Reply
Frequent Contributor
deputydawg42
Posts: 66
Registered: ‎10-24-2009
0

Refinishing an antique desk

[ Edited ]

Hey all, I have a puzzling situation.

A client/friend of mind wants me to refinish his wife's 50 year old antique desk.

It is in great shape structurally that does not require repairs but has received some smoke damage due to a house fire. To further explain, the top of the desk is a lighter color than the rest of the desk due to usage, etc. and the sides, front and drawers appear darken due to smoke damage. I am unsure of the wood type but it appears to be oak with 1/8 inch laminate on the all the faces except the top. The desk has received some bumps and bruises over the years and requires some sanding and probably wood putty.

 

My questions of concern are;

 

I know the overall value would be depreciated if the desk is refinished but what can I do to avoid damaging the desk?

Would TSP clean the surfaces without damaging the original finish?

What would be the best wood putty I could use to blend in for some minor gouges?

What topcoat finish was used during that time era?

What topcoat should I use if the finish is removed?

Should I remove the top coat and start from scratch?

 

Should I take on this job or pass? And final question is how much to charge?

(Approximately size is 24" W X 48" L X 30" H)

 

Any feedback, concerns or comments would be greatly appreciated.

 

 

Professionally trained by the school of hard knocks.
Honored Advisor
ynoT
Posts: 10,516
Registered: ‎10-23-2009
0

Re: Refinishing an antique desk

[ Edited ]

 

No offense, but with all these questions.... you are asking for price quote?!

 

But, for now, lets start from the beginning....

 

With all these gauges and whatever, I'd say go ahead and remove the finish.

But, before you do that why not washing the desk and remove the gunk and see where you are then. Use mild soap, like Murphy and warm water. Or, you can use Mineral Spirits which I like to use. It is safe for any top coat.

 

Filling those gauges may sound like an easy work. Trying to match the color to area around it is a whole new ball game.

 

Some fifty years ago the finish might have been lacquer, varnish, shellac.... you can try Denatured Alcohol and if its removing the finish than it's Shellac. By using lacquer thinner, it will tell you if lacquer or varnish was used.

 

Striping might be the best answer. Reading your article it seems that there are too many things gone wrong.

If you do strip, with chemical striper, it will remove the finish and preserve the color. After filling inperfactions, and lightly sanding the desk, you are ready for top coat of your choice. Shellac and Varnish are good choices. Lacquer, as top coat is fine too.

 

As for wood filler.... Although i've not tried it yet, but others that have, like it a lot, is Timber Mate.

 

Now, back to first question.... how much....

 

I think it would be wrong charging pro prices without having knowledge on how to do this task. If you do, and than something goes wrong, how will you answer it?

You can do a friend a favor, and perhaps later on he can return one back to you. Or maybe take you out to dinner or ball game? The choices are yours and only you can really answer that question.

 

It would help to know what wood is this desk made of. And anything else that you can think of (how about an image?) that will help us provide you with better answer and better information.

 

Cheers,

Tony

"Why worry about things you can't control when you can keep yourself busy controlling the things that depend on you."
Honored Advisor
kmealy
Posts: 2,061
Registered: ‎10-26-2009

Re: Refinishing an antique desk

> I know the overall value would be depreciated if the desk is refinished

 

In all likelihood not.  A fifty year old desk that has seen lots of wear and tear is never going to be musueum-quality stuff.

http://www.jjrestorations.com/antiques_roadshow.pdf

 

>Would TSP clean the surfaces without damaging the original finish?

Without knowing the original  finish, it's hard to say.  TSP will damage shellac in short order; I sometimes use it to clean my shellac brushes.

 

Try this instead:  http://www.assoc-restorers.com/r-articles/saving_the_finish.html  

if you think it's too far gone, then stripping might be in order.  It might also depend upon the desire of the "client."   I refurbished a desk for a client recently and his instructions were, "I don't want it to look new."  This man is quite wealthy and has two large homes full of "old furniture."  Actually more than two because he recently re-married and has a lot of furniture in storage.

 

Though instead of waxing, you might apply a coat of shellac, padded on.  You do need to be sure the piece is very clean or you will just end up streaking the finish.

 

>What would be the best wood putty I could use to blend in for some minor gouges?

