Introduction: Antique-Inspired Drawing Table W/ Built-In Lightbox

I wanted a bigger, perhaps even fancier, drawing table than what I've been using for a few years; and I had a pile of wood left over from other projects, so! I'm really pleased with how it turned out.

The instructions here are different from what I did in a couple places, because I realized after the fact a better/more efficient/etc way of doing it.

Hi-Res Blueprint

What You Need
Wood: I used mostly mahogany and poplar; but the pegs are oak dowels, the roll guard (not the real term, but I don't know what it's actually called) is pine; the lightbox, pivot plates and angle rings are plywood (obviously would be fancier with real wood); the bottom of the lightbox is pressboard
Glass or Plastic Sheet: 24x36" piece; glass is cheaper, but plastic--plexiglass, acrylic, etc--would be sturdier; if you do go plexiglass, you'll need a thicker piece than with glass, as it's not as stiff, and so will need to route out more of the top to make it flush
Light(s): I used a set of under-cabinet lights; might get more even illumination with a flourescent bar-type light
Spray-On Glass Frost: in addition to diffusing the light in the lightbox, this also gives the glass a decent enough texture to keep stuff from sliding around on the desk
Stain 1: a light color; this will be your base; I went with a "sunbleached" shade; you just need a small can of this and your other stain color
Stain: a darker color; I went with a burgandy; again, just need a small can
Shellac: I used an amber shellac, as it imparts a warm, aged look to the wood; you could substitute lacquer or polyurethane; you'll need enough for at least 2 coats, more if using a more porous wood (mahogany, oak, etc.) and wanting a very smooth finish
12 Small L-Braces: these are used to strengthen the pivot plates and angle rings
2 Wooden Knobs: these will be fixed to the angle rings' pegs
2 Small Chains, 6" each: these are fixed to the pivot plates' pegs
Wood Glue

Step 1: Cut Out Pieces

4 legs (part A); 36x4 to 10x1"
4 feet (part B); 15x2x1"
2 leg supports (part C); 10x1.5x1"

2 desktop length pieces (part D); 42x3x1"
2 desktop width pieces (part E); 20x6x1"
1 slide bar (part N); 38x1/2x1/4"
2 lightbox length walls (part G); 30x3x1"
2 lightbox width walls (part F); 21x3x1"
1 lightbox bottom (part I); 30x21x1/4"

1 leg bracer beam (part L); 40x3x1"
2 angle rings (part J); 20x10x1/2"
2 pivot plates (part K); 3x1.5x1/2"
4 pegs (part M); 3x5/8" 

Use your preferred method to cut these out, obviously. I used a jig saw to rip the leg bits, then a bandsaw to clean them up. Circular saw for the lightbox and top pieces. Bandsaw for pegs and pivot plates.

For the angle rings, I used a jigsaw to rip them, then a belt sander and dremel to even them out. I freehanded them, so they're not perfect--I was going for an antique look, so didn't want to use a circle guide. You'll obviously get smoother curves if you do.

Step 2: Assemble Top Pieces

Peg Holes
Clamp pivot plates together and drill the peg hole through each. Then clamp the angle rings together and drill the peg holes; make sure you have 1 dead-center so you can make the top level; I spaced the holes at 1.5" apart (see picture of rings on previous step).

Glue and clamp both part Es to one part D; once dried, glue and clamp the resulting piece to the remaining part D. Clean up the joins with sandpaper.

Glue and screw part Fs to part Gs to form a box. Screw the bottom to the box, but then remove it for now.

Rout & Drill
On the top, route a 36x24" (plus a hair in either direction) depression for the glass; if desired, route a pencil-holder depression; I also, using a jigsaw, cut a slot to hold a t-square. Then drill pilot holes for attaching the lightbox frame, pivot plates, and angle rings.

Glue and nail the roll guard to the front of the top, centered and the top edge aligned with the edge of the glass depression.

On the lightbox frame, drill holes for the lights' power cable & switch.

Glue and screw the lightbox frame to the top. Then attach the pivot plates and angle rings using the L-braces.

Sand the whole thing with 80 grit sandpaper to clean up any burrs, round the edges a bit, etc.

Step 3: Assemble the Legs

Drill & Route
Clamp 2 sets of 2 piece As; drill the peg holes, as well as pilot holes for the chain eyelets.

On the facing sides of each piece of each set, route a depression 12" long and 1/3" deep.

Glue and clamp 2 each of piece A, and 2 each of piece B; once dry, clean up joins.

Use a bandsaw to rough-cut the bevels on the front of each foot; then clean up with a belt sander. Drill pilot holes on the bottom of each foot for attaching the legs.

Glue and screw the legs to the feet; the extended part of each leg should be on the same side of the foot as the bevel; position it forward enough to leave room room for the leg support.

Glue a leg support to the back side of each combined leg.

Use 80 grit sandpaper to clean up each leg.

If adding a knob-end to the pegs, do so now.

Step 4: Test Assembly

Fit the top onto the legs, sliding the angle rings & pivot plate on each side into the slot on each leg; insert the pegs to keep it from moving.

Clamp the support beam (part L) about 4" above the leg supports. Drill pilot holes and remove clamps; if needed, trim the support beam so that the ends are flush with the outside face of the leg. Apply glue and screw in the support beam. Use 80 grit sandpaper to clean it up.

Step 5: Optional Step

If you want to make the desk more antique-looking, you need to add some mileage to the wood. This can be done by applying gouges (flat-head screwdriver), scratches (knife), and dents (hitting it with things). This will add variance to the stain absorption, as well as add some character.

Step 6: Stain

Before staining, separate the top and legs sections.

First Coat
The first application of stain is your base color, the lighter shade. Brush it on, let it rest for a moment--long enough to absorb a bit, but not long enough to dry--and then scrub it off using a soft cloth (t-shirt or similar).

Second Coat
This is the darker shade; same application process as the 1st shade.

Fancy It Up
Selectively sand back sections of the wood; not too much, you don't want to go all the way through to the bare wood, just lighten patches of the stain.

Use a toothbrush to apply ink splatter; you want this to mostly be small splotches, but in some areas apply large drops, then rub them in using a soft cloth with a bit of the darker stain on it. (See the image to see how the result of this should look.)

Once staining is complete, sand the whole thing with high-grit sandpaper (200 or higher).

Step 7: Finish

Apply a coat of shellac (or the clear coat of your choice). Once dry, lightly sand with high-grit sandpaper. Then apply a second coat. You want thin coats here; old-school furniture didn't typically have very thick, glossy finish.

Step 8: Install Lights & Glass

Reattach the lightbox bottom.

Install your light fixture(s); run the cable to the switch; staple all of the internal cables down so they don't slide around when you angle the top.

Spray both sides of the glass with the glass frosting. You want to get this as heavy as possible, to diffuse the light when in use.

Once that's done, slide it into the depression on the desktop.

Step 9: Final Assembly

(I did this after taking the pictures, so it's not shown.) Screw an eyelet into each leg, and another into each pivot plate peg; attach each with a chain. (This is almost entirely decorative, as you probably won't be pulling those pegs out much; originally I'd intended the chains to be attached to the angle rings' pegs, but I liked the knob look better.)

Now, put it all together, and you've got yourself a fancy new drawing table!

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