Need help fixing an "oops"

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Forum topic by Tyler posted 02-26-2013 05:53 AM 1628 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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174 posts in 2929 days

02-26-2013 05:53 AM

I’ve been working on a l-shaped desk made out of walnut for what seems like forever. Due to the fact that I had no plans and tend to figure things out as I go, the desk ended up being too short since I couldn’t get my knees under it. Oops! So I figured I could cut the legs off, insert a contrasting block of wood (wenge) and reattach the legs. I had planned on using dowels to reattach the legs, but I cannot figure out how to make them accurate enough. It seems like I have no room for error. There are 6 legs total and my 2 attempts so far have resulted in the legs being about 1/8 off, which is very noticeable.

So, does anyone have any ideas on how I can reattach the legs, having a strong enough joint and aligning nicely?

Here are some pics to give you an idea what I’m talking about. The desk is upside down.

21 replies so far

View CplSteel's profile


142 posts in 2400 days

#1 posted 02-26-2013 06:24 AM

Lots of options, but now that you have cut the pieces not much to do. My one thought is to drill through the wenge blocks completely. Use each one as it’s own guide. Just remember to mark which side is what (leg face, desk face, outside face, backside face, etc… This way, as long as you are close to vertical the first time you bore, the corresponding holes will be in line.

My guess, based on the picture, is that you all ready bored out the legs and desk and are trying to get the wenge to match the holes. In that case, use over sized pieces and trim to match. If you lack over sized pieces, align as well as you can and then shape a design into the wenge to hide the mis-alignment. Beading works well, but any shape can do. Camfer the tops of the legs and bottom of the desk as well.

View Tyler's profile


174 posts in 2929 days

#2 posted 02-26-2013 06:42 AM

Right now, the wenge blocks are attached to the leg pieces. I wanted the dowel to be long enough to go through the wenge completely. The problem is matching up the holes in the leg and the desk. I made a jig but even if its slightly off, you can tell since I didn’t leave enough material on the wenge to trim afterwards. I tried to insert another thin piece of material between the desk and the wenge to help hide the misalignment. I think it would help, but I’m not thrilled with it.

Your idea of chamfering between the leg and desk might help. Not sure I would do a good enough job…

Lesson learned – leave extra material to shape everything at once.

View Tyler's profile


174 posts in 2929 days

#3 posted 02-26-2013 11:30 AM

I’m also considering not wasting my time on the dowels and just fabricating some kind of decorative (but also functional) bracket that would be able to strengthen the leg.

View JoeinGa's profile


7739 posts in 2243 days

#4 posted 02-26-2013 11:53 AM

How ‘bout add more length to the skirt all the way around . Perhaps another piece of trim the thickness of the wenge blocks. You might be able to rout a v-groove between the new addition and the original skirt so it looks like it was part of the plan all along.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 3205 days

#5 posted 02-26-2013 12:40 PM

I would forget about wooden dowels. I think you have compromised the strength of the legs.
Those pieces of dowel you’ve got, are they made of ramin? If they are, burn them. Make some new ones out of walnut or something hard, glue them into the holes, tidy it all up and start again with a jig.
Instead of using a dowel to reattach the severed legs, I’d use 1/2” threaded bar extending well past the joins and epoxied in.
A jig for boring can be made like this

Just remember to bore the legs corresponding to the way you bored the pieces faces that you’re joining them two. Use a twist drill bit, not a forstner or flat bit to keep the bit from wandering.

View 489tad's profile


3496 posts in 3247 days

#6 posted 02-26-2013 12:53 PM

Good ideas above. Is there any chance you can take it apart? I did a search of steam apart glue and several have had good luck with steam, heat gun. white vinegar, freezer/very cold garage. you could also cut the tenons off and re cut mortises and use floating tenons. You could then make the correct length for the legs. I would first go with your plan of a riser block and trim till you find something that looks and will be strong enough. Good luck.

-- Dan, Naperville IL, I.G.N.

View JesseTutt's profile


854 posts in 2346 days

#7 posted 02-26-2013 02:27 PM

Here is how I manage to locate matching dowel holes:

1. Locate where you want the dowel on one piece.
2. Drill the approprate size hole for the dowel you are planing to use.
3. Place one of these the hole.
4. Carefully align the two mating pieces
5. Give one of the pieces a tap with a hammer so that the dowel center makes an indent on the matching piece.
6. Disassemble and drill the hole

If you plug your current dowel holes you should be able to start over.

Make sure that you drill the dowel holes perpendicular to the surface.

-- Jesse, Saint Louis, Missouri

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3394 days

#8 posted 02-26-2013 02:34 PM

This will be quite weak using dowels alone. If you do, I would reinforce it by extending the skirt as Joe mentioned above and use it to bracket into the legs. If you insist on using it with only dowels, use thicker and longer dowels.

