One of my favorite things to do is refinish old furniture. A lot of things I’ve bought in the past were from consignment stores and were decent quality but over time became out dated. This particular desk I found when we were out on a family walk during trash day. Yes, I am not above trash picking!  Especially when it’s an Ethan Allen writing desk that’s probably around $2,000.

This is seriously one of my greatest finds. It had a little bit of wear in the front from where a chair or something seemed to be rubbing but other than than it was in great shape! I couldn’t believe our neighbors were throwing it out!

I forgot to take a picture of the condition it was in when I first found it, but here’s a photo after my first pass at sanding it.

  1. The first thing I like to do is use some liquid sandpaper or de-glosser just to take the clear finish off especially in those nooks and crannies where you can’t get to it well with sandpaper or a sander. I let it sit for a while to really penetrate the finish and then wipe it off with a damp rag.

  2. Next, I use my orbital sander to go over the flat surfaces. I start with some 80 grit sandpaper and move to 220 grit sandpaper to create a smooth finish. I don’t ever use the orbital sander on any edges or places that have detail. It will make marks and deform the shape of the wood. I hand sand all of those areas. You can fold the sandpaper and run it in the creases. This part requires a ton of elbow grease but is an important step in having your new finish adhere properly.
  3. Once I’ve finished sanding. I wipe down the surface with a dry rag. You can also use a leaf blower to clear out the sanding debris from all of the cracks. This step is very important because you don’t want shavings mixing in with your stain or paint. It will make the finish gritty.
  4. Now comes the fun part: staining or painting! For stains I like to use a cotton or cloth rag to really push the stain into the wood grain. I chose a stain called Carbon Grey by Varathane. If you’ve chosen paint, a nice soft paint brush will do. Be careful not to use to much paint especially when painting vertical areas or areas with detail in order to avoid drips and paint blobs. Once you’ve laid down your first coat it’s very important to let it dry completely. If you try to add stain or paint too soon you’ll end up taking off the first coat and ruining the finish. (Trust me I’ve done it!) There’s no sense in rushing and having to start from scratch!

    Here it is after a first coat.


  5. Once it is fully dried from the first coat it’s time for a second. You may even need to go back a third time and cover any spots that are still showing.

    Second coat!


  6. The next step is to add a protective clear coat. I usually choose a satin polyurethane because I don’t like it to be too glossy or too matte. It’s really a matter of preference. This step will make your furniture easier to clean and wipe down from spills and dust.
  7. Last step is to replace the old hardware. You’d be surprised how much new hardware can make an old piece of furniture look completely updated. I kept the hardware on this desk because I liked it but I could have bought some new knobs or drawer pulls to change the style. You can also spray paint old hardware to different colors to create a unique look.