Workable desk on the cheap

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Project by ferstler posted 05-04-2011 03:04 AM 1559 views 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My ex boss (we are both retired) is rennovating his house and as part of this he dismantled an old bookcase he had built years ago and gave me the pieces. Initially, I did not know what to do with them, since they were heavily coated with 30 years of repeated varnishing and had some warpage to boot. However, after some meditating and calculating I ended up turning them into a desk.

I did have to buy two smaller boards one for the keyboard and one cut up for the braces at the back), but most of the desk was made from what he gave to me. It is Brazilian Pine (the additional boards are plain old pine), and has lots of knots (I filled in some of the rough areas with putty), but at least it sanded very smooth. And, well, knots give it character. It is considerably heavier and harder than ordinary pine (only US longleaf is harder, I believe), and turned out quite well. Brazilian Pine is also called Parana, and I suppose it got that name because it destroys (gums up) sanding belts and discs so well, and does a pretty good job of gumming up planer knives and saw blades, too. Lots of pitch in the wood. Two hours of careful scraping and washing with mineral spirits took care of the goo.

I did have to also purchase the satin urethane and used three different paint brushes that had to be discarded after use. You just cannot get the damned brushes to clean out decently after using that urethane, at least if you want to reuse them for quality work. (Yes, know that some of you guys know how to clean brushes properly, but I am a newbie woodworker guy and not a paint-finishing guy.) Anyway, the total cost for the job (including the budget-grade brush costs), was forty bucks. Not bad, all things considered. Well, I already had the stain, left over from an earlier project (it would have eventually been thrown out), and also had the drawer and keyboard sliders on hand that were also left over from an earlier project, and of course there were the Kreg screws. But at least I did not damage any of my tools!

The first two shots show the finished desk installed where it is sitting right now as I type this message on the computer.

The second shot shows the lower section after initial gluing, with Kreg screws also employed to both reinforce the joints and to act as clamps for the glue. The pieces are as yet unfinished.

The final photo shows the initial glue up of the top. Unfortunately, the result would not lay flat enough, and so I had to cut the sections apart (after removing the Kreg pocket screws, of course), replane the edges, and then reglue, with the thing clamped flat to the bench all the way around. (One dozen clamps!) Unfortunately, again, the thing was still too warped. (It simply flexed back out of shape when unclamped; better than before, but not good enough; so goes the learning curve.)

So, I again cut the three boards apart and this time also ripped the two wider ones into two sections each. I then ran them through the jointer/planer and then ran them through the thickness planer. This ended up reducing the board thicknesses from 1.5 inches to 1.25 (due to the monumental amout of per-board warp that had to be planed away to get them perfect), but when they were glued and screwed this time the top was flat.

The stain was Minwax Early American, and three coats of their satin polyurethane was used, with a final buff with 0000 steel wool.

My wife likes it, and that is what matters.

Howard Ferstler

2 comments so far

View ediazf's profile


19 posts in 2502 days

#1 posted 08-27-2011 03:52 AM

Hi man, I finished a couple of projects like this one and I sometimes have trouble with the rubber feet of my devices (printers, lcd, woofers, etc). They tend to stick to the finish and leave an ugly mark on it. I had that happened with varnish, spar varnish and poly. the first project I didn’t give the finish some time cure properly cure, but the other nes I gave it like 4 weeks. Don’t u never run into a problem like that?

Besides my problems, hahaha, your project look great!! shiny, simple and practical. great craftmanship.

best regards from Chile!

View ferstler's profile


342 posts in 3517 days

#2 posted 08-27-2011 10:03 PM

The Minwax clear urethane I used says to not recoat if two hours have passed until 72 more hours have passed. I assume this is the cure time, and so I do not place anything on the surface for three days, at the least, and sometimes I will let a surface sit for a week before putting it to use. This seems to work, but a different brand of poly might react differently. Our place is kept fully dehumidified, and humidity levels may also play a part in both poly dry times and the coating resistance to pressure pads later on.

With the Minwax poly the three-day wait seems to work. The desk now has three coats of brushed-on satin, and one of these days the carpeting in the room will be changed (well, in a couple of years), and so the desk and all the other items will have to be moved out of the room for a while. While the desk is elsewhere I intend to check the top and even if there are no marks on it I will probably lightly sand it and spray on a fourth coat of Minwax polyurethane. I did a three-brush coating and then a fourth spray-coating job on an audio equipment cabinet just last week and I do prefer the sprayed-on finish to the brushed-on version. I am willing to wait a while to put that fourth coat on the desk, however, since I am using it now and needed it pretty fast after the first three coats, anyway.

One last note. With my audio equipment cabinet I installed soft felt pads on the bottom of the rubber feet of each component, and I think that material is easier on either urethane varnish or painted enamel than rubberized feet. I cannot do that with the printer on the desk, because with felt pads it will slide around when in operation.

Howard Ferstler

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