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Writing Desk

author-gravatar Lipongo Nov 23, 2019

We needed a writing desk for our office space.  I had a few goals with this project.  First I wanted to get myself into the shop more.  Second, I wanted to actually build a nice piece of furniture.  And third, I wanted to try some traditional joinery and avoid metal fasteners as much as possible.  I decided to use two distinctly different wood species to create a nice contrast between frame and surface space.  The structure/rails are cherry while the surfaces/panels are soft maple with the exception of the top, that is hard maple plywood.  The desk is based on Steve Ramsey's design with modifications to eliminate any metal hardware(except drawer slides) and replace them with either just wood glue, mortise and tenon, or dowel joinery.

I made tons of mistakes, learned a lot, and realized that even though there are LOTS of imperfections the desk still looks good and is something I am proud of.

Steve Ramsey's original YouTube video:  https://youtu.be/TGe4GCVGV94

Steve Ramsey's original post:  https://woodworkingformeremortals.com/writing-desk/  

#woodworking #cherry #maple #mortisetenon #writingdesk #finefurniture #desk

Photo of Writing Desk

Finished product first.  Not sure how I am going to get a chair in there since it seems the dog has already claimed that space...

Photo of Writing Desk

Time to unload the supplies, only the maple is for the writing desk.  Picked up one sheet of 3/4" hard maple plywood, A2 ROT, the good stuff.  The light colored boards are soft maple S3S.    All the cherry I will need I already had from other projects(or rather other projects I haven't done yet).  Yes, that is white oak in there too...the white oak is from the cull bin at the local lumber yard, needed some hard wood to cut into stickers for the wood stack, though it is nice enough that it might end up being set aside for a later project.

Photo of Writing Desk

First order of business was to cut all the panels to size.  I modified the original plans from Steve Ramsey's design to accommodate mortise and tenon joints.  Their new dimensions are 4 1/4”  x  3/4” x 35 1/4” for the back panel, 4 1/4” x 3/4” x 15 3/4” for the two side panels, and 4 1/4” x 3/4” x 15 3/8” for the center panel.  Special note:  I extended the back panel by 3/4" to allow for 3/8" tenons.  I used my old Dewalt radial arm saw to perform all the cross cuts.  Moved them over to the SawStop contractor saw and ripped them to the proper width.  The long piece on top is the back panel.  The two pieces on the left are the side panels.  The piece on the right is the center panel.  This was the first time using the new SawStop contractor saw, worth every penny.

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Next up were the legs.  I had some 8/4 S3S cherry from a prior planned project that I repurposed for this one.  The legs are 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" x 29 1/2".  Used the Dewalt radial arm saw to cross cut down to a little larger than desired length just in case ripping them resulted in tear out.  After that, over to the SawStop contractor saw for ripping to width.  Each leg got ripped twice to make sure I had a square 1 1/2" x 11/2".  Took them all back to the Dewalt radial arm saw and setup a stop block to cut them all to the exact same length.

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Here is everything that could be pre-cut laid out.  The thinner cherry boards are the rails that will border all the maple panels.  Each rail dimension is listed below and noted if modified from the original plans.  I used the same process for cutting them, Dewalt radial arm saw for the cross cuts to length and then ripped them on the SawStop contractor saw.  Quick note, I had to cut two side rails but because my cherry boards were 1 x 4 S4S stock, I only needed to cross cut to length once and could get both rails from the same piece by ripping it twice.

  • Side rails(2x):  1 1/2” x 3/4” x 15”
  • Front rail:   1 1/2” x 3/4” x 35 1/4” (extend  3/4" for  3/8" tenons)
  • Back rail:  1 1/2” x 3/4” x 35 1/4” (extend  3/4" for  3/8" tenons)
  • Center rail:  1 1/2” x 3/4” x 15 3/4”
  • Center front block:  1 1/2” x 1 1/2” x 4 1/4”
Photo of Writing Desk

Since part of this project was to try mortise and tenon joinery, here is a shot of the first attempt.  Not the cleanest and defiantly learned some things along the way.  The mortise seen here is on one of the back legs.  It is 5" in length, 1/2" wide and 3/8" deep.  The plan is to put both the rail and the panel into the same mortise.  Since the panel and rail will be glued together I am hoping this isn't going to be an issue.  The tenons are 1/2" wide and 3/8" deep so they will fit.  I used a Bosch router in my router table to cut out the bulk of the mortise and then chiseled the rest out by hand.  For the tenons, setup the Dewalt radial arm saw at the right height and made several passes to form the tenons.  I again used the chisels to do the detail work.

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Not the prettiest, but they are snug enough and with glue should fill in just fine.  Might do some sawdust and glue to make them look nicer, not that anyone will ever see it outside of this.  I'm calling it a success.

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Both back legs have their mortises and the panel and rail have tenons on both sides.  Time for a dry fit.  Yep, looks good!

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Front legs mortise for the front stretcher.  Used a forstner bit to clean out the bulk then it them with some chisels to square them up.  Always important to mark what you are doing on the piece, some mistakes require starting over.

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All the mortise and tenons all done.

Photo of Writing Desk

Dry fit on the frame and everything seems to be about right.

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Panels, stretchers, and legs all finished.  Used Arm-R-Seal  on everything.  Followed the recommended instructions using 3 coats.  I put blue tape on every edge I intend to apply glue on to.

Photo of Writing Desk

Glued everything up and put on the clamps to hold it overnight.  It was around this time I realized I hadn't thought through how to do the center panel and column.  Well, off to the drawing board to think through how to recover from my short sided execution of this.

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After a few days of batting around some ideas I decided on dowel joinery to lock the panel and column into to place.  Took my time and marked everything out as well as possible and drilled slowly using a forstner bit using a hand drill.

Photo of Writing Desk

Turned out quite well after the glue up.

Photo of Writing Desk

On to the drawer boxes.  Cut rabbets in the side panels of them for the front and back to be glued into.  This is the glue up and square check.  Just assume the same process for the second drawer box.  I also made a rabbet on the bottom to drop the draw bottom into place.

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Used some 1/4" cherry plywood I had purchased a while back to make up the base.  The rabbets worked out well and I was able to drop the cut out plywood right into place and clamp them down after applying some glue.

Photo of Writing Desk

I was on a bit of a rabbet craze in case you couldn't tell, so I decided to make some more rabbets on the desk top, 3/4" hard maple plywood, to rest the cherry edge pieces I wanted to place around the desk top.  Turns out there was a loose bit of veneer and it tore off.  It was about an inch long on the side that would show.  I ended up using a razor to cut out a matching piece of veneer from a small scrap board of the same plywood and gluing it in place making sure I put that corner in the back of the desk.  Turned out well and unless you know where to look, you don't notice it.

Photo of Writing Desk

Added a rabbet to the cherry and glued it to the desk top.  Had to pull out to big clamps to get good pressure all the way across the top.

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Drawer slides and drawers installed.  Actually starting to look like a real desk.

Photo of Writing Desk

Used the same finish for the desk top as the frame parts, Arm-R-Seal, again falling the instructions and applying 3 coats.

Photo of Writing Desk

Moment of truth, attaching the desk top to the base.  The center panel required some improvisation, used a 25 pound weight.  Spent a good few minutes making sure it wouldn't roll or fall off, that's all I would need, get to final assembly then destroy is with a falling weight.

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