning eye—a trademark trait of Heywood-Wakefield buyers.
Two Options to Replace a Dining Table Leaf
Our ability to supply replacement inserts is limited to two options. Option one may work for people near our Massachusetts factory. If you can get your table to us, we can properly fit it with replacement inserts. Alternatively, you can detach the legs and ship us just the top sections of the table, but this is still relatively costly. There’s another issue with this—the color—but I’ll get to that in a minute.
The second option would be for us to sell you inserts that have to be shaped to the table by a skilled woodworker in your area. In my opinion, not everyone can do this perfectly, though. This requires due diligence—and not just comparison shopping by price—in selecting a qualified craftsman.
The Color Consideration
Neither of the above solutions address the issue of matching the color of your existing dining table. This is probably the biggest challenge of all.
Mid-century era Heywood-Wakefield furniture has been around for 60 or 70 years. In the intervening years, the wood’s been exposed to an array of environmental factors that gradually alter its color. The old nitrocellulous lacquer used in those days for furniture finish didn’t provide much protection against light, either, especially for over half a century.
New wood—even the same species of Northern Yellow Birch, which we use—hasn’t been absorbing light for decades and isn’t the same color at all. So, you’d have to find someone competent to match your new inserts to your existing old wood. It’s not an easy task, even for very good finishers.
Your best bet in this case would be to strip the entire table and start over with another finish. Keep in mind that even when stripped, the old wood defaults to a darker color upon application of any sealer or top coat, but the wood in your new inserts won’t do this. This work requires a highly experienced color-matching expert. They’re out there, but not always easy to find, and maybe not close to where you live.
A Third Replacement Option
All this brings up the subject of cost, but there’s a third option for replacing inserts that is greatly affected by cost, so let’s deal with the two subjects together.
One way around the color complication is to use actual old Heywood-Wakefield wood. A happy coincidence is that an old HW twin bed is an idea candidate to cut up and use for inserts. I’ve done this several times, and it worked perfectly. The problem, of course, is that you have to buy a vintage twin bed (one will do, as there’s enough lumber in the headboard and footboard to do the average table), and then you have to refinish the entire table. Also, your table has either the old Wheat or Champagne finish, so you need to locate a bed with the same finish.
Consider a New Heywood-Wakefield Dining Table
Not to sound self-serving, but I often recommend that people whose vintage dining tables no longer adequately serve their needs consider buying a new piece. Given the expense and complications involved in perfectly replacing inserts for vintage pieces, many people find it’s simpler and preferable to sell their vintage table and purchase a new one. We still produce several classic Heywood-Wakefield mid-century modern dining table designs.