We're going to use contact cement to adhere the laminiate, so it's best if the mating surface is abraded a bit to give the cement something to grab into.I used a palm sander with 120 grit paper to get rid of the existing varnish on the desk's old veneer.The results turned out better than I'd expected and only took about a day total, with a total material cost under 0 USD.The laminate will cover up moderate imperfections in the surface, but try to scrape or grind off any bumps (old glue etc) and fill in any big divots with wood filler or similar. It might be picked up from an online listing or passed on from relatives.Over the years we've spent a great deal of time focusing on these shabby pieces in efforts to make them chic once again. • Good Questions: How To Remove Mold From Wood Furniture?• Good Questions: Restore Grandma's Chair or Let It Go?• Good Questions: Auto Body Paint Job for Furniture?
Knowing that trying to paint it would be a mess and probably not result in a tough enough surface, I opted to re-surface it in white plastic laminate.
Later I tried 80 grit on a different part of the desk and it seemed to do a better job, so don't be shy about roughing up that surface.
Wear a respirator when sanding, as there may be nasty stuff in the old varnish etc that you're removing.
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I had bought this vintage age roll top desk from Craigslist with the intention of giving it a few updates and reselling it.