Desk Refinishing

It’s true that a little elbow grease goes a long way! We have had this desk in our sunroom that I’ve been eyeing up to refinish, but kept putting it off until I was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers (The Coastal Oak). She has refinished several pieces, and boosted my confidence because they all turn out amazing.

I knew that I wanted to coordinate with the barstools we have from World Market. When we built our bar in the sunroom, we built the bar top from old barn wood and stained it to match the barstools…so I dug around and found that stain in the garage. This project cost $0!!!


  1. Palm Sander (I used this one by Dewalt)
  2. Sandpaper – a lower number means a higher grit/more coarse. Start with a 60-80 grit. If the wood is too textured after the finish is taken off, you can go over it with a 150-220 grit or higher to smooth it before staining. They sell the sandpaper in sheets (1/4 of a sheet fits the palm sander) and have an assorted pack. It can take a few sheets of sandpaper if you have a larger piece, so you might be better off getting a pack of 60 and a pack of 150 or higher. I used 150 grit to finish the desk and it was a smooth finish. If your piece is heavily textured or damaged, or if the coarser sandpaper “scuffs” it too much, you might want to work up to a higher grit number until you’re happy with the smoothness. Here’s a breakdown:
    • 60-80 coarse
    • 100-150 medium
    • 180-220 fine
    • 320-400 extra fine
  3. Minwax Tintable Clear Water-based stain in RIVER STONE
  4. Minwax Wood Finish stain in DARK WALNUT
  5. Minwax Polycrylic in CLEAR SATIN
  6. Old rags (one for each color of stain)
  7. A good brush for the poly coat

STEP 1: Sand sand sand sand sand with the Dewalt Palm Sander. I admit that I didn’t have a coarse enough sandpaper to start, and was just diving into it so I didn’t stop to go get what I really needed. I sanded the entire desk with 150 grit. It took longer than it needed to, but still “only” took around 5 hours to complete. Not too bad (in my opinion). I did run through several sheets of sandpaper…

STEP 2: I didn’t show a photo of this because I didn’t take one. I was trying to hurry to finish it on a Sunday afternoon before it got dark! I used a Dremel Multi-Max tool with the sandpaper pad attachment and worked around the edge and inside corners where the larger sander couldn’t reach. I did leave some of the original stain in a couple grooves around the desk top edge because I liked the depth and a little more rustic look.

STEP 3: After it was all sanded down (and wiped down to removed dust) I brought it back inside and compared it to the World Market barstools I was trying to match.

STEP 4: Test the stain! Using two stains I had on hand from our wood bar top project, I tested the inside of a drawer for color match. It was just right (I got lucky).

I took several photos from different angles to make sure it matched…

STEP 5: First layer of stain. I used Minwax Tintable Clear Water-based stain in RIVER STONE and an old rag to apply the stain. Wipe the stain on with the rag, and wipe off immediately. It’s best to work in small sections so it doesn’t dry too quickly.

The River Stone color is definitely a blue tint. It helps neutralize some the warmth in the natural wood tone though, and that’s what this piece needed.

STEP 6: Using the same process, apply the Minwax Wood Finish stain in DARK WALNUT. The image below shows an area with the Dark Walnut applied and an area with only the first coat of River Stone. You can see that the Walnut is darkening the wood and taking away some of that blue tint.


STEP 7: I let the desk dry overnight and applied Minwax Polycrylic in CLEAR SATIN the next day. Use a good paint brush and even strokes going in the same direction as the grain of the wood.

I only did 1 coat on the desk legs/sides, but I did 2 coats on the desk top. There were a couple small areas on the top that needed extra coverage (where it soaked in more), and I brushed on a 3rd coat just over those areas.

STEP 8: To completely finish it off, I spray painted the drawer pulls a hammered black (they are a brushed silver before). You can also see some of the areas where I left the original darker stain. That’s personal preference. You can remove it completely.

I couldn’t be happier with it! It was several steps, but the sanding was the hardest part. Time invested:

  • 5 +/- hours to sand the piece
  • 1.5 hours for first coat of stain
  • 1 hour for second coat of stain
  • 1.5 hours for poly coat
  • 10 minutes to spray paint the drawer pulls
    • TOTAL 9 hours and 10 minutes if you want to count that (not including dry time)
Posted in diy

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