Mid-Century Steel Tanker Desk Restoration
We’re in process of switching around our kids’ rooms, and our oldest has moved into his own room. One of the projects to tackle was getting him a desk to go under his new lofted bed. When I was kid I had an old mid-century steel tanker desk painted a lovely 80’s beige. It wasn’t much to look at, but it could and did take all the abuse a boy could throw at it. They don’t call them tanker desks for nothing. For YEARS it sat mostly unused in my parents’ basement. Thankfully, they kept it! Here’s the before:
I started by removing the laminated plastic top. There were two metal banding clips that went all the way around the top, holding the Formica top in place. I removed both halves using a flat-head screw driver and hammer, slowly working it out of the groove. I was unsure at that point if I’d be wanting to reuse the banding clips, so I was careful not to damage them. Here you can see the the bare metal top. I believe this was after I had sanded on it some. The decades (and the original adhesive used) left a great patina.
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Next, I removed all the drawers and started on the stripping. This beast had three layers of paint! I used Citristrip. Amazing stuff. I started out applying it with a foam brush not thinking about the fact that it’d eat the foam. So, that didn’t last long, and I ended up just using wadded-up paper towels. **Make sure to wear some quality nitrile gloves** I applied a nice thick layer and then covered the surface with plastic wrap. This helps keep the Citristrip wet, allowing it work its magic for longer. Ideally, let that mess sit overnight, especially if you know you have multiple layers of paint. However, you should start seeing the paint crinkle up in no time.
Start scraping! I used a plastic scraper. You can use a metal scraper, but you’ll likely scratch/gouge the surface. This set of plastic scrapers should work well.
Some area may just peel right off depending on the paint type. Here you can see all three colors. 80’s beige, army green, and vintage turquoise. I actually really liked the original turquoise color. Had it never been painted, I might have kept it as-is.
I did some googling and discovered that the manufacture, Shure is still in business making high quality products! I contacted them to see if they could provide any info on this model desk. They found some old sales brochures, scanned them and emailed it to me. Thanks, Shure Manufacturing Corporation! How cool is this? Looks like my desk was likely a service station sales desk in its former life. They weren’t able to give me a manufacturing date but said it’s likely late 50’s to mid to late 60’s.
Even after all the stripping, I still had a few areas to deal with. I used a combination of a small orbital sander and a sanding block to remove the rest of the paint. I actually didn’t mind the look of the swirled micro-scratches from the sanding, so I decided to sand down the entire surface. The grit value of the sand paper only matters to the degree of smoothness or shine you’d like to achieve. The coarser the paper, the more prominent the scratches will be. It’s really personal preference. I used what I had on hand. I think it was 120 grit to start and 220 grit after. I also used a grey 3M pad on some areas.
I decided not to go through the trouble of stripping the inside of the drawers and the interior chair area. Instead, I used a quality gloss black enamel applied with several cheap foam brushes. I did rough-up those areas with some sanding before painting. I also taped-off all those front-facing surfaces that I wanted to remain bare metal.
Lastly, I sprayed several light coats of clear satin. The results are incredible!
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