How to work with an old school house student desk

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Blog entry by Jittenberg posted 11-29-2012 05:42 PM 5419 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have an old school house student desk that is at least 60 years old. My mother got it for me when I was young, in the 50’s from an old school house that was being torn down. It is the type of desk that had wrought iron legs with a desk top (with ink well) and a seat whose seat bottom folded up to the seatback (which was attached to the desk behind that desk. In other words, a row of desks were all attached). At the time my mother fixed the desk by painting it to match my room. I never got rid of the desk, and in the moves as an adult, I dismantled it so that I still have the wrought iron legs and wooden slats (some curved for seat) and desk top.

My question for anyone out there is, what is the best way to work with wood that has been painted and stored in hot attics for 50+ years? I have not started to work with it yet, but I want to assemble it for my grandson. I know it means sanding, filling in cracks and even supoporting some cracks with metal braces….but I am concerned about puncturing the wood without considering whether or not I need to treat it in any way. I think the paint has preserved it a bit, but not sure how the heat has affected the wood….I am sure it is rather dense.

Any advice out there for how to tackle this wood working challenge? I know my grandson will love this if I can restore it to usefulness.

ps would love a reply as quickly as possible….now, after all these years, I am eager to get started.

2 comments so far

View Granddaddy1's profile


182 posts in 2223 days

#1 posted 11-29-2012 10:17 PM

Unless you have an insect infestation, I doubt the wood will be affected any more than the lumber in your joists and rafters in that attic. Expect the wood to be extremely dry, and possibly brittle, depending on species. Can’t wait to see the finished project!

-- Ron Wilson - maker of fine firewood!

View Grumpymike's profile


2255 posts in 2337 days

#2 posted 11-30-2012 01:02 AM

The wood should be just fine, as you remove the multipal finishes, you will most likley find some beautiful maple or birch.
to strip away that old and the new finish, a Stripper from BORG should do the trick.
I assume that you are restoring this desk?? then after stripping away all the gunk (puttyknife works the best but do not gouge the wood.) let it set till dry and LIGHTLY sand. The pretty wood is usualy a veneer, and may be thin. A good card scraper is a good choice here. Most of the school desks had a laquer finish on them but todays water based urathane would be just as tough and easier to use as a replacement.
Now that you have the wood clean and pretty, start on the iron parts, if you have the scrolly design with the leaves like ivy, it’s a chore to clean these up; lots of nooks and crannies (and a bit more valuable)... but wait there is good news here … you are going to paint with black laquer from a rattle can.
Make sure that all areas are wire brushed and no flakey stuff remains … It will show horribly when done … Primer and paint.
Now put your pieces together and you will have a real prize to pass along.
This is how I did the ones I gave to my kids; and now the grand kids are giving them to their kids.
Yep I’m that old
I would really like to see the before and after pictures here in the projects posting.

-- Grumpy old guy, and lookin' good Doin' it. ... Surprise Az.

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