My Sister's Desk - a Woodworking Saga

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Blog entry by cheller posted 04-02-2007 06:51 AM 813 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I started to add this as a project and then realized that it was really more of a blog entry because of the back story. My sister asked her to make this desk for her when I was unemployed (1993). She paid me for it, although when it all comes down to it I probably made less then 25 cents an hour.

The design is original and is, as it should be, based on her requirements. I spent several weeks seeking out and examining plans for standing desks, captains desks and the like before I put pencil to paper. (I took several years of drafting in high school, as well as a couple of architecture classes after college. If I draw plans it’s with a t-square and an architect’s rule. I have been know to use electronic drawing software, I am after all a computer geek by day. I like Gizmo Lab’s Design Intuition and in a pinch I’ve even used Visio – NOT recommended but doable.) I carefully drew out front, side and top views and sent them off to my sister. Her response was “Well, I can’t really tell what it’ll look like, but I’m sure it’ll be great.” Gotta love family!

After calculating how many board feet I needed about 6 times – this was the first time I attempted it (I’ve since gotten much better at it) – I ordered the wood from a mail order source. I don’t remember now why I decided to go with mail order but I think it was probably because I didn’t know where to find decent hardwoods at that time.

The desk took nearly 11 years to complete (yes 11 years). Acquiring a day job, and various other things got in the way. But it did get finished and we delivered it in 2004. The drive from the Boston area to central New Jersey was interesting. We planned the trip before the desk was completed so in the month or so before we were due to head south I spent a lot of time on the desk. I’d decided to use varnish as the finish (details below). The only problem with this was that May of 2004 was extremely rainy here. Each of the 3 coats of varnish took multiple days to dry with a fan blowing across the parts. The varnish was still not fully cured when we loaded the parts into the car. Final assembly had to be done in New Jersey because the assembled desk wouldn’t fit in my car.

We drove the whole way with the back windows down and the fan blowing at medium speed because of the varnish fumes. When we told my nephew that we had a surprise in the car he tried to guess what it was. From the hint “it’s big and stinking and T will really like it” he guessed that it was an elephant (my sister really likes elephants).

The final coat of varnish on the table top was done in my sister’s driveway. The good news is that it was a warm sunny day and it dried in about 2 hours.

The desk is ash. The legs were crafted from baseball bat blanks. The entire thing is big. The writing surface is 36” x 24”. The bottom portion – legs, aprons, and compartment bottom – could serve as a desk/table on it’s own. The stretchers and apron are attached to the legs with mortise and tenon joints. The top portion is attached to the bottom portion with figure eight desktop fasteners.

I used wood filler on all the parts before finishing. The finish is Rockhard table top varnish. The varnish was pretty easy to work with and I love how it looks.

Here’s the desk in place.

I included a set of cubbies inside (mdf and plywood hence the paint). The top is secured with pocket screws. The plugs in the holes for the pocket hole screws are oak.

Here you can see the desktop fasteners, and my brand.

-- Chelle

2 comments so far

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4338 days

#1 posted 04-02-2007 07:22 AM

Thanks for sharing. 11 years wow.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4184 days

#2 posted 04-02-2007 11:55 AM

11 years @ 25cents an hour.. hmmm

It sure looks big!! But also a wonderful piece of furniture. AND it’s built by family!!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

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