A burn-in repair would probably be the least conspicuous, but if you know how to do them, then you probably know this (not an insult, just an observation).  Another option is to simply leave them as "distress marks."  Or see this article for repairing minor damage: http://www.popularwoodworking.com/article/Repairing_Color_Damage/

 

> What topcoat finish was used during that time era?

50 years ago (1960) the most likely finish was NC lacquer.  Unless it was DIY finished or refinished, it is unlikely to be varnish or shellac as a production, commercial finish.

 

 

> Should I take on this job or pass? And final question is how much to charge?

No way I'm getting into this.

Honored Advisor
amateur60
Posts: 1,618
Registered: ‎10-24-2009

Re: Refinishing an antique desk

[ Edited ]

Fifty years old isn't antique.  ("Official definition is 100 years old, and reality definition is prior to about 1830.) 

Retaining it's original finish might add value IF and ONLY IF this is a quality mid-century modern piece from a noted designer.  Otherwise this is just old furniture and value will be improved by a QUALITY refinishing--at least as high quality as when new.  That doesn't mean it should look like it did when new,  patina and gentle wear is perfectly acceptable. 

 

High likelihood that from the 60's the finish was nitrocellulose lacquer.  More protective top coats, such as an oil based varnish are also acceptable for the refinishing. 

I can't imagine ever needing wood putty on a restoration.  Large dings might require wood patches, and smaller dings shellac stick. 

Frankly, refinishing old furntire is pretty much a DIY project. At the rates professionals need to charge it would almost certainly require charging more than the piece is worth. 

Frequent Contributor
deputydawg42
Posts: 66
Registered: ‎10-24-2009
0

Re: Refinishing an antique desk

Jeez Tony I think I would have been less offended if someone punched me in the stomach.

 

First,  This is not my first refinishing project or woodworking project, but most of the projects I have done lately has been new construction not refinishing. I haven't refinished a piece of furniture in about 4 or 5 years and I needed to get my bearings straight. This would be the oldest piece of furniture I have refinished and was unsure of certain aspects, like the use of TSP or a cleaning agent.

 

Second,  You make it sound like I have already started this job which is incorrect......"Reading your article it seems that there are too many things gone wrong."........I haven't started and I am only considering taking on the job. 

 

Third, And Yes I would charge for my labor and supplies....Your time and supplies my only be worth a lunch, meal or favor but my time and supplies cost money. The amount of hours it would require to finish a piece of furniture for someone cannot be repaid by a mere favor or a meal. I wasn't even thinking about attempting to charge anywhere near professional prices but at least a compensation for my time and effort. There are very limited woodworkers or anyone willing to do this type of work in my area so yes I would charge a monetary figure if I should decide to take on the job.  Maybe I shouldn't have referred to this individual as a friend but as a co-worker or an associate.

 

I only do this part-time mostly as a hobby and in my spare time so yes I think my personal time is worth some compensation.

 

My price quote would also include a liability cause for possible damage occurred while removing the finish and such, since everyone like to sue everyone these days. Would this be wrong, maybe, but I like to cover all my bases.

 

 

 

Professionally trained by the school of hard knocks.
Frequent Contributor
deputydawg42
Posts: 66
Registered: ‎10-24-2009
0

Re: Refinishing an antique desk

Kmealy, This was excellent input and articles. Thank you very much for your reply....I will definately take in the information I have read.

Professionally trained by the school of hard knocks.
Frequent Contributor
deputydawg42
Posts: 66
Registered: ‎10-24-2009
0

Re: Refinishing an antique desk

amateur60, Thanks for your excellent input. Some very enlightening information.....I did not know that it was not considered and antique until it was at least 100 years old....hmmm, learned something new. The wood putty was the individual's suggestion not mine, I told him I would take it under advisement, but I was looking at other means. This is why I bounce this stuff off of forum members because I don't have a lot of people in the area that woodwork (other than construction contractors).

As far as DIYer, I personally would do it myself if this was my desk, but I get the impression he would rather pay someone else do it. And as I mentioned before....I wouldn't or couldn't charge professional rates.

Professionally trained by the school of hard knocks.

 

© Copyright 2009, Meredith Corporation. All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy | By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Service.