Upcycled desk

Upcycled desk with salvaged wood

I had no idea we needed a desk for the spare room in the loft.

The Whatsapp message from my wife (informing me that I’d have to go into town to pick up a desk she’d just paid for) soon corrected my lack of furniture foresight.

“Oh, here we go…” I thought.

It’s not that I didn’t want a desk, or that I felt I should to be consulted when furniture is being bought.  It’s that she has absolutely no concept of size.

It’s not that she over- or under-estimates sizes either.

It’s that she sometimes forgets that it’s a factor that needs to be considered when making a purchase.

I once had a 100 mile round trip to collect a picnic hamper style basket thing she’d bought. I had to take the roof off the car to get it home to the reaction “oh, that’s a lot bigger than I wanted.”

I had just presumed she was planning on taking up hot air ballooning.

So when I got the desk message, I feared she had found a massive piece of furniture I wouldn’t be able to fit in/on the car, or through the door, or up the stairs, without dismantling either it or the house.

The original deskBlissfully, none of these proved to be the case, and I had hope that she had now mastered spatial awareness.

The oak frame and drawer fronts had been stained quite dark and were paint-splattered, and the top was plywood with a faux wood grain veneer that reminded me of school desks in the 80’s, but It was solid enough, and for £20 was a bargain.

It lived happily enough in the loft room looking out over Walmer, adorned with a typewriter  a friend had found when they moved into their house, and a desk lamp we picked had picked up from somewhere or other.

On rare occasions when I worked at home it was a decent place to sit and crack on, and the kids love sitting there playing on the typewriter. But it was crying out as an upcycling project to get it to fit into the feel we wanted for the room.

The loft is essentially our guest room – my family are up in Yorkshire, so if they visit, we want them to have a decent space to set up for a good length of time. It’s the biggest room in the house, with a double bed, a weird wardrobe that looks like something from MFI that someone thought they’d make built in,  a large open space usually filled with Hormby or Scalextric, and a disappointing amount of storage in the eaves on one side.

There’s a bedside table on one side, and the aforementioned giant basket has found a use as both linen storage and place to put a tray to act as surface for the other side.

The feel is a bit coastal – whites and blues for the most part – so the dark stain of the desk jarred a bit.

Desk with boards cut and lined upAfter salvaging some floorboards from a neighbours house that was being renovated, I decided to whip the plywood off and make a plank top for it. The top came off simply enough (a bit of persuasion needed where it was glued along the top of the drawer frame), and the planks were cut to length, sanded, and lined up, and looked pretty good. Their warping and the marks they’d built up over the decades – possibly a century – of use added a lot of character, and it looked like it would fit nicely into what we were trying to do with the room.

Then…nothing.

I got distracted by something, and never got back to finishing it. Being in the loft, it wasn’t in regular view to encourage me to crack on with it – I could go weeks without going up there, and then, usually with The Boy who wanted to set up a train set or Scalextric, which needs constant supervision.

Eventually, I got re-inspired to crack on with projects like this, so cleared some  space in the shed and lugged it back down the stairs to get cracking.

To see how it would look, I started with stripping the drawers. This involved little more than a lot of sanding (80 grit to really get the worst of the stain off, then 120 and 180), and removing the lock and makers tag in one of the drawers. They came up well, so I cracked on with the rest -again, just sanding, but it was a faff getting right into the corners of the frames.

Drawer detailAll stripped, I needed to apply some woodworking enthusiasm to the top. As this was to be made of warped planks, I decided against just putting them on individually. It needed four planks, but there were only three pre-marked holes on each side of frame to hold them in place, and I wanted to keep the frame as original as possible, so didn’t fancy going nuts with the drill. Also, I expected they’d keep warping,  making the current small bumps between them more noticeable and annoying over time.

Ideally, I’d have used biscuit joints to stick them together before attaching to the desk. I, however, don’t own a biscuit jointer and don’t trust my own skills with a chisel enough to go old school and do it by hand.

So, I thought I’d try simply gluing them together with my new favourite adhesive – Gorilla Glue.

I can’t remember why I’d originally bought a bottle, but this stuff (and clamps) changed my view of what I could do with wood.

Anyone with a modicum of experience of woodwork knows decent wood glue is essential. But, I’m simply an enthusiastic DIY-er, not experienced craftsman. I’d not really needed/thought about it seriously before so muddled by with cheap own brand stuff that didn’t do a good job so I stopped trying.

It’s fixed battered old dining chairs that we picked up in a charity shop and made into a lovely set. It’s repaired a wall shelf that got knocked off, splitting the back where the hanger was screwed in. It’s also holding together the screw-less bathroom shelf unit I cobbled together.

The problem with this approach is that for the glue to do it’s job, you need to make sure you clamp it tight so the wood properly bonds together. Now, I own a half a dozen clamps (thanks dad!), but they’re basic, and only a couple are  (just) wide enough to hold two boards.

So, I had to make do with using those  to do two boards at a time. I also clamped some wood lengths on top to act as a brace to avoid flex and hopefully help keep the glued edges together. As I only had an hour or so in the evenings, it took two days to get to the point where I had two halves of my top.

To stick these, I decided to go with my brace approach again – basically lined everything up sideways so gravity was helping keep them together, then tightened the clamps (with scrap wood between the clamp and the surface) to hold it steady whilst the glue cured.

Upcycled deskAmazingly, this worked and I had somehow turned a few scrapped pieces of wood from a neighbours garden into a decent-looking sheet to go on a desk! Even if it did basically take three days…

Attaching it was just a case of lining it up square, clamping to avoid movement, using the existing holes in the frame to drill guide holes in the new top, and screwing in the original wood screws.

Then it was just giving everything a good wipe down, and applying some furniture wax.

I say simple, but I originally oiled the top and it didn’t look good, so had to strip it back again and try again with just the wax which gives a pleasing enough finish.

I would have liked to have tried to give it a slightly bleached look with a watered down white wood dye and acrylic varnish mix like I did our dining table. Unfortunately, a lack of both white wood dye, and acrylic varnish meant I opted to use what I had on the shelf. If it bugs me enough, I can easily get the wax off and do it again.

So, that’s another project finished.

Yes it took ages, and I would probably do a few things differently if I could. But I can’t, and I’m still happy with it, which is more than the “it’ll do” I used to have when making things.

Again, I’ve learned a bit more, which in itself makes it worthwhile as a project in my book.

Just need to decide what’s next – that horrible MFI-esque wardrobe in the loft keeps catching my eye…

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