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Zarack 09-02-2008 09:16 PM

Old flip top school desk
Hi - Think it's time for me to ask for some expert advice.

I'm stripping (...the hard way) an old school desk. One of those flip tops with a slanted top, top rail (for pens/pencils, etc) and the big compartment for books with a small shelf built into rear of the compartment (about 6"Hx6"D, spanning compartment width).

The desk stands approximately 54"Hx36"Wx36"D. Hinged top covers 3/4 of the depth of the desk and same width. There are four legs with a shelf composed of 4 sawn boards spanning right to left the width and depth of the desk.

It's an old desk but wood is in great condition under all that goop I just got rid of - probably should have retained the varnish or shellac layers, but I wanted to get to the original wood.

So far, so good. I've gotten most (maybe 97%) of the old paint and goop off ( was painted an awful looking green, on top of a real poor red, on top of some sort of sealer (acted like shellac) and down to a pickled type oak finish.

At least that's what it looks like to me.

Now I'm at the point of decision, do I try and restain the original type finish color and either shellac or lacquer or whatever to keep the thing in sort of original shape? Or, would it be better to paint the desk and then do something on top of the paint to seal it and make it sort of decent and durable?

Don't plan on doing anything extraordinary with the desk, however I would like it to be presentable enough not to draw guffaws.

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.

4just1don 09-03-2008 01:47 PM

'every' desk I ever saw,,was natural wood color(stained and varnished). I gre up in a one room school and we had those with single pedestal front leg and swivel seat with four outriggers if you will. Complete with 'ink' well I suspect yours has too.
IF you can get it back down to natural wood,great,,if it doesnt look like it will be good finish, paint it,,,but that's not how I saw any of that era.

Big Bob 09-03-2008 08:38 PM

Is this wood top with metal frame or 100% wood?
If 100% wood would be very cool to get it back 100%...Don't be overly critical.... ,but if 99% is all you can get... then a great paint job could get the reaction you are looking for.

Know that one day antique value ( with the efforts you have already done has been compromised.) Ball point pen carvings..hearts and other graffiti can be neat. If it has John McCain sat here '45 scratched in I'd stop where you are.

post a pic so we can all enjoy your treasure.. Thanks

Jay123 09-04-2008 03:10 PM

6 Attachment(s)
I did something similar a few years ago for a client. I took the desk apart and used a chemical stripper, then sanded all the wood surfaces. Finished with 3 coats of either tung or danish oil, can't recall.


Jay123 09-04-2008 03:15 PM

6 Attachment(s)
Here's a few more shots.


Jay123 09-04-2008 03:22 PM

6 Attachment(s)
I wish I could remember the chemical stripper I used, it was some kind of gel that worked pretty well. Didn't smell real good and would really irritate your skin if you're not careful but worked really well.

Here's a couple more projects using the same stuff.


Jay123 09-04-2008 03:25 PM

3 Attachment(s)
Finished pics...

Jay123 09-04-2008 03:41 PM

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And a door...


Big Bob 09-04-2008 03:51 PM

Very cool...looks like a great work area too.:thumbsup:

Jay123 09-06-2008 05:40 AM

Thanks Bob. You know what's funny, is that after doing those 3 refinishing projects about 5-6 years ago I don't think I've done one since.

I'll have to look and see if I can find the old can of the chemical stripper that I used...I've have been accused of never throwing anything away.:whistling2:


Zarack 09-06-2008 08:12 PM

Zbout time...
Many thanks for all the really great responses and comments, leads, recommendations.

I'm sorry I have not answered any of the replies sooner. Had a little accident just after posting my question about refinishing the desk.
Looks like I dehydrated and blacked out after working outside for about 5 hours in the 90+ temp & humidity without drinking any water. I don't remember anything about falling, just coming to and not being able to move or rise up. Saw that I was lying in the woods in a pool of blood with no-one around or near enough to hear me, if I could yell for help, which I couldn't.

My Wife found me out under a big tree in back yard, apparently I dropped like a stone and whacked the back of my head on the base of a big oak tree.Managed to open up a gash which left me completely out of it until she happened to come home early and find me (lucky me).

She called 911 and from there on I was in and out of it all for about another 15 hours. Spent 3 days in the hospital, released last evening. Now boast about 13 staples in the back of my head, a lot of bruises, aches and pains, but otherwise as good as new (?).

I'll get some pics of my desk tomorrow morning and post. The desk I have is all wood, no metal except a few nails which have been exposed (heads) by my work stripping. There are some really great pics accompanying some of your replies to my post. Lot of talent out there. I very much appreciate the pictures and the good recommendations.

