Restoring An Antique Desk

In this tutorial we are going to be restoring an antique desk. We will learn how to turn an old beat up desk into something more appealing. Things you will need:

1. Sand paper
2. Sander (optional)
3. Stain
4. Polyurethane
5. Stripping Gel
6. Liquid wood (if needed)
7. Wood Epoxy (if needed)

I took this old desk from a friend who was moving and didn’t want it anymore. It was black with grime or whatever the stuff is that collects over the years. I did some research and found it was made by Sligh furniture company around 1940. I could be wrong about the year so if there are any experts among you, I would be very interested to get some info.
The desk is half sanded in the front. The picture below shows a stripping gel applied to the top of the table. I try to use products that are environmentally safe, so it takes a little longer for the gel to do it’s work as opposed to commercial chemical strippers.

Old desk

I waited almost an hour for the gel to do it’s job. Then I took a regular spackle knife and started scraping the goo off. After the gel, there will be some residue left on the wood. Just wipe it off with mineral spirits.

Old Desk

After the table is more or less stripped of the old shellacs and whatever coats were on it, start sanding. You can use a sander for large surfaces if you have one. For the small cracks and crevices, use a dremell I did most of the table by hand. My little brother helped with the sanding 🙂

Old Desk Sanding

When sanding, its advisable to use coarse grit sandpaper first followed by a finer grit. We are pretty much done sanding.

Vintage Desk

This next step is optional. If there are spots where the wood has rotted, it is best to address that problem before refinishing. A great product to do that with is Abatron Liquid Wood. This stuff comes in two containers that have to mixed in equal amounts and applied to the rotted wood. The mixture sips deep into the wood. It dries to hard rock substance binding the wood fibers together. It takes a couple of days to dry completely, but it’s worth it. A word of caution: when liquid wood dries, it turns the wood into a darker color.

Wood Hardener

I let the wood dry. Now I need to use another products to fix broken pieces. One of the corners of the table has broken of. I need to replicate it. I could use wood filler, but wood filler will eventually shrink and fall out. One more great product is Abatron Wood Epox. Will not chip. Light. Strong bond.

Wood Epox

Mix the two parts to get a clay like dough. I roughly molded around the corner. There was also a chip on the front side.

Fixing Chips

Now I know it looks bad now, but after sanding, you won’t know the difference. Once again a word of caution: this stuff dries white. If you are staining a light color, then it’s ok. But I am going to stain with a dark red, so I will run into a problem. This stuff doesn’t get darker. You have to put quite a few coats of stain on it. The picture below shows the corner sanded with one coat of stain. You’ll need to adjust the color once you stain the whole table. A way to avoid this problem is to purchase color pigments from the same company. They can be mixed into the Epox to achieve the color you need. I didn’t purchase it, so I had to improvise.

Fixing Corners

Fixed Sanding

Stain the rest of the table. I don’t like putting too much stain, so after applying it, I immediately wipe it off with a rug. This gets you a more uniform color. Try not to do the same spot twice unless you want a darker tone in that spot. If you do get the stain onto the spot where you don’t want it, simply wipe it off before it dries. After the stain is dry, apply polyurethane. The wood will suck the first coat in. Wait until it is completely dry and lightly sand the first coat with a very fine sand paper. Wipe off with a dry rug (the one that collects dust …I forgot the name). You can also wipe it with alcohol. Apply another coat of polyurethane. Repeat previous steps until you are satisfied with the finish.

Restored Desk

Final Restored Desk

Hope you have fun with this. If you have any questions, suggestions, feedback, leave a comment.


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  • Frank September 28, 2014   Reply →

    Nice write-up thank you for your time

  • valerie February 25, 2016   Reply →

    how much does it cost to refurbish and old desk from begining to end

    • Lara Berch February 28, 2016   Reply →

      It really depends on how bad of a condition the desk is and how much work needs to be done it. The desk above took about 20 hours so if I was doing it at $20 per hour it would be about $400. Depends on who you find to do it really.

  • Matt August 11, 2016   Reply →

    Really nice effort. I’m about to embark on a partners desk with a tooled leather top, so fingers crossed it comes up half as well.

  • Theresa Berry November 5, 2018   Reply →

    Thank you This really helps now I can fix my old desk, that was my Dad’s since he got it from has Dad when he was 14 yrs old

    • Lara Berch November 19, 2018   Reply →

      You’re very welcome Theresa. I would love to see the results when you’re done!

  • Amir Mohtashemi July 1, 2019   Reply →

    Quite a hard work you have done here, but looking at the result, I would say It pays off.

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