New life for a school desk

Last updated 11:30 16/07/2012

Whoa, I am so excited. I have that buzz, that electric feeling when a crafty project just digs its claws in and takes over your day, or days even. I imagine it's that same feeling that anyone doing anything creative, from Mr Nobody to Matisse, gets.

At this stage I am rubbing my hands together in glee - I've finished the hard slog.

DrawersThe project that took over my waking (free) time this past week was the upcycling of an old-fashioned school desk. Last year I spent a cold, miserable Saturday learning the art of decoupaging furniture using fabric instead of paper. These drawers were the result. I love them and they take pride of place in my craft cave.

So anyway, I was bitten by the decoupage bug and when I saw Desk 1this desk (left) at a garage sale for a fiver, I knew it was meant to be. Like lots of relationships, the desk and I have had our ups and downs. I mean, this week I spent days stripping layers of white and mint green paint and then dark, dark varnish. At first I broke out the sander but it gave up the ghost before even revealing what wood lay beneath. As a paint stripper virgin, I shelled out for the best I could buy and sped home to lather the desk in it. It worked, kind of. Kind of as in the top layer of paint bubbled and came off with a scraper but it was still pretty much hard work, and too slow given how many times I had to apply the nostril-burning stuff. So a new sander it was and gosh, has that made much shorter work of it. Desk 2The best bit of the sanding business was revealing all the graffiti some school kid applied eons ago and the compass gouge marks. Oh happy days, reminded me of just what school was like for me.  I decided I wanted to leave some of those as they were gouged rather deep (I certainly did that with my compass during fifth form maths) and plus, I think they add nostalgia to the finished product. The worst bit was the green and white dusty eyebrows that I sported when I did the school pick-up. Note to self, always check mirror before facing the mummy mafia.

So the desk is a fait accompli. Once I sanded the bejesus out of it I dithered over what and how I was going to cover it. I had originally intended to cover it in its entirety but as I sanded it back I was taken by its rustic charm so I opted to cover the lid only. I had some sepia world map fabric which I thought would work well but when I realised that New Zealand wasn't on it, well I thought I would feel treacherous in using it. I googled and found world map wrapping paper and my mind was made up - I'd seen something similar in a magazine and it worked well so I'm putting my hand up and saying the idea wasn't mine entirely. So, I measured the paper, cut to size and then diluted a little Mod Podge, which I lathered over the top. On went the paper, which was then allowed to dry. Another coat or two of Mod Podge (gloss finish) followed and then I covered the lid in clear varnish to really seal all the edges and to make sure little fingers couldn't lift the edges. Desk 3Finally (finally!) I covered the rest of the desk in a pine-coloured varnish and let it dry somewhere where dust wouldn't stick to it. Mister Six is impressed and, actually, so am I.

All up I spent about $30 on the desk, paper and paint stripper plus the cost of the sander, which I only had to cough up as the other one carked it. I'm pretty happy with what I managed to do with not very much money but a lot of elbow grease and tender loving care. What do you think? A waste of space or a worthwhile venture? Should I have left it at the garage sale or have I turned someone else's trash into a little piece of treasure? Go easy on me, I still have blisters from all the sanding....

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Penny   #1   11:46 am Jul 16 2012

LOVE it!

Colleen   #2   12:12 pm Jul 16 2012

me too!

Kirstie   #3   12:51 pm Jul 16 2012

Awesome Colleen, I love it! The map looks great, and takes away some of the "school room feelings" the desk evokes... For me it brought back the image of Sister Judith standing behind the O.H.P., rocking back and forth on her heels... Shudder!

Alice   #4   01:04 pm Jul 16 2012


Does look like NZ didn't make the final cut anyway...

Same!   #5   01:45 pm Jul 16 2012

I love it, it was a GREAT idea!!

sonia   #6   01:52 pm Jul 16 2012

Just Awesome and think of all the lovely hours you put into it and the old school memories we had at school on those desks. Yes I think my compass was used on the desk more so than in the book. Enjoy It

Jo   #7   02:48 pm Jul 16 2012

It's totally adorable. Did you need to sand the underside of the paper or anything to make it stick better? And is there anything cheaper than modgepodge? That stuff's expensive.

D   #8   03:42 pm Jul 16 2012

That's AWESOME Colleen! Well done!

Jo   #9   07:10 pm Jul 16 2012

How did you get the modgepodge to not bubble? I have used it only once before and the first layer was good but too thin so I added another layer and bam! bubbles that I didnt see but when dried looked horrible. What technique do you need to use to get it to not bubble?

Colleen   #10   10:39 pm Jul 16 2012

Hi Jo, I didnt sand the paper at all, what I did was dilute the modge podge very slightly so that the paper was a teeny bit wetter than it would otherwise have been. I also put Modge Podge on desk lid itself before applying the paper which meant I could more easily slide it that extra mm or two to make it fit better. I reckon you could use slightly diluted PVA for this too, in fact that is what I used on the fabric covered drawers. I smoothed the bubbles out to the edge while the glue was really wet. i suspect there is a little bubble or two still there but not so that I have noticed. does that help at all?

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