Thursday, September 25, 2014

Massive (desk) undertaking

When I was 18 and home from college for summer my dad and I spent mornings reading the classified ads together after my mom want to work. I will never forget the look on my mom's face when she came home to learn that my dad had encouraged me to buy (and even hauled home) an enormous oak desk. My dad called it "the teacher desk" because it reminded him of the old oak desks teachers used to sit behind. The woman who sold it to me told us a little about its history and promised me it had a good soul.

So, I carried my massive desk from one college apartment to another until I moved home at 21 after college and it took 3 strong men to get it into my old bedroom. Naturally, when I headed off to graduate school a few month later, promising to return just as soon as I was a doctor, I left the desk behind.

In my bedroom back home it served as the mail station, mom's cheese making surface, a storage place for leftover artifacts from my grandmother's estate, and just a general catch all. If you ever had the pleasure of visiting my folks, you probably saw this desk in all its patinaed glory and thought, "Who would ever buy a desk this big?" Sorry, my fault.

If its long life before me didn't leave it in rough shape, 3 years of college and 5 years of abuse certainly left their mark. Although my parents were tolerant of my goliath desk, when I bought a house and moved across the country my mom drew a line in the sand. Get that desk out of here or I will get it out of here. She didn't go so far as to threaten its life, but I could see the look in her eye.

So, my parents loaded it up in their old Suburban and drove it to Orange where my movers loaded in into a moving truck and hauled it across country and set it in my craft room looking a little, well, worse for the wear.
The poor desk was no doubt showing its age and travels. While it was once a really impressive piece of furniture I was proud of, I found that I was suddenly feeling a little less proud. I thought about refinishing the whole thing, but worried that might be an overly ambitious undertaking for my first refinishing project. So, instead, I decided to refinish the top, and give the rest of it a good scrubbing, the reassess.

So, I sanded the top surface down with a random orbit sander, starting with 60 grain, and smoothing with 120. Sanding through the grime was a job, then I had to get through the finish. This is a mess. You have been warned.
Once the surface was clean, I gave it two coats of Minwax Wood Stain in "Golden Oak" wiped on with a rag. The color match was shocking. When that dried, I used a wipe on poly finish over the top. The finish was supposed to dry in 3 to 4 hours. The first coat took 3 days in my humid house with a fan running over it. Then, I buffed it with ultra-fine sand paper (440), and gave it a second coat. This one took a week and was still tacky. I gave up. Two coats is plenty.
While I waited for the finish to dry, I spent hours with steel wool and Olde English furniture polish scrubbing every inch of the desk to clean it up. The outcome was, again, more impressive than I'd expected. A lot of grime came off with each scrubbing, and eventually, you could see the natural woodgrain again. I bet you can guess which surface of this leg I scrubbed and which I didn't...
Perhaps this is not the craftiest thing I've ever done, but it has been one of the more daunting projects in my new house. Also, I had to prove that I haven't just been painting things bright colors...

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