Anyway, I picked out a "special walnut" stain and glossy polyurethane, and by the end of spring break, I had the first clear coat of polyurethane on the desk and all the drawers. This was a ton of work for one week.
The next weekend, when I came home on Saturday, the top of the desk was smudged up a little bit, possibly to somebody setting down on top, destroying the finish. I guess I didn't give enough of a warning to my parents that it needed time to dry. I found it impossible to correct the blemish by sanding it down, and ended up destroying the stain. This is the destroyed finish after my failed attempt to fix it:
I ended up sanding down the entire top surface again, and applying a new stain and clear coat. I decided to take more precautions this time, and post some warning signs.
And hence, the final layer of clear coat, and the now fully restored and re-beautified antique desk. It is surely a work of art.
I am praying that nothing unfortunate happens to the desk this week. I am a bit tired of working on it. I didn't think to take pictures of the disk before I started working on it, which is a pity, because I didn't realize how unusually few pictures of the desk we actually have. I searched briefly through our family album of scanned and horrifically disorganized .jpeg files, and I could only come up with this one ancient photo dating from last decade (wow, computer screens used to be that big???):
Until I find better photos of the desk, you'll just have to take my word that it was quite unsightly.
(Help me out, family. If you know of any digital pictures of the desk before I started working on it, please email them to me. There might be a special prize.)