Thursday, April 10, 2014

long time coming (Mom's little desk)

I've had a furniture project hanging over my head for... oh... about 15 years now.

About a week ago, I finally started working on it. I would have started earlier, but I didn't know where to begin and didn't feel like I had the skills to do it. 

I still may not have the skills, but I just had to try... 

It's my Mom's old desk. She gave me the desk years ago... probably when I was a very small girl. (I can never remember not having it!) And she gave me a sweet story that went with it... The desk had been made for her when she was a child (during the Depression, she was born in 1925), by her Grandfather (I think?) out of old scrap wood... apple crates, etc. In the bottom of one drawer you can still see, stamped into the wood, "Grown in USA".


The desk is small with delicate hand carved legs and had a narrow shelf on the back of the desktop with little cubbies underneath. The drawer (always the coolest part!) was small, but made with secret compartments in the back where Mom, and later I, kept our tiny childhood treasures. (I can still remember my wonder when Mom first pulled out the drawer and showed me the tiny hiding places in the back!)


 When I was a child I could still see where, back when she was a little girl, my Mom had written her name on the unpainted underneath of the drawer... but it has since faded away. 

The desk has probably always been painted. My Grandmother used to like to paint furniture and Mom told stories of how her mother would paint the furniture to redecorate the house (and match her mood) sometimes bright red or shiny black to look exotic. I later found at least a half dozen different colors of paint on the drawer front... My first memory of the desk it was a light(ish) green. As an adult I painted it black and then white. 

And then, back in about 1999, I told Joe I wanted to refinish it. He stripped off the old finish but that revealed wood that was warped, poorly fitted here and there, and full of tiny holes and gouges from decades of use. He took it apart as he stripped it (I'm not sure why...), but stopped half way through the project, saying the desk too messed up to continue. I was heartbroken... I'd known the wood was warped, and had countless dents and dings, but hadn't cared... the desk was part of our family history. But this was during the hardest years with M, and there was no way I could finish the desk myself so it sat... it pieces... in the garage. 

And I felt bad every time I looked at it. 

When we moved here... it moved with us. I know Joe wondered why I kept it. 

A few weeks ago I gathered the desk pieces from the garage, brought them into the house and started pondering how to put it back together. The curved pieces that had been supporting either side of the little shelf had been lost, the cubbies were gone (they had been only heavily painted cardboard...), and the top of the shelf was seriously warped and cracked. But I just knew it was all salvageable... 

I started by gluing the desktop back together again. As I gently pulled the pieces apart a little more to get the glue into the joint I saw that it was held together with pegs... How cool is that?




 Here the top is back on the desk, and I've carefully attached the back of the cubby area (the little shelf will be on top).


 Next, I created from memory a pattern for the missing side pieces... I found a bit of scrap wood and cut the new sides out, trimmed and sanded them, then attached them to the desktop.


 In fixing the desk I used as much of the original wood as I could, so the back of the little cubby area is the old, slightly warped, wood. The side pieces are new wood though...

 After a lot of agonizing I finally decided to make a new shelf top as well. The old shelf top was incredibly warped, and had a large crack on the underneath side, and I was afraid it would just break in two when I tried to attach it to the supports. The only piece of scrap wood I had was too wide, so my neighbor (who has a table saw) ripped it to the right width for me, and I cut it to size, gave it a good sanding and attached it to the shelf supports.


(I hadn't yet sanded down the wood putty that hid the nails that hold the top in place, or primed the top in this photo.) 

By this time it was starting to look like the desk I remembered it being... I was so pleased to see it coming back "from the ashes" so to speak. It's like an old friend had suddenly reappeared... 

Then it was just a matter of painting it.... but it seems like this post is getting very long, so I think I'll save the painting and finished product until next time...   

(Very brief update:M had his CT scan yesterday... all went well but no results yet.)


Jackie Dickie said...

When you said you were working on Mom's little desk, i couldn't think which desk you were talking about. i, too, remember using that desk (it was also light green when i used it) and was always frustrated because the writing surface wasn't wide enough to hold the paper or the workbook i was using. i am so glad that you are bringing it back to life. It looks great!

SteveC said...

I found your site, thanks for the link! I remember that desk. I always thought the little drawer was brilliant.