Guest Bedroom Guest Bedroom DIY Projects Kristi's Favorite DIYs

Small DIY Writing Desk — Finished! (Stained & Waxed)

Last Updated on June 6, 2021 by Kristi Linauer

*This post contains affiliate links.

My little writing desk that I built is now completely finished, and I decided to go with a stained and waxed finish.

diy writing desk with drawer - 12

If you missed the previous post on this project where I show how to build the desk, you can find that here…

So yesterday, I got to work on the finish. And after spending a bit of time working out all of the room details in my mind (especially how I would use the golden yellow velvet fabric that I had originally intended for a new headboard), I finally had my plan worked out, and decided to go with a stained finish on the writing desk.

The base of the desk and the trim around the desktop is pine, but the plywood top is birch, so I was afraid that getting it all to match might be a problem. But in the end, I’m very pleased with how it turned out.

I started by staining the entire desk using Varathane Premium Stain in the color Carrington. This particular stain is not a penetrating stain, but it’s also not a gel stain. It’s somewhere in between, so getting a similar finish on different types of wood is fairly easy with the darker colors. Here’s how it looked after one coat, brushed on with a paint brush, and after it had dried for a few hours.

diy writing desk with drawer - 1

It was fine at that point, and I could have just put some polyurethane on it and called it good. But the finish seemed really dark, and the stain had covered up most of the wood grain. While I’m not a fan of wood grain on pine, I did think that the birch top had pretty grain, and I hated to cover it up so much.

So I sanded the entire desk by hand using 220-grit sandpaper. And I just kept sanding lightly and strategically (meaning that I did more sanding on any areas that seemed particularly dark and splotchy) until I had exposed enough grain for my liking. But then the overall color was too light. 😀

I considered using a polyurethane with some colorant added to it to darken and even out the finish, but then I remembered that I had some Annie Sloan dark wax that I’ve had for years. So I got that out, and used it on the top, and it gave the wood so much depth of color.

diy writing desk with drawer - 2

I’m not really a furniture wax expert, and I hate reading directions, so I really had no idea what I was doing. At first, I tried getting a super smooth and perfect finish just by wiping it on and buffing it with a cloth all at the same time. That really didn’t work because it seemed to just smear and get streaky.

Then I remembered how I got a really nice finish on the console table that I built for the entryway. (You can see that project here if you missed it.) On that piece, I used Briwax liming wax (the white wax), but the process was to use a more generous amount, let it dry a bit, and then buff it with steel wool. So I decided to try that same process here.

I actually used a paper towel, and applied the dark wax in circular motions. I tried not to let it build up too much because those really dark areas clog up the steel wool pretty quickly, but I had a hard time getting a smooth application, but that may be due to the wax being so old. So after applying the wax to the entire top, it looked like this…

diy writing desk with drawer - 3

I left it like that for about an hour, and then came back and started buffing the surface using “000” steel wool. I’m sure that “0000” would have been better, but this is what I had on hand, and I didn’t want to make a trip to Home Depot just for steel wool, so I went with this. It worked beautifully. You can see the center area that I buffed with the steel wool compared to the rest of the splotchy top…

diy writing desk with drawer - 4

The sheen on the buffed area was beautiful, and it felt velvety smooth. It was every bit as smooth as any factory finish, but it had a much more beautiful, natural hand-rubbed look to it than a factory finish. Here’s what it looked like with the whole top buffed. See that gorgeous satin sheen?

diy writing desk with drawer - 6

(And hey! Look at me using a drop cloth! 😀 )

But seriously, this finish! I wish y’all could touch it. I mean, it’s velvety smooth. The only thing that would make it better is if I had an electric buffer or a buffer pad for my electric sander. But even without that, I’m so pleased with how this turned out.

diy writing desk with drawer - 7

So I went ahead and did the base in the same way. Since it’s pine, it doesn’t look nearly as good as the top. But with the base being such a simple design (meaning that there’s just not a whole lot of it), it’s fine.

diy writing desk with drawer - 8
diy writing desk with drawer - 9

I decided to keep the drawer natural and just stain/wax the drawer front.

diy writing desk with drawer - 11
diy writing desk with drawer - 12

This space doesn’t have room for a chair with a back because then the sliding closet doors won’t have room to open. So I need to find a cute little stool to go with the desk. I really love this upholstered stool from Target, and the price is good, but it’s too short to be used as a chair for a standard height desk.

That stool is only 17.5 inches tall, and I need one that is about 20 inches tall. So that’s a bummer, because it’s exactly the type of thing I’m looking for, and it’s the right price. But I’ll keep on looking.

You Might Also Like...


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Christi, I love it! I couldn’t wait to see what you would do, it’s perfect for the room! You never cease to amaze me!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Carla from Kansas
    September 9, 2020 at 10:19 am

    Kristi — great finish and no pre-stain conditioner! The wood will add warmth along with the bed. Yellow velvet curtains?

