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Waiting, waiting and Side Projects

I know, its not November anymore! Tsk tsk, I am late finishing the project!

Sadly, I am still waiting on my laser cut pieces to arrive in the mail. *sigh* Definitely cramping my creativity over here..  In the meantime, I’ve been trying to finish up another project that I’ve been working on bit-by-bit all year – the ugly duckling desk! I’ve been rooting around for over an hour trying to find a picture of the original desk. Unfortunately, it seems I can’t locate those shots anywhere! Hopefully one will turn up soon. Until then, here’s the story and a few process pictures…

One fine spring day Andrew and I were driving off to meet some friends when we passed an old desk that had been left by the dumpster at my apartments. We drove by slowly, it looked to be solid wood. I debated rescuing it, but decided against it and off we went. Of course, ever since I was young I have been drawn to rescuing things – be it junk people threw out, baby birds that fell from nests, or stray pets that lost their homes. So, as we drove a few blocks further, the rescuer in me took hold! “Can we go back for that desk?!” I said, feeling like a bit of an inconvenience as we had to be somewhere. Without hesitation we did a u-turn as he said “I already knew you were going to want to” and smiled at me. We heaved the old thing into the back of the truck – indeed it was solid wood. It was hideous in color, but in good shape. There was potential.

A few months later, I borrowed an electric sander from a friend and went to work on the old desk. A mess of fine and likely toxic dust filled the air as we sanded the old finish off (knowing nothing at all about refinishing wood, I have since learned you can use chemicals to take off most of that, so you don’t have to subject your poor neighbors to the insane racket of sanding on an enclosed concrete patio. oops). We sanded away slowly, until finally the nasty old orange-yellow finish started to disappear. Underneath was something I never expected… a gorgeous pink-hued wood with some of the most beautiful grain I’d ever seen. That’s right, I had stumbled on a solid cherry wood desk that had been hidden for who knows how long under the wrong finish! What luck!

(Partially sanded, still a bit of the nasty orangey finish in a few places.)

It took months to slowly sand the desk down to where it was ready to be refinished. Working on my monthly projects meant that I probably only sanded it once a month, if that. But finally this fall, the sanding was done. I removed some base boards from the bottom to use for testing finish techniques (planning to replace them with new ones). The first two tests I did were a plain polyurethane coat and then a reddish stain. Neither came out how I wanted. The stain flattened all the color in the wood and just made it look dull and  sad. Hm. This was going to take some real experimenting.

(Top: Walnut Stain that dulled the tones of wood
Middle: Mahogany Stain, you can see the patchiness of absorption
Bottom: Shellac & Burnt Umber Oil Paint Glaze, gave great richness of tones and coloration)

I began researching with fervor the many ways to refinish cherry wood. As it turns out, there are some real no-no’s about applying stains directly to cherry because it absorbs oddly – leaving you with weird, patchy areas and – of course – dulling all the sumptuous tones away. After much research, I finally found a method on American Woodworker that piqued my interest – using artist’s oil paints to make a glaze! I was automatically interested based on the odd-ness of the idea, but it also sounded like it might just work. By sealing the wood first with shellac, and then applying the glaze, the color actually sits on top of the wood – giving you added color while allowing all the rich tones of the cherry to remain in tact! I tested it out and was quite amazed at just HOW beautiful it looked. This was exactly what I wanted! And with that I got busy on the desk.


(Freshly sanded desk, with thin coat of shellac applied)

(Glazing process – equal parts oil paint and painter’s medium from hobby store.)

This past few weeks, I’ve put on the shellac and the oil paint glaze and am currently putting on a few thin coats of semi-gloss polyurethane to make it nice and bullet-proof. I can scarcely believe how it looks, much less that I helped to create this beauty with my own hands. There is so much depth to it that – as the light moves across it when you walk past – you see a rich kaleidoscope of blushing auburn tones so delicious you almost want to taste it! I realize I may sound a bit overly passionate here, but is there any harm in getting carried away with the beauty of a thing? There’s a part of me that wishes I knew the people who threw it away, and that I could show them what the full potential of this little desk could be.

(Finished color, one full coat of glaze and a second coat on outer edges to darken and give an aged look.)

There are still a few final touches to be done – the bronzing on the hardware, the base boards around the bottom – but I expect to have this duckling-turned-swam done by Christmas!

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Caela #

    Wow. Really really beautiful!

    Saturday, December 10, 2011
  2. maeve #

    Gorgeous color! What a great find. What are you using for handles/knobs?

    Saturday, December 17, 2011
    • Thanks Maeve! I’m actually going to try to use the original hardware that was on it.. when i took it off it left stains/marks on the wood so using a diff kind will prob show the wear =P I’m going to TRY to do a faux bronzing finish on them, as they are already liek a dark brassy color. Haha if that doesn’t work I’ll just give in and buy new hardware! =P

      Monday, December 19, 2011

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