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not directly wood but directly after the fact- my desk is made from reclaimed wood, and is a bit softer than my prior one so if I were to write on it, the surface would quickly mar. I really want to keep the beauty of the finish intact. My first thought was glass, but two issues with glass:

  1. My desk is L shaped, so the glass (and most covers I've seen) would be in two pieces, with a seam exactly where I am trying to write.
  2. Glass has the opposite problem of being too hard in many cases, making writing with a pen difficult.
  3. mouse use is limited

And honestly I can either live with or work around each of these, but I'd prefer not to if possible.

My question then is: are there any alternative desktop surfaces/coverings. Something: 1. that could be cut/made to fit 2. proper not-to-hard-nor-too-soft-ness for writing 3. functional mousing surface 4. of course the base protecting 5. And aesthetics

If anyone knows of anything, I'd be ingratiated. Closest I've seen is a DIY (I'm OK to purchase or build a solution) project using clear vinyl sheets adhered to a graphic backing ( posters, etc..)

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    A traditional desk blotter/desk pad would be one solution, providing a protective shield over that area of the desk. Get a nice one and it will be decorative as well. Example, not recommendation,: leatherology.com/desk-accessories-set-tan-leather-cognac – keshlam Aug 20 '16 at 21:16
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    Do you have a good plastic supplier nearby? I'd think a 1/4" clear acrylic or polycarbonate would be a little less hard than glass and still reasonably durable. – Aloysius Defenestrate Aug 21 '16 at 0:44
  • I don't know why glass would be too hard, and whether you'd really be able to notice the difference between it and something just a little less hard under the writing implement (compared to glass and something like varnished hardwood for example). – Graphus Aug 21 '16 at 8:10
  • Good point in your question regarding an overly hard and smooth surface making it difficult to write with a ballpoint pen. In either case, you're stuck having to use a workaround in order to write on top of the desk. – rob Aug 21 '16 at 18:34
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As this is a woodworking site with wood being our primary focus I think I should say that when you know the requirements of a desk (or any other project) ahead of time they should really be factored in from the start with the choice of material for the top. That's the right way to approach a build, rather than playing catch-up after the fact to get the thing to meet the usage requirements.

My question then is: are there any alternative desktop surfaces/coverings. Something: 1. that could be cut/made to fit 2. proper not-to-hard-nor-too-soft-ness for writing 3. functional mousing surface 4. of course the base protecting 5. And aesthetics

While you could in theory at least use a hard sheet plastic like acrylic or polycarbonate (including making a seamless joint if you're careful) the first thing I thought of that fulfilled all your requirements was solid-surface material, e.g. Corian. These are a composite material made from something like powdered marble and a resin binder and they are hard, opaque and durable.

But you'd probably want to think carefully about covering the desktop with anything that costs more than the rest of the desk put together O_O

Working more directly with what you have you might be able to do something with clear coatings.

The most obvious product in this area is a pour-on finish which goes on thick and sets hard and resilient. This wouldn't be an ideal solution for any number of reasons (possibly including cost again) but it might do exactly what you want and turn a softer-than-you'd like surface into a durable and long-lived one that can't be dented by writing.

You could try thickly varnishing it with polyurethane (multiple coats building up to a thick film, not one or two very thick coats). Even on soft softwoods this can be enough to reinforce the surface and make it strong enough, while not properly hard or resilient, to withstand the knocks and scrapes of daily use. You probably have some offcuts you can test this option out on and if it does enough I can't imagine it not being the cheapest of the possibilities presented here, but it would be slow to do and you'd want to wait at least a week after the last coat for the varnish to cure hard enough.

Edit: I should have thought of this myself but a friend of mine suggested something that would be effective here if, as with the solid-surface material, you don't mind that the wood is obscured and that is tempered hardboard. Cutting and installing it would be very quick to do and it's an inexpensive option at under $10 for an 8x10 sheet, possibly working out cheaper than varnishing and it's undoubtedly much more robust.

  • When you say pour-on, does that mean epoxy? – Chris H Aug 21 '16 at 13:31
  • @ChrisH, I don't know if all of them are but most pour-on finishes are epoxies. – Graphus Aug 22 '16 at 6:37
  • Thanks. I was considering suggesting epoxy though I haven't applied it myself. Hadn't come across the term pour-on and didn't want to duplicate your answer. – Chris H Aug 22 '16 at 6:47
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    @ChrisH, not all epoxy finishes are pour-on products however. Epoxy coatings are commonly employed in a marine setting (basically in place of varnish) and they often brushed on or sprayed. – Graphus Aug 22 '16 at 7:15

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