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Cabinets, Furniture, Woodworks/Refinish Colonial Maple student desk


QUESTION: I have a desk my mother used in the 1950's.  It has some drawers that won't close and it is scuffed up.  I'd like to restore it and use it.  Can you tell me how I should go about refinishing it.  I had considered painting it but I'd like to keep the wood if possible.  
Thanks so much for your help.
Oh, BTW, I've never done anything like this before.  


ANSWER: Hi Pamela
Nice to hear from you.
This will be a great first project and pretty easy to do.
I have worked with this particular finish before and know it comes off easily.
I also know that older maple such as this finishes nicely unlike new maple that must be finished with spray lacquers.
It will become apparent to you what needs to be repaired inside the desk to enable the drawer (I only see one bad one), to close properly. It will be a slide that has come loose and easy to fix.
Here is the stripping info.
Please get back if you run into any problems.
Just dig in.

The first thing you must do is assemble the material to do the job.
The stripper is the most important item.  
I am hoping you can get "CIRCA 1850" brand paint and varnish remover in your area.
Here is a link

MATERIAL LIST For the stripping stage.
1 gallon stripper
3 boxes of Bull Dog steel wool in medium grade.
One 3 inch oil based paint brush.
Rubber gloves (like you do dishes with), and a pair of cotton gloves inside the rubber ones.
People react differently to stripper. A lot of people feel heat through the rubber gloves, but I feel cold. Have no idea why.
An empty large coffee can. (for the stripper)
A couple of old tooth brushes.
Lots of old rags (I like t-shirts or cotton but for this first stage whatever you have)
Lots of newspaper to protect the garage floor
That's all you need to get started.
Work in sections.
Brush on the stripper with the brush. Stripper will quit working if it dries, so keep it wet till the finish softens.
Then take a rag and wipe this mess off.
Then another coat of stripper, rag off again, then while the wood is still wet, take the steel wool and rub with the grain till the wood is nice and clean.
Depending on the material you are removing, another coat of stripper is often needed but you will know this as you progress into the job.
Use the toothbrush in crevices.
Thats all there is to it ...move to another section and continue.
No other prep is necessary...and DO NOT SAND
When the stripping is complete, stain with Minwax stain applied with a rag, then 3 or 4 coats of low lustre tung oil also applied with a rag.
Please let me know if anything is not 100% clear.

Kind Regards

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you so much!
One question-  what color Minwax should I use.  There are so many colors!
Thanks again for all your help!

Hi again Pamela.
Good follow up question.
The desk is maple which normally does not take stain at all.
But old maple like this desk will but not as intense as a soft wood like pine for instance.
Personally I would use Minwas oil based stain in "Special Walnut" color.
It will come out a medium honey color.
But as with any stain, testing is a must. Test under the seat or top to see if you like the look. Just remember the darker stain will highlight all the "character marks" the desk has aquired over the years.
If you don't want to highlight the character, use Minwax oil stain in "Natural pine" color.
Don't hesitate to get back if you need further help.

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Eileen Cronk


Hi..I can answer most questions about the repairing,stripping and refinishing of all your old furniture and wood items(the things we call antiques)I can give advice about what to buy/avoid at auctions/flea markets. I do not give appraisals on antiques.


I have been refinishing antiques for the past 30yrs. While I have taken several courses over the years,I have found that "hands on" learning is the best teacher. Perhaps I can help you avoid some of the mistakes I made while learning.

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