Intro: Reproduction of a Small Desk From Texas
I spent a few weeks dismantling a house in Texas south of Austin this past November. A friend I made there found a nice little desk. We dismantled it so she could fit it in her car, and we cut parts for a second slightly larger copy. So there are two little desks waiting to be built in Texas with no instructions. I thought I might like to have one for myself so when I got home to Pennsylvania I made this one based on the photos I took of the original. It's not totally done -- I'll probably paint it and add lots of little moldings, and make other modifications. But it's functional... my laptop is sitting on it as I write this! :)
Step 1: Original Desk, and Materials for My Reproduction
Here are two photos of the original desk. It's mostly made of 3/4" thick softwood. My reproduction will be made from scrap. The two sides are from some beadboard wainscoting, the top is the door from a large old cabinet, the decorative wavy legs are from an old brassworks pallet, there's some plywood in there, and old laths, glue, and 1-1/4" 18ga brad nails. My little nail gun was made this whole crazy thing work.
Step 2: Sides, Making the Box
The old beadboard needed to be taken apart and nailed back together with new lath ties on the back. Make notches to fit two lath ties, and one large horizontal tie along the top of the back of the desk. Nailed together, we have a fairly delicate carcase!
Step 3: Make Wavy Legs
Draw a reasonable wavy line and cut out the decorative leg on a bandsaw or with a jigsaw. If you cut conservatively, the "waste" side can be used for the rear legs. Mirror for left and right side. The blade left a pretty rough edge for me on these, I'd recommend sanding before attaching.
I didn't like how the rear legs looked at the bottom where I cut them short to allow for this desk being pushed up against a wall with base molding, so later I modified the ends with some "decorative" sheet metal. I cut open a tin can, hammered it relatively flat, cut out the general shape I wanted, hammered the smaller bit of metal even flatter, draw the final shape and cut it. Attached with some tiny nails. Now from the front, for anyone who doesn't look too close, it completes the rear leg's wavy form visually, while still leaving space for a base molding.
(I love tin can patches on old furniture and floors, was pretty happy I had an excuse to work these into this desk!)
Step 4: Drawer Zone and Top Bracing
The face of this desk, with a large rectangular hole for the drawer and a decorative bottom, is pieced together from a strangely cut 3/4" scrap of 5-ply (nailed to back of front legs), and the horizontal lath top tie from earlier. I carved out mortises in the back panel of the desk to accept the drawer rail bottoms (two lengths of lath) and nailed the drawer rail sides from the front and back faces of the desk. I had a bunch of 2x triangles in the scrap pile, and glued and nailed those into the top corners of the desk body -- I'll eventually screw the desk top into those braces from above. I set out some bits of scrap for the drawer, and made the drawer carcase by gluing and nailing everything together (had little 3/4" brads for the 3/16" thick bottom panel). The front face of the drawer will get cut later and attached to the front of the drawer tray you see here. Not the most elegant way to build a drawer but with enough wax on the rails it should slide just fine. I made the drawer a bit undersize (12.25" deep rather than maximum depth of 16.5"), so I whittled two pegs to use as stops on the drawer rail sides, lest the drawer get pushed into the desk too far.
Step 5: Desk Top With Extend-o Wing
The top is this old cabinet door. It had some cool hardware on it. I cut the slab to length, and the leftover bit was big enough to make a good desktop extension wing on one side of the desk. Reused the two hinges from this scrap wood to attach the wing. Not shown: I had to redo the perpendicular ties on the back of this tongue-and-groove cabinet door slab with lots of nails and glue. Won't need to think about that sort of thing if you make this out of plywood.
With the hinges on the right side of the desk top, screwed the top down into the triangular carcase braces shown previously. Fine furniture builders would use some other method of attaching the table top less conspicuously from underneath, but with this kind of scrapwood creation, I like seeing the nail and screw heads.
Step 6: Notch the Bottoms of the Sides
This desk only needs four points to bear on, so I cut these notches from the bottom of both side panels. I really like rough angular cuts, and a reciprocating saw with a metal-cutting blade is perfect for this sort of thing.
Step 7: Random Shots of Details
Some small surgical interventions went into getting the drawer rails on a level plane. I like when I mess something up, have the space to fix it, and the scar tissue leads to something more beautiful.
The side wing is attached with hinges but I was losing motivation and didn't have the brain capacity to invent a proper support mechanism for it, so I just carved a notch in the side panel and used this length of lath as a removable support. Good enough to hold books and laptop, not for sitting on!
Step 8: Final Shots With No Wing
Here you can see the front plate that I ended up attaching to that shallow drawer tray from earlier. Notched the "handle" with a sawzall and knife.
Step 9: Final Product With the Wing Attached
Thanks for looking through this build! The original had lots of little 3/4" wide, 1/4" thick strips of screen door molding on it, which are missing here, but I'll probably add them some day. I really want to paint this desk but I always have trouble with this step. Maybe I'll go with the caribbean blue you can see in the background (the desk won't live in this room I don't think), or maybe a grass green color I've used on other things. Prime it, then fill all the gaps with acrylic caulk and maybe some mardi gras beads or something else, and add more layers of paint.
Built with love for somebody somewhere. <3