Refinished Desk Tutorial

 I love building and refinishing furniture! It all started when I was a newly wed and received a ton of hand-me-down furniture from family and friends. Most people probably would have left it “as is” until they could afford new things. But not me. I wanted them to look nice and match right then ( I don’t have a whole lot of patience). So I figured out how to fix them up. I still have almost all of that furniture and some are my favorite pieces even though I have lots of new things too.

Today I am going to show you how I refinished an old desk that has been collecting dust in my mom’s barn for years! The first picture is the before before.

junk3 Refinished Desk Tutorial
desk2 Refinished Desk Tutorial
And here it is all cleaned up. The before picture :)
2redo Refinished Desk Tutorial
2redo Refinished Desk Tutorial
desk6 Refinished Desk Tutorial
 It needed a lot of TLC. It had a minor crack on the top, thumb tack holes along the front, and chunks missing. It also had a broken leg. I first addressed any repairs that needed to be made. I used Elmers stainable, paintable and sandable wood glue. I put glue along the crack and let it sink in. Then I wiped it off with a damp paper towel.
1redo Refinished Desk Tutorial
Putting the large clamp on caused some of the glue to squeeze out so I wiped it again. I glued and clamped the broken leg too. I used a small C clamp.
The desk wasn’t the best ever made. The drawers were held together with only 2 nails on each side. Needless to say, they weren’t very strong. I re-enforced them with my brad nail gun. I looked around the desk and found some other spots to re-enforce as well. Really I just like to find reasons to use it. It is my favorite tool!
desk12 Refinished Desk Tutorial
 I let the glue dry for a day before I took the clamps off and sanded it. I was lucky because it was pretty much all flat. I did most of the sanding with my hand sander. There were only a few spots I did by hand. You need to remove the old finish so the wood will accept the new stain. If you have something that you want to refinish and it would be hard to sand, you can use gel stain. I have used that several times with very good results. I use Minwax’s gel stain. You can apply it over existing finishes. It is thick and sticky. It would be best to practice on something else first to get the hang of it. For an example, see my bathroom HERE.

3redo Refinished Desk Tutorial
It is all naked and ready for a new look! I almost forgot to mention that I used putty to fill in any small cracks or nail holes. Putty, let dry, and then sand. I use Elmers stainable, paintable, sandable wood putty. I used the natural color because it was outside and so was I. I should have used the darker colored putty (it was ALL the way inside ). This putty is stainable, but to a point. That is why they have a darker color. I added more stain to the puttied parts and it worked out fine, but in retrospect I should have got off my big behind and got the darker putty!
desk15 Refinished Desk Tutorial
In a situation like this, I use oil based stains. This wood was old and dried out. The oil in the stain helps the wood. Plus it dries slower than waterbased stains and gives you more time to work at getting an even finish. Waterbased stains sink in fast, especially with dry or porous (soft) wood. You can also use a wood conditioner before applying the stain. It is sold in cans just like the stain and is milky white. I always use foam brushes too. There aren’t any brush marks and it makes for easy clean up. Just toss them in the garbage!

desk15 Refinished Desk Tutorial
 I let the stain dry for a day and a half. It needs to be completely dry and not sticky at all.
desk16 Refinished Desk Tutorial

Then you can add the polyurethane. I love the smell of polyurethane! I know, I know, in the state of California it is known to cause cancer yadda yadda. . . But I love it. In a well ventilated area of course. It brings the wood to life and protects it. I use Minwax’s Fast Drying Clear Satin finsih.
And drum roll please. . . . . .

Taaadaaaa! Isn’t she a beaut??? All I did for the drawer pulls was scrub them in some soapy water. I love the patina on them. I think this will make a welcome addition to my office.

desk2 Refinished Desk Tutorial
desk1 edited 1 Refinished Desk Tutorial

D68828E039F3C6EF14B621F237470C8D Refinished Desk Tutorial

 

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  1. Between Blue and Yellow says

    Sooooo cute! I love what you did with it, probably what it looked like when they first made it.

  2. Grannie K says

    You are amazing. I look forward to seeing more of your ideas. I'm trying the ones I can and saving the ones I can't right now.

  3. Kathy@DandelionsandDustBunnies says

    Amazing redo. Can't believe it was just sitting in a barn. Wow. Great job. Visiting from Craft-o-maniac.

  4. says

    Hey there, this desk is perfect! I’m new at this DIY furniture stuff and still need a bit of help. I’m learning today, first hand, why everyone paints instead of restaining. :) I’m working on my second restaining project today and if you wouldn’t mind, could you please share the color/type of stain you used – I love the finished look of it! Thanks! :)

  5. says

    I have a question about the hand sander. I have begun working on larger projects, such as bookshelves, that require sanding. I have been doing it all by hand *shudders* and really want to get a handsander. But I have joint problems (so you can only imagine how hard it is to sand by hand) and my husband thinks a machine will hurt even worse. Any advice?

  6. katie s says

    LOVE the table!! I need to find someone with an old barn and lots of old furniture they no longer want :) And then I need to go by a few more power tools :)

  7. says

    I love this. I have one almost identical. Stripped it down and did the same thing you did. Lived with it for a year and painted it on the weekend. I’m even more in love with it now. :)
    Good job!

  8. says

    Your desk looks amazing. It makes me wish I had taken the time to refinish one I found from an antique store. I brought it and the chair for $25.00 and it was solid wood. I got frustrated with the desk after half a year and had my husband curb it. I won’t do that again…I’ll come to your tutorial for assistance:)

  9. terry stewart says

    Awesome refinishing job…but the purist in me has to mention that, though it works beautifully as a desk, it’s design suggests that it was originally meant to be a skirted dressing table. Back in the late 1930s through the1950s, many brothers, husbands, and fathers made these curved-top dressing tables for the ladies in their families. Those two strange oar-shaped pieces you see sitting on top of the desk in the “stained’ picture were actually meant to hold two sides of the dressing table skirt. They sit just under the top of the table, and you would swing them out from the center so you could sit at the table and/or access the drawers. So, when you get tired of using it as a desk, you can make a pair of pocketed panels for it, add a glass top to put lace or photos under, and use it as a dressing table!

  10. Shannen says

    I just stumbled onto this site while looking for instructions on refinishing a desk. Thank you!!! My dad and I are going to turn it into a father/daughter project!

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