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Old 05-27-2013, 10:37 AM   #1
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Desk to Vanity Conversion


My daughters want a makeup vanity but I've found that the new ones are either cheaply made or very expensive. And used ones are hard to find and also quite expensive for a nice unit.

So, I'm thinking that I could try to convert this huge old desk into one.



Here is an example of what we are trying to get to.



In general I'd be chopping the whole thing from 36" to 18" deep. And then trimming and lowering the center section. There is plenty of material here and I think the side drawers could stay intact.




Any thoughts before I start cutting?
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Old 05-27-2013, 10:48 AM   #2
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Your idea sounds like a good one.........except.....I'm looking at that old desk and the thought of painting that wood just puts a knot in my stomach.

Not your fault....I'm just an fan of old things and hate to see a good hardwood covered in paint.

If the wood is in worse shape than the photo shows and/or it's not a quality hardwood...then go for it.

A couple of points. When you trim that top...remove it first. You want to cut the middle allowing some excess on the inside so you can get the lip you want.

Be prepared for the top being laminated wood....that trim is most likely hardwood glued on. When you cut the top your going to end up with plywood on the edge. A close up pic of the top might help....especially one of the corner. Your going to have the same issue on the back side when you cut down it down for the depth.

I think your going to have a bigger issue trying to cut the back off that desk. You will have a better idea after you get the top off. At a min, but the back about where you want the end to be....then if you trim the sides off on the back piece up to the corner boards, you might be able to use a board inside to glue the back to the remaining front section.

Then you have the drawers. They are going to be made for the full depth. Cutting those down is not going to be straight forward. And if they are dove tail......oh boy....that would be sacrilege...

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Old 05-27-2013, 11:43 AM   #3
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That's going to be sharp!
But why are you going to trim the center down? Can't you leave it as wide as possible?
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Old 05-27-2013, 10:48 PM   #4
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Thanks guys. I am hoping to block out some time next weekend to start on this project. Hoping you folks can shoot holes in my theory this week so we can patch together a plan before then.

I also prefer the hardwood over paint but haven't been able to warm the girls up to it yet. Well see what they think once I get it sanded down.

I just took a look and you are correct that the top is laminate with trim around the top. The bavk is not full length. it looks like there are just four L brackets holding a small back piece between the two sets of drawers.

Yes, the drawers are dovetailed. BUT, I'm going to try and salvage both beautiful ends by sawing the drawers in half. The front half would need a new back and the back half would need a new front. By doing this to the whole setup, I just may have a vanity for both girls! One would have the original face and one would have a new one.

I plan to run the drawers on the table saw to give me the square/straight cut - wish my bandsaw was deep enough.

Any suggestions on cutting these 18"x30"x36" towers down the middle? I'm thinking with a circular saw with some sort if guide in place (2x4 clamped down).

The width was being reduced for space reasons more than anything. You are right that more surface is nice. Ill have to figure out how big I can get away with.


Thanks again for the feedback. Keep it coming!
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Old 05-27-2013, 10:57 PM   #5
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i have cut cabinets in half before. by the time you are done you will wish you had just built one, heck your painting it so paint grade materials would work.
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Old 05-28-2013, 08:34 AM   #6
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I give it a month before the white paint is covered in eyeliner and lipstick stains anyway. Or...unless you place it near a window so they can apply

their makeup in natural lightening, they will take their products back into the powder room
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Old 05-28-2013, 09:15 AM   #7
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I rebuilt a similar desk that had been partially disassembled. You are going to have to completely disassemble this thing in order to do it right, and a lot of the veneer and plywood bits probably won't be reusable. Just cutting it all in one piece would be a shame because you would never get the same fit and finish.

What about leaving the drawers at 36" deep, but make the middle part less deep (24" or so)? It would be a lot less work and give you much more storage space, as well as a spot to push the chair into when you're done. The top is probably veneer, so cutting and stepping it will make it difficult to get a nice edge, so maybe consider replacing the top.
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Old 05-28-2013, 09:31 AM   #8
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If you just HAVE to cut it... make it a quarter of an inch too long, and then take off an eighth from each end to your final length with a straight-edge and a router.

