How to Refurbish a Heywood Wakefield Desk

Cindy Rust
by Cindy Rust
4 Materials
5 Hours

Are you looking for a way to refurbish an antique Heywood Wakefield school desk that is badly damaged? Then, you’re going to love this transformation!

Heywood Wakefield desk

This Heywood Wakefield desk was in pretty bad shape when it came my way.

And there were two of them! They were both in equally bad shape!

Names and words and been carved into the wood by students over the years.

how to restore an old desk

There were paint drippings in several spots.

Some sort of adhesive had been spilled inside the desks.

And the gum.

Omgoodness, this pair was covered in old, chewed up gum.

It was inside the desks….

on the underside of the desks…

on the back of the desks…

and even on one of the legs!

use an orbital sander

After the scraping and chipping away of all that gum, I pulled out my DeWalt Orbital sander and suited it up with an 80 grit sanding disc.

And I sanded like a crazy woman!

Ok, really I only sanded the tops. The tops would look amazing in natural wood and I was careful not to sand out all of the character that generations of kids had spent adding!

Heywood Wakefield makers mark

When I looked at the back of the desks (the side that the teacher would have seen), I knew I had to be careful with sanding.

The makers mark for the Heywood Wakefield desk was in great condition on one of the desks!

Heywood Wakefield is a well-known furniture maker from the early 1820s! Unbelievably, the company is still in operation but they use a different name now and produce outdoor furniture.

wood desk makeover

Anyway, I sanded the backs of the desks by hand being careful around the Heywood Wakefield desk label.

Next, I cleaned the ink wells carefully with small wire and brass brushes, steel wood and the pointed edge of my chisel for the groove in the ink well.

The ink well on the top has been cleaned, the one on the bottom still needs some love 🙂

preserving the story

The remaining parts of the Heywood Wakefield desks got a light sanding with 220 grit sanding discs on my orbital sanding. To me, leaving the carvings in the wood was part of the story of this pair. Preserving their story is important in my opinion 🙂

After the sanding, the pair of antique desks got a good scrubbing. Simple Green in a bucket of hot water, a micro-fiber cloth, a Scotch Brite pad, and the outdoor hose are my go-to supplies for scrubbing old furniture.

Oh yeah, add some sunshine to that list of supplies!

Remember I said I wanted to preserve the story of these vintage desks? Well, I definately want to do that but I also don’t want the desks to scream their story either!

A custom mix of Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint in Typewriter and Curio will help to quite their voices just a bit 🙂

Two coats later, a bit of knife distressing, and they were ready for Miss Mustard Seed Hemp Oil.

Brush it on, wipe it off and it creates a gorgeous, vintage style patina while hydrating the wood.

how to create an aged wood look

The wood tops needed a bit more help. The natural color was fairly light and I wanted more of an aged wood look.

Restor-A-Finish is a great product as a scratch cover but I decided to try it out as a stain.

The bare wood soaked up the color Dark Oak that I had on hand. Doesn’t the wood look so gorgeous? The ‘stain’ settled into the marks I chose not to sand out perfectly.

The Restor-A-Finish worked wonders on the inside of the desks too. I also used it on the back of the desks. You’ll see those images further down in the post.

how to seal milk paint

Once my ‘stain’ had soaked in and dried overnight, I added one coat of Miss Mustard Seed Hemp oil followed by two coats of Miss Mustard Seed Wax.

You can see in the image below the back side of the desk that the teacher would see. That is also the side with the Heywood Wakefield label.

vintage chairs

Fortunately, I had two chairs in my stash that I thought would go beautifully with this pair of refurbished antique school desks!

They were painted in Miss Mustard Seed milk paint in Typewriter and were given two coats of hemp oil.

Don’t they look so good with the desks?

gorgeous details

Look at the tops of the desks! Don’t you love how they turned out?

And check out those vintage hinges!

The inside of the desks has a hole cut out of the top right. Look closely at the image below and you can see the hole.

Sounds perfect for a laptop cord, doesn’t it?

The ink wells look so much better!

And that makers mark label for Heywood Wakefield is still in such great shape!

BTW, the second desk is missing the label. The desks match so well otherwise!

Just wondering, when you were in school, did you put your chair on top of the table like this at the end of the day?

Or maybe, you turned the chair upside down and placed it on top of the desk at the end of the day?

Our school had the students get the chairs off of the floor at the end of each school day so the maintenance staff could clean the rooms quickly.

how to decorate with an antique desk

Let’s chat about how to use a pair of antique desks like these Heywood Wakefield desks.

They could be used as a desk most definitely. There is a place to store books, notepads, and such. Or maybe a laptop or iPad?

No matter the school supplies your child uses, there is plenty of storage.

Or maybe these desks will be used as an at-home office. One of these desks is small enough to tuck away in a corner of your living space or a bedroom. When you are finished work for the day, hide the laptop inside and out of sight!

Here’s another idea you might not have thought of. One of my followers on Instagram suggested that they make great nightstands in a bedroom! Isn’t that a great idea?? They could also be sofa end tables in a living room.

Let me know your ‘outside of the box’ decorating ideas for a pair of antique Heywood Wakefield desks in the comments!

Thanks for joining me for this Tuesday Tutorial! We share a new tutorial each Tuesday and we would love to have you join us each week! You can sign up below and I will send you this fun freebie plus I will keep you updated with our latest tutorials!

steps to refurbish Heywood Wakefield desk:

  • inspect the piece for repairs
  • remove any residues including gum, glue, or any other substance
  • sand piece
  • thoroughly clean the piece
  • choose a paint color and paint the piece
  • seal the piece
  • decorate and use the piece in your home!

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To see more of our tutorials, click this link and head over to my blog!

Until next time…

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Cindy Rust
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2 of 24 comments
  • Lynne Gray-Ross Lynne Gray-Ross on Jun 12, 2022

    Just beautiful how you brought the wood back to life; the random sanding to make antique; your colour choices are spot on; and do you really work in good clothes?

  • Leslie Leslie on Jun 16, 2022

    Oh my Cindy, I remember these desks in my school when I was a kid. I loved them back then and wished I had one ar home. At the end of the day I remember we had to turn over our chairs and have them sit on top of the desk I guess for the janitors to clean the floors easier. Thank you so much for taking care with these treasures and bringing back memories.