Introduction: Mid Century Modern Desk


My kids needed a desk for their computer. I didn't waste time going to a store to see if they had something I would like for a reasonable price. I know that doesn't exist these days. Instead, I ran to my local lumber supplier and picked out roughly $175 worth of wood. This is what I came up with.

If you just want to see the desk come to life in roughly 13 minutes, just watch the video!

Step 1: Lumber Prep and Panel Glue Up

The lumber I got was kiln dried and stored inside so the warping and twisting was minimal. They were also very close to the humidity of my shop. A few shallow passes on my jointer were all they needed to be perfectly true. Then it was on to the planer to make the opposite side parallel and bring the boards to final thickness. I then trimmed the boards down on the table saw to final dimension.

I set the boards up on my panel clamps and applied glue to the sides.

I laid them flat and clamped them together. To ensure the panels stayed flat I used some 2x4 cauls with packing tape on the inside so they don't get stuck when the glue dries. I scraped off the dried glue and sanded the boards with 120, 180, 220 grit sandpaper.

Using a table saw sled I cut the panels down to the same length and then cut a piece roughly 5 inches off of each panel. These short pieces will become the sides of the tops and will match the grain patterns of the top and bottom.

Step 2: Case Construction With Dovetails

I clamped the long panels in my Moxon vise and laid out my dovetail pattern with a compass. The easiest way I have found to hand cut dovetails is with a high-quality jig. My go to has become the Katz-Moses Magnetic Dovetail Jig. Not only is it a great tool, but it's made by a great guy. Support the little guy and pick one up!

I cut pins first with the dovetail jig and a pull saw then I used the band saw to make a couple cuts in the waste pieces so I could get in easier with my bow saw. After that, it was a lot of chisel clean up. I won't go into the finer points of dovetail joinery here since I'm not a master and there are so many great how to videos out there. I transferred the pin lines to the side panels so I could then cut tails. Basically the same procedure but you turn the jig 90 degrees. I once again went to the bandsaw to aid in waste removal before going back to chisel work. Chisel work is a great time to throw on a pair of headphones and catch up on some podcasts.

Once I'm able to fit the two halves together half way I know I'll be able to go the rest so I stop. You may loosen your dovetails if you fit them all the way too many times.

Step 3: Glue Up

I put blue painters tape on the insides of the pieces right along my cut lines. This makes removal of glue squeeze out incredibly easy. Don't wait for the glue to dry before removing them tape!

I applied Titebond 2 glue to all faces of the pin boards and tapped the tail boards in with a wooden mallet. My mallet has a thick piece of leather on one of the faces. If you're afraid of marring the surface, use a piece of soft wood as a buffer between your work piece and mallet.

Step 4: Legs

I prefer to make my legs from thinner pieces of wood glued together rather than using a solid piece. I find them less likely to warp, especially if they are quite thin. It's also a cheaper alternative if hardwood is expensive in your area.

I ripped 8 pieces of birdseye maple down on the table saw and glued 2 pieces together to make a single leg. It's easiest to do this all at once in a single clamp set up like you see in the picture.

The leg blanks were given a day to dry before being chucked up in the lathe so I could turn a slight taper into them. I got the blanks in the round using a roughing gouge and then switched to some nice sharp carbide tools for the finer work. I first set the thickness of the tops using a caliper, then set the bottom thickness using a simple go/no go block made out of scrap wood. Then it was just a matter of connecting the dots. Once I was happy with the shape I sanded the legs to 180 grit.

Using the table saw sled and a good clamp, I trimmed off the excess from the tops. The bottoms will be trimmed once they are installed.

Step 5: Drilling the Holes

Once the top case was dry and cleaned up I laid out my location for the leg holes using an angle finder and a ruler.

I set my drill press table to the appropriate angle and then placed the top case at an angle to the drill press table. This would result in a compound angle which is what I wanted for the legs.

I put a very thin drill bit in the chuck of the drill so I could line up the holes. Once they were lined up, I switched to a sharp Forstner bit. Typically it's a bad idea to try and drill a hole with a Forstner bit if the center point isn't contacting the work piece. I had to go very slow and be careful, but it is possible. I also used a sacrificial board on the inside of the case to prevent tear-out. Once the top hole was drilled I lowered the bit in the chuck a little and continued to drill through the other side of the case partially. I just barely had enough room to pull this off.

Step 6: Assembly and Finish

I glued the legs in place making sure to orientate the legs so the nicest grain patterns were showing at the front of the desk. I cleaned up the excess with a wet paper towel.

Once the glue was dry I cut the legs down to size using some scrap wood blocks and a flush cut saw.

I used a natural Danish oil made by Watco for the finish. This has to be the easiest finish on the market. You slop it on, let it soak and wipe it off. The oil gets into the pores of the wood and cures so you get a beautiful look, lots of protection and when you touch the wood, you are still feeling wood! I dislike most film finishes so this is perfect for me! For extra protection, you could buff the top with a high-quality wax.

Step 7: Fin

That's it! I like that this desk has a minimalist look to it, but the complex joinery techniques used bring it to the next level. If you like the basic looks of this desk but don't want to deal with the hassles that come along with the complexity, you could simplify it greatly by using rabbets to assemble the top and building a simple support structure for the legs so they don't need to go through the case at an angle.

Please take a moment to check out the build video. If you were at all confused by any of my instructions they should be made clear by watching the video. Thanks for following along, please vote for my projects if you can!

Also, don't forget to check out this jig!

GIFs Challenge 2017

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GIFs Challenge 2017

Box Contest 2017

Runner Up in the
Box Contest 2017