May 14, 2013

Old School Desks Gets a New Lease on Life

Look, let's just address the giant elephant in the room right now. I haven't posted in a while, we both know that. For a while there, I was cranking out a project post almost every week. I absolutely knew that wasn't a pace I could keep up, but I certainly didn't plan on going more than a month without posting a new blog entry.

It's certainly not that I haven't been working on any projects - I've been busier than ever in that respect. But, a combination of work, family time and, let's be honest - the Grizzlies being in the playoffs, has kept me from posting about them. So, I'm sorry...

With that somewhat unsatisfying apology out of the way, here is one of several projects I have finished in the last month or so.

Months ago, Courtney brought home this little guy from a neighborhood garage sale.

I loved it. The bones of it, that is. The paint job? Not so much. My family used to have one of these, and all I really knew about it was that it was an old school desk. Well, I had my talented research team do some digging and...the best I could come up with was that it is a "Fashion Desk," invented by the Sidney School Furniture Company, started by John D. Loughlin in 1881.

I think this model of desk was made up through the 1920s, but I cannot find a consensus opinion on that. Either way, I am fairly confident that this thing is close to 100 years old. That beautiful blue paint job, however, is not. I knew I wanted to bring this baby back to as-close-to original as I could, and while I wasn't 100% sure what that was, I knew it involved removing the paint.

It. Was. Thick. I tried everything from scraping to using a heat gun, and this oil-based paint wasn't coming off. I didn't try chemical stripper because, well I didn't want to deal with the mess. If I had it to do over, I would've tried that. As it were, I used my DeWalt orbital sander and what felt like 739 60-grit sanding pads. That got me to this:

Why would you ever want to cover up that beautiful wood with blue paint? I just knew that a good coat of stain would bring out all of those scratches and dings from years of use, which is what I really, REALLY wanted. Luckily, no one had carved anything in it like "Tommy and Jill 4-ever" or "Mrs. Anderson sucks."

I strayed from my usual go-to Minwax stain colors (Early American, Special Walnut) and went with something with a little bit of color to it that was going to pop. Enter: Gunstock. It's a deep, rich red tone - darker than Cherry, lighter than Mahogany.

Here it is after 2-3 coats of stain. I applied the stain with a brush, then came back after 10 minutes or so, and wiped the excess off with a dry cloth. Then I let it dry overnight between each coat. Here are some other views.

Next, I applied the polyurethane topcoat, in semi-gloss, to add a little spit 'n' shine to the finish. I did two coats, using a cheap foam brush, letting it dry overnight between each one. That got me to this:

See the difference? I thought I was finished. Courtney was elated that I was finished. Then I did my usual OCD thing, and decided that I still needed to address the old paint on the cast iron. My reasoning? I just spent so much time on the wood that, to leave the metal untouched would be a travesty - like buying a new suit and wearing it with flipflops.

Important note about painting metal...It's not necessary to strip off all of the old paint from metal. And honestly, it's not worth it. Just take a scraper tool over the entire surface, with light pressure, and test it for any bubbled, chipped or cracked paint. Scrape those parts until it no longer comes off easily. Then take 100-grit sandpaper and use it to lightly de-gloss the entire surface to create something the new paint can stick to. If you REALLY want it to be durable, use a metal primer from Rustoleum.

So, black gloss enamel paint turned this...

into this:

Here is the actual final result, wood, metal and all. Not quite sure what we are going to do with it yet, but it could be a nightstand for our guest bedroom, an accent piece/additional seat for our living room, or (more likely) a jungle gym for Campbell & company. Regardless, not a bad outcome for a $10 garage sale rescue...


  1. Awesome job on the desk! A little elbow-grease mom used to say! I have 2 that could use some love! Thanks for the idea...

  2. I am a total sucker for old school desks...had one as a end table in my living room but it was a little too large for the space and needed refinishing...then, lo and behold - my husband and son noticed a smaller one that was in perfect condition at a nearby yard sale...they came home and told me about it...10 dollars???...why didn't you get it for me???...was my reply - well I couldn't get to my car and get back there fast enough, and good thing for my boys - it was still there!!! replaced the one that I had and I just love it and I really love yours as well...great find!

  3. I have one just like it that I use for a bedside table in a guest bedroom. I love them.

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