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topic 26176 p.3

Steelcase Tanker Desk Restoration Tips

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A discussion started in 2003 but continuing through 2020

September 18, 2010

Q. Did anyone ever get a response on the name of the auto body shop in Denver that will refinish the tanker desks? Need to find one asap - can't leave on truck much longer! Thanks for any help in locating a Denver shop - just picked up one yesterday - have started calling around.

Mary Krohnfeldt
- Denver, Colorado

November 16, 2010

Q. I recently purchased a great tanker desk is fairly good condition from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore -- the university in our town has started to provide the store with it's surplus furniture items! In the future, I'd love to have the desk powder coated -- but for now, it's clean and sturdy.

The rubber on the top is not peeling up -- but it is a bit worn, and I would like to clean it up as much as possible. When I cleaned it with a basic all purpose cleaner, a significant amount of gray/black residue came off of the desk. Each time I sprayed it down, the same amount of residue was on the paper towels.

I'm wondering if the rubber is breaking down - or if I'm simply not cleaning it properly. Perhaps there is a way I could seal it?

Any advice some of you other hobbyists could provide would be very helpful!

Leigh Sanchez
Hobbyist - Athens, Georgia, USA

March 20, 2011

Q. Hi,

I recently came across a couple of General Fireproofing desks and I want to remove the formica top and use glass. But in doing so, I need to replace the aluminium edge that edges the desk top. It's in pretty bad condition. Does anyone know of a website I could find material to replace the edging? thanks, Brad

Brad Bachtold
hobbyist - Decatur, Illinois

July 6, 2011

A. I have a desk like Mr. Taliaferro's pictured at the top of the post (no pedestals, just a pencil drawer). The laminate top was cracked so I took a screwdriver/chisel and hammer to it and scraped it off. The surface underneath is stained with old, red glue. Not bad, just ugly. I don't think it's worth the trouble to replace the laminate. The non laminated surface was smooth enough after some sanding. Luckily, the family business is auto paint/body.

I'm going to cover the top with chalkboard paint after primer for a nice smooth surface. The hardware store also sells dry-erase board paint too.

In my opinion, replacing the laminate if it's cracked is not worth the time finding the laminate and installing it. Painting it is way easier.

After taking the desk apart, I've begun to sand the paint off the rest of the desk to the metal with an orbital sander and 80 grit sandpaper. Then my husband will prime it and paint it. I've chosen a BMW interior color for the rest of the desk. My husband's family has a ton of experience with paint/body and they said that sanding and painting would be the best way to go about restoring this desk. Other options are too expensive and time consuming.

Susan T [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Tucson, Arizona

March 4, 2012

A. I used gel paint remover [affil. link to info/product on Amazon], naval jelly rust remover, sandpaper, and car wax. I did this to my tanker desk 2 years ago, live a block from the ocean, and don't see any rust. I was going to clear coat it with this stuff they sold at Home Depot that says it prevents rust but was lazy and just waxed over the sanded steel. I did wipe it down with WD-40 before waxing. I'm not an expert but am happy with the results.

I left the drawers original paint and I get compliments all the time. I found a matching chair on Craigslist: desk $60, chair $75.

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Mutt Lee
- New York, New York

May 3, 2012

Q. I have a 1950s Steelcase desk that I got at an architectural salvage store. It has 2 drawers on the left and a space for a return on the right. The return was not attached when I bought it (nor was it attached when it was salvaged). I have 2 metal bracket pieces, but I cannot figure out how they all go together to attach the return. Does anyone know how they attach or where I can find information about how to attach the return? Thank you!

Rachel Nugent
- Kansas City, Missouri, USA

October 1, 2012

Q. My wife just purchased an Art Metal tanker and I am tasked with the disassembly for the eventual blasting and powder coating.

The laminate top isn't in bad shape, but it has to come off, and therein lies my question.

The desk looks to have some metal end caps that seem like they would pop or otherwise be able to be removed but I don't want to use excessive force. Haven't flipped it over, so maybe there are some anchoring screws there?

I think once those are removed I should be able to use the putty knife and pry off the laminate. I just don't want to damage the end caps.

Thanks in advance for any advice!

