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Thread: Reconditioning an old oak desk

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Nova Scotia
    Posts
    3

    Reconditioning an old oak desk

    Hello everyone, this is my first post here after joining a few weeks ago, so this is my introduction as well. I'm a university graduate student in Nova Scotia, and I've been woodworking since I was a kid, doing everything from building a titanic deck chair replica to carving folk-art butlers.

    My latest "project" has actually been more of a restoration, as you can see from the photos below. It's the desk I've sat at for over two years at school, and I decided I couldn't part with it when they replaced the furniture about a month ago. It's actually an old typewriter desk, thought the typewriter tray has been removed and the top fixed with screws, and I had only figured out what all the extra hardware and the cutout in the top were for when I got it home and started taking out screws.




    There's a number on the bottom of the desktop, shown below - "2 10 37". I've been entertaining the notion that this is a date, and the desk might actually be 72 years old (as of two days ago), but I only know for certain that it's at least 50 years old, as I found a crumbling letter stuck in the back of one of the drawer runners dated 1961. According to the plaque on the inside of a drawer, it was made by the "Office Specialty Manufacturing Company" in Newmarket, Ontario.



    As you can see, it was in an awfully rough condition, and while I've managed to scrap off the old finish, the edge of the desktop is still in poor condition, and since it's not solid oak (the core is some sort of softwood), I was hoping to replace the edge with some oak trim.

    The problem I now face is matching the colour, as the desk has a much more yellowish colour than the only oak I have sitting around in the shop, so I'm not sure if I can add the trim without damaging the aesthetics. Should I try to match the trim to the base colour of the unfinished desk, or stain them both to some other darker colour to hide the difference? I can't easily remove the top to work on it, as there's no visible brackets or cleats that hold it in place.

    I don't have a huge amount of time to spend playing with this, as I'm finishing a thesis and moving to another province at the end of the month, so any recommendations would be greatly appreciated! (Any educated opinions regarding the age would be helpful as well.)

    Regards,

    Daniel
    Last edited by Daniel Grant; 02-12-2009 at 04:17 PM. Reason: typo

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Delton, Michigan
    Posts
    17,472

    oak trim

    well daniel welcome and from what i can see from your pics i would try to find some white oak to make your trim its normally what was used for them type of desks,,as for matching color, you could take asmaple of wht oak and give it a light dose of some dye first to see if youcan sneak up on the old color.. but one thing you will have to look at is the finish will change your appearnce as well.. there are others on here better at refinishing than me perhaps they will chime in as well.. give Al killian a pm he does this kinda thing for a living..
    If in Doubt, Build it Stout!
    One hand washes the other!
    Don't put off today till tomorrow!

  3. #3
    Looks like about correct on the Steno desk, the center of the top Flips over to bring the typewriter (screwed to the top) up and in place for typing, when done you can flip it back down leaving a writing surface.

    A lot of these were in Schools and offices all over in the 30s so your date idea is most likely correct. . Yes, most were white oak or some were even Ash stained to match whiteoak. I did one of these about 20 years ago, The Veneer top was in pooor shape and I was able to get down to the core which was Ash, (with worm holes) I filled the holes and grain and stained to match and had a nice desk (for a few years till we got tired of it)

    Looks like you have the hard part done. the color is a problem when using new wood with Used wood, Might be able to find another old piece and rob som wood for the trim piece, Or use it as an accent border around the edge, Trim the top down to produce crisp straight edge, Use 1 1/2" X 3/4" White oak strips turned to appear like a thick desk top (I'd use Biscuits because I have the joiner) attach to the edges of the top , mitering the corners and finish natural, the contrast of woods may prove interesting. I don't believe it "Distroys the period" as this is not a "Designed" furniture but a utility piece. Not A & C or Greene, although it is in the same period.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Nova Scotia
    Posts
    3
    Thanks for the responses! I would like to leave the colour as light as possible, so maybe I'll play around with staining the trim this weekend.

    I'm going to have to trim the edges with a circular saw, and that's worrying me as well - should I try to score the veneer first with a knife before cutting the top to prevent tear out on the top, or what else would help prevent this?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Nova Scotia, 45N 64W
    Posts
    1,245
    Welcome Daniel. That's a great looking old desk. We're, coincidentally, in the final stages of refinishing an old one about the same vintage.
    If I was going to trim the edges off that top with a circular saw, two ideas come to mind:
    1) If you can remove the top, work from the underside, so the blade would be pulling the fibres "into" the top, rather than "lifting" them
    2) clamp on a straight edge for each cut.

    I'd also consider an edge-guided router, to give a good jointed edge for attaching your new edging.

    Checking for metallic surprises goes without saying.

    Regards
    Peter

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Delton, Michigan
    Posts
    17,472
    a pattern bit in a router run along a straight edge would be better than a circular saw. and if you can get a down shear you would be better yet.
    If in Doubt, Build it Stout!
    One hand washes the other!
    Don't put off today till tomorrow!

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by larry merlau View Post
    a pattern bit in a router run along a straight edge would be better than a circular saw. and if you can get a down shear you would be better yet.
    A true statement.... Great suggestion.

    As the desk top has segments, a simple flip may be out of the question. But a trim with a router could leave an edge noce enugh to not need a trim piece or at least it might be nice enough to just need some edge banding veneer to finish off. Slight chips in the veneer edge would only give the piece some "Character" so complete removal is not too necessary.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Nova Scotia
    Posts
    3
    Update: well I tried to take as many suggestions into account as possible, and thanks to all for that.

    I'm unfortunately working with whatever my father has in the shop, and I'm trying to spend as little money on this as possible, so I don't have a good pattern bit for a router. While the circular saw caused some minor tear out along the ends, it's not anything worse than the condition of the desk in general.

    Since I couldn't find any plain oak strips that were an inch wide that had a plain rectangular profile at the building supply store, I decided instead to use the wood I had and to pick a 'golden oak' stain that was more yellow than red to bring the trim closer to the colour of the desk, and that worked pretty well. I rounded the edges of the trim pretty heavily to hide the fact that they were just added, and I'm pretty happy with the result.



    It looks a little darker than it really is because a) the first coat of finish is still wet, and b) it was taken at 12:30 last night when I finished it.

    After another coat of finish and reinstalling the hardware, it'll be done!

    Thanks again for your recommendations,

    Daniel
    Last edited by Daniel Grant; 02-16-2009 at 04:15 PM.

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