Refinishing 1952 school teacher desk

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Forum topic by manyironsinfire posted 07-13-2011 05:43 PM 12639 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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48 posts in 2650 days

07-13-2011 05:43 PM

My wife and I picked up this desk at a local antique shop. Kind of trying to figure out how i want to go about refinishing it. On the underside it says april 1952, has a manufacture name but cant remember it. The owner of the shop has had it since the 70’s when he had it refinished. I think he went to dark.

One thing that concerns me is why did they put an edge around it with another wood? Could it be verneered that far back? Theres a grove on the underside of top where lock fits in and it looks like real wood.

Also, the side panels are something 1/4 inch thick. Could this be plywood? or should i say would they bother making it real wood?

The drawers and legs are for sure real wood. Any ideas on what it is? I had thought maybe maple but leaning more towards oak. Its not a very dark wood looking inside it.

Seems to be a quality desk. Drawer boxes are for sure oak. Dovetailed front and back.

Any refinishing tips you guys can share, i’m all ears.

10 replies so far

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3035 days

#1 posted 07-13-2011 06:18 PM

It looks like a typical “government issue” desk from the post WWII era. The government bought them by the thousands and were used in schools and government offices everywhere. They were very well made and lots of them lasted for years before being sold off to second hand furniture stores, and replaced by those crummy veneered particle board desks and tables. Those dominated offices until the advent of the infamous cubicles. – lol

The pedestal side and back panels are probably 1/4” plywood which had a decently thick veneer in those days. Hopefully, the ‘70’s refinishing didn’t take too much of it and you can take a bit more without sanding into the substrate.

The top is probably solid wood with an oak veneer. The”band” around the top doesn’t look original and was probably added later.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4185 days

#2 posted 07-13-2011 06:55 PM

I agree with Sawkerf. We still have a lot of old desks similar to this at the university where I work. The edging was probably added to hide damage to the top.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3551 days

#3 posted 07-13-2011 06:58 PM

Yes I too have seen many of these since the fifties when I was born they were very popular here in the uk and we still ocassionaly have some around. Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View ChefHDAN's profile


1057 posts in 2816 days

#4 posted 07-13-2011 07:03 PM

I refinished a Victorian style mirror from the 50’s and was suprised to find the scroll work pieces were cut from plywood. The plywood used is amazing, thick ply’d and totally void free, they don’t make plywood like that anymore.

What’s your end goal on the refinish?? Total color change or more of a preservation scheme? You can make huge improvments without sanding to bare wood and starting over.

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View manyironsinfire's profile


48 posts in 2650 days

#5 posted 07-13-2011 07:03 PM

Thats good info to know, might want to take it off then? If i did and its veneered, you’d see it then. Is there any chance its a solid top? The underside looks like oak for sure and the 1/4 inch or so pocket in the underside shows its not ply. would be kind of silly to veneer oak but who knows

it almost looks like it wouldnt have enough overhang without the edging. Maybe they cut some bad stuff off the edge and put that. Is that what your thinking charlie?

View manyironsinfire's profile


48 posts in 2650 days

#6 posted 07-13-2011 07:09 PM

chefhdan, yea i’d like it a lighter color. also, the top where your arms go has a good bit of wear to the point where its bare wood really. So mostly just make it look better. I’m not possitive but i think the color is in whatever finish they put on. I lightly took a chisel to an unseen spot and the color came off with the top coat without taking wood. Could it be a shellac or something?

our only junk furniture is our computer desk, steel frame/particleboard top and bad design. Takes up a lot of space and doesnt give much in return. So we’re planing to use this for a computer desk.

View ChefHDAN's profile


1057 posts in 2816 days

#7 posted 07-13-2011 07:40 PM

I really doubt that the top is solid, you could take a shot at removing the edgeband, 70’s probbably used hideglue, heatgun & light prybar might do it I’d test some of the finish in the kneewell, alcohol would pull shellac off which is what it sounds like. I’ve had good sucess with a product called KrudCutter. This chair was probbably simillar to the one that was at that desk in the 50’s

I got it from a sale here in DC and it had decades of dirt, abuse, paint spills etc on it. Disasemmbled it, cleaned it with the Krudcutter & a scotchbrite, light sand with 220 coat of BLO and then shot it with waterbased poly. Didn’t take a silly amount of work, and I’m not silly serious about it matching the computer desk so I didn’t go crazy trying to match stains etc.

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View manyironsinfire's profile


48 posts in 2650 days

#8 posted 07-13-2011 08:01 PM

I tried alcohol, nothing. Laquer thinner takes it right off with some elbow work. So its laquer im guessing?

I looked closer and if i take the edge banding off i’ll need to replace it with something. It only overhangs by 1/8 to 1/4 inch. might look funny. Could put oak edge on.

Cessna, thats pretty cool, would make a sweet workbench. Does yours have same handles? Solid or veneer top? No edgeband?

View Steven H's profile

Steven H

1117 posts in 3026 days

#9 posted 07-14-2011 05:27 AM

When you put lacquer thinner on it, is it tacky?
If its tacky then its lacquer.

View manyironsinfire's profile


48 posts in 2650 days

#10 posted 07-14-2011 04:32 PM

Steven h, yea it would get tacky when i put laquer thinner on. Alcohol wouldnt touch it.

I need to repair a tenon thats coming apart on it. I read somewhere that you want to use epoxy and not wood glue because the wood in the tenon is full of the old glue and it wont sink in. Is that true?

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