Dan Foshee
- Springdale, Arkansas, USA

January 20, 2013

Q. Hi I am going to refinish a tanker desk and I was wondering if anybody has any thoughts on scuff sanding and using lacquer spray paint on the metal and possibly the same paint on the Formica top. Thanks

Robert Beach
- Santa Barbara, California, USA

February 1, 2013

thumbs up signI answered my own question! It worked great, scuff sand, 4 coats of white lacquer, wet sand each coat, 4coats clear lacquer, wet sand each coat and buff with car polish.

Robert beach [returning]
- Santa Barbara, California, USA

July 9, 2013

Q. Can you tell me where the asbestos is normally found in these desks? I want to check mine to see if it contains the asbestos fabric/padding. What is the best way to go about removing the padding if it is present?

Megan Black
- Atlanta, Georgia

February 22, 2014

Q. Hello. Can anyone please advise where I can purchase parts for my tanker desk? I'm specifically looking for the round plastic rollers inside the drawers. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Best regards, Mike.

Michael Biehl
- Setauket, New York, USA

January 10, 2015

A. I suggest contacting Berkeley Outlet in Berkeley, California.

La Ronda Bucciarelli
- Inverness, California USA

Ed. note: Respond to Michael with names of places only, please, gentle readers -- no praise or criticism please. Testimonials from strangers with unknown vested interests have no value, and they have often prompted sellers to post with fictitious names and praise themselves, posing as satisfied customers :-)

April 20, 2015

Q. I have a tanker desk and want to start using it but the drawers pull really hard almost like they stick. What type of lubricant would I use.

Thanks in Advance!!

An Amateur

Tina Gordon
- Wausau, Wisconsin

affil. link
Lithium Grease

July 20, 2015

A. I have had my tanker desk since 1990 where I use it in my home office. All the drawers open and close smoothly on nylon rollers which should not be lubricated. The center desk drawer with the pencil holder in it does need to be lubricated periodically. And for this I use a plain white lithium grease. This works well and doesn't attack the paint. Slide the drawer out and empty it if you wish. Then remove it completely. Looking at the tracks under the desk it will be obvious where the old grease was. I clean it out with a few cotton tipped swabs. Same for the drawer itself. The grease I buy comes in a squeezable metal tube. I just add new grease to the front half of the sliding surface attached to the desk, and the rear half of the sliding surface of the drawer. Slip it back in and it opens and closes a lot easier and smoother. The grease will migrate on its own to the entire areas that need it. One application lasts me well over a year.

John KaBang
- Schenectady, New York, USA

September 7, 2016

Q. I have had this steel desk (ALL of it top included is steel ... very heavy) since 1998 and cannot for the life of me find any information about it ... can someone help with this? The gentleman I bought it from had it since the 60s.


That is all I know the corners are brass inlaid? And paint, etc. all appear original including the pencil tray in the center drawer.
Thanks in advance for any help at all Cristine

Cristine L Orzel
- Cave Creek, Arizona

September 2016

A. Hi Christine. I'm no tanker desk expert, but I've worked at office desks for 50 years or so :-)

From the heavy look of it, and your statement about its weight, and the fancy feet, I doubt that it's from the 60s -- but probably the 40s or early 50s; maybe even the 30s from the lack of aluminum handles that have been used on almost all office furniture for many decades. Steelcase is probably the most common brand name, so I'd try that for some similar pictures on e-bay, etc.

It's a small desk, probably not an executives ... maybe a teacher's desk?


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

October 18, 2016

A. Your desk strongly resembles a small library table I recently purchased. The brand name is Shaw Walker and I believe dating is more like 1940-50's. And I believe those corner caps and feet covers are aluminum and can be polished up very nicely.

Try Google search "Shaw Walker student desk or small desk"

The top of mine is in horrible condition and I'll be trying the "melting" method mentioned in this thread after I clean it up as much as possible. I thought I'd replace the top with "Forbo marmoleum", but after looking at samples, I think it's too stiff to wrap around the bullnose perimeter. And lots of glue would also be necessary.

Good Luck,

Sharon Berg
- Waukee, Iowa USA

December 18, 2016

thumbs up sign Thank you for taking the time ... had it in my office for almost 20 years and bought from the original owner.

