Joinery for a Ruhlmann style desk?

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Forum topic by Damien133 posted 10-14-2013 10:35 AM 1265 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5 posts in 1709 days

10-14-2013 10:35 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Hi everyone,
Ive been wanting to attempt to more or less copy an Emile Ruhlmann desk (image attached) i saw at an exhibition a few years ago for a while now, though i’ve been having a bit of difficulty figuring out what the best way to attach the top to the base would be, taking into account any issues of wood movement.
I was wondering if anyone might like to offer their insights as to what your approach would be?

My thoughts were something along the lines of sliding dovetails, though i’ve already got a similar 1930’s desk at home constructed with them that has sagged over the course of its life, so i’m really looking for a way to overcome that potential issue with this new desk.
The plan thus far is to build it in either macassar ebony with paulownia drawer linings, or else african blackwood, again with paulownia in the drawers.

8 replies so far

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8 posts in 1673 days

#1 posted 10-25-2013 11:21 PM

Best way I’ve found to attach tops like this are figure 8 fasteners. They can be secured a bit loose so the wood can move. If you want a more traditional way, you can use shop-made cleats with tounges that slide along a groove in the top (Norm on Yankee Workshop used these a lot).

View Loren's profile


10377 posts in 3643 days

#2 posted 10-25-2013 11:43 PM

I’m pretty sure the original is veneered. Veneering reduces wood
movement. If you do it with a solid top, how are you going
to do the roundover on the ends? Painted end grain?

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5 posts in 1709 days

#3 posted 10-26-2013 09:14 AM

Thanks Woodshingle, i’ll look into the more traditional method to see how it works
@Loren, i’d say the same thing too as far as it being veneered since so much of ruhlmann’s furniture was, though on the second note, as to how i was planning on doing the roundover, i was thinking of modifying the design a little to have no ivory/ebony banding, and instead setting the top into a narrow frame as a panel…i’m not sure whether it’d work well though?


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10377 posts in 3643 days

#4 posted 10-26-2013 05:56 PM

I would veneer it. I won’t say you can totally ignore wood movement
with veneering because I haven’t done enough of it to have tested
the limits, but I believe that if you use a plywood or mdf substrate
and veneer that top, you’ll be able to ignore wood movement -
considering the piece is not that big. Veneering also allows you to
make a mitered roundover around the veneered panel and I’ll
bet, again, that in a piece this size the corners will not open up.

I keep a hygrometer in the shop and while it isn’t often relevant
in making furniture, I pay attention to humidity when bracing
guitar tops which can split open or bulge excessively if the
bracing is done on the wrong day.

Wood moves a tiny amount lengthwise and I think veneered
panels move a little, but it’s consistent and small enough that
it can usually be ignored in furniture scale work.

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2964 days

#5 posted 10-26-2013 08:17 PM

No matter what substrate you use for veneering, apply veneer to both sides (you probably know that already)

View Damien133's profile


5 posts in 1709 days

#6 posted 10-28-2013 10:54 AM

Hi everyone, thanks so much for the input,
Since i’ve already got a few decent sized african blackwood slabs laying around, i was wondering what your opinions are on using home made thicker veneers cut from those compared to the usual paper thin stuff available commercially? (since i’ve not found any african blackwood veneers available online).

I was planning on using it in about 1mm thick slices (finished thickness)...can anyone foresee any issues with that?

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5 posts in 1709 days

#7 posted 10-28-2013 05:51 PM

well…between 1 and 3mm thick, though i’d prefer to stick to the thicker end of that scale if its possible

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2771 days

#8 posted 10-28-2013 06:03 PM

The true test is after about 5 years without the air conditioning – hot and humid summers. If it lives, you did a real good job.

Keep your veneers 1/8” or less, use a solid piece, rounded over on the edges, with a 1/2” – 3/8” plywood base and use tong and groove to hold the molding using pins instead of glue, it gives you room for movement.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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