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Refinishing an old roll top desk as a surprise, advice needed.

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Forum topic by Rick M. posted 931 days ago 2088 views 0 times favorited 2 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Rick M.

3875 posts in 1011 days


931 days ago

Topic tags/keywords: refurbishing finishing question

My uncle built this roll top desk in his high school shop class, roughly in the mid-60’s. Somehow my mother ended up with it and then it passed to me. For years it was in an attic then for more years in the back of my workshop. Finally I decided to refinish it and give it back to my uncle as a surprise as I’m sure he hasn’t seen it for at least 40 years. Right now it’s in pieces as the glue (black, hide glue?) has dried out. It also needs some repairs and I’m anxious for any advice.

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My impression of the wood was mahogany but didn’t really believe it until I scraped back some finish (shellac) and found red wood underneath. There is also some oak and maybe maple so basically this thing is hodgepodge. The desk is light as a feather so it must be really dried out. Here is a picture of the underside of the top.

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This piece was damaged at some point and a repair attempted. My guess is there was originally a knot here and it fell out. How do I fix this?

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The drawers are a really unusual (for me) construction. It is a type of lock joint but I would guess the “mortises” are really just hand saw kerfs. One drawer is intact but the other is missing the front and someone has nailed in a rough repair.

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The finish is definitely shellac. I wiped down one of the legs with alcohol and it became tacky and also quite a bit of grime came off. There are spots with smudges of white paint and I believe hide glue that I can’t get off without a scraper but that is also going down to bare wood which I’d like to avoid.

The desk has no value other than sentimental, I’d like to preserve as much of the original as I can although I will need to make a new Tambour top. I can imagine how I will match the new top to 50 year old patina.

-- |Statistics show that 100% of people bitten by a snake were close to it.|


2 replies so far

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Frank

19 posts in 943 days


#1 posted 930 days ago

Wow, you have quite a task ahead of you huh? I’m not real sure how much success you will have in retaining and matching the old finish or ” patina” as you said. With all of the repairs, replacement and refurbishing that seems to be needed here. If you ask me, sorry to say, you might end up better by doing what you can with the stripping and repairs/replacements and reassembly and then simply lightly staining followed by using a mid color wood toner on this one friend. To truly repair and refinish, not to mention new parts, and then to refinish while preserving will be a monster of a task. Especially if this isn’t your area of work or experience. Spray toners can be excellent for just your particular situation. They allow you to get “close” with the color or hue and then kinda’ even the score so to speak. Good luck and have some fun! Hope I helped a little. This is such a nice thing you are doing for you Uncle!!!
Frank

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Rick M.

3875 posts in 1011 days


#2 posted 930 days ago

Thanks for the advice. Scotchbrite + alcohol sounds like what I need to do. Just the paper towel alone came off black with grime and the leg looked 200% better. And I don’t think I’ll worry too much about keeping the original patina. For the tambour, I’m thinking of using soft maple dyed to match instead of mahogany since the desk already has a hodgepodge of wood species anyway.

-- |Statistics show that 100% of people bitten by a snake were close to it.|

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