Cristine L Orzel [returning]
- Cave Creek

May 28, 2017

Q. Hello all! Hoping I can get some type of answer to this, since google and YouTube have failed me. I have a late 60's teal tanker desk with drawers on either side (unsure of brand) that is unlocked, but only half the drawers open. They all opened in the store when I bought it, we transported it, the counter weights kicked in, and now 2 drawers won't open. Anyone know what the trick is to this? It's the middle left drawer(of 3), and the top right drawer above the filing drawer.

Luckily these things can take a beating, I'm about to that point x-D


- Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA

May 2017

A. Hi Candace. Each manufacturer probably patented their mechanism, forcing other manufacturers to do it differently ... so there are probably several different possible arrangements.

But in any case, pushing the rest of the drawers in was supposed to free the remaining drawer. So what I would do is to remove the drawers you can remove, then look up/down or reach up/down and see what needs to be pushed, jiggled, or held. I'd be virtually sure that it's possible with a drawer removed and almost impossible without. Once you free the stuck drawer, you can remove it as well and you'll have good access to fix whatever got bent or came loose.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

August 9, 2017

Q. Okay guys, in Sep 16 I asked about refurbing, etc., my little single pedestal desk. Well, just getting the rehab / repainting done :) of my 1941 Shaw Walker desk with brass corners and brass feet as well as brass around the lock and YES original Bakelite Drawer pulls in great shape. Am considering painting them to match the body of the desk :)
... I even got a key but am afraid to try it out; could not find a DWA 148 lock remover though? Anyone know where to find the lock remover key for that pre-Yale lock?

26176-7c   26176-7a   26176-7e   26176-7d   26176-7b  

Now comes the dilemma. I can't safely get the pencil drawer in :(
... afraid of scratching. Attached is photo of where I am at right now ....do you try angle up or angle down rather than straight in? there is a spring on left side and a rubber stop on right to get around and onto the tracks

Cristine L Orzel [returning]
HomeSmart - Cave Creek, Arizona

February 12, 2018

RFQ: I have a circa 1960'a steel tanker desk that has been in my family since the mid-'60s. I'd like to have it refinished/repainted along with some minor repairs, i.e. sticky drawers. I'm NOT INTERESTED in DIY. Any suggestions on getting this done in the Chicago area?

Even as old as I know it is (did my homework on this desk), it's still WAY better quality than the multiple desks I've had in the past 10 years. I decided to keep the tanker and dump the newer but poorer quality desk I currently us. Thanks for any help.

D. Y. Simmons
- skokie, Illinois USA
  ^- Privately contact this inquirer -^

Automotive Wet Spray vs. Powder Coat -- 1950's Tanker Desk

June 18, 2018

Q. I bought a great 1951 ArtMetal two-pedestal steel tanker desk. It's in great shape structurally, but needs refinishing. After soda blasting to remove all the old paint, I am trying to weigh the pros and cons of bringing it to a body shop for wet spraying (more readily available in my area) or having it powder coated. What say you?


Karen Fox
Hobbyist - Saco, Maine, USA

June 2018

A. Hi Karen. Whichever is easier will be fine. Obviously a tanker desk isn't exposed to the corrosive conditions a car is and any decent pretreatment and painting or powder coating method should be fine.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

December 8, 2019

A. Regarding painting an old tanker desk, just sand it, use auto-body filler on any dings or blemishes, and prime and spray paint. I used hard glossy black enamel spray from Walmart, it looks great.

Q. My biggest problem is the top. Mine had the rubber surface, so I removed that. I guess painting and an epoxy surface would suffice, like I've read here in previous comments, but I'm more interested in a sheet of thin material to glue on and fit under the metal edging. I just haven't come across anything thin enough, and would appreciate any suggestions

Dave Ticer
Drywall professional - Prescott Valley Arizona

September 15, 2020

A. Am refurbishing a General Fireproofing 'tanker' desk. Removed the old soft surface pretty easily once I got started. Used a wood chisel and a beveled-edge putty knife with a hammer sometimes.

I would recommend NOT removing the steel band with aluminum nosing that edges the top. You can see underneath at the corners that the aluminum has a horizontal fin which is sandwiched under the steel sheet that the surface was glued to . Probably a tight, clamping fit. I don't see how you could remove it without bending it and certainly don't see how you'd get it back like it was.

The aluminum is only less than 3/16" above the steel surface. I'm thinking of using VCT tiles or sheet vinyl flooring to cover. Hope this helps.

Joe McTaggart
- Garner North Carolina

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