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Old School Desk Photo Prop Makeover - Cocoa, Florida

Step by step refurbishment of a mid-century metal school desk. nostalgic and anxious as i watch my middle child prepare for his first year in kindergarten!

So if you read my last DIY post you may have caught on that another restoration project was brewing! I searched high and low for an old wooden school desk to use as a "back to school" photo prop for my business. My search was also fueled by the fact that my 5 year old will be starting elementary school in August this year and I wanted to capture this milestone as he enters a new chapter in his life as a kindergartener! (did I just say that?) Holy-Moly where does the time go?!

I found this awesome wood and metal school desk. The metal had ALOT of rust as you can see in the before pictures, so this was going to be challenging. That also meant, lots and lots of sanding! However, I saw it's potential and the wood part of the chair was actually in pretty decent condition, no splintering or gauges, and no bubble gum was found under the desk either! Considering it's age and overall condition I committed to taking on the task.


“Oh, the places you'll go!” - Dr. Seuss

Before I start any DIY process I break down my vision of what I want the finished product to look like, then I figure out what is doable and how much it's going to cost me. I'm frugal when it comes to this kind of thing because I want it to look like new but the whole point of me not buying "new" is so that I can save money and make it my own. SO, I decided I wanted to paint the metal of the chair a smokey gray color and just bring the wood back to it's natural state with some sanding and stain. The top of the desk I thought would be great to paint in white board paint. It will give it contrast and who doesn't like a white board?! Well...after a few trips to Home Depot I realized that white board paint is not exactly the easiest type of paint to work with, there are multiple steps and different paint chemicals you need to use and per the reviews online it just wasn't something I was willing to tackle. Granted I could've just painted the top white but I wanted to make the desk a usable piece outside of just a photo prop, so I then decided on chalk board paint! Yea I know, chalk is messy but kids love it and keeps them busy, so why not?!


Black and Decker Mouse

220-grit sandpaper

120-grit sandpaper


Plastic Gloves

White paper (Or newspaper will do)

Rust-Oleum Staining Pad

Synthetic bristle brush

Rust-oleum Aged Wood Accelerator

MINIWAX One Coat Polyurethane (Clear Satin)

KRYLON ColorMaster paint + primer spray paint (Pewter Gray/Gloss)

KRYLON Chalkboard black spray paint

Blue painters tape


Step 1: sanding...and more sanding...

Good grief this little chair had some major rust! I managed to get most of it off. The inside cubby on the bottom was the worst. I went through all my sandpaper on this one. I sanded the metal and wood outdoors, while wearing a mask, and vacuumed up all the leftover dust; especially inside the cubby hole. I only had to lightly sand the wood and desktop, as I said those areas were in pretty decent condition.

Cubby pre-sanding

Step 2: Prepping and Painting

Besides the dreaded sanding step this was my next least favorite. The wood backing and seat were screwed on with rivets and screws but most of them were rusted. I was afraid of trying to remove them and causing damage so I decided to just tape all the wood in order to protect it while I sprayed the metal frame of the desk. Time consuming but I figured better in the long run. Painting was the easy part, I only used one can for this chair. The spray paint I used was great because it has primer built in so it went on so smooth and covered all the imperfections that I couldn't get out with sanding.

Post sanding - still pretty rusty

Puppy Photo Bomb!

My 3 year old daughter helped with the taping job, don't judge! ;-)

Step 3: Staining, More Painting, & Sealing

After the metal frame was all dry I pulled the tape and paper off and starting putting some layers of stain on the wood seat and back panels. I did about 3 layers to get the maple color I wanted. Once that was dry I covered the entire chair with my tarp except for the desk part and I sprayed about 2-3 layers of black chalkboard paint. Lastly, I used my bristle brush and applied a coat of Poly to the wood to seal it.

Step 4: Done!

I LOVE how this little schoolhouse desk turned out! It only took me one weekend, a few hours each day to complete. This old-fashioned desk has been through a lot of children and sliding around the classroom floors in its day but it isn't done yet! My kids will put it through the test of time while I get to take pictures of them in it every school year as they grow older (insert tear). It also adds some charm to our boring 'ol playroom. I had a blast working on this one, it has lots of character and I can't wait to shoot Back to School photos for my clients too!


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