How to protect a desk
May 16, 2016 8:46 AM   Subscribe

We just bought an antique wooden desk for our living room -- mostly for our young son to do arts & crafts, etc., and eventually homework. The desk surface isn't in pristine condition, but we want to protect it from my son and from our cats. We could get a piece of glass cut to fit, but the desk was $275 and glass would probably be $100+, so we don't want to spend that much. Someone suggested Plexiglas, but I'm not sure if that would stay flat and/or look nice. Suggestions?
posted by trillian to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can get a sheet of nice plywood, cut it to shape and glue some anti skid matting to the bottom. Use a piece of cardboard laid over the desk to produce a template than i would use some 3/8 to 1/2 inch birch plywood cut out with a circular saw than a jig saw and finally use a router to give a nice finished edge all the way around. If you don't have those tools, than just usign a jig saw with a steady hand will work fine. Then seal with some kind of stain (I used boiled linseed oil).

My wife has an antique treadle sewing machine in good shape that she wanted to use as a work table and this is the solution I came up with to prevent any scratching, staining or denting of the vintage surface.
posted by bartonlong at 9:03 AM on May 16, 2016

They make some big self healing cutting mats, buy one a little larger than you need and trim it to fit.
posted by Marky at 9:06 AM on May 16, 2016 [6 favorites]

1/4" plexiglass will stay flat, but it will get scratched. You can get thick cardboard sheets at an art supply store. So, maybe plexiglass--then put the cardboard on top when something damaging is happening.

BTW, plexiglass (acrylic) is not particularly cheap, but you may not need a whole sheet.
posted by H21 at 9:07 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

A cutting mat is a great suggestion.

Alternately, I don’t know if it would look nice on your particular desk, but linoleum is a classic desk cover (with something under it so the backing doesn't scratch the wood). There’s also Borco, which is used for drafting tables. It makes a great writing/drawing surface, isn’t that expensive, comes in a few neutral colors and I think it looks nice (although again I don’t know your particular desk).

Plexi would look OK at first, but it scratches easily. Neither plexi nor glass are nice to write on.
posted by Kriesa at 9:07 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are products readymade for exactly this. They generally cost less than $100, and some can be had very cheaply. Search "desk pad" or "desk protector."

+1 to plexiglass not being cheap. And don't try to cut it yourself without the proper tools; it will look bad.
posted by zennie at 9:09 AM on May 16, 2016

You can get clear vinyl at the fabric store pretty cheap (there are several thicknesses pick the one you like) and put it down on the desk top, it adheres slightly as vinyl does (like a vinyl cling) so it doesn't move around. You can cut to fit and it's cheap/easy to replace and very easy to wipe clean. If it gets warm it and the wood is waxed, it will pull up some of the wax next time you pull it off, but that's really easy to rewax in a few years.

I've had clear vinyl sheets on my dining room table (with a fancy inlaid design we wanted visible but not getting constantly scratched) for 10ish years now, works great.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:19 AM on May 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Definitely consider Vyco Drawing Board Cover that Kriesa linked to. It's flexible, you can trim it with scissors, stays in place, won't damage the surface, and is self-healing. We used to call it No Cut but nowadays, only the rigid green sheets show up when you google self-healing.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:34 AM on May 16, 2016

For Vyco, do you have to attach it with double-sided tape as it mentions?
posted by trillian at 9:40 AM on May 16, 2016

I always used tape to secure my Borco mats to my drawing tables. But, that was mostly because I worked with the table at an angle. Since your son's desk is flat, the Borco should stay put without tape.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:49 AM on May 16, 2016

or lay down command strips at the corners.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:51 AM on May 16, 2016

Is it easy to cut to size? The desk has a curved part at the front middle, so it's not a regular rectangle on top.
posted by trillian at 11:08 AM on May 16, 2016

My parents did this, with a sheet of plywood, except that I think the table wasn't in the living room so it didnt need to look super pretty. Be aware that that plywood got really scratched up. And coloured on. And had paint spilled on it. And at some point someone gouged it with a pair of scissors??

Basically, I don't think any solution is going to look nice at all in a couple of years, and I would be wary of the thinner options from a durability standpoint.
posted by quaking fajita at 11:30 AM on May 16, 2016

What's wrong with just a large-sized desk blotter?
posted by sexyrobot at 12:01 PM on May 16, 2016

I grew up with a plexiglass sheet on my teak desk and it preserved the desk very well and allowed me to decorate the desk with photos, study guides, and various souvenir items under the plexiglass. It got scratched over the years, but nothing terrible. It stayed put without being secured and served me (and the desk) well for at least a dozen years.
posted by quince at 12:54 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is it easy to cut to size? The desk has a curved part at the front middle, so it's not a regular rectangle on top.
Yes, Borco is extremely easy to cut. I'd recommend using an X-acto or utility knife rather than scissors.

Also, I'd agree that it should stay put well on a flat surface since it has a sort of rubbery, resilient texture.
posted by Kriesa at 1:09 PM on May 16, 2016

If you end up going with a solid surface like plywood or glass you don't need to use an adhesive to hold the top surface in place. Instead you use a non adhesive disk in each corner. They are non marking so won't damage the underlying surface.

The drafting top is a great surface to work on but it isn't resistive to heat, abrasives or many chemicals. When I construct this sort of disposable surface on a work table I use 1/8" MDF. It's cheap like Borscht (less than $10 for a 4x8 sheet); easily cut and somewhat impervious to anything you might throw at it. Easily and cheaply replaced when it does get damaged. I top all my wood-shop benches with it with the exception of my conventional cabinet bench (I'd use it there too but cutting all the square holes for the bench dogs would be too much work).
posted by Mitheral at 7:10 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

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