Begginner - Cedar/Poplar Desk

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Forum topic by leeko posted 03-17-2011 06:27 PM 3072 views 1 time favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View leeko's profile


15 posts in 2594 days

03-17-2011 06:27 PM

Hi all,

I’m new to the forum and new to woodworking in general – Hi!

I’m planning to build a desk for our office. It’ll be L-shaped, 7’x28” and 6’x28”, and mostly aromatic cedar with a poplar surround. I’ve attached a (crude) diagram of what I’m planning below.

I realize this probably isn’t the easiest project to get started with, but I’m looking forward to the challenge!

I do have a few questions before I start, though:

1. For the joint between the two halves of the tabletop, I’ve planned a herringbone pattern for a couple of reasons: a) I think it’ll look more interesting; b) I’m thinking expansion/contraction across the grain might be less of an issue compared with a 45 degree mitre joint; and c) I think it’ll probably be easier to get right compared with a long mitre joint. Does anyone see any flaws with this plan?

2. I’ve read that biscuit jointing the planks together is a good way to form the tabletop. I don’t currently have a jointer (handheld or tabletop), but I do have a router. I know router bits are available which essentially do a similar job to a biscuit cutter – is there any difficulty/problem with just using my router? Or is there a different/better/easier/cheaper way to join the planks together?

3. Lastly, if anyone has any links to good guides/walkthroughs on making tables, I’d love to see them! I’ve done a fair bit of reading so far, but you can never be too prepared!

Thanks in advance,


9 replies so far

View wseand's profile


2796 posts in 3008 days

#1 posted 03-29-2011 08:44 AM

Gluing an end grain to a long grain is not recommended due to the fact it doesn’t hold well. That’s why you do a mitered joint.
Biscuit joints are used for alignment when gluing a joint together not necessarily needed.

View therookie's profile


887 posts in 2794 days

#2 posted 03-29-2011 02:13 PM

What ever you do do not glue that end grain, it will not hold I am talking from experience.


View ScottN's profile


261 posts in 2646 days

#3 posted 03-29-2011 02:50 PM

When ever building furniture you should keep in mind that it has to fit through a min 36” door. I would suggest building it in 2 sections and fastening them together later. Personally I would skip the hearing bone joint pattern…I foresee nothing but problems.

-- New Auburn,WI

View HerbC's profile


1744 posts in 2826 days

#4 posted 03-29-2011 04:53 PM


I agree with the comments about the inevitiablity (sp) of problems with joining end grain and long grain w/o providing a path for wood movement. That problem will occur in both the “herringbone” joint you plan for joining the two legs of the “L” but also will show up with the mitered framework you plan to do around the edge of the surfaces. If you’ve taken your design inspiration from commercially available desk designs, remember that they use sheet goods such as MDF and plywood for the primary surfaces and those don’t move much, if any, with humidity changes…

Good Luck with your project and…

Be Careful!


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2950 days

#5 posted 03-30-2011 11:02 PM

Using Aromatic Cedar for the top will require glass or plastic to protect the top as cedar is pretty soft and will dent and ding easily. For your design I would suggest re sawing the cedar into a veneer and gluing to a MDF substrate top. By gluing to a substrate and sealing the top with a good quality finish you will limit the amount of wood movement due to seasonal weather changes.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View HerbC's profile


1744 posts in 2826 days

#6 posted 03-31-2011 10:35 PM


Gregn’s suggestion would be a significant improvement on the design you initially suggest. If you do use veneer on MDF, don’t forget to apply a layer of veneer to the back/bottom side of the MDF. Failure to do this step frequently leads to problems with the panels warping due to uneven stresses.

Good Luck!

Be Careful!


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View Dchip's profile


271 posts in 3219 days

#7 posted 03-31-2011 10:52 PM

I believe the mitered border around a solid wood interior would cause problems as well with the seasonal movement of the inside. Then again, most offices are pretty climate controlled so to what degree is the question.

Breadboard ends are an option, as they will give some stability and can be doweled to allow for expansion , plus they will keep your top flat.

I see veneering is mentioned above, but this may not be possible to resaw without a decent bandsaw. Not to mention vacuum presses, etc…

-- Dan Chiappetta, NYC,

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3035 days

#8 posted 04-01-2011 12:19 AM

I wouldn’t use either wood for a desk top – unless it’s mostly for show. Both of your choices are pretty soft and will probably get dinged up pretty quickly. If your heart is set on those, however, give the top 3-4 coats of polyurethane finish to give it more durability.

Someone mentioned getting it into the house, and that’s always important. You probably need to make the desk in modules, make the top in one large piece, then attach it to the modules when you get everything in the room.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View bb71's profile


42 posts in 3013 days

#9 posted 04-02-2011 05:35 AM

If you’re worried about alignment on long glue-ups, try using a spline joint instead of biscuits. Nothing special needed other than a tablesaw. I regularly glue up tops that are 6-8’ long. I used to use biscuits but its much quicker to cut a groove into the edges and use a spline. That way when you’re in a panic doing a glue up with 5 or 6 pieces, alignment is not an issue at all. Put the glue on, get the bar clamps on!

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