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post #1 of 22 Old 05-27-2012, 10:34 PM Thread Starter
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Restoring Antique secretary desk

Hi,

Looking to get some advice on restoring/refinishing an old secretary desk I got aa hold of. Im totally new to this, but my girlfriend is into antiques so I got this as a project for the two of us.

I have no idea how old this is, how to to identify it. It has no markings anywhere. I dont suspect that its too old and I feel like it's american made, but again I dont know. When I searched pictures I found very few that are similar to mine, and most look more elegant. Hell, I don't even know how to tell what kind of wood it is made out of.

There isnt any major damaged anywhere. I few nicks here and there not nothing you'd notice without looking, and nothing that I feel like needs repair. It's in over great condition. Very solid, well put together, and everything functions as it should. Has key and locks work.

Guess im just looking for some advice on where to begin. Looks as if someone put a white base coat of paint on it and painted it green. Obviously I want the paint gone - obviously im looking to go with an original wood look.

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Anyone?
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post #2 of 22 Old 05-27-2012, 10:48 PM
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I would guess that it's likely a reproduction, and not as old as you might think, as it has a plywood back. You should use a chemical stripper to remove the paint. I would start with a waterbase stripper, like CitraStrip. It's not as toxic as MC (methylene chloride) strippers, and can be used indoors. If that doesn't remove the finish, trying more than one application, I would then use an MC based stripper.







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post #3 of 22 Old 05-28-2012, 02:30 AM
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That piece will be a sizable project to refinish. Then chances are there was a reason it was painted. Often there are large chunks of veneer missing that has been filled and painted over. The only way you are going to find out is to strip the paint off. It's a pretty miserable job because paint usually comes off one layer at a time. It might be easier and cheaper in the long run to have a refinishing shop strip the piece. They will have equipment and harsher removers that will strip the piece cleaner than you can. If you just want to do it yourself, do it in a well ventilated area and avoid breathing the chemicals. The best over the counter remover I've used is kleen strip. You have to be patient with it and let it soak, keeping it wet with the remover taking off one layer at a time. If it has 5 coats of paint one you basically strip it 5 times. When you get down to the wood you can use a scrub brush and brass brushes to loosen the last bit and then wash with a power washer with not too high pressure. I use one that is 1000psi and I don't get too close to it.
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post #4 of 22 Old 05-29-2012, 11:02 AM Thread Starter
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Yeah

Well, like I said I didn't figure that it was that old, but it's atleast decently old (if that makes any sense, lol). Even will the plywood back it just appears and feels old. its heavy, well put together, and just from looking at it the appearance would suggest its atleast 20 years old. we wanted to start small anyway, no way would I try to restore something that could possibly be worth tons of money my first go-round.

I would like to find out more about it thou, atleast pin point when it was made. Anyone know of a resource I could use to find out?

Im gunna go check out some of these products and see what I think will work best. Looks like there is only two coats of paint on it, white base and green over it - and where the paint has chipped its all wood so....... shouldnt be that bad I guess.
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post #5 of 22 Old 05-29-2012, 11:55 AM
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I would like to find out more about it thou, atleast pin point when it was made. Anyone know of a resource I could use to find out?
It might be difficult pinpointing its age. A good cabinetmaker could reproduce a very distinctive piece. I would mention that I wouldn't powerwash after stripping. IMO, that much water and pressure could cause some problems.




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post #6 of 22 Old 05-29-2012, 12:15 PM
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With a plywood back it could still be 40-60 years old, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was made in the 80's when this style of reproduction was so prevalent. Don't worry about the pedigree, its irrelevent. So long as you like it, it has good lines and is structurally sound there's truly nothing more you need to know. Even average built constuction repros from the 80's are more structurally sound than the barage of "cr#p" being imported from China now. Enjoy the process and take your time. I would however NOT recommend having this piece dipped! You already know the back is plywood and with layers of paint, other areas may also be ply or veneer. Dipping and plywood never mix!

