In this instructable I'll show you my first woodworking project, a solid beech twin corner desk which I made to measure for my study.
My partner and I are lucky enough to be able to work from home quite frequently, but we only had one (cheap) ikea desk to work on. Determined to spend less time with my co-workers in the office and more time with my wife - I started to design and build a suitable two-person workspace to wrap around two walls of our study. A year of evenings and weekends later, this is the result.
If you're thinking about starting your first woodworking project, I hope you find some inspiration in this instructable. I managed to get from idea to finished product with only a few cheap tools, no formal training (youtube was my friend) and 52 weekends of hard graft. Enjoy!
Step 1: Planning
If your starting your first woodworking project, or your also about to start building a desk. Invest as much time as you can spare planning your project, you'll appreciate it later.
I spend about 3 months planning before I even bought a power tool. I watched hours of youtube videos, if you're new to woodworking Steve Ramsey's woodworking basics are particularly good (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2Y7G15DrVt5hGupHwu78-WZIcXpziUJ-).
I drew diagram after diagram, measured and re-measured and iterated my design until I was happy with it. I'd recommend creating a drawing or 3D model of your chosen design. I made a simple model in Sketchup so I could view the desk from different vantage points and refine the design - remember changing the 3D model is free, changing the real world article is a little more difficult (and costly). It also serves as a great communication tool - in your enthusiasm you'll want to articulate your design to friends and significant others in pictures rather than words.
I was pretty strapped for cash (we had just sunk all our money into buying our first home) so I spent hours searching for the cheapest source of materials - including a solid beech kitchen worktop which I planned to cut to shape. (if you're in the UK - www.worktop-express.co.uk were fantastic)
I planned every cut and worked out the shape and size of each piece of wood only then did I started shopping. Finally, be sure to break your project into smaller tasks, it's an easy way to measure progress and keep motivated. I split this project into 3 tasks:
1) Build a bookcase
2) Build the frame
3) Build the worktop
It might seem like a lot of planning, but when you're halfway through the project and running out of steam, it's a great motivator to see how little (or how much) is left.
Step 2: Tools and Wood Required
I bought the minimum possible and the cheapest possible for this woodworking project - below is a list of all that's needed.
- A 1500W router
- A selection of TCT router bits
- A cheap second-hand power drill (which broke midway through the project)
- A replacement, more expensive power drill (not pictured)
- A good quality handsaw
- A set square, measuring equipment, pencils etc.
- A plane (optional)
- Finally personal protective equipment - a set of saftey glasses, dust mask and ear defenders are essential. You're unlikely to enjoy your finished desk if you're blind, coughing and deaf!
The size/shape of wood you'll need is dependant on the size of your room/desk design, I bought the following.
- A solid beech worktop which I cut into smaller peices to build the desk from www.worktop-express.co.uk - 4m x 1m was reasonably priced at about ~£160
- I bought the remainder of the wood from Wickes (a hardware shop) using a selection of 12mm MDF and whitewood bars - I think I spend ~£100 in total at Wickes.
Step 3: Build the Bookcase
My first step into woodworking was to build a small bookcase with a corner unit. I chose to do this first because MDF was cheap and easy to replace if I made mistakes...
...and I made many, many classic woodworking mistakes. I don't think I can offer any advice to novice woodworkers that will avoid you making mistakes. My only advice is to embrace your mistakes, plan for them and spend time understanding the reason you made them (google and youtube are your friend). You'll learn much faster if you try and fail.
I forgot to account for the thickness of the router bit, so made every part 12mm too small on every dimension. I moved the router bit too quickly through the MDF and caused it to splinter. I forgot to adequately support the workpiece and watched in despair as my near-perfect cuts fell to the floor, tearing along the cut, my ruined workpiece dangling on a few thin threads of MDF.
Thoroughly demoralised after many failed attempts - I finally mastered cutting MDF with a router, I moved onto my next problem - how to cut a curve using a router. For this I improvised a homemade radius tool - using one of the (many) offcuts of wood. I attached it to the base of the router and used a nail to punch holes a known distance from the router bit. It's a really effective tool and I've used it in many subsequent woodworking projects over the last two years!
I'm particularly proud of the finished product, a humble curved bookcase, my first partially-completed woodworking project. When you get to this stage of your project have no shame in showing and telling everyone. I told my parents, my friends, my co-workers and they were kind enough to pretend to listen. It served as great motivation for the remainder of the project. From that point on I was continually asked how the project was going, and I was compelled to keep up the progress to give them frequent updates (even in the times I'd rather stop and do something else).
Step 4: Build the Subframe
High on compliments and praise for completing my first milestone in the project - I started to build the subframe for the desk.
I elected to buy an Ikea Alex chest of drawers, rather than build from scratch. I know it's cheating but I knew the limit of my very-limited ability - drawers were a little too complex for me at that stage. I made a few minor modifications to the Alex drawers to accommodate the backboards and support the subframe.
