Friday, June 28, 2013

Wooden Desk Renovation: White desk with stained top

As usual, when I started this project, I had a moderately realistic idea of how much work it would take, but when it came to actually completing the project, I underestimated the amount of time and energy it would take. Conrad grew up with this desk, so when we inherited it when we got married, it had it's fair share of ink stains, words and phrases etched into the soft pine, and an absurd amount of stickers stuck to it.

When we moved into our first apartment, I worked pretty hard at scraping the stickers and their yucky residue off the desk, and cleaning it with a Magic Eraser, but was only able to do so much without doing some serious damage to the varnish. So I left it as it was and planned on fixing it or replacing it later. 

You can see some of the remaining sticker gunk above, and some of Conrad's super-cool secret messages below (written by the coolest medium of all: a piece of charcoal on the innermost part of the drawer). 

I had seen some cute desk renovations that inspired me (see all of Pinterest), and I decided that this project was one I could handle without too much intense labor or time. Here's how I did it, along with some tips that made (or would have made) the desk renovation easier. 

1. Remove all drawers and move all parts outside. I have a giant roll of carpenter's paper from Home Depot that was seriously a genius purchase. I use that stuff for almost every paint-involved project, and I even wrap presents in it. Something about brown paper, am I right? Put the desk on the paper so you don't stain or paint the concrete by accident, and also to protect the desk from the roughness or dirtiness of the ground.

2. Remove the hardware and set aside. Save your screws so you can put them back on later!

3. Make any repairs that are needed. Two of the drawers' tracks were seriously cracked, so I used Gorilla Glue to fix them, and then held the pieces in place with blue painter's tape. The picture above shows Elmer's Wood Glue, but I didn't end up using it. I've used it before and it takes too long to dry and isn't a strong enough bond. Set aside the parts that you've repaired. Let them start to dry. You'll still be able to work on them even if the glue is still wet, but just give it a little time. 

4. Start sanding. This is where the majority of the work was. I spent about 6 hours sanding all the surfaces of the desk and drawers that were going to get painted or stained - with the help of a friend and two electric sanders. Make sure to get all the little crevasses. You want all the varnish to be gone so that the stain and paint sticks to the wood and doesn't pearl up. 

My advice if you're doing a project like this: Invest in an electric sander. You can find them ranging from $10 - $60. I promise, no one has ever said, "man, I sure didn't need that electric sander" at the end of a project. If you do wood-based projects often (or even occasionally), it's a really wonderful tool to have, and they're very easy to use. I have a Ryobi brand which is great for household projects. 

5. Dust completely clean with a rag. Make sure there is no remaining sawdust or it will affect the color and grittiness of the paint and stain.

6. Spray paint the hardware. This step can really be done at any point once the hardware has been removed from the drawers. Apply the paint in thin, even layers. I applied it too thick and you can see that they rippled. Allow to dry overnight. 

7. For the painting and staining steps, I moved the desk and the carpenter's paper inside (don't worry, windows and fans were in full use and no fumes were breathed by the pregnant lady). 

Home renovation stores sell wood stains in various can sizes, and I used the teeniest one available with plenty leftover. Using a rag, apply the stain first, since it's more liquidy than the paint and drips easier. You don't have to be as careful since you can paint over any drips. I think the desk was pine, and it didn't seem that multiple layers of stain made the wood any darker. 

Unfortunately, the abuse the poor desk suffered at the hands of a young Conrad ended up showing once the stain was applied. I'm fine with it, since overall, the desk looks brand new, but if you're more concerned by these things, I'd recommend sanding the wood extremely well before any stain is applied.

8. While the stain dries (which is relatively quick, like about an hour), start painting your drawers. To be safe, I gave them another wipe down. Be patient and let each layer dry completely before you apply another coat. If you paint a second layer before the previous layer is dry, the tacky paint may peel itself off.

Tip: don't paint the back side of the face of the drawers where it will touch the desk. Some paints tend to stick to themselves when the drawers are closed.

9. Once the stain is dry (or mostly dry), use blue painter's tape to cover the underside of the top of the desk that might get any paint on it. This will also make your life easier so you don't have to be so careful. Again, same as the drawers, make sure each layer is dry before you apply another layer or you'll just have to fix a bunch of weird spots. Use a small art brush to reach any small spaces.

Tip: Once the desk is totally painted, make sure to peel the tape off before the paint is completely dry! I waited too long and it peeled off some of the dry paint in one little spot, and I had to do it over again.

Tip: To save your brushes, rinse them clean immediately, then let them soak in water for an hour or two. Water should run totally clear through them. Allow to dry on a cloth or paper towel. I never try to save my paint trays.

10. When the Gorilla Glue is dry, peel the paint off that was holding the pieces in place. You may need to sand down any little pits that squeezed between the cracks so that the drawers slide smoothly.

11. Once everything is all dry and complete, you can reassemble! Screw your hardware back into place, slide the drawers back onto their tracks, and fill the desk with whatever your heart desires!

We use the desk in our entryway as a catch-all. Mail, keys, purses, and groceries all make their landing here. It also does a great job of hiding our shoes, which, despite my efforts, always end up in the area. I think it looks beachy and clean and perfect for our home, and it was really inexpensive to renovate, since we already had most of the materials we needed!

Old wooden desk
Ryobi Electric Sander and sandpaper
leftover white paint from when I painted our bedroom white
leftover black spray paint for the hardware
Paint brushes, rags, and rollers
screwdriver for removing and reapplying hardware
Carpenter's paper (seriously, a huge roll is under $10 at Home Depot. Go get some)

What do you guys think? Any tips for renovating wood furniture that would be helpful?

PS - like my nautical, rope-wrapped vase? Here's how I did it.


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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This dresser came out really well, wow!

    Sparkles and Shoes
    Don't forget about the switch to BlogLovin!

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