As mentioned earlier, once you strip you may find veneer missing. I have had success with patches on cherished pieces of family hand-me-downs and using a Brazilian Mahoghany finish. As an occasional refinisher, I have found the new Norm Abrams' finish for furniture to be very reliable. In the 80's, Norm extolled the virtues of the "hand-rubbed-oil" finish exclusively. As an interior designer this would be the point where I would change the channel. A) Who has THAT much time? B) Who wants everything to look like it belongs in someone else's Grandma's house? (My own Grandma had more style than that!) and C) I'm absent minded - I'll set a wet glass down without a coaster if I'm preoccupied! Rooms & furniture should be lived in, used and cared for - not worshiped!

Check out Norm's website for more info, but basically it goes like this: 1) Oil based stain to establish your chosen color 2) shellac - to prepare a base for step three 3) water based stain - to even out the finish - wood does not always absorb a stain evenly- excellent for first timers! 4) Several coats of wipe on polyurethane - good durable finish.

Good luck!!

Last edited by spookietoo; 05-29-2012 at 12:17 PM. Reason: punctuation
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post #7 of 22 Old 05-29-2012, 06:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GAslim View Post
Well, like I said I didn't figure that it was that old, but it's atleast decently old (if that makes any sense, lol). Even will the plywood back it just appears and feels old. its heavy, well put together, and just from looking at it the appearance would suggest its atleast 20 years old. we wanted to start small anyway, no way would I try to restore something that could possibly be worth tons of money my first go-round.

I would like to find out more about it thou, atleast pin point when it was made. Anyone know of a resource I could use to find out?

Im gunna go check out some of these products and see what I think will work best. Looks like there is only two coats of paint on it, white base and green over it - and where the paint has chipped its all wood so....... shouldnt be that bad I guess.
From what I can see in the pictures, unless that piece has had a hard life I would date it from the late 1930's to the 1950's. It does appear to be a reproduction. From the style I think there's a pretty good chance that the primary wood in it is walnut. If someone just wanted it white and painted over the original finish it could be cleaned up into a nice piece. With it painted it's just a crap shoot whether it's worth redoing or not. I've stripped paint off furniture before only to recommend to my customer it be painted again.
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post #8 of 22 Old 05-29-2012, 07:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Neul
From what I can see in the pictures, unless that piece has had a hard life I would date it from the late 1930's to the 1950's. It does appear to be a reproduction. From the style I think there's a pretty good chance that the primary wood in it is walnut. If someone just wanted it white and painted over the original finish it could be cleaned up into a nice piece. With it painted it's just a crap shoot whether it's worth redoing or not. I've stripped paint off furniture before only to recommend to my customer it be painted again.
This is particularly true with open pored woods such as walnut and oak. If the wood was bare when painted the paint will permeate the pores. Which makes it very difficult to remove the paint enough to put any type of transparent finish on the wood.

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post #9 of 22 Old 08-04-2012, 07:20 AM
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There are a lot of people so fascinated in collecting antique secretary desks. When you say it is a secretary desk, it does not necessarily mean that it is something being used by a secretary in today's offices. Other terms being used are bureau and bookcase; desk and bookcase; secretaire; and, escritoire. As described, it is important to note how to choose effectively the right fixtures suitable to your needs, style and budget. You can learn how to choose the right desk at antique secretary desk
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post #10 of 22 Old 08-04-2012, 12:19 PM
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After ya get it refinished, go find whoever painted it. Flog 'em unmercifully.
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post #11 of 22 Old 08-04-2012, 02:26 PM
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[QUOTE=cabinetman;341980]It might be difficult pinpointing its age. A good cabinetmaker could reproduce a very distinctive piece. I would mention that I wouldn't powerwash after stripping. IMO, that much water and pressure could cause some problems.


+1 power washing wood furniture should never be done, bad idea. just plan on a couple of weeks stripping with jasco paint and epoxy remover.

