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Turning an old Liberty Ship Hatch Cover into a Coffee Table

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This Liberty ship hatch cover coffee table was the perfect fit for Andrew’s parent’s Bay Home! When Andrew’s mom started renovating their home, her design style was a classic nautical theme.  She was struggling with what to purchase as their new coffee table! As this would be the centerpiece for the entire space, she wanted to make sure it tied the kitchen, dining room & living room together. My mom had recently redone a Liberty Ship hatch cover into a coffee table, and I knew that was exactly what Elaine needed!  

I started casually searching Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace and as luck would have it, an old Liberty Ship hatch cover was listed for sale! Andrew & I planned to go pick it up and with my mom’s expertise; we were able to take an old beat-up table into something brand new! These coffee tables go for upwards of $1,000 when they are in good shape, so getting this old one for $90 felt like a steal!

These Liberty Ship hatch covers are super cool looking with an even cooler history. These wooden hatch covers come from World War II Liberty ships. There were only about 1,000 WWII Liberty Ships and about 200 Victory ships made.  Each WWII Liberty Ship had 400 hatch doors to provide access to cargo areas, while each WWII Victory Ship had 500 hatch covers. The Patent for these covers was filed by Harry Cocks in 1931, Patent #US1864232A.  We were lucky enough that our patent stamp hadn’t worn off!

hatch cover

In keeping with the true nautical theme, we decided to use wood boat stains and finishes on the hatch cover!

If you don’t already have a Liberty Ship hatch cover then getting one could be a little difficult. It will require some creativity! I recommend keeping an eye on craigslist & marketplace and hopefully one will turn up!

Rehabbing this old table top should have been easier than it really was.  We were rushing to get it done for Christmas and put coats of Captain’s Varnish on before the previous coat had fully dried.  This caused a ripple/bubble on the table top because the outside of the paint film dries faster than the inside, trapping solvents. 

liberty ship

 Additionally, we were finishing in a basement.  As people walked overhead dust fluttered down onto the table top before it dried completely! This resulted in us having to sand the hatch cover back down to the bare wood and start again.   

Other than the ship hatch table, the materials list is pretty short! As I walk through the steps below I’m going to assume you’re starting with just a hatch cover but if you have legs already attached definitely remove them before getting started!

Step 1:  If the hatch has paint, you will need to strip off the paint.  My favorite Klean-Strip Premium Paint Stripper from Home Depot.  Apply using throw away paint brushes.  Be sure, to wipe the hatch down with After Wash to get the paint residue off.  After the table has dried from the stripper & After Wash, it’s time to sand.  DO NOT sand a lot; you do not want to ruin the natural aging of the hatch.  Just skim over it with a palm sander, using 220 grit sandpaper, to get the “fuzzy” parts of the wood off. Wipe the wood off with denatured alcohol.

hatch cover

Make sure you allow the stain to dry completely

Step 2: Apply one coat of Interlux Brown Mahogany on the wood.  Allow the stain to dry completely!  Apply per directions on the can and avoid getting any stain on the metal bands and handles.  

Step 3:  After the stain has dried completely (I cannot stress this enough!)  using your finger, apply Rub-N-Buff on the metal.  We used Antique Gold.  Rub-N-Buff is user friendly and fool proof!  Don’t be afraid!!! Besides it’s supposed to look old and beat up. 

liberty ship hatch cover
hatch cover

Step-4:  Apply the Captain’s Varnish using your High Quality paint brushes (China Bristle or Badger Hair)!  Make sure the Rub-N-Buff is completely dry as you will apply the varnish directly on top of the metal!  It is now time to start the top coats.  You will apply at the very least 4 coats of Petit’s Captain’s Varnish.  Captain’s Varnish is self-leveling and user friendly, as long as you follow the directions to a T! 

Captain’s Varnish is self-leveling and user friendly, as long as you follow the directions to a T!

Use a high-quality brush to apply the varnish, do not shake the can, stir too much or overwork the varnish with your brush.  This adds air bubbles which in turn adds them to your project.  Try to work in a dust-free location.  We literally put an E-Z Up over the table while applying the varnish to avoid dust from falling on the finish before it dried.  😊

Continue to apply coats of Captain’s Varnish to the table until you achieve the look you want.  We applied 4 coats to our table which really gave it a maritime look! 

hatch cover

Remember the stuff is self-leveling, so you can apply it to the sides while applying it to the top.  After all coats you may need to sand off some drips on the underneath depending on holes in your table or excess drips from the sides.  The longer the Captain’s Varnish sits the harder a finish you will have. 

hatch cover

Step 5: Attach the legs.  We purchased our table’s legs from Etsy! In the Esty ad photo the legs were black and even though the description clearly stated these were unfinished metal legs, I was still surprised when they showed up that way! We ordered the legs with a Height of 14 inches and a Depth of 20 inches.  This was an easy fix as we purchased 2 cans of Satin Black Spray Paint and quickly transformed our unfinished legs into sleek, modern metal coffee table legs!

The end product was exactly what we had pictured and we were so excited with how it turned out!

TIP!

If you are able to find Jet Speed Varnish, BUY IT!  It is economical and dries quickly!  I would highly recommend that you apply 3-4 coats of Jet Speed and then one coat of Captain’s Varnish.  Saves you tons of money & time!!  However, you cannot buy this in the US any longer; I do believe it is available in Canada.

Links

ship hatch cover

How to Restore An Old Liberty Ship Hatch Cover

Prep Time 6 hrs
Build Time 8 hrs
Dry Time 5 d
Total Time 5 d 14 hrs
Units 1 coffee table

Equipment

  • Palm Sander
  • Throw Away Paint Brushes
  • High Quality Paint Brushes (China Bristle or Badger Hair)

materials
  

  • Can Interlux Stain Brown Mahogany
  • Container Premium Stripper
  • Container Paint Stripper After Wash
  • Quart Petit’s Captain’s Varnish
  • 1 Tube Rub ‘n Buff Wax Metallic Finish Antique Gold
  • 2 Metal Legs Black
  • 2 Can Spray Paint Black Satin Finish
  • Container Denatured Alcohol

Instructions
 

  • Strip & sand the table down.  Using the Paint Stripper and Palm Sander take off any dirt/grime and finish off.
  • Apply one coat of Interlux Brown Mahogany on the wood.
  • Wipe down the metal with denatured alcohol and rub on Rub ‘n Buff Wax Metallic Finish in Antique Gold.
  • Apply 4 coats of the Captain’s Varnish using a paint brush.
    TIP:Make sure you don’t let your table dry in a dusty area (!!) 😊
  • Attach the legs. 
ship hatch cover
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