Oh, and when you first cut the top (after it's initially cut out), do it from the backside with no more than 1/8" of the blade sticking through... and put a good piece of tape completely covering the finish are where your cut will be... cut through that tape.

By all means, think this all the way through first. Consider the necessary overhangs to be left on each pedestal to match the other two sides... and can you match the router profile now on there? If not, will you have enough wood to route something new so all three sides match? Things like that are super important.
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Old 05-28-2013, 09:31 AM   #9
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All i can say is good freakin luck. I used to have a desk just like that, when i was a teenager, it withstood years of us climbing on it, sitting on it, jumping on it, and when we no longer needed it, nobody would buy it and the trash company wouldnt pick it up, so we decided to tear it apart and burn it. Well it took all four of us, with hammers, six hours to tear off the top. Just the top. the rest of it took at least three hours to demolish. Once we got it apart, the stupid thing wouldnt burn either, so we had to bury it out back and its still there, as far as i know. That thing was made of some top quality wood.
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Old 05-28-2013, 11:19 AM   #10
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Good luck mate, let us know when you've completed the project.
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Old 05-28-2013, 10:07 PM   #11
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Thanks for both the warnings and the suggestions. Fortunately this adventure is for fun and not a source of income.

The worst case scenario based on the experiences reported is that I start a new thread on how to create a hot enough bonfire to burn this pile of hardwood.

I do like the idea of leaving the drawer depth as it would make things a whole lot easier. BUT it would take a lot of the adventure away 😜

Hopefully this weekend I can pull the major sections apart and report back.
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Old 06-02-2013, 03:17 PM   #12
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I had a little time this morning so I took the major pieces apart. The too came off pretty easy with about 12 screws holding it on. Then there were a couple pieces joining the two sets of drawers. These were also straight forward to remove.

Now I have these two sets of drawers and am trying to decide how I'm going to cut & rejoin the back.

Desk to Vanity Conversion-image-1972501251.jpg

Here is a shot if the existing corners.


Desk to Vanity Conversion-image-2681154079.jpg

I may try to route the slot out and then try to reproduce this same fit.
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Old 06-02-2013, 03:37 PM   #13
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Ya know...that is some quality construction....not like the Ikea crap.

Personally....I would want to strip and stain it....

But...it's your desk.

Have you considered cutting those things right in the middle and making two vanities out of it? The back half would take some work....
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Old 06-02-2013, 08:00 PM   #14
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That is a great project.

now that I see it without the top and the two ends separated, I'll give
you my advise.
You need to cut the both boxes to the depth you want
them. It needs to be cut by hand...follow a line that you drawer on
the cabs. Take the back off the cabs that you cut off, glue, nail and clamp
to the cut down pieces.
Drop the center drawer down to where you want it, again glue, nail and
clamp the center section

cut the back of the drawers to the proper depth, glue, nail and clamp
the drawers...

Now you have an oversize top... cut the center top and attach it.

...as for the two ends cut them to fit and since they are veneer,
make a breadboard edge all around the top.
Hopefully, you'll have enough wood left over to make a matching mirror.

As far as the finish, match the other furniture in the room; if it's
stained ...stain the unit, if it's painted ...paint the unit, or do what
your daughters want, cause that's who you have to please.

Awesome project, good luck...looking forward to seeing the finished
piece.
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Old 06-03-2013, 12:19 AM   #15
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Thanks guys. I made some more progress tonight. The route I took is not going to create two full units but I'll have all the drawers and guides plus some for a second one.


The drawers were cut in half and I put some new backs on them. Not dovetail like the original - instead I used glue and a couple brads. I'm sure some will cringe that I brad nailed furring strips to that old wood. But it's what I had laying around and it shouldnt really be seen once finished.


Desk to Vanity Conversion-image-1930480137.jpg

I also have one side nearly setup. Thanks for the tips on taping that veneer. I think it really helped when I chopped this in half.

Desk to Vanity Conversion-image-3915018461.jpg

It took some chisel time to clear the back section but it should lock into place just like the original joints.


Desk to Vanity Conversion-image-3754455342.jpg


Ill try to get into the garage this week to continue but it may be a few days. That darn work thing keeps getting ion the way!

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