I am refinishing my wife’s old wood desk. This is a real beast: 66 in. long and 36 in. wide. The wood part is going well; however, I’m concerned about how to clean, refinish and care for the desktop surface. It appears to be made of something like linoleum, and it has some discolored areas and a few water ring marks from glasses. Do you have any suggestions? – Wes Newswanger
Tim Inman: That top you are referencing could indeed actually be linoleum. It could also be a number of other man-made materials that look, act and sometimes feel like leather. Some are “tar” based and others are closer akin to cardboard. If the top is in good condition now, just clean it with the mildest of cleaners that will work. If not, then my best advice is to replace it with something better.
Chris Marshall: I wrote many of my first assignments for Woodworker’s Journal sitting at a behemoth of an old wooden desk like you’re describing. Only mine had a cracked and peeling wood veneer top — nothing remotely leather-like. Those old desks can be welcomed keepsakes; I hope you didn’t have to lug your wife’s down too many flights of stairs to get it to your refinishing area! My battleship of a desk never made it out of the basement when we sold our previous home (it was just too heavy to rationalize the move), but the new owners found good use for it. Best of luck with your refinishing project.