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Restoring / fixing a secretary desk

I've been working on fixing up an old secretary desk I got from my grandparents. I've already stripped and sanded it down and have a few questions before I move on to the next phase.

1.) I've decided I like the natural color of the desk, so I do not want to re-stain it, but I would like to protect the wood. Would a coat of mineral spirits suffice or should I do a coat of something else.

2.) Two of the tracks that hold up the drawers have come off. The were previously nailed in. Should I nail them back in or use wood glue? Can I re-use the old tracks and replace the nails or should I have new pieces of wood cut for the tracks?

3.) The handles for the drawers, which were previously tacked in, come out when pulled on. Should I use wood glue to hold them in place or I fill the hole with some sort of putty and nail them back in? And should I do this before or after the protective coat?

Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
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Posted 2015-09-10T03:10:50+0000  by der der
Great questions der!

Let's take them one at a time.

1) Old school wood coatings were commonly oils ... like Linseed Oil, Teak Oil, and Tung Oil.

These oils absorb into the wood and create a natural water barrier as well as accent the natural beauty of the wood.

Once the wood is full, it will not absorb more.

Mineral spirits is also an oil-based product.

If you wipe the wood with mineral spirits, it will fill the wood without the full benefit of enhancing the natural beauty.

Think about wiping the surface with a dry terry towel to remove the sanding dust and then apply two coats of
Linseed Oil, Teak Oil, and Tung Oil.

Allow each coat to absorb for about 20-minutes and wipe off the excess.

2) Absolutely re-use the old tracks.

Fill the nail holes with wood filler and after it dries nail the tracks back in the same location.

Stay away from wood glue ... you'll fracture the wood when you have to remove them in the future.

3) Once again, stay away from the wood glue.

Use the same wood filler sparingly before you refinish the drawers and then nail them back.

Use wood filler before applying the oil and attach drawer pulls after the oil dries overnight.


Wood glue fills the pores of wood and prevents oils or stains from absorbing.

On your finished surfaces, this will look like flush off-color dots that stand out against the remainder of the drawer face.

This is why I repeated stay away from the wood glue.

In a corner joint inside the drawer where wood meets wood, you should sparingly use wood glue.

Many DIYers over-apply glue and leave the unsightly dots I mentioned earlier.

Resist the urge to use wood glue on any of the drawer faces or on the exposed sides of your desk.

Best Answer

Posted 2015-09-10T15:38:47+0000  by Pat_HD_ATL
Mineral spirits is not a top coat of any kind, it's a solvent.  If you're looking for a "minimalist" top coat, I would suggest something like Watco's Danish Oil (which is mostly oil with a little varnish) or a wiping varnish like Waterlox or General Finishes Arm R Seal (which is basically thinned regular varnish).  Both are very easy to use and forgiving.  Here's an excellent article from Fine Woodworking that discusses using a wiping varnish.  Before committing the entire project to a finish, you should test in an inconspicuous area like the back or bottom of the piece.

For the runners, I wouldn't waste my time filling wood inside of a piece, instead use small screws offset slightly from the original position of the nails, pre-drilling as necessary.  Screws have much more holding power than nails.

For the pulls, it would be helpful if you could post pictures.  Wood filler generally has low strength and I would probably use screws again.  Just go right into the existing holes with slightly larger screws.  If the pulls are any kind of metal, then wood glue wouldn't work anyway and Pat's correct, glue residue will interfere with finishing.
Posted 2015-09-11T08:51:53+0000  by Adam444
Thank you both for the suggestions. I've uploaded a few pictures of the pulls and of the runners. It's the middle drawer where the runners need to be fixed. Unlike the other two drawers the middle drawer does not have a back support, so it's just the runners on the sides.
Posted 2015-10-03T16:40:57+0000  by der
It doesn't seem to be letting me upload the photos, so I put them up on Google here.

Thank you both again!!
Posted 2015-10-03T16:46:23+0000  by der
Thanks for the photos der!

A picture really is worth a thousand words.

Since your middle drawer doesn't have a back support, you could add one.

Simply match the material and install technique used for the runners.

Also, paraffin wax was commonly used to improve slide on wooden runners.

Simply apply a coating of wax and slide the drawers in and out several times.

Repeat application any time the drawers seem to skid instead of slide.
Posted 2015-10-06T16:03:46+0000  by Pat_HD_ATL
Thanks Pat!
Posted 2015-10-08T16:14:24+0000  by der
You're so welcome der!

We're pleased you joined The Community.

When you need additional assistance, don't forget we're here to help!
Posted 2015-10-20T20:50:06+0000  by Pat_HD_ATL
A quick follow up der ...

After restoring the secretary, do you have photos and recommendations you could share with The Community?
Posted 2015-11-12T18:10:12+0000  by Pat_HD_ATL
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