I was commissioned to refinish this antique secretary desk:
I don’t know how old this piece is – certainly not an antique by European standards – but definitely an antique secretary in North America.
But it was in need of a little love. The earlier varnish had raised and wrinkled, there were scuffs and scratches and some of the previous stain had even peeled off.
The cupboard door wouldn’t close and the desk section seemed to have two different colours going on.
I needed to strip down the entire piece and re-stain it to make it a consistent colour and texture throughout.
I started by removing the cupboard doors, shelves and all the hardware, then sanded the entire piece starting at 60 grit and working my way up to 180 grit.
I removed the swirly details on the desk front, but wasn’t able to get them off from above the mirror, so the sanding here was sort of hit and miss. I did what I could by hand, but the swirls were very delicate.
Ideally, you’d want to remove the back of the antique secretary in one large sheet (they’re usually just tacked on with finishing nails) but with the wood being so brittle, I decided to ignore the backing and leave it attached. The wood here wasn’t in as rough shape, and it gave me a template for matching the stain.
I did attempt to use a chemical stripper on the cupboard fronts, but I found that I had to sand anyways, so decided to just forego the extra step and keep at it with my DEWALT Random Orbit Sander and a small detail sander as much as possible.
I won’t lie – this is about 4 hours of sanding – WITH electric sanders, so this isn’t a job for the faint of heart…
but for those of you, like me, that LOVE a before and after – watching the years of dust and grime fall off makes it SO worth it.
If I were changing the colour of the stain I would have continued sanding until every speck of dark stain was removed – but since this was going to get stained in the same colour again, it was okay to leave shadows here and there.
I washed the entire piece down with Krud Kutter and let it dry.
After a coat of Minwax Dark Walnut and two coats of triple thick (with 320 grit sanding in between), I think you’ll agree it was well worth it:
All of the hardware got a wash with Krud Kutter and then a wash with my ENJO marble paste and you can see how they gleam now.
I sanded out the little cubbies, re-glued and stained them to match, and the desk is now a uniform colour from front to back.
I did make one serious mistake with this piece though – I was able to remove the swirls on the antique secretary front easily enough with a small, flat putty knife and some gentle coercion, but they weren’t as easy to put back on and I ended up breaking both of them in trying to tap them back into place.
I felt TERRIBLE, and again Sherri – I’m so sorry – and while I could have glued them back together and adhered them, you would have seen a crack from the damage. Sherri was gracious enough to forgive me and opted not to have the swirls put back on.
It’s so beautiful!
The curio section of the antique secretary will be fitted with glass shelves and the rest is (almost) as good as new.
Just in case you’re wondering – I used the same stain throughout the dark areas, but different wood, even from the same tree, will take stain differently and this gradation is what gives wood pieces their richness and character.
I’m not an antique collector, but I truly LOVE this piece – the size, function and all those little cubbies speak to the OCD in me.
If you’re interested in viewing a wonderful range of furniture and antiques, my friend was telling me that Antiques World has a brilliant variety. It might be worth checking out.
Have a great one!