Building a Modern Secretary Desk




Introduction: Building a Modern Secretary Desk

About: Weekly how-to project videos about #woodworking, metalworking, and more. #Maker. Created by Johnny Brooke.

In this Instructable, I'll show you how I built this custom organ cabinet that would also make an awesome modern secretary desk. This piece challenged me at every turn, but I am incredibly happy with the final result. Are there mistakes? Yes, plenty of them, but I am really proud of it.

Don't miss the build video above for a lot more details!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials and Tools

For this build, I used quite a few tools. If you buy pre-milled Walnut, you could get rid of a lot of them. This project does require a pretty well equipped wood shop.

Tool Used:

For materials, you'll need roughly 35 board feet of Walnut and two 2' x 4' sheets of Walnut veneer plywood, plus the finish of your choice.

Step 2: Mill Your Lumber for the Base

I started with rough Walnut and needed to glue up my 4/4 (or 3/4" final thickness) stock into 8/4 (or 1.5" final thickness) stock. This is super tool intensive and also very labor intensive. If you don't have a planer, jointer, and table saw, you can buy lumber already milled from your lumber dealer.

After ripping a straight line on one edge in the first shot, I break down the rough boards into more manageable chucks based on the pieces.

I skip plane the pieces to get rid of most of the rough surface. Damn, Walnut is sexy.

Still milling.... The fourth photo is at the jointer, flattening one face before gluing up my pieces to get the thicker stock.

And last, gluing up... Again, I didn't want to have to buy 8/4 stock since I had 4/4 stock on hand, so all of these steps are basically optional if you just buy 8/4 stock to start with .

Step 3: Cut Your Base Pieces to Size

I used the table saw and miter saw to get my pieces down to their final size.

Step 4: Cut Your Joinery for the Base

I used a Festool Domino XL (an unbelievably expensive but awesome tool) for this. Traditional mortise and tenon joinery will work just as well, and you can cut them with a table saw or even hand tools.

Step 5: Test Fit and Roundover Edges of Base

It is amazing how much of a difference rounding over the edges makes. I used a ⅜" roundover bit for this, and it really helps to blend the transitions between the pieces.

Step 6: Assemble Base

I started by assembling the legs with glue and Dominos, but if you used mortise and tenon joints, you'd just glue them together here. Once the legs were assembled, I added the long center stretchers.

Step 7: Make Floating Stretchers

The top cabinet rests on "floating" stretchers. To give the cabinet the floating effect, I needed to cut away part of the end of the stretchers so that they can't be seen. This was done on the drill press.

Step 8: Attach Floating Stretchers to Base

You can see the little cutouts on the stretchers that were made at the drill press. I attached the stretchers to the base using pocket screws. Make sure they are extremely even and level (there are four stretchers). Otherwise, the top cabinet won't be level. That concludes Part 1, assembling the base. Let's move onto Part 2, assembling the cabinet.

Step 9: Assemble Side Panels

The side panels of the cabinet are 11" wide, wider than any Walnut I had on hand, so I needed to glue two pieces into a panel.

Step 10: Cut Top to Size

The top of the cabinet is ~9" deep by 48" wide. I flattened a piece of Walnut then cut it to size.

Step 11: Cut Joinery for the Top and Side Panels

I decided to use finger joints/box joints to assemble the top and side panels. I cut these using a jig on my table saw, something you can easily DIY. Finger joints are incredibly strong and look cool, to boot.

Step 12: Cut Curves Into Side Panels

I traced a curve on the side of one of the panels, rough cut it at the bandsaw, then sanded it smooth. I then traced the curve onto the other side panel, rough cut it at the bandsaw, then attached it to the other side panel.

Next, I used a flush trim bit at the router table to flush up the two side panels. Now they're perfect replicas!

Step 13: Assemble Top Cabinet

I cut the bottom and back to size from Walnut veneer plywood, added edge banding to the front and back edges of the bottom, drilled pocket holes into the bottom and back, and then started assembling the cabinet. I attached the bottom to the back using 1 ¼" course pocket screws, then attached the bottom & back to the sides using 1 ¼" fine pocket screws. Fine pocket screws are meant for using with hardwoods like Walnut.

Continuing assembly, I added glue to the fingers and then installed the top. Since the fingers protrude past the surface of the sides and top, you can't just clamp right at the corners. You instead need to position your clamps next to the corners.

Step 14: Flush Up Finger Joints, Roundover Edges, and Route Groove for Music Stand (optional)

I used a flush trim bit to flush up the protruding fingers. Next, I used a ⅜" radius roundover bit (the same one from the base) to roundover the edges of the cabinet. I also routed the groove for the music stand. Obviously, this is an optional step.

Step 15: Apply Finish!

Prior to finishing, I sanded everything up to 180 grit. I used Waterlox for my finish. It looks really, really nice on Walnut. I applied three total coats, sanding with 320 grit sandpaper before the final coat.

Step 16: Attach Top to Base

The last step is to attach the top to the base using pocket screws from underneath, through the floating stretchers.

Step 17: Enjoy Your Finished Piece

To hear the organ being played, check the build video :

I just love the look of Walnut, I am beyond happy with how it turned out. It was also a HUGE relief when the keyboard and footboard fit perfectly. Lots and lots of planning went into making that happen.

If you'd like to see more of my projects, check out my website at I also post a lot of in-progress photos to my Instagram account, @craftedworkshop. Thanks!

Be the First to Share


    • Pocket-Sized Speed Challenge

      Pocket-Sized Speed Challenge
    • Metalworking Contest

      Metalworking Contest
    • Maps Challenge

      Maps Challenge

    2 Discussions

    Adam Gabbert
    Adam Gabbert

    3 years ago

    This is a beautiful, piece of art. I really enjoyed watching and reading about it.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you so much!