Restoring a Steelcase Desk?

After seeing the beautiful retro furniture available on RetroOffice.com, I convinced my husband that we should update our office desk with an old Steelcase model (he's a big Superman fan, and the office is Superman themed, so we're going for a mix of retro-comic style.)

We lucked out, and found an old Steelcase desk for FREE off Craigslist. Picked the monster up, got it home, and have been staring at it ever since.

It came from an old art studio, so right now it's covered in a layer of white spray-paint and decoupaged artwork, which I'm going to use a combination of paint remover and sandpaper to gradually strip / sand down to the underlying steel.

Eventually we want the entire desk to have a polished "chrome" finish to it, but we're not sure of the best way to get it there.  Once we get it down to the underlying steel, should we basecoat, "chrome" paint and clear topcoat? (If so -- any brand suggestions?)  Or will a chrome paintjob look streaky and uneven.

Anyone have any suggestions or ideas?

 (As a longshot aside -- anyone know how to find out the year of manufacture?  I can't find the original sticker that should be on it, and I know there should be a "stamp" somewhere, but I don't know where.)


[ Edit: I fixed the URL above. Thanks! ] 

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Ali on Apr 08, 2016:

There is a reason Steelcase filing cabinets In particular are so difficult to get the paint off of. One gentleman I was having a random conversation with said that when powder coat the steel they use a paint that has another ferrous metal as an ingredient and it is magnetized. So, according to this lovely gent "it bonds better than my two ex wives at a family picnic. Those two are thick as theives and ain't a damn thing I can do" lol.
I told him I was steaming my file cabinet and he was amazed.
I only got two drawers done before hanging up the towel. But on the rust issue- rust will proliferate where ever there is ANY RUST. Even the smallest tiniest bit. You sand it, you must wash it, and dry it with absolutely untainted paper towels. Then Poly it. What ever brand your using ask your local hardware store if they carry an enamel hardening agent for high gloss. You can add that to your clear or you can use it by its self. Best of luck

Anonymous on Nov 18, 2014:

I know this is an old post, but thought I would add my comments. I recently stripped an old Art Metal tanker desk. As mentioned above, stripper doesn't have much effect on the paint. Through online searching, I came across using e-z off heavy duty oven cleaner. Messy and stinky, but it will remove the paint. Wear hand and eye protection, because this stuff is made with lye and it burns like crazy when it makes skin contact. Do a section at a time. Once you figure out the timing between application and scraping, it goes pretty smoothly. I had a hard time figuring out how to remove the top on this desk. Google has a search for patents which show the assembly cvonstruction methods. Try patent no. 2461823 for the Art Metal tanker. Hope this helps spmeone on their project.

Bob on Dec 27, 2009:

It all depends on what you want when you're finished.  If you want the quality and appearance of a new automobile finish, I recommend buying Haynes' Body And Fender manual.  It discusses how to restore and replace metal finishes.  ($15)

If you want chrome plating, like a bumper or hubcap, I recommend contacting a plating shop.  It may be that they will know of a shop with a big enough tank to immerse the stripped desk and plate it for you.  They'll have experienced polishers to finish it.  Expect this to cost plenty (maybe $3-5K).  You can do this yourself by reading up on plating and polishing but it will take worlds of setup and practice (even more than painting your first car ).  Experiment with "chrome" spray cans.  They might do what you like.

I did one years ago and it's still in good condition.  1. wipe the old finish with "liquid sandpaper" (mostly acetone) to "kill" the old finish.  2. paint the entire desk "telephone tan" with a brush.  3. apply a wood grain with stain of your choice.  The brushstrokes are your "grain" 4. coat with 2 coats of clear urethane letting all coats dry per instructions.  This produces a wood grain decoupage which can be matched to surrounding cabinets.  Good for informal rooms - like knotty pine. 

Wes on Jul 19, 2009:

Recently I picked up two (300lbs) used, Russ Bassett Co., multi-media filing storage cabinets, as well as one small two drawer filing cabinet.  So far, the process I've come up with is:

1. heavy duty paint and rust stripper.  It's basically painted on & in under 10min, it changes color as it bubbles up - then you scrape with a sharp edged putty knife & it lifts right off.  (oddly - the stuff has a consistency like whipped toothpaste).  Bets to remove all external hardware (knobs, handles, etc) before you start.

2. power dril and sanding gear. I purchased a 2" wire brush cup, a couple 5", padded sadning disk attachemnts for the drill, adhesive back sanding disks (40grit, 100grit, and 200 grit.  Use the wire cup brush on the hard to get spots that tear the sanding pads& any spots the paint stipper didn't get. (note: it's a good idea to follow a repeated pattern in your sanding technique).

3. Three to four cans of high gloss, spray polyurethane clear coat. If you have to break the work up over multiple days, Since rust can start appearing quickly in a humid climate, I found it's a good idea to put a single coat over the area you've worked on and sand it off later when you continue working.  Generally have to sand these pieces several times, with finer grit each time, but rust seems to require deeping sanding each time.  I put multiple thin coats, sprayed in rows & columns to overlap, but very careful not to get anywhere near enought to run. buff down with drill & polishing disk once it's completely dry and repeat till you get a good depth of gloss.

So - I'm sure there's other ways of doing this, but this was what worked for me & produced some great results. Will upload some photos to thinglink.com account today. Hope that's helpful~

Swankymode on Sep 22, 2007:

Cool! Have you seen the stuff at Twenty Gauge or Sonrisa? Gorgeous stuff. I have a tanker desk sitting in my garage waiting to be refinished -- a double pedestal, with really unique handles. I, too would like to get it down to bare metal. I tried painter stripper, but it didn't work too well on the original enamel finish. You could try an orbital sander, the swirl marks could be an interesting texture. But from what I've found in my research, the best method is sand blasting, then several stages of sanding, followed by a powder coating to protect the metal from rust and corrosion. Good luck with your desk, please post pictures!

Caya123 on Sep 21, 2007:

I think you mean this link: http://www.retrooffice.com/home.htm

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