Tutorial: Updating Student Desk Chairs

I love old school desk chairs. I like the kind that have the desk top attached, like this one…

Student Desk Chair

And the simple wooden ones that slide under a student desk. Like this stack Sundance, my Maine Coon Cat, has claimed for his perch.

Student Chair Before

The wooden chair backs were all in good shape, but the seats had endured a lot through the years. There were lots of scratches and scars from years of use and abuse.

I filled the cracks with wood putty, let it dry, sanded it and let it dry some more. A few cracks reappeared so I added another layer of putty and repeated the process. Wood putty is very easy to use. You can apply it with a putty knife if you want, or you can smear it in the cracks with your finger.

I decided the tubular frame was in pretty good shape and decided to leave as is, which meant it needed taping before I painted. That was tedious, but doable. I tore strip after strip of masking tape wrapping and covering the metal tubes on the back.

Student Desk Chair Taped

I used that pretty pink Xacto knife and one of my handy-dandy five-in-one tools to poke tape into the cracks and curves between the steel tubing and the chair. (If you don’t already have a five-in-one tool, you need to get one. Sooo useful!) I used the wide tape length-wise to save tape. The narrower blue tape I used in small sections for the curves.

To protect the legs, I taped a “skirt” of newspaper on the underside of the seat to mask the legs and braces below.

Student Desk Chair Legs Covered

Then after a decent sanding—which didn’t take much on the wooden chairs due to the years of use—I picked my paint colors and started spraying. I decided on this lilac and light pink combination. I sprayed the seat first and it was pretty easy to avoid spraying the back. When the seat dried “to touch” I gently covered it with a couple of sheets of newspaper and then sprayed the seat back. Several light coats are best so when the back dried enough I draped it with a piece of newspaper and recoated the chair seat. This went on for several coats until I got the coverage I liked.

Pink and Lilac Student Chair

I let it dry for at least a day and then looked at it from all directions to see if it needed a recoat. I also painted one with a black seat and white back, and one all red. A cushy pillow makes it more comfy if you end up sitting too long.

Red Desk Chair

I updated a couple of student desk chairs while I was at it. They were made of some kind of molded Formica or similar product. It was a industrial-looking light yellow when I started, but after asking around I decided for $2 each it was worth taking a chance to paint them.

Student Desk Chair

I found out the secret ingredient is Kilz. I sanded the chairs with moderately fine sandpaper to scuff them up and then gave each a once over with Kilz. One can of Kilz covered two chairs.

Student Desk Chair Primed

Instead of a simple recoat I decided to cover the desk part with chalkboard paint, just for fun. I used the spray paint because it’s cheaper than the quart and wanted to be sure I liked the results. I did. I also found the Brush-On Chalkboard paint comes in green and black, and there is a Tint Base with 12 colors! And there’s a dry erase paint, and magnetic paint if you want to go that route.

Chalkboard Chair

These are ideal for homework and especially great for homeschoolers. You can have one for each child, custom painted to each child’s interests if you want. With a tray on the rack under the seat and a tote bag hanging on the chair back, school supplies can be close at hand.

A chalkboard chair can also serve as a family message center. Positioned near the door it’s a good spot to put on boots and check last-minute reminders. In the kitchen it’s perfect for jotting down essentials as you run out of them. It’s also a tidy little spot for going over recipes and making grocery lists.

The chalkboard works great and is easy to erase. A damp cloth will clean it good as new.

When I was sure they were painted and up to par, I removed the tape. It was a lot more trouble than I expected. The Xacto knife came in handy to dig it out of those tight spaces I took such care to cram it into.

I wiped the steel tubes down with 000 steel wool and made them sparkle with an all-purpose household cleaner.

What do you think?  How would you restyle one of these chairs?

I have in mind some stripes… a Charlie Brown chevron pattern… maybe cut out and decoupage some paisley? Polka dots would be fun too.

I’d love to hear your ideas.



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