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post #12 of 22 Old 08-04-2012, 11:38 PM
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[quote=jack warner;363912]
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Originally Posted by cabinetman View Post
It might be difficult pinpointing its age. A good cabinetmaker could reproduce a very distinctive piece. I would mention that I wouldn't powerwash after stripping. IMO, that much water and pressure could cause some problems.


+1 power washing wood furniture should never be done, bad idea. just plan on a couple of weeks stripping with jasco paint and epoxy remover.
Don't knock the power washer till you try it. My company has stripped hundreds of pieces of furniture without damaging any of it. Most of this furniture was stripped by unskilled new workers. When you think of a power washer you may think of a car wash or one of these gas powered units that can run up to 2500 psi. I wouldn't use one of these either. I use a cheap wal-mart electric power washer that is just a little more aggressive than a garden hose. The problem stripping paint is it tends to stick in the grain and crack and crevices and a power washer is the only thing that can quickly remove it before it starts hardening up again. You otherwise have to overwork it with a brass brush that does do some damage. When I had a flow over system the secretary desk this thread is about I could strip it in 2 hours and get all but a few small spots completely clean.
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post #13 of 22 Old 08-05-2012, 12:06 AM
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Don't knock the power washer till you try it. My company has stripped hundreds of pieces of furniture without damaging any of it. Most of this furniture was stripped by unskilled new workers. When you think of a power washer you may think of a car wash or one of these gas powered units that can run up to 2500 psi. I wouldn't use one of these either. I use a cheap wal-mart electric power washer that is just a little more aggressive than a garden hose. The problem stripping paint is it tends to stick in the grain and crack and crevices and a power washer is the only thing that can quickly remove it before it starts hardening up again. You otherwise have to overwork it with a brass brush that does do some damage. When I had a flow over system the secretary desk this thread is about I could strip it in 2 hours and get all but a few small spots completely clean.
Sounds great...and you say a company that did hundreds of them without damage. So that makes it right? Now when a member goes to strip a piece of furniture, and because you say it's OK, they go do it?

I wouldn't suggest putting that much water under any pressure on any stripped piece of furniture if there was any other way.





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Last edited by cabinetman; 08-06-2012 at 09:22 AM.
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post #14 of 22 Old 08-05-2012, 12:52 AM
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[quote=cabinetman;364050]
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Originally Posted by Steve Neul View Post

Sounds great...and you say a company that did hundreds of them without damage. So that makes it right? Now when a member goes to strip a piece of furniture, and because you say it's OK, they go do it?

I wouldn't suggest putting that much water under any pressure on any stripped piece of furniture if there was any other way.










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Yes it would be ok. If I can hire someone off the street and give them very little training and they don't damage the furniture, any member regardless of knowledge or experience can use a power washer and not damage their furniture if they follow what I have written. Many of the workers I had, I had no real way of training them. They were illegal aliens and I couldn't speak Spanish. The bottom line is I would not strip furniture without a power washer. It cleans the residue of the remover off the furniture so much better than anything else. Any residue of remover can have adverse reactions with the new finish. Except for a little stain left most furniture comes as clean as a newly built piece of furniture that has had the grain raised with water. It doesn't roughen the wood, it just cleans it.
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post #15 of 22 Old 08-05-2012, 07:41 AM
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Yes it would be ok. If I can hire someone off the street and give them very little training and they don't damage the furniture, any member regardless of knowledge or experience can use a power washer and not damage their furniture if they follow what I have written. Many of the workers I had, I had no real way of training them. They were illegal aliens and I couldn't speak Spanish. The bottom line is I would not strip furniture without a power washer. It cleans the residue of the remover off the furniture so much better than anything else. Any residue of remover can have adverse reactions with the new finish. Except for a little stain left most furniture comes as clean as a newly built piece of furniture that has had the grain raised with water. It doesn't roughen the wood, it just cleans it.
It's so easy that an illegal alien can do it.

You are entitled to your opinion, and there's no need to have a story to make your methods sound right. It's not a matter of who is right or wrong, and having to cover all the aspects of a method or procedure with what is in your opinion facts that prove you're correct, is really unnecessary.

