How To Replace the Inlay on Vintage Desk?

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Q: I recently acquired a great curb-find: a 40s or 50s era teacher's desk (solid oak, dovetail joints, pullout writing shelves on both sides, it's okay to be jealous) and I've been sanding it down to refinish it and sell it. The one challenge with this desk has been the inlay on the top, which was originally some kind of weird asphalt-y stuff, almost like tire rubber. It was all pockmarked and warped so I decided it couldn't be saved and took it out, figuring I could replace it with something — maybe even something awesome! If only I knew what that was:

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The dimensions of the inlay area are about 59" x 33", and the depth is slightly less than 1/8", which is pretty restrictive. If I lay down a piece of 1/8" craft wood there it still sticks up just the tiniest bit over the desk's outer edging. I want the inlay to be really smoothly flush with the edging so there's no problem with scratching your forearms or whatever on the desk edge. The edge molding could possibly be removed, and it's been suggested I could take it off and put it back on, adjusting the height to match that of whatever inlay I use, or perhaps to just use the wood that's there now. I do hate to rip things up, though, if I don't have to.

So what ought to be done? Is the wood on the top good enough to use as the desktop? Should I cover it with something else? Nobody wants a (p)leather inlay anymore, do they? I thought about putting some kind of patterned paper or something and putting a glass inlay over it, but I suspect it'd be expensive, plus a logistical PITA to get it cut to exactly the right size.

After I figure that out, then I tackle the whole stain-or-paint decision. :) Suggestions welcome on that, too.

Sent by Tracy

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Regina is an architect who lives with her husband and children in Lawrence, KS. As a LEED Accredited Professional and longtime contributor to Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn, her focus is on healthy, sustainable living through design.

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