-- jay,

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2688 posts in 3158 days

#9 posted 02-26-2013 02:51 PM

Any chance of putting the leg extensions on the bottom? You could just screw and glue them in place there.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Website>

View Tyler's profile


174 posts in 2929 days

#10 posted 02-26-2013 09:46 PM

Thanks for all the ideas. I have tried to use a jig (below) to accurately match up the holes, but it didn’t work too well. Or maybe I used it wrong. I tried initally with 3/8” dowels since I had a drill guide for that.

Renners – if I used a jig like you have drawn, how would I ensure the hole would be perpendicular? The dowel or rod is going to have to be around 8” long I’m guessing to add any strength and go thrrough both joints in the wenge.

Plus, as I mentioned before I don’t have any extra material so the joint needs to be spot on. But some folks had good ideas about chamfering or putting a groove in that joint to hide it. Which I think will help.

View DS's profile


3044 posts in 2656 days

#11 posted 02-26-2013 10:04 PM

Whenever a project goes “sideways” as this one seems to have done, I always ask myself what the ideal solution is.
Where did I go wrong in the first place.

Desks need to be a certain height at the top. Knee space needs to have a minimum clearence.

Is the problem really that the legs are too short? or, is it that the aprons or other items under the desktop are too tall (hang too low.) Now that you’ve cut the legs, you have an entirely new set of problems as well.

If I were building this, I would re-evaluate what I built and make the correct changes. Make the changes that the piece deserves and not just what I think I can get away with. From the bits and pieces I can see, this will involve making entirely new legs of the correct length. Perhaps even re-working the aprons and/or drawers.

Trying to “band-aid” a problem typically creates even more problems than you had before.

The key to a good solution is to understand precisely what the problem is and fix the problem directly rather than trying to go around the problem. If the leg is too short, make a new, longer leg. If some other area is jacked, then re-do that area properly—the way it should be done.

Your Wenge blocks as leg extensions look and feel like a band-aid to me and IMHO are compromising the integrity of your entire project.

My 2 cents.

P.S. Just for future reference, a desk leg like this would usually have a leg leveler on the bottom that can adjust the height 1/2” to 1” extra. That may had been enough to fix the original problem before the legs got cut.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

View RogerInColorado's profile


321 posts in 2190 days

#12 posted 02-26-2013 10:21 PM

If it’s not too late to mod the chair side apron with a graceful curve and if you can’t remove the legs and cut new ones and you can’t live with a firewood decision, it appears to be the threaded rod and epoxy solution. If this was in my garage I’d try to save the wide boards and start over. I burn lots of mistakes and make sure there are no witnesses for the rest of them.

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3207 days

#13 posted 02-27-2013 02:04 AM

I’d make the dowel holes 3/4” diameter.
I’d use 3/4” steel all-thread rod about 6” or 8” long for dowels.
I’d coat the steel dowels in epoxy, epoxy the holes, press it all together and clamp a good straight extruded aluminum square tube along the length of the leg to hold it all in alignment till the epoxy sets overnight.
This will give you the strength of the original legs before they were cut, and you can use slow set epoxy to give you all the time you want to get it all aligned. I would NOT use the fast setting stuff. I like System III myself.

View TCCcabinetmaker's profile


932 posts in 2590 days

#14 posted 02-27-2013 02:07 AM

usually dowel sets come with a plug that you insert into a hole that you have drilled to mark where the whole should be drilled on the other piece. perfectly centering the hole helps, but you can always be a hair off with them and still line up fine.

-- The mark of a good carpenter is not how few mistakes he makes, but rather how well he fixes them.

View runswithscissors's profile


2924 posts in 2261 days

#15 posted 02-27-2013 06:20 AM

There’s another trick you could try. I’ve done this to repair broken off legs and other parts for various furniture. First, I’d use a really substantial dowel, for strength, at least 3/4”. Go ahead and drill the 3/4” hole for the dowel in either part, upper or lower, it makes no difference. Now, in the matching part, drill an oversize hole, big enough that it allows you to adjust the leg exactly to where you want it. Glue the dowel into the “fitted” hole. Then mix up a batch of epoxy, and thicken it with wood flour (like sanding dust). Make it pretty thick. Fill the oversized hole full enough that when the dowel goes in, there is no void. You want it completely filled with epoxy. Fix the leg in position with a temporary brace until the epoxy cures. You may get some squeeze out, but that should scrape off easily. Best to scrape off the excess when the epoxy isn’t quite cured yet. In fact, at this stage a sharp chisel or razor knife will remove it quite easily.

In your situation, I’d make the oversize hole in the filler block as well; trying to make this all go together will remind you of Laurel and Hardy wallpapering a room. Wear gloves, as epoxy can sensitize a person and cause dermatitis. Any that you do get on you can be removed with vinegar. If you have some olive oil, you can make a nice salad dressing afterward. I really dislike acetone, and don’t think it cleans that well anyhow.

Be careful about mixing too big a batch of epoxy. In a larger mass, it generates heat, and can even catch on fire.

If you try this and it doesn’t work—well, I am moving and leaving no forwarding address. Good luck!

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

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