How to Polyurethane a Desk

Clear coats of polyurethane on a wood desk create a glossy finish that makes the surface shine like glass.

Polyurethane coating on your desk makes it shine like glass.Polyurethane coating on your desk makes it shine like glass.
You'll need to prep the wood and apply a sealant before brushing on polyurethane from a can. The finish applies essentially the same way as paint, using long, smooth strokes to create a uniform finish. Polyurethane in a spray can is not recommended for large furniture such as a desk, because it's difficult to control the amount of polyurethane hitting the surface in any one spot. This can result in an uneven finish.

Move the desk outdoors, if possible, to minimize exposure to chemical fumes. Place the furniture on old newspapers or a disposable plastic drop cloth to catch polyurethane spills and splatters.

Sand all surfaces of the desk until smooth with progressively finer-grit sandpaper.

Brush off wood dust from the desk and wipe down all surfaces with a clean cloth dipped in mineral spirits.

Stain the desk, if desired, using a stain color of your choice. Apply with long, even brush strokes flowing with the wood grain. Let the stain dry 24 hours before applying sealant.

Mix 2 parts polyurethane to 1 part mineral spirits in a small bucket to prepare a homemade sealant. Diluting the polyurethane with mineral spirits helps it absorb better into the wood. This seals the wood in preparation for the final polyurethane coats.

Apply one coat of the sealant in long, even brush strokes, flowing with the wood grain, to all desk surfaces. Long, smooth strokes minimize bubbles in the finish. Let the sealant dry.

Apply polyurethane to the desk with long, even brush strokes flowing in the direction of the wood grain. Leave the desk to dry for 24 hours after applying the first coat of polyurethane. Apply a second coat of polyurethane after the first has dried completely.

Things You Will Need

  • Old newspapers or disposable drop cloth
  • Assorted-grit sandpaper
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Mineral spirits
  • Bristle brush, 2 inches wide
  • Bucket
  • Wood stain, if desired


  • Avoid breathing the fumes of mineral spirits and polyurethane.
  • Do not smoke or work near an open flame while using furniture chemicals.
  • Do not shake polyurethane in the can, as this forms air bubbles that will mar the finish on your desk.

About the Author

James Clark began his career in 1985. He has written about electronics, appliance repair and outdoor topics for a variety of publications and websites. He has more than four years of experience in appliance and electrical repairs. Clark holds a bachelor's degree in political science.