Do I need extra support on the legs of a writing desk?

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Forum topic by adamclyde posted 05-20-2013 05:06 PM 998 views 1 time favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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30 posts in 1001 days

05-20-2013 05:06 PM

I’m in the final planning stages of a desk I’m making for my son. I posted the drawings and plans here as the first of a series of blog posts. I’ve included the drawing below as well.

As you can see in the drawing, I am thinking of connecting three sides of the legs with stretchers for extra support against racking. Then I realized that these are tapered legs, and I’m not yet very good at mortise and tenon joints to begin with. So having a mortise and tenon fit well half way down a tapered leg might be difficult.

So my question is, would you include the stretchers? Are they necessary for strength? Or would it be strong enough to go it alone? For reference, the distance from between the bottom of the leg to the bottom of the apron is about 24 inches, and the apron will be connected to the legs up top by mortise and tenon joints. Total height is 31 inches. The width of the desk is 30 inches and it’s about 20 inches deep.

What would you do?

11 replies so far

View muleskinner's profile


746 posts in 1525 days

#1 posted 05-20-2013 05:14 PM

I’d use the stretchers.

-- Visualize whirled peas

View ChrisK's profile


1415 posts in 2170 days

#2 posted 05-20-2013 05:23 PM

The stretchers will make the legs stiffer. However, if the legs are big enough, say 2-1/2 square at the tops and apron is firmly secured to the leg tops, you will be fine.

-- Chris K

View adamclyde's profile


30 posts in 1001 days

#3 posted 05-20-2013 05:33 PM

ChrisK, the legs are only 1-3/4 at the top. Hmm. Looks like I should do the stretchers. I want this to last a generation, so I’m probably best figuring out how to lay out good mortises and tenons on a tapered leg. I figured I would bore out the mortise before I taper them. Then after the legs are tapered, find the angle of the taper with a bevel guide and use that to lay out the shoulders?

View muleskinner's profile


746 posts in 1525 days

#4 posted 05-20-2013 05:47 PM

For an adult desk you may not need the stretchers. For a 5 year old boy it will no doubt at some point serve as more than a desk; the prow of a ship or the drivers’ seat of a stagecoach perhaps. Anyway, the stretchers are a good way to over-build without looking over-built.

-- Visualize whirled peas

View bondogaposis's profile


3448 posts in 1440 days

#5 posted 05-20-2013 06:43 PM

I would keep the stretchers but shorten up the taper on the legs so that it begins just below the stretchers.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View oldnovice's profile


4654 posts in 2456 days

#6 posted 05-20-2013 11:00 PM

Keep the stretchers, reduce the taper .... hey is there an echo in here?

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View richardwootton's profile


1682 posts in 1044 days

#7 posted 05-21-2013 01:58 AM

Is there a taper on all 4 sides, or do you have the taper facing the inside as opposed to the outside? If you simply taper the two outside faces of the legs then you will have the square faces facing the stretchers making the M and T joinery much less complicated.

-- Richard, Hot Springs, Ar -- Galoot In Training

View Gary's profile


8384 posts in 2521 days

#8 posted 05-21-2013 02:22 AM

Just my 2 pennies here…I think you should do the same on scrap wood and practice that particular M&T with the angle. It will look great and you will have learned a new skill.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View adamclyde's profile


30 posts in 1001 days

#9 posted 05-21-2013 03:44 AM

Gary, I think that’s exactly what I’ll do. Great idea. No sure why I hadn’t thought of it… the mortise is easy, since I’ll cut out the mortise before it’s tapered. Then I’ll practice on scrap for the stretcher and tenon and use that as a template. Perfect. I like that a little better than starting the taper below the stretcher as that would significantly change the look of the desk.

richardwootton – the tapers are only on two sides, but they will be facing inward, so the square edges will be outside, hence the difficulty in laying out the tenons properly. Having the legs taper outside in would give it a different look than I’m going for, I think.

Folks, thanks for all the help and advice!

View Gary's profile


8384 posts in 2521 days

#10 posted 05-21-2013 04:29 AM

One more little tip. Make sure your mortis doesn’t end up too shallow when you cut the taper

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View Buckethead's profile


3121 posts in 957 days

#11 posted 05-21-2013 09:42 AM

What Gary said. Meet the challenge head on. Stay with your design. Curse while you build. Revel in your success.

-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

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