Help Needed with Warped Desk

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Forum topic by QuarterSawnOak posted 07-31-2021 08:22 PM 162 views 0 times favorited 2 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 53 days

07-31-2021 08:22 PM

Hello Everyone,
I’m new to this forum. My main interest is restoring antique furniture and vintage radio cabinets, but I have also made bookcases, desks, tables, and built in cabinets.

I’m currently rebuilding this circa 1915 roll top desk. It has been fun so far. It has forced me to learn hammer veneering among other things. I have some questions about some challenges I’ve run into.

The desktop is 3×6 feet and 1-3/4 inch thick. It is constructed out of numerous thin boards, dovetailed together and then sandwiched between a ply and a veneer on each side. When I purchased the desk, the top was perfectly flat, despite its age and wear. After disassembling the desk, I stripped the finish off just the top, repaired some loose and chipped veneer, and watered down some glue to reattach a loose ply on the bottom of the desk. After all of this, I noticed that the desk had dished upwards (concave side facing up). I figured that when I dye the wood and seal the top with a coat of shellac, the moisture will be more balanced and it should return mostly to its original condition. It is now seven months later and it is just as warped as before.

What is the best way to unwarp this? Can this be done with the shellac left on the top surface? I would rather not strip the shellac off as it will disturb the dye in the process. Can the underside be stripped and dried? If I were to strip and steam the bottom and clamp it, would the bottom contract while being dried or just expand even more? Do you think the technique of laying it out on the lawn and in the sun will work if the top surface is thinly shellacked and humidity is high (as it will be until October)?

Also, what is the best finish for such a desk? I originally wanted to be as faithful to the original as possible and use shellac, but decided to compromise and use a shellac undercoat and a more durable top coat. I usually use nitrocellulose lacquer, but find that it can be quite brittle and I fear using it on this desk, because of the rubbing between the drawers and the pedestals and between the tambour and the groove. Would pre-catalyzed lacquer be a better option?

2 replies so far

View Aj2's profile


4029 posts in 3011 days

#1 posted 07-31-2021 09:40 PM

I’m not completely sure what has warped . Your post reads like your top assembly warped after you stripped finish off one side?
The picture you posted what part of the desk is that. Is that the part that warped.
I’m never going to suggest to anyone unwarping something in the sun.
If the part is warped so badly it affects the function that’s a problem. If it doesn’t affect function I’d recommend you move on.
Good Luck

-- Aj

View QuarterSawnOak's profile


2 posts in 53 days

#2 posted 08-01-2021 02:51 AM

It’s just the desk top slab. Sorry if it is not clear.

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