Vintage School Desk Savlvaged

Submitted to Community Café

This vintage school desk (probably from the 1950s or 60s) came with the house when my wife bought it about 26 years ago. It's done nothing but sit on the back porch taking a beating from the weather since then. Every spring cleaning, I've talked my wife into letting it stay with the promise that "someday" I'll fix it up. A couple of weeks ago, my 7-year-old granddaughter told us since she was a second grader now, she would need a desk to sit at and do her homework. My first response was "We have the perfect desk for you sitting on the back porch. I'll clean it up for you."

"Clean it up" was an understatement! The metal part was easy. I took all the wood off, took it to the neighborhood car wash and knocked off over a quarter century of dirt, dust, spider webs, etc. After it dried, I sprayed on a coat of Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer, then the next day gave it a couple of coats of Rust-Oleum Painter's Touch Ultra Cover Brilliant Blue spray paint.

The wood, on the other hand, was a challenge. Interior, furniture grade plywood doesn’t do well sitting on a porch where the wind can blow rain on it. All four pieces (the desktop, the seat and two back rest boards) were delaminating and in some places cracked and warped.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t save the top veneer on the desktop. So, I opted for just getting the rest of it glued back into a solid piece and then sanding the top smooth and painting it with Rust-Oleum Chalkboard spray paint. I used Rust-Oleum Triple Thick Polyurethane to seal the edges and bottom of the desktop.

The desktop was the easy piece of the plywood to deal with. The two backrest pieces had a bow to them. The seat, was the hardest because it had a compound curve shape, and, unlike the backrest and desktop, it had a low spot that would allow water to pool and soak in.

I carefully peeled of the front and back layers of veneer from the two backrest pieces. It wasn’t hard to remove them. Years of weather had done the hard work there. I glued and clamped the few spots where the core layers were delaminated, then cleaned up the surfaces and re-glued the outer layers of veneer back on. My first attempt was a disaster, but I got it peeled back off and tried a second time . . . but this time I bought a package of a dozen various size spring clamps to assist with the job. A wise old woodworker once said, “No matter how many clamps you have, you need two more.” He wasn’t lying!

After I got the veneer properly re-attached, I gave them a good sanding and coated them with Triple Thick Polyurethane. They had originally been attached with rivets, but I found some aluminum barrel nuts and screws that worked well.

I guess I saved the worst for last, but that was probably a good thing. If I had tried to fix the seat bottom first, the whole thing may have ended up in the landfill. The back edge of the seat was delaminated into Five separate layers of thin, weathered, twisted wood. Working the glue as far into the crack between the layers, starting at the bottom and working up, I glued and clamped one layer at a time until I got to the top layer of veneer. I seemed to have grown in width over the years and was impossible to get it to lay flat with the layer below it. I eventually decided to use a razor knife and cut slits in the veneer in the troubled area, then glue down every other strip. Once they were down, I shaved off the edges of the loose strips until they would fit back down in the gaps between that first set of strips, then glue and clamp those down. It left some “battle scars” but after cleaning up the glue and sanding it, the bottom is solid and smooth once again. Then after a coat of Triple Thick Polyurethane to seal it, I re-attached it to the desk frame . . . and it was done!

So, the desk is back to doing what it was meant to do, my granddaughter loves it, my wife is happy that I finally did SOMETHING with that piece of junk I’ve been saving, and I’ve reclaimed a couple of square feet of our back porch that we haven’t been able to use in over a quarter century. That’s a win-win-win-win! Sure, it would have been easier and quicker to toss this thing in the scrap pile and buy her a new desk . . . but you just can’t buy good stuff like this new anymore.