Thomas Jefferson's Lap Desk

  • Advertise with us
Project by Oldtool posted 10-03-2017 07:08 PM 1333 views 10 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I needed another project to work on & came across this Fine Woodworking article by Lon Schleining with instructions for creating a copy of the lap desk Thomas Jefferson used to script the Declaration Of Independence. As this project offers extensive hand tool work, I proceeded with construction.

I made two of these desks, the first constructed out of my stock black cherry, however Lon suggests the use of plywood which would have solved my first problem, bowed lids with the cherry. I then secured some mahogany for the second attempt, which worked out well. I read that mahogany is good at retaining its flatness when milled thin.

This desk deviates from the overall dimensions in height, because the smallest ink well I could find was taller than the original. In addition, Lon, who couldn’t get his hands on the original for the article, assumed the drawer bottom was set into rabbets in the 1/8” drawer sides, so I used drawer slips for strength. The bottom slip can be seen in photo 6 above, and this is the inside slip:

For the case sides, the article assumes hidden & mitered dovetails are used, while Lon used splines. I opted for hidden and mitered box joints, somewhat easier than dovetails but just as strong. Photo 5 above shows this, with the completed case like this:

Resawing the mahogany to just over 3/8” and 1/8” pieces then hand planing to final dimensions proved to be fun as mahogany mills like warm butter. All in all, this was a fun project to work on.

Thanks for viewing.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

17 comments so far

View recycle1943's profile


1616 posts in 1525 days

#1 posted 10-03-2017 07:12 PM

a good challenge and you won. – NICE !!

-- Dick, Malvern Ohio - my biggest fear is that when I die, my wife sells my toys for what I told her I paid for them

View WayneC's profile


13751 posts in 4000 days

#2 posted 10-03-2017 07:36 PM

Lovely desk. I hope it gets frequent use.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View AJ1104's profile


425 posts in 1562 days

#3 posted 10-04-2017 12:53 AM

A great desk. Jefferson would be proud to use it. Great job!

-- AJ, Long Island. New York

View oldrivers's profile


1247 posts in 1469 days

#4 posted 10-04-2017 12:56 AM

You did a mighty fine job.

-- Soli Deo gloria!

View Monte Pittman's profile (online now)

Monte Pittman

28127 posts in 2240 days

#5 posted 10-04-2017 01:23 AM

Really nice work

-- Mother Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View knockknock's profile


439 posts in 2075 days

#6 posted 10-04-2017 09:03 AM

That looks intricate to make, well done.

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2125 posts in 550 days

#7 posted 10-04-2017 11:28 AM

That’s some craftsmanship, Tom. Great joinery. From my vantage point it looks like the original!

-- Ron in Lilburn, Georgia.  Knowing how to use a tool is more important than the tool in and of itself.

View Dave Polaschek's profile (online now)

Dave Polaschek

1526 posts in 485 days

#8 posted 10-04-2017 11:39 AM

That’s a fine-looking desk. Bookmarked for me to tackle once I can cut a couple dovetails in a row without a disaster. Now I have a goal to practice for!

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View CL810's profile


3726 posts in 2891 days

#9 posted 10-04-2017 12:49 PM

Very nice work Oldtool. Details are great and hand skills are mighty fine.

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View helluvawreck's profile


30112 posts in 2769 days

#10 posted 10-04-2017 01:26 PM

This is a nice reproduction of Jefferson’s desk. Based on the pictures I have seen it’s close if not an exact copy. You did a fine job on it.

Jefferson's desk

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

View James E McIntyre's profile

James E McIntyre

93 posts in 1195 days

#11 posted 10-04-2017 02:49 PM

Great craftsmenship and use of hand tools. I’m building a 21” high arts & crafts clock from QSWO and was going to resaw the oak to 3/8” to cover the clock movement and tile from the back I know the oak will bow. I have a piece of mahagony and was wondering if it would bow like the oak when resawed. Now I know it won’t. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

-- James E McIntyre

View James E McIntyre's profile

James E McIntyre

93 posts in 1195 days

#12 posted 10-04-2017 02:59 PM

-- James E McIntyre

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1807 posts in 1872 days

#13 posted 10-04-2017 03:01 PM

Wow that is beautifully done. Very nice work

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View jim65's profile


988 posts in 1836 days

#14 posted 10-04-2017 03:03 PM

I love this box, I have seen the article and will say you did an absoutely fantastic job on the build, beautiful!

-- Jim, Marostica Italy

View ArtMann's profile (online now)


819 posts in 718 days

#15 posted 10-04-2017 06:12 PM

African mahogany?

showing 1 through 15 of 17 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics