How to Finish a Wooden Desk Top


There is nothing to compare with the rich texture of real wood grain. Giving your wood desk top a rich, warm finish is simply a matter of knowing what steps to take and following them. First you must decide whether you prefer water-based or oil-based stain and finish. Water-based products have fewer fumes, are easier to clean up and generally are easier to work with. Oil-based products provide the richest color and longest-lasting finishes.

Things You'll Need

  • Stripper
  • Plastic scraper
  • Plastic scrubber
  • Steel wool
  • Solvent-based wood filler
  • Sandpaper
  • Sander
  • Stain
  • Paintbrush
  • Clean, soft rag
  • Finish
  • Remove any old finish completely. Use a gel-type stripper. Apply with a paintbrush and let it sit for the time recommended on the label before scraping the finish and stripper off with a chemical-resistant plastic scraper. Use a plastic scrubber or quad zero steel wool to remove any stubborn spots and allow the desk top to dry.

  • Fill any damaged areas with an appropriate color of solvent-based professional wood filler. Apply the filler, allow it to harden and sand the affected area smooth by hand before proceeding to more general sanding. Treat this area the same as the rest of the surface for staining and finish.

  • Sand the top thoroughly, progressing from a 100-grit to a 150-grit and finally a 200-grit paper in successive passes to get the smoothest grain possible. Use a random orbit finish sander for best results. Be careful not to over-sand edges and details to prevent damage to these fragile areas.

  • Brush the dust from the surface with a dry, fine-bristle paintbrush. Using the same brush, apply a coat of stain in your choice of colors and product types. Water-based stains will require more attention to detail in application to assure an even coat. Allow the stain to set for the time recommended on the label before wiping excess stain with a clean, soft rag. Allow the stain to dry.

  • Sand the surface lightly by hand, using a 220-grit or finer paper to smooth any grain that may have been raised in the staining process. Brush the surface free of dust, using a dry, fine-bristle brush.

  • Apply at least two coats of clear finish. Finish is available in different sheens from flat to gloss. Choose the one that best suits your interior. A semigloss or satin finish will take the most abuse and is best for heavily used desks. Allow the drying time recommended on the label between coats and after the final coat before using the desk.

Tips & Warnings

  • Oil-based gloss finishes can be lightly sanded between coats. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for best results.

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  • Photo Credit Staplers on desk image by Maksim Zinchenko from
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