You could just state your mind, and if someone doesn't agree with you...so what!! We don't all think or work alike, and have diverse backgrounds. Some methods may have evolved through trial and error, others may have been something "heard on the grapevine". At least with a choice, members have a few alternatives to try out. It keeps them busy, and serves as a learning experience.

Opinions are just that, and we all have our own. They don't constitute fact. You are entitled to yours. Your opinions about lacquer being too soft, or Minwax not retaining color, or methods for applying grain filler, or dislike for waterbase polyurethane...don't need to be explained to be construed as correct. There's always the option for responses to disagree, as what was stated may not have worked out the same for someone else. Those problems are worthwhile to discuss, as it may save someone time or money in the end.






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post #16 of 22 Old 08-05-2012, 09:32 AM
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It's so easy that an illegal alien can do it.

You are entitled to your opinion, and there's no need to have a story to make your methods sound right. It's not a matter of who is right or wrong, and having to cover all the aspects of a method or procedure with what is in your opinion facts that prove you're correct, is really unnecessary.

You could just state your mind, and if someone doesn't agree with you...so what!! We don't all think or work alike, and have diverse backgrounds. Some methods may have evolved through trial and error, others may have been something "heard on the grapevine". At least with a choice, members have a few alternatives to try out. It keeps them busy, and serves as a learning experience.

Opinions are just that, and we all have our own. They don't constitute fact. You are entitled to yours. Your opinions about lacquer being too soft, or Minwax not retaining color, or methods for applying grain filler, or dislike for waterbase polyurethane...don't need to be explained to be construed as correct. There's always the option for responses to disagree, as what was stated may not have worked out the same for someone else. Those problems are worthwhile to discuss, as it may save someone time or money in the end.








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Aside from the language problem which is half mine the illegal aliens were the best workers I had. They were conscientious of their work and always put in a days work for a days pay. This is a lot more than I can say about their legal replacements. Part of the reason I closed that antique repair and refinishing shop is because they passed a law I could not hire the illegal alien anymore.

As for as opinion, nothing I write here is other than first hand experience. Often I come across things that seems totally wrong however if I don't have first hand experience with it I will stay out of the conversation. You will never see me slam someone for a procedure I know nothing about like you have with the power washer.

Last edited by Steve Neul; 08-05-2012 at 09:35 AM.
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post #17 of 22 Old 08-05-2012, 09:59 AM
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You will never see me slam someone for a procedure I know nothing about like you have with the power washer.
Maybe I do know about it and have tried it and found out it shouldn't be done. That's my opinion.






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post #18 of 22 Old 08-05-2012, 12:00 PM
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i also have used a pw for stripping. its not a good method. and thats my opinion. ive only been a professoinal finisher for 35 yrs. i was an instructor for the local painting union for 8 yrs, here in california. if you want to use a pw to strip furniture, and make it work then good for you, but i highly recomend against it.

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post #19 of 22 Old 08-05-2012, 08:35 PM
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Well if you guys have had problems with a power washer than you must have had one that had too much pressure. As in post 3, I warned about the pressure. I have deliberately sought out a power washer that had the lowest pressure I could find. This isn't something I invented, I bought the equipment from a furniture refinisher that was retiring and since then any place I've seen that sold the stripping equipment sold power washers too. It's common to the industry and saves a lot of work.
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post #20 of 22 Old 08-05-2012, 09:54 PM
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Well if you guys have had problems with a power washer than you must have had one that had too much pressure. As in post 3, I warned about the pressure. I have deliberately sought out a power washer that had the lowest pressure I could find. This isn't something I invented, I bought the equipment from a furniture refinisher that was retiring and since then any place I've seen that sold the stripping equipment sold power washers too. It's common to the industry and saves a lot of work.
It's really unnecessary to have stories to sound convincing that you are correct, or what's common or not. It's also not a matter of having a problem with power washing, and how to solve it. You do it your way, others will do it other ways.

Whether it's common to the industry, that's your opinion.





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