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The Little Red School Desk Transformation

Today’s post I’m going to share with you how to transform an antique little school desk.

Where we like to shop

One of our favorite places to shop for vintage goodness is the Amish Auction. We find so many unique treasures at this bi-annual event.

Antique finds like this child’s school desk are common. They’re usually pretty dirty and sometimes broken.  This one had some spilled paint drips!

Prep the Piece

The frame of the desk is made from cast-iron and can easily rust if left outdoors or in barns. The first step is to take a wire brush to the cast-iron to remove the loose rust.

Next up is a good scrubbing. I use a solution of Simple Green with water and wash down the whole piece.  A heavy duty Scotch Brite pad is a great way to scrub and rough up the surface at the same time.  Sorta like wet sanding.  Let the piece dry completely.  I had a sunny day that helped with this step!  Love me some sunshine!

Preserve the Original Patina

I plan on painting the wood parts of the desk but I want to keep the cast iron metal in the original finish. It has such a beautiful, time worn patina and I don’t want to change that. I only want to enhance it.  Two coats of Valspar Project Perfect Topcoat in Flat creates a beautiful finish and preserves the original patina.

Antique School Desk Transformed

Prep the Wood

The next step is to seal the wood before I paint it. I like to use Zinsser Shellac. It is easy to apply, dries quickly and seals the wood. If you have a piece of furniture that has that old and musty odor to it, this shellac can be one of  your solutions.  It will seal those odors that the scrubbing might not have removed.

Now for the Fun Part– Painting!

This school desk  definitely needed to be painted. The only question I had was what color to paint the wood. I thought about the color as I was cleaning and prepping the piece. My mind kept going back to a little red schoolhouse. So I thought what better to paint this desk than red!  It really seemed like a no-brainer after it clicked in my mind 🙂

Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint in Tricycle would be the perfect choice because I also wanted to use an old-school type of paint. wink, wink!

The Paint is Easy to Mix

All you need is a container, a fork that has been bent like the one in the image, Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint and water. The directions on the bag say to use equal parts paint and water.

I start off by mixing two parts paint to one part water which creates a paste. I find it easier to completely mix any lumps that might form by mashing down with my bent fork.

This technique for mixing works in a similar way to making dough – liquid is adding slowly to the flour mixture and this helps to incorporate all of the dry flour.  Back in the day I did my fair share of bread making.   But I can’t say that about my current endeavors in the kitchen 😉

Once I feel all of the milk paint has been absorbed by the water, I add the remaining one-part water. I go through one extra step to eliminate any lumps. I pour the paint into another container (I have a lot of Talenti containers around my workshop – no judgment please!) that  has a strainer like this one on it.

The strainer I am using here is actually a loose tea strainer.  It is deep and made to fit inside a mug.  Fill with loose tea and pour boiling water over it to steep.  And ta da’ you have a cup of tea!  But let’s get back to the paint mixing!

I use my paintbrush to press any paint through the tea strainer.

Paint the Piece

Two coats of Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint covered the desk.  Only a few spots needed a third, light coat of paint. Be sure to stir the paint in the container as you paint the piece.  The paint can settle to the bottom and this step ensures an even coat on the piece.

You can see that the milk paint reveals all of the texture that years of varnish had created. The milk paint dries quickly so this is a fairly fast process.

Distress the Piece

Next up is distressing. I take a fairly unconventional way to distressing most of my furniture pieces. I use the flat edge of a small chef’s knife and gently scrape over the high points on the furniture pieces. This desk had a lot of texture because of years of varnish that was not applied evenly.

I am careful not to gouge the wood with the knife. I use the knife over the high points and the edges that would naturally be worn off. I also use an old, partly-used sanding block over the entire piece to smooth the surface and distress even more.

See all the authentic chippiness this technique creates? Love, love, love how the piece looks used and time-worn!

Antique School Desk Transformed
Antique School Desk Transformed

Check out this video on my technique for knife distressing.

Sealing the Piece

The last step is sealing the paint. One of the products I love to use is Miss Mustard Seed Hemp Oil. It is a natural based product that when applied to milk paint it enhances the color and seals the paint. I apply it with a chip brush like this one and wipe it back with a microfiber cloth, buffing as I go.  It produces such an authentic age to any furniture piece.  I really love this stuff!

The Finished Piece

And here is the finished Little Red School Desk!

You can see here that I chose to not paint the underside of the wood. (Use a bit of sand paper to remove any paint on the underside edges that could be messy looking.)  This is such a good way to keep some of the originality to the piece!

Check out that texture!  The paint and distressing actually help to accentuate all of details!

I love how the seat can be folded down or folded up for a different look.

If you have a little one in your life that wants to use a school desk for homework or artwork, pull up a small child’s chair like this one and let them enjoy a bit of history!

See how the Hemp Oil creates a soft matte look to the paint?  Not shiny and glossy, just soft and worn 🙂

Thanks for Stopping By!

I am so glad you stopped by to see how this little school desk was transformed!  It is such a rewarding challenge to find the old and make it new again!  Pin this post for inspiration!

Follow along on Instagram,  Facebook and Pinterest for more projects!  Happy Reinventing!

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