I wish now I had the foresight to take a picture before I started. In addition to all the paint, varnish and whatall, there was a lot of what appeared to be black mold under the paint and above the varnish. It was a real task to get that off (...that's why only 95% done to date). Still a bit on the bottom shelving boards and under the bottom shelving itself.

I'm very thankful for having found this site earlier on. It's great to know that there are experts and very talented amateurs out there who share the same love as I do about old wood and good carpentry.

I'm not looking for any value on this piece as to antique type. I know it is an old piece. My wife picked it up in Lithonia, Georgia, about 35 years back and I've been meaning to start on it ever since. No carved initials or other exotic etchings, just some scars on the underside of the top lid that I was able to obliterate ( about removing patina, eh?). I did find an old pen "nib" buried in a seam between the boards inside the top compartment. It's fun to think of who lost it and when. There's no inkwell cut into the top of this desk. I thought that might be a bit strange, but who knows?

Again, my deepest appreciation and thanks to you all for the help. I'll put up the pictures tomorrow. Dodging Tropical Storm all day today (Hannah). Everything in garage workshop is piled up on top of everything else just in case we had gotten some flooding. Good luck though, we had a lot of very much needed rain but no flooding in this part of the Virginia peninsula.

Best regards,

Jay123 09-07-2008 05:58 AM

Well that's about the best excuse for someone not getting back to their own thread....ouch:pinch: :huh:. Glad to hear you're ok, good luck with your recovery and the weather.


Zarack 09-07-2008 05:16 PM

6 Attachment(s)
I attached some pics of the project desk I am working. For some odd reason my camera chose to put the wrong date on them. I took them today but it says otherwise. Oh well, who am I to argue with the digital Gods?

Any further comments or recommendations would; once again, be gratefully appreciated.


Six pics maxed out my quota. I'm not sure I got the right ones in there.
If anyone is interested in further pics, let me know. Tks again.

"Lost one, this is Lost two, over":thumbup:

Big Bob 09-09-2008 03:27 PM

What a great o'l desk...Know that the time, love and care that you put into this will be treated as a family treasure.

You are about to enter some of the really detailed refinish questions.
It saddens me when I see paint on fine wood pieces. The paint in the wood grain will take much effort and patience to remove. It will be difficult to get even most of it. I think the desk is worth the effort.

It might be tempting to sand...but don't...

Time can help also. when you are worn out with the paint sure you have neutralized any strippers etc... I would tung oil or hand rub boiled linseed oil. Don't shellac or lacquer. In a few years when you oil again the paint remaining in the grain will be diminished... and so on and so on.
( the opening and closeing of the grain will help work the paint out).

Heat stroke is no fun...once you get rested.. I hope your efforts with this great desk will be fun.

Zarack 09-09-2008 09:51 PM

Try again...
Big Bob, many thanks for the new reply.

I 'crafted' a too long response to your reply just now, but it appears the digital Gods have consumed it. Don't see any evidence of it getting to the chat-room.

Too wordy anyway. Essentially, I said that your advice about not sanding came too late for me. I had already sanded the desk pretty heavily. I'm really not very concerned about losing any value due to the sanding destroying the original patina and/or markings. My intention from the git-go has been to just clean up the piece, try and get rid of the crappy paint (all 3-4 layers of it) and maybe bring back (some-most-all-none) of the original wood. Then I wanted to enshrine it with (whatever) to give it that kind of rich, warm polished type of finish that marks a piece of interest, rather than a restored treasure. Then tote it up to my "man cave" and put it into service as yet another place to store my "stuff".

So the hand rubbed tung oil or the boiled linseed oil might just get me there.
I tried a little bit of the chemical paint removal stuff along with rubbing it with 000 Steel Wool at first. Never made a dent in the caked paint. So I dropped back and kicked with the sand block and my trusty Ryobi Triangle Hand Sander. Now have it about 97% stripped after 3-4 more hours this evening.

Recovered from my bout with the oak tree and the heat exhaustion. The score was "Oak Tree 1, Me 0". Spent 3 days in the hospital and had every kind of test ever invented. My primary and my cardiologist were concerned that there may have been some sort of coronary or stroke thing causing the blackout. Passed all tests with flying colors. Actually glad to have all the exotic tests, felt really great as the results came back from the various labs and they all said normal, no abnormalities. Just have to learn to not over exert in the boiling sun and crippling humidity and, oh yes, drink a lot of water and take a break every once in awhile. Thanks for the kind words.

Maybe this will go this time. BTW, how do I apply the tung oil and/or the linseed oil? If both are hand rubbed, do I use something like lint-free wipes or steel wool? How many coats would you suggest?


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