Vintage School Desk Make-Over

3 Materials
4 Hours

I was looking for a project when I went into the Goodwill that day.
I saw the old desk sitting there in back. I looked it over and left.
It wasn’t until later that night when I envisioned the completed project in my head.
I ran back over the next morning.
Vintage School Desk ...before and after.
The desk was in pretty rough shape from years of use and abuse.
The three holes in the front of the desk intrigued me…
Was it a combination of several kids over the years or one very bored individual.
How long did it take?
The top was screwed onto the base with 4 screws.  I contemplated how I was
going to fit my hand in the opening to unscrew it.  (I’m including this picture
just in case I’m not the only one. )  Under the desk, were four holes for inserting
an extra long screwdriver into the hole to unscrew the top.  Duh!
I picked up some additional supplies at my local home store.                 
(*affiliate link)
I sanded off the majority of the rust with a Palm Sander. (hand sanding would work as well)
Spray the base of the metal  desk with Forged Hammered Antique Pewter Spray Paint.

This was the first time I’d used a textured spray paint.  I really liked the finish.
To keep the project simple, instead of cutting and gluing boards together…
I picked up a large piece of Solid Aspen that was ready to go and just the right length.
I enlisted the help of my brother to help me cut the board. For those of you that don’t have a circular saw, a regular hand saw could be used instead.

We cut the top 18″ x 24″ and the bottom shelf 15″ x 24″.
If you don’t have any of those fancy corner templates, use the edge of the spray paint can as a template to mark the rounded corners.
A power sander was used to round the edges of the board.
You could also use a coping saw to cut off the corner and sand smooth with a sanding block.
For a smooth finished edge…  I used a router.
Prepare the wood for staining by lightly sanding the surface.  Sand in the direction of the grain. Remove all the sanding dust with a clean damp rag.    (read all the directions on the can)

Apply stain on the wood with brush or clean lint free rag.   
Allow the stain to  penetrate the wood for 3-5 minutes before wiping excess stain off.   Allow time for the wood to dry.
Apply a coat of polyurethane over the surface of the wood.
After the polyurethane dries, smooth the surface with a fine steel wool.
Wipe surface and apply a second coat of polyurethane.
After all the pieces were dry…
I screwed the top back onto the base and added the shelf to the bottom bar. 

The bottom shelf is held in place by the lower side bars.
I added a couple of flat rectangle baskets in the desk opening for storage.

For additional pictures and more great projects. Make sure to click on the project link below.

Suggested materials:

  • Vintage desk
  • Spray paint
  • Stain

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Sue Eldred

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

2 questions
  • Maureen Jill Jordan
    on Oct 20, 2017

    I would like to do this. It solves a bunch of problems finding just the right size of side table. Question: How easy is it to find an old desk like that?
    • Sadie Moodie
      on Oct 20, 2017

      I guess you could check with schools to find out what they do with their old desks.
  • Carol
    on Oct 28, 2017

    Wonderful job Sue. Not a lot of work but so many benefits for this repurpose. Shame you couldn't use the old top. Was it in bad shape? Now I will be looking for old desks!
    • Sue Eldred
      on Oct 28, 2017

      The top was in bad shape... and I wanted the same wood for both levels. I've been asked that questions many times. I probably should of saved it. I'm sure I would of eventually found a purpose. LOL

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm glad you liked it.

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