Vintage Tanker Desk Hobby

Refurbishing a McDowell & Craig vintage executive dual pedestal tanker desk
Finished Executive Tanker Desk in gunmetal grey with blue highlighted drawers

I had always wanted a nice McDowell & Craig vintage executive dual pedestal tanker desk, but the $2,000-$3,000 price tags for the ones in excellent condition or that had been refinished was way too steep for me. Some of the others I’ve seen for sale at lower prices were in mediocre shape and were in such ugly institutional colors, I couldn’t imagine having one at home.

Unfinished Desk

Unfinished Desk - Rusted Top

Late last year, I found a couple from the 1950’s and 60’s that were in horrible physical shape that were going to be scrapped for their steel. I got both of them for $10 bucks and did some research on how to refurbish them myself.

I stripped off the corroded, stained, and torn linoleum off the tops, took them to a local place that does sandblasting to have them stripped and then sanded down the heavily rusting portions. (These desks are usually made of heavy 20 gauge solid steel, so they’re literally the “tanks” of office furniture.) Both were in relatively good condition structurally and didn’t have any significant body damage aside from some significant rust, so I decided not to bondo the couple of dings they had, which in the end I think just adds to their vintage beauty.

Jr. Tanker Desk - Unfinished with rusted bottom

For the blue/gray one I found an industrial paint shop to do an old style enamel process. For the smaller red one, I sandblasted and painted/sealed the undercarriage and inside drawers and then used a special brushing process to obtain a nice brushed steel effect followed by a 5 layer clear coat seal to give it a high shine while still having the brushed steel visible through the clear coat.
Partially refinished tanker desk chair with blue upholstry

Finally, I tried to find a place to recreate the original linoleum desktops, but there really isnt’ a supplier who does this and some of the alternatives were prohibitively expensive as was the process of redoing the metal trim to hold it on after the fact. I contemplated doing some various laminates and even formica, but ultimately decided that the bare metal top was too pretty to cover up. I finally gave a local glass shop a template for the top of the desk and had them cut out custom 1/4″ glass tops with rounded corners to match the desk shape and then bevel the edges slightly.

Finished Executive Tanker Desk in gunmetal grey with blue highlighted drawers

At long last they’re now both finished!  They are truly beautiful and it’s nice having a desk about the size of a compact car and certainly as heavy! When I originally got the desks, Sonia refused to let me keep them they were in such terrible shape, and I spent a while convincing her to let me keep them. Once the first one was done she forbid me to “hide” it in our office and insisted that I put it in our living room because it was so pretty. I finally got the second one finished and gave it to her for her birthday in September.

Jr. Executive Tanker desk with clear coated metal and red highlighted drawers

It’s been an interesting enough process with such a beautiful end result, that I’m in the midst of acquiring a few additional desks including one that may be from the 30’s/40’s with some nice art deco design touches.

So I suppose I’m calling it my “hobby” at the moment.

I’ve posted a gallery of additional photos of the desks on Flickr.

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Author: Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

5 thoughts on “Vintage Tanker Desk Hobby”

  1. I have one of those monsters in my garage and want to figure out how to make it pretty. its in great shape just the ugly gray color. still has the green linoleum on the top. Maybe I’ll give it a go!

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