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      September 10, 2020 at 3:46 pm

      Yep, I’ll be using the yellow velvet for the curtains. I only have enough right now for one panel, but I draped it over the curtain rod, and it looks so good!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Stephanie M Deni
    September 9, 2020 at 10:24 am

    I love the little bench from target…. could you remove the cushion from the legs and add a 3″ riser of some sort to raise the seat?

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      September 9, 2020 at 10:30 am

      I thought the same thing! You could so easily take the legs off and make the exact same design, just three inches longer. You could even stain them to match the desk. A no-brainer. 😁

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Irene Schwemlein
      September 9, 2020 at 11:27 am

      I thought the exact same thing! It could match the finish of the desk, paint it white to match the cushion, or maybe use the yellow velvet?

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Jenny Hartfelder
      September 9, 2020 at 10:11 pm

      My thoughts exactly! 😊

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Michele Latham
      September 15, 2020 at 12:56 pm

      You may not want to go this route and don’t know how you could do it without it looking wonky, but could you add some kind of caster/wheel to the base? then a light kick would send it under the desk. 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Melissa Garrett
    September 9, 2020 at 10:27 am

    Kristi, you might look at Homegoods for a stool. I have two different rolling stools with gold legs -one with hot pink velvet and another with lavender velvet. They are adjustable in height and slide right under a desk.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Crystal Griffith
      September 9, 2020 at 4:45 pm

      Just buy that one and add wheels like you did with the shop chair. Quickie fix and won’t scrape the floors.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 10:28 am

    From following you for years, I intuit there will be a Kristi-built just-the-right-height stool under the desk. Maybe upholstered in golden yellow velvet.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 10:32 am

    Did I miss a post about the headboard? Also, how are you doing with your purging?

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      September 10, 2020 at 3:49 pm

      The headboard is the one I made years ago for our master bedroom. I made it maybe a year after we moved into this house.

      The purging isn’t going so well. 🙂 COVID, the lockdowns, etc., really threw a wrench into my plans (and everyone’s plans) for this year. I’m trying to get back on track now.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 10:39 am

    My first comment was “Look at you protecting your floors, I’m so proud!” haha. That satin sheen you get on your finishes is always so satisfying. I think it’s my favorite part of most of your painting and staining projects, lol.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 10:45 am

    Look for a sewing machine stool. They are chair height.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      September 9, 2020 at 2:59 pm

      Can you put fancy rollers on the bottom of that bench? That would raise it in and make it easy to move.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 10:45 am

    I’m getting ready to make myself some sort of desk. I just read this morning that for my height, 5’3″, 17 to 18 inches is the proper height for a stool or desk chair. That being said, it also stated that most standard desks are for people 6′ tall on average, and that for my height, similar to yours, should be around 25″. I’d hate for you to shorten your desk legs, but if you did, the stool should work. Just a thought.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sandy Mcallister
    September 9, 2020 at 11:01 am

    The desk is beautiful. I’m sure you can make a bench just the way you need it. You could use some of that golden yellow velvet.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 11:07 am

    That’s beautiful, Kristi. The whole room is coming together and I’m so proud of you for using a drop cloth! 😜

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    MN in TN
    September 9, 2020 at 11:08 am

    Love everything in this room so far!! Would casters of some fashion work for the stool? When it’s used, it won’t be drug/pulled along the floor possibly scratching or leaving drag marks.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Mary Ellen
    September 9, 2020 at 11:10 am

    Love the wood finish on the desk! Great job!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Is the Target stool something to which you could add castors? That would bring it up to the height you need, and make it easy to move it from under the desk and back.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    LOVING the entire room as always! Just curious…do you find you are using your studio area for projects?

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      September 10, 2020 at 3:50 pm

      Oh, yes! My studio gets a whole lot of use. 🙂 Those two big tables are amazing to have.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 12:45 pm

    One of the reasons I love your blog is that you try all kinds of things and change your mind and again change your mind and then after that it all comes out right Plus you use what is on hand – right up my alley. And I am so impressed with your carpentry skills. That desk is so professional looking. I had to laugh at your comment that you had 0000x steel wool so that’s what you used. Anyway, I think your work is great – and the way you do it too. Keep it up.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    I had envisioned something like this or even for a desk chair. I like the Phillipsburg Chair better but love that the Lourdes Chair comes in yellow gold or poppy orange velvet, either of which would look smashing with the blue accent wall. I would keep the chair pulled out from the desk far enough to not obstruct the sliding doors and turned towards the room, both because that is how I would probably use it most when getting dressed and also because it would give a bright color boost to the room.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    Can you remove the cushion and add some height to the top?
    Although this looks just like a Kristi project ready to be built to your needs!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    I was wondering if you plan to put casters or something on the desk (and stool) to make it easier to move out of the way, if an emergency exit out that window is required (and something to protect the floor from scrapes.) It such a beautiful piece. The room is really coming together!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 9, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    Beautiful looking desk. Could you make a stool the size you want?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 10, 2020 at 12:44 am

    I have no doubt you could make a stool exactly like that to your specified height. 😂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    September 10, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    My thoughts exactly….!!!!