Friday, October 2, 2009

Frugal Fridays: DIY Refinished Tanker Desk

Earlier this week, we took a look as some sleek refinished Tanker Desks that were a tad too much for our wallets. As luck would have it, we found a slightly bruised Tanker Desk on craigslist... and to our advantage just one city from our home.

It definitely needed A LOT of work. Luckily the seller had not 1, not 2, but 3 desks for sale; I guess you can say we got the pick of the litter (though admittedly, all were kind of the runt). Ready for the price? $60 buckaroos! Plus, we threw in an extra $15 and the seller transported the heavy metal mayhem back to our place and safely in our garage.

When we brought her home, the tanker was a "lovely" band-aid tan color; which helped to perfectly highlight the faux wood laminate top...oh, it was an eye soar, complete with several dings and dents. Chris was anxious to start disassembling. After the dissection, we were left with 2 side drawer compartments, a middle back panel, a stack of drawers and last but not least, the aforementioned "wood" top.

If we were to completely restore a desk, I think we would have wanted to start off with a better example; instead, our goal was to go for "respectable". It took some 409 cleaner, a sander, primer, plus 2 colors of spray paint (very limited color selection at Lowes), elbow grease and a lot of waiting for paint to dry. Once the parts were ready for reassembly, Chris and his trusted bff, Chris (#1 baby boy name of the early 1980s) helped out.

And without further adieu...

We topped it off with a custom made piece of glass.


  1. Wow, nice job! I am visiting your blog for the first time today and it's really great! You have awesome ides- impressive.

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  2. It looks good-as-new! I also love that chair you have next to it above.
    Great find :).

  3. Thanks Kasey! We found the leather chair at a local used furniture store for $60 as well. It's so comfortable!

  4. Nice job! I love pieces like this!

  5. Holy smokes! I am in love love love with that desk.

    Not to mention the chair.

    Wowza. Great job!

  6. If you don't mind me asking, how did you remove/reaffix the desktop? I just finished repainting a ShawWalker steel desk and am having a pretty gnarly time reassembling it (pretty much just the top onto the legs/pedestals).

  7. We were lucky enough to be able to reassemble the desk in the reverse order of how we took it apart. When we took it apart, the top was held to the drawers with about 8 screws (four in each file drawer top I believe).

    What material is your top made out of? If it is steel as well...I suppose it might be a little tougher. Only other thing I can think of (and this is probably pretty obvious) is; it's a lot easier to assemble the desk upside down...and with a friend.

  8. Hi there. We're refinishing a tanker desk as well and the last bit to complete is the desk top. I removed the laminate/vinyl top and successfully removed the adhesive mess below to reveal the flat steel service. I noticed you said you finished it off with a piece of glass but didn't provide any pictures of it or what the underside of the glass looked like or if you put anything under it to cover the steel surface below? If you did happen to take pictures would you mind emailing me a few and filling me in on what solution below the glass you utilized? Thanks for your time and great job on the desk!


  9. Chris,

    It sounds like your 'refinishing' is a lot more thorough than ours was. For the top, we sanded and painted the entire thing gray. The Formica, the vinyl banding...everything.

    In the end, it looked nice...but the tactile experience with the sanded and painted formica was pretty awful. Since we knew we would be touching the top, writing on it, etc... we thought a piece of glass would do the trick. We've been pretty happy with it.

    So the piece of glass is cut to the exact size of the existing top of the desk...and it literally just sits on top of the desk, nothing to hold it there (save for gravity). The glossiness of the glass enhanced the looks and made it feel much nicer.

    Though it involves way more work; I think your method will be way more rewarding when you have it finished. Sorry I couldn't really help. Good luck...and I look forward to seeing your finished desk.

  10. Very cool! I have been looking @ desks on CL and never considered painting one of the old tanker desks (which appeal to me from the storage side of things.) I didn't even know that was an option! Also LOVE the chair!

  11. I just love this idea. I just bought a tanker desk off of CL for only $50! I'm getting ready to refinish mine and I was wondering a) how you went about measuring your top for the glass exactly; especially since you have curved edges? b) where did you get yours from? I live in LA also. c) roughly how much was it? I'm trying to keep this project low-budget.

  12. Hi guys. I have just decided to undertake the refinishing my tanker desk. The top is a soft laminate and I am thinking it will be easier to paint and then cover with a glass top. I am curious how your glass top is holding up. I am worried about the glass breaking but I also dislike how my current top takes dings and scrapes.

  13. How did you get the dings and dents out or do you know if it's possible? I just picked one up last night and one corner is smashed in a little bit and then the front panel is slightly dinged...

  14. Jill: Sorry for the late response! We purchased the glass from a local glass shop in La Mirada. I believe the price of the tempered glass was about 100 dollars or so. I'd try to get a few estimates from your local glass shops.

    We measured the length and width of the top and then traced the arc of the corner so that the glass shop can match it.

    If you have any other questions email us at humbleablog(at)gmail(dot)com

  15. Jami lynn: Our glass top is holding out great! Just make sure you purchase tempered glass.

  16. Angie: Unfortunately we weren't able to remove the dings and dents. Luckily, most of the dents are on the back side of the desk, so it's less noticeable. I believe we tried using a rubber mallet to remove the dents, but no dice.

  17. Hi , I have an old mint green tanker desk which is stuck in a cubbyhole and the only way to get it out and sell it is to take it apart. Any suggestions or instructions about how to take it apart. The space might be too small to turn it over. Thanks

  18. Hi - thanks everyone for all of the comments! My question is this: do I need to sand or remove the original paint on the steel part of the desk? Does the paint come spray paint? Also, I tried to sand the formica top, because it had years of worn dents from table lamps, glasses, etc... but had a real hard time. I even tried to fill them with vinyl putty, but that was useless. Any suggestions? Thanks to all!!!