A campaign desk is a nomadic writing table, popularized by officers of the British Empire in the colonial-minded 1800s. Wealthy officers, who often bought their commissions from the Crown (as opposed to actually training as soldiers), furnished their field tents with teak or mahogany chests, cots, and desks. Many designs featured clever friction fittings or break-down leg systems to keep the officer's possessions (and person) up off of the damp ground. A style evolved, heavy on brass and canvas fixtures, that has now become a commercialized "look" without any of the original core functionality.
This modern take on the campaign desk restores the portability and simplicity of the original campaign furniture. It also copies a structural strategy used by many early campaign desks. Instead of using an apron (a perimeter run of boards under a table to stiffen the top), desks were built as boxes that both held the writing supplies and acted as a self-contained structural unit. The sawhorses are a leaner, meaner update on the usual slapped-together shop workhorses, made from salvaged lumber. Offset legs make for simple overlay joinery and allow the finished units to nestle neatly together.
The result is an expansive, super-sleek command center for the modern knowledge worker. There's plenty of space for a king-sized monitor, scanner, secondary laptop, and all the other accessories of digital life.
Depending on the grade of plywood you choose, this whole desk can be made for about $50.
You will need these tools:
- Tape measure
- Table saw with dado blade set
- Cross cut sled
- Circular saw
- Chop saw
- Router or router table (optional)
- Orbital sander
You will need these materials:
- 1 3/4" by 4x8 sheet of plywood, birch preferred
- Roughly 9' of reclaimed 2x4 material
- Wood glue
- Brushing lacquer, polyurethane, or finish of your choice
- Furniture wax
The main desk is made up of just four parts: the surface, two identical sides, and a back.
Start by cutting the surface. Use a circular saw and a clamped straightedge to cut it down to 66" long. Run the remaining piece through the table saw lengthwise to rip it to 28". The resultant piece should be 66" by 28".
The long offcut should be 20" x 66". Rip it half to 10" wide by 66" long. Set one piece aside for the back of the desk. Swap out the table saw blade for a dado set.
For the sides, use a crosscut sled and a dado sled to make a 1-5/8"-wide, 3/8"-deep dado down the center (at 33") of the remaining 66" x 10" offcut. Then cut in a 3/4"-wide, dado 4" up from one of the long sides of both pieces. All of the dados will interlock to make strong corners and stiffen the desk surface without the use of a more traditional apron.
Swap the dado set back in. Use a crosscut sled to cut the side piece in half (at 33"), right down the center of the short dado. Measure 10" from one end, and 5-3/4" up from the other (see picture for notes). Connect the marks, Cut the taper on the bandsaw. Made sure you make the sides as mirror images of one another.
I put in a shelf in one corner for a scanner. This is optional; if you want to do it, cut a 3/4" piece of leftover stock to 12" x 4" and two 1/2" pieces at 12" x 16" and 12" x 15-1/4".