Is a coffee table made of old letterpress trays safe for my small kid?
August 24, 2018 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I really, really want to buy a coffee table I've found made out of letterpress trays from the 1920s; it's beautiful and absolutely my style. But I have a child under 5 whose brain I'dlike to avoid sabotaging, and old letterpress letters were often made of lead. This table was built in the 70s and has been in use since. The trays are covered with a glass panel. Probably safe or probably not?

Note - I work in public health and am probably overthinking this.
posted by centrifugal to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yeah, you're probably overthinking this (welcome to Metafilter). This article (scroll down about halfway) should give you some perspective. It takes a much more cautious approach than other articles about lead type and safety. My guess is that any residual lead dust would be long gone, and you're probably safe.
posted by adamrice at 4:34 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm generally paranoid about lead paint and any kind of potentially harmful residue in my environment, and I'm hoping to buy one of these trays to mount as a display case in my office at some point. One thing I've been considering doing is applying a clear coat or otherwise painting the tray I get, so that's one potential thing you could do to really eliminate that concern, in case your child might want to put things into and take things out of all the little tiny slots.
posted by limeonaire at 4:49 PM on August 24, 2018

The type metal is tin antimony and lead I don't know what the percentages are but consider the lead bound up in harder tin and not as likely to rub off on surfaces .
posted by hortense at 5:29 PM on August 24, 2018

I mean your kid could run up and stumble and crack their head open on it. So in that sense it merits caution, imo, ymmv.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:02 PM on August 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

Not sure about this as I have no facts, but based on gut- if it were me- if the kid is at the drooly wet hand stage, personally, I'd at least wait til that phase is over. And maybe wait til they're over 5.

If you do get one, you can perhaps clean it with some kind of putty to lift and trap any leftover dust.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:04 PM on August 24, 2018

Lead poisoning generally happens when a child has nutritional deficiencies(usually an iron deficiency), and has lead in their environment. If your child is breastfed, then their iron levels might be low, and so the child has a higher risk of absorbing lead. Additionally, the lead needs to be ingested by the child. Is your child a mouthy child- do they put everything in their mouth? Do they bite their crib rails? Will the table be a place that they child would use on a daily basis? I would consider these facts in relation to your child when considering purchasing the table. I personally feel that if your child is healthy, and eats a nutritious diet, and won't be playing at or eating from the table- you have little to worry about.
posted by momochan at 8:21 PM on August 24, 2018

Lead poisoning is quite serious and I would not in any way diminish that seriousness. I think you can wash it thoroughly, then use a sealant and feel okay. There are test swans you can use to see if it seems likely it has a high lead content. I would recommend getting a test for lead for your child in any case, as a general health measure. Getting lead out of gas, paint and other stuff has been a genuine benefit for children and adults
posted by theora55 at 10:25 PM on August 24, 2018

Since the actual letterpress trays are covered with glass, this would not worry me at all. I'd potentially want to find a way to seal around the edges if those are open. But if they are wood and closed, it sounds pretty fine to me. (Caulking may be an option.)

If it makes you feel better, and you can remove the glass, vacuum all the slots thoroughly and put a clear varnish on. Or not. Lead (if there's any left) doesn't travel though glass.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:38 AM on August 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

One other suggestion (I have a child who's 10 now, so have done this shuffle with various things) - buy it (it sounds unique and cool!), then store it or put it in a room the kid's not in much until they're older if you have the space. As I understand it, any environmental lead risks diminish considerably when they stop putting everything into their mouths.
posted by Medley at 7:32 AM on August 25, 2018

Test it with a lead-test kit. If there's lead in it, keep it away from children.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:21 AM on August 25, 2018

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