Playing School

Raise your hand if you “played school” growing up. Trust me… no one’s judging.
While some young girls played Barbies or dolls, my sisters and I were busy “playing school” in our basement. Thanks to our fabulous mother, our basement “classroom” was complete with educational posters, office supplies galore, official grade books, and even activity books for our usually imaginary students. The sad reality was that all three sisters insisted on being the teacher, so we rarely had any opportunity for student participation. This unfortunate reality didn’t stop us. We still filled those grade books with grades (who these grades belonged to, I’m still unsure), we still lectured about the content we needed to cover, and we still documented all of our classroom discipline issues on the chalkboard. Yikes!
That little classroom was far more effective than we could ever realize at the time. The grade books, lesson plans, and students may be long gone (hopefully), but our love for the classroom is still around. All three sisters are still playing school, this time, with three big differences:
                       1. Degrees
                       2. Paychecks
                       3. No more imaginary students
Oh, and one more thing survived the test of time (and my mom’s obsession with “getting rid of clutter”)… our one and only classroom desk. When I look at this vintage school desk, I have no choice but to think of the endless hours I spent hanging out with my wonderful sisters in this influential classroom.
Vinage School Desk Makeover
It must have been one of our “unruly students” who did a number on the top of this desk. If I am going to look at this rehabbed vintage desk in my new home, I cannot be reminded of those darn trouble makers.
 DIY Vintage School Desk
Here is a piece of hot glue, mixed with glitter and fuzz, dried on the seat of this gem. This has got to go…
Staining an old Desk

I want to breathe new life into this treasured memory and add this childhood treasure into the new home of two teachers. To start the rehab of this vintage desk and bring it from drab to far more fab, I followed these simple steps:

                      1. sand
                      2. wipe down
                      3. stain
                      4. wipe down
                      5. enjoy!
To start the sanding process you will need…
Supplies to refinish a school desk

Note: I used a power sander, but with a little more blood, sweat and tears, regular sand paper could work

The large surfaces were much easier to sand. The smaller pieces were a tad more difficult only because it was awkward to get the power sander into the small areas. To avoid this awkwardness, you can ditch the power sander in these areas and use plain sand paper instead.

A few tips when using a power sander:

                      1. Go with the grain of the wood for optimal results
                      2. Use some muscle when sanding
                      3. Keep sanding until all surfaces are uniform
Sanding a vintage school desk
 Sanding an old school desk

A couple hours later with a lot less day light…

old school desk

… the sanding was complete!

school desk makeover
Next step: Take a little soap and water and wipe down the entire desk. You want to make sure you wipe off ALL of the sanding dust to prepare it for staining. Once you wipe down the entire desk, paying close attention to any small groves or uneven surfaces, let the desk sit and dry over night. You may have to wipe the desk a couple times to successfull remove all of the dust you created with the sander.
vintage school desk tutorial

To start with the staining process, you will need stain (any color), an old paint brush that you plan on throwing away, a few pieces of old cloth that will also be thrown away, and I used rubber gloves to protect my hands from staining.


I started staining the smaller parts of the desk first and avoided the larger surfaces until the very end. Remember when using stain you want to brush on the stain go in the same direction as the grain of the wood. You also want to make sure that you keep the stain on for a few minutes and then evenly wipe off all of the excess. Make sure to wipe the stain off of the wood using the grain as your guide! If you are looking for a darker finish after you have wiped off your stain, repeat this process until you reach your desired shade!


Staining an old desk
Vintage Desk Stain


DIY Vintage School Desk
Here’s a fellow teacher and DIY-in-training getting in on the fun. 😉 This was his first stain project! #soproud
School Desk Stain Tutorial
School Desk Refinish
After all of the sides and legs of the desk were stained, we stained the seat and the tabletop of the desk. Here is a picture of the stain before we wiped it off, hence the shining surface. Disclaimer: Do not wait too long to wipe off your stain, especially in warmer weather. If you wait too, too long, the stain can turn thick and be very difficult to wipe off, causing a huge mess and a undesirable finished product.
Staining tutorial


DIY Desk Stain
After the staining process is complete, make sure you discard all of your stained cloth. I’m all about re-using material project after project, but staining material is definitely an exception. You don’t want to keep these dirty cloths around, as can become combustible material (thanks dad).
After we wiped down our “new” desk and threw away all of our stained materials, I watched in pure excitement as this old treasure started to take on new life! Check out our A+ work….
School Desk Makeover
Vintage School Desk
School desk
Vintage School Desk
Am I the only one that feels it is absolutely necessary to bring hints of your childhood into your home? How have you incorporated a piece of childhood into your home’s decor? Give me your tips and tricks!


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m married to Finn & mom to Rory and Ellis. Together we’re creating our dream home in Chicago, one DIY project at a time.