I needed a nicer desk, because the one I had was nice but looked pretty horrific. It was a problem that not even fresh drawer knobs could fix. Unfortunately, I don’t start my new job for another two weeks (it’s part-time work to tide me over until I graduate in May and hopefully score a real job at a CPA firm) and funds have been tight since I cleared out my savings on my cat’s medical care. So rather than go out and buy a new desk and ship this one back to Goodwill, I’ve spent the past two weeks refinishing my desk. It’s a project I’d wanted to undertake since I got the desk about 5 or 6 years ago, but I haven’t had the time until recently.
My desk is a solid wood antique that I got from my neighbor before she defected to her home state of Michigan. It was a truly beautiful desk that someone had ruined with paint–and not just any paint, but several dozen layers of white exterior gloss paint, with a few layers of primer underneath. Imagine my surprise (or not) when I started stripping the paint off and found that it had been layered so thick I could measure it with a ruler. It took approximately 3.5 days of stripping and scraping and scrubbing with denatured alcohol and steel wool, plus several days of sanding, then waiting for the freeze to pass, then several more days of staining, before I’d finally finished turning it into something that looks like a real wood desk. To put that in perspective, it normally takes me a day or less to strip old varnish or paint off of a piece of furniture this size.
When I finally stripped all of the old paint off, I discovered that not only was the desk solid wood with solid wood bottoms and held together with old-fashioned tongue-in-groove or dove-tail joints and wood glue, I discovered that the drawer fronts had a solid wood veneer. Then I discovered that evidently the previous owners (before my neighbor) had decided they didn’t like the original drawer pulls, so they filled in the old holes (poorly) and drilled new ones. The drawer fronts are a little over an inch thick, though, so two of the drawers also had a larger inset routed out to accommodate the short drawer knob screws. I had to fill those insets with wood filler with the screw in place to refit the holes for the proper screw (#8-32 1-1/4″ cabinet knob screw).
I used Citrustrip, which is an all-natural citrus-based stripper, and it was very effective at removing the old layers of paint without ruining the wood. However, with all the paint, it did take several passes–trying regular BIX chemical ultra-enviro-killing paint stripper was pretty disappointing, and smelly, and it was pretty well ineffective at removing half an inch of old shitty paint. When I finally got the paint removed, I used water-based Minwax stain, and to achieve the dark mahogany color I layered Rosewood and American Walnut (using separate layers, and not by mixing the stains), and I had to use more stain to get an even color on the desk–first layer Rosewood, two layers American Walnut, then a layer of Rosewood and a final layer of American Walnut. The paint had soaked into the wood grain in some parts, and I was unable to sufficiently strip, scrape, or sand it off, so there are a few noticeable lighter areas on the back and side of the desk, but they’re on parts that aren’t readily visible. Rather than using polyurethane or some other heavy clear top-coat, I opted to use Tung Oil, which is a natural varnish. I’ve used it in other refinishing projects, and it gives a much nicer, more subtle finish to the wood. And, to top it off, I finished off the project with some new drawer knobs, which I’m going to burnish (later) with a gold/brass color to make them stand out against the desk.
Overall, I’m pleased with the results, and I’m glad I finally refinished my desk. In future projects, I don’t think I’ll use water-based stain because it’s too heavy for my tastes–it’s got a paint-like consistency and is more opaque than traditional wood stains. Because I had to add so many layers to blend the colors and mask the areas with paint remnants, the color came out much heavier, though it didn’t obscure the wood grain. It’s just not as subtle as I’d have liked it to be. Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos through the paint stripping process, though I did remember to take photos after I’d finished sanding. I was more concerned with trying to strip the paint off without going into a rage (seriously, who covers wood furniture in exterior house paint? why do people insist on ruining perfectly good furniture with ugly paint jobs?) I also couldn’t find a decent shot of my desk beforehand, but I did find a photo of my desk piled with school shit last year.
Anyway, here’s the complete photo set on flickr. Below are the before and after shots.
Also, as an update to my previous post about my cat’s eye problems, I managed to get a photo of him trying to find some wildlife to eat after the freeze. Naturally, he was not amused at my intrusion (though I’m pleased that he’s doing much better). Now, though, he only goes out when I’m around to make sure he doesn’t get hurt. He does okay by himself, but he’s old and he’s only got one eye and poor depth perception–which hasn’t stopped him from fiercely attacking any living thing he finds in our back yard. I love my angry pirate cat.
(The freeze chased off all the wildlife, so he was greatly aggrieved that there were no small mammals for him to
eat terrify “play with”.)