It is important at the design stage to consider how you are going to support the weight of your desk. My 30kg+ solid beech desktop is supported at four points - by the bookcase, by a strut screwed to the wall, by the chest of drawers and by a solid leg. I used backboards under the unsupported regions of the desk (where your legs go) and whitewood batons under the thinner, corner section of the desk. These terminated at the strut screwed to the wall.
I cut a scrap piece of MDF to the shape and size of a beech support, cut notches in the bookcase and trial assembled the frame. This took two attempts and I'm grateful to have first made it from MDF. Where possible I'd recommend practicing on a scrap piece of wood before attempting new types of cut.
I reveled in my creation, staring and imagining the completed desk - much to my wife's bemusement.
Step 5: Cut the Desk Top
Now starts the expensive bit. Chopping up a pricey, heavy 27mm thick piece of solid beech worktop. It was so heavy, two men had to deliver it to my garage and I had to build supports between the saw-horses to stop it from bowing under it's own weight! I'd advise planning ahead - if you're going to work on a large piece of work, make sure you have a large workbench or be prepared to build a temporary workbench from scrap wood.
Finally in the garage I began to follow the plan, cutting it into precise pieces. I was grateful I made all my router-cutting mistakes in MDF first - one mistaken cut and I would have had to replace the whole beech worktop (at considerable expense). I measured twice, cut once and divided the 4m x 1m behemoth into two sections of the curve.
I had planned to build the solid table leg by joining two smaller pieces, I chose to use dowels and woodglue to join them together. To my great surprise, dowel joints are incredibly simple:
- Ensure the mating faces are straight and square - I'd recommend using a plane for this
- Measure and mark matching hole locations on each piece
- Drill and fit dowels - I drilled holes 1mm larger than the dowels to allow for any drilling errors.Do
- First dry fit the pieces together to check they align
- Then lather each side in glue and clamp together for 24 hours.
- Finally, use a plane across the join to smooth out any step between the two pieces of wood.
Step 6: Test Fit and Oiling
Now the desk top is cut, it's time to add the finishing touches. This step of the process took me longer than cutting it into pieces.
I chose to join the two parts of desk top using kitchen worktop bolts. I used the router to carve three grooves to fit the compression worktop bolts. Thankfully they would sit below the desk, so I didn't spend too much time ensure they were perfect.
I also chose to drill two holes for cable management - this is when I found the limit of my cheap second-hand drill. I used a hole saw to cut the holes - if you do the same make sure you drill a pilot hole to centre the hole saw. My drill ran out of power 2mm into the cut, the drill stalled and wouldn't move any further. The holesaw was firmly stick into the wood. Determined to continue I improvised and used a breaker bar and lambda sensor socket wedged ontop of the holesaw to cut the hole by hand. Rocking it back and forth, it took an hour and a half of backbreaking, repetitive work to break through the remaining 25mm to the other side. Lesson learnt: power tools are always better than hand tools.
I then enlisted the help of a friend and carried the part-finished work top into the study to a test fit. Before oiling, painting or finishing a piece of wood - always test fit. I test fitted the solid desk leg first, then fitted two pieces of the worktop. I was relieved to see it fitted perfectly first time!
Finally I finished the wood with oil. I would recommend finishing a solid wood desk top with danish oil. It produces a wonderful shine but retains the grainy feel of the wood under your hands. Excuse the innuendo but it is a pleasure to run your hands over danish-oiled wood :P.
Step 7: Final Assembly
This final step was my favourite - after moving the oiled desk top into position I secured it to every support. In your desk project don't rely on the weight of the desk top to fit it to position, screw it in place. The wood will warp over time, securing it to the sub-frame may help prevent this.
I connected the two pieces of the desk top using worktop bolts. Worktop bolts fit into grooves on the underside of the desk and form a strong compression joint between the two faces. They can be fitted with only a spanner and are a very cost effective way of temporarily connecting two pieces of wood. A tip for worktop bolts - clamp a scrap piece of wood over the joint before tightening the worktop bolts, this will ensure the two pieces of wood are at the same level.
A final note, at this point I invested in a good drill and used an expensive, but effective bosch hole saw to power through the wood to create a hole for cable routing. Lesson learnt: buy good quality, branded power tools.
Step 8: Step 7: Enjoy
On a cold evening in late November 2016, about a year after I started the project, I finished my desk. A desk I have enjoyed sitting at almost every day since I built it - it has served me well over the last 18 months, and I hope will serve me well for many years to come.
I thoroughly enjoyed building my desk - now hooked on woodworking I have furthered my woodworking skills by building a cabinet, bookshelf, picture frames and now a floating, curved shelf - perhaps a subject for an instructable another day.
I hope this instructable inspires you to start your own woodworking project and provides you some tips for when you do.
Thanks for reading,