To stain an unfinished roll top desk, remove the drawers and the drawer handles. Apply stain to the entire desk, including drawers' insides and the slats. If needed, use a rag or small paintbrush to cover the difficult to reach areas. Let the desk dry for at least 24 hours before covering the stain with lacquer. To apply lacquer between the slats, use a small paintbrush. Once the lacquer dries, reassemble the door handles. Then, reinsert the drawers.
Finished roll top desks require considerably more work when a full makeover is warranted. After removing the drawers and handles, use a cloth to coat the desk with paint stripper. Allow the stripper to stand for the time recommended by the manufacturer, and then employ a scraper to take the finish from the desk. Pay careful attention to the roll slats. Scrape slowly and work on one edge at a time.
Starting with the slats, use sandpaper to sand off any finish. For the rest of desk, use an electric sander to speed up the process. Stain and lacquer in the same manner as the unfinished roll top desk.
Roll top desks come complete with numerous drawers, shelves and compartments that a tambour, which is a rolling door composed of wooden slats, cover when not in use. First produced in the 19th century, they continue to maintain their popularity.