My Rustic Writing Desk

As I previously discussed, writing isn’t about having a fancy desk, you do need to have a space to call your own (and it really helps when that space isn’t a place where you’re quite literally hunched over your laptop.) After a year of doing just that, I finally decided it was time to invest in a desk. I spent many weeks scouring Joss & Main, Facebook Marketplace, Ikea and Target. I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I was between a rustic gray/brown wood desk or an ultra-modern white desk. You see, I already picked out the chair. So I needed a desk that would match the chair but also my aesthetic. I very much have a simple, clean and rustic aesthetic. I adore all white but my heart was leaning towards a rustic wood style.

One Sunday, after a particularly long search I exclaimed, “why is wood so expensive, it has to be cheaper to make my own.” It got me thinking, could I make my own? My husband has the capability to do so, my Dad has most of the tools and I already know how to stain. After a bit of googling, I came across Shanty 2 Chic. When I tell you I was blown away by their pieces, that’s an understatement. They were claiming you could make gorgeous rustic pieces for as low as $55. Here’s the thing about their pieces, they’re rustic perfection with the most gorgeous gray/brown stain I’ve ever seen. Ultimately, that was the problem with some of the reasonably priced desks I admired, the color wasn’t what I was looking for. I was being particularly picky about the color. I wanted gray but with cool brown undertones. Think Ikea’s Hemnes dark gray stained pieces but way more rustic. After spending a few days convincing my husband he could definitely do this, he consented.

Let me start by saying: The desk cost way more than $70. My Dad owns a concrete business so while he owns a miter saw, orbital sander and drill, we had to invest in a Kreg Jig, Kreg Jig screws, sandpaper, numerous brushes, stain, and polyurethane. Since this was our first woodworking project, we ended up wasting money on stain, polyurethane, and brushes. The finish we were hoping to obtain was very much trial and error. When you’re standing in the stain aisle at Lowes furiously reading the back of cans because the associates are literally no help, that’s when money gets wasted. I’d say the biggest money wasting for us, was on brushes and polyurethane.

Though I was using an oil-based stain, initially I steered very far from oil-based polyurethane because I didn’t want my cool-toned desk to have that warm amber tint oil-based polys are known for. Little did I know, it wasn’t that big a deal. On trip two to Lowes, (at this point, I thought two trips was a lot! haha) I returned a large can of Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane in favor of Minwax Polycrylic clear satin because you know, beware the amber tint. After investing (read wasting) $17, I soon discovered that it was not the satin finish of my dreams. It straight up looked like I melted down plastic bits and painted the sample pieces with that. Back to the drawing board. We proceeded to stain a second sample piece when my Dad said he had a little bit of Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane clear satin left from his project at his and my Mom’s new house. Ok sure Dad, why the hell not. Long story short, it was definitely the satin finish of my dreams. Amber tint be damned. Side note: while we did use this polyurethane in clear satin, we opted for the wipe on version since there is room for user error.

If you’re reading this and thinking the polyurethane was our biggest concern, think again. It was such an ordeal mixing the stains to get that perfect cool-toned gray/brown. I found an ideal stain on ElizabethBixler.com but for some reason, the 75% jacobean and 25% classic gray mix, was entirely too dark every.single.time. Finally, I went back to the website and read through comments. Turned out, the site never explained that the numbers were inverted. The percentages were actually 75% classic gray and 25% jacobean. Seriously, what a difference. Once we mixed the correct percentages and stained our sample pieces, we found the color.

My husband cut all the pieces after work before hitting the pine boards with an orbital sander. He used 80 grit sandpaper before moving up to 120 grit. I know, I know, we shouldn’t move up that many grits at once but we only had 80 and 40 for the orbital sander and loose sheets of 120 (shoulder shrug.) Afterward, he Kreg Jigged the holes while I hit the boards with 220 grit sandpaper to make them ultra-smooth.

Onto the fun part and my contribution to the project. We decided to stain the piece in sections rather than all together because it looked way easier to stain that way. He built the desktop completely and each leg completely before we stained. I chose to stain the underneath section of the desk first so I conditioned the wood with Minwax Preconditioner 15 minutes prior staining. I simply dipped an old flannel sheet into the can and lightly coated the surface We mixed our stain in a glass measuring cup and used foam paint brushes to sweep the stain on. I left it on for 5 minutes before gently wiping off with a shop towel. The only difference between the legs, underside, and top of the desk is that I used a lambswool applicator for the top. The top was the most important finish for me. For the underside, I allowed it to dry 48 hours before flipping over to do the same to the top and sides (same thing for the underside of the legs.) I allowed the piece to sit for another 48 hours before applying polyurethane.

Since we opted for wipe on poly I knew we were going to have to apply close to six coats in order to achieve what is typically done with two coats of brush on. I waited 24 hours after the first coat to apply the second because it was humid out. My Dad cautioned against us using poly while being so humid. We didn’t have any other choice as we don’t have a climate-controlled garage. Instead, we opted for longer drying times. After the third coat, I lightly sanded with 400 grit sandpaper. I applied two more coats of polyurethane 24 hours apart and the finish was STUNNING. But being a new woodworker and all, I thought it could be smoother so I did a sixth coat. Wost mistake thus far. That sixth coat ruined the stunning finish. It looked smudged in spots or dirty, like when your kid takes their sticky fingers and touches the coffee table but you dont notice until the light hits it just right. After 15 hours my husband lightly sanded with 400 grit paper and did a seventh coat of polyurethane. It was a hell of a lot better but unfortunately, it still had two spots that looked like there was something smudgy on the desk. I was frustrated with myself for putting that sixth coat on in the first place. I forgave myself and I decided I would deal with it. By no means did I want to make it worse plus it is our first wood project and for being our first, we did a pretty good job.

We allowed the desk to sit for a good 5 days before we moved the pieces and assembled in my brothers old room. When it came time to decide where the desk would go, in my mind, there was no other place for the desk. I thought it was rather poetic to write my first novel on a desk handmade by my husband in a room that I established my love for reading and writing in while also keeping me close to my late brother.

Amanda

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