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Desk Project Update

Hank Knight
Except for Bill Tindall’s corner cupboard and Derek Cohen’s harlequin side table, woodworking projects have been kinda scarce on Wood Central lately. I thought I’d lend Bill and Derek a hand this weekend with an update on my long running desk project. I’ve posted bits and pieces over the past few months, but I thought an update would be in order. I work on this desk sporadically, so my progress is slow. But, between building cutting boards, a bathroom vanity and rehabbing an upholstered bench for neighbors, I’ve managed to make a little progress.

I think the last photos I posted several months ago were of the French foot construction. They are built in two phases. I completed the first phase and will finish them when I apply the edging on to the drawer dividers and the case sides to cover the joinery. The final phase of the French feet are part of that process, which should be coming up shortly. Here’s a photo of the feet I posted earlier.

[url=][/url][url=]IMG_3931[/url] by [url=]Hank Knight[/url], on Flickr

Since then I’ve completed the drawer dividers and runners.The dividers are half dovetailed into the case sides front and back, and the runners are mortised and tenoned into the dividers. The joint between the back dividers and the runners will be left unglued so the case sides can expand and contract without splitting.

[completed drawer divider photo]

Next I built a frame and panel back from some wide white pine I’ve had in my shop for 20 years, waiting for a project like this. I think I posted some photos of my procedure for gluing up thin panels using painters tape instead of clamps. Here’s a photo of the completed back in place. I’ve since shaped the bottoms of the two styles to repeat the curve of the French feet.

[url=][/url][url=]IMG_4469[/url] by [url=]Hank Knight[/url], on Flickr

When I cut the shallow dados in the sides for the drawer runners, I cut fully housed sliding dovetails for the solid panel writing surface and case bottom. They span the full width of the case sides. I was worried about cutting the sliding tails accurately and getting these two panels to slide into the housed dovetail sockets without binding. I cut the tails for the writing surface on my router table and it slid into place with a little coaxing. It looks really good. The housing adds a lot of stability and makes for a really solid, clean-looking joint.

[url=][/url][url=]IMG_4477[/url] by [url=]Hank Knight[/url], on Flickr

This was just a test fitting. I needed to remove it so I could stain it and pre finish it before finally trimming the width and gluing it in place. Getting it out again was another matter. With the help of a couple of Bessy parallel clamps applying pressure and some persuasion with my mallet, it came out. I decided to wait to cut the tails and fit the bottom until I was ready to glue it place.

While I had the writing surface in place I marked and cut the dovetail joinery for the top. I mentioned in a post earlier this week that I had some difficulty with one set. Before I figured out what the problem was, I had whittled away too much of the pins in an effort to get to joint to seat properly. This left some pretty gappy, unsightly dovetails.

[url=][/url][url=]IMG_4481[/url] by [url=]Hank Knight[/url], on Flickr

I think I can fix then with some thin wedges when I do the final glue-up. After thinking about it for a couple of days, I figured out what was wrong and got the joint to seat properly by removing a couple of fine shavings to increase the length of one of the sockets. The dovetails on the other end turned out fine.

This week, I used Bill Tindall’s recipe for walnut stain to stain the writing surface. It worked spectacularly and I thank Bill for his help. After trying the stain on a test piece, I made one change in Bill’s procedure. My walnut has a lot of figure and I was worried about getting splotching, which turned out to he the case with my test piece. I tried it again after applying a wash coat of 1# cut shellac and sanding it off with 320 grit sandpaper. This resulted in a much more even stain that highlighted a lot of the figure but with little random splotching. Bill’s recipe gives the walnut a wonderful warm, even tone. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but here it is. I highly recommend Bill’s stain for anyone working with walnut.

[url=][/url][url=]IMG_4480[/url] by [url=]Hank Knight[/url], on Flickr

That’s where I am with this project at the moment. I plan to disassemble the case (nothing is glued yet, it’s all dry fitted) and put a coat or two of Seal Coat on the inside. I also need to stain the interior of the case that will show when the desk’s fall front is open. It has a stripe of sap wood that needs to be stained before it is finished. Then I’ll fit the bottom, glue the case together, work on the edge strips, the front apron scroll and finish the French feet. After that will come the drawers which will have inlaid borders and cock beading. Then the gallery will finish the desk, but the gallery a whole project in itself. Stay tuned.

Have a good weekend.

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