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How to Refinish a Roll Top Desk

Sidney Johns

A new finish on an old roll top desk adds new life and a new look. Whether a family heirloom or a used furniture store bargain, a roll top desk often adds a touch of class to a room. Either for looks or convenience, the old fashioned design sets the piece apart from its modern counterparts. When the finish becomes old, faded or chipped, refinishing becomes necessary. The project requires time and open space.

A roll top desk typically has many small drawers.
  1. Remove all drawers from the desk. If possible, take off all the handles using a screwdriver.

  2. Apply stripper to all wooden areas. Begin with the small draws. Apply the stripper with a clean cloth and separate the drawers and desk on a tarp or drop cloth.

  3. Apply stripper to the roll top area. Slowly move the slats down, applying the stripper as the edges become visible.

  4. Scrap off the old finish. Once the stripper has stood for the recommended time, use a small scraper to remove the finish from the pieces in the order the stripper was applied. Work slowly on the roll slats, scraping one edge at a time.

  5. Sand the wooden areas. Use a small piece of sandpaper to sand the slats of the roll top first. A sander may be used to lightly sand off any remaining finish from the rest of the pieces.

  6. Stain the desk. Apply a coat of stain to each of the pieces, including the slats. Use a small brush or rag to get into the small areas. Allow to dry for at least 24 hours.

  7. Complete the project by applying a coat of lacquer over the stain. Use a small paint or artist brush to get between the slats.