Rolltop Desk




About: I have been a woodworker for over 40 years, working in a cabinet shop to making custom interiors for executive jets. I have a full shop in my garage and have been making wood pens for the past 3 years. I am ...

This a Rolltop desk that I started in the summer of 1980, working on it during the weekends. I completed the base in the summer and then completed the top during winter break while going to college.

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Step 1: Dimensions of the Desk

I looked at a lot of desks before I got started and ended up with these dimensions.

Base desk is 52 1/4" wide x 30 1/4" Tall x 30" deep .. These dimensions include the desk surface.

The Top is 50 1/4" wide x 17 1/2" Tall x 28 3/4" deep.

Material is red oak, and took roughly 100 bf to make.

The Desk top surface is 3/4" red oak plywood with a 2" banding mitered in the corners.

Step 2: I Started With the Frame and Panels

In laying out the base frame I knew the desk would be heavy so I designed it to come apart in sections.

The base frame is 3 sections, 2 drawer sections and a inside back.

I used 10 / 32" screws to hold the drawer sections to the inside back 4 places on each side.

The inside back section has 8 brass threaded inserts, 4 on each side to accept the screws.

Once the frame was made, I cut 1/4" plywood and glued and nailed to the inside of the frame.

I routed the frame with a 3/4" round over bit and made solid oak panels to fit the openings. These were also routed.. At the time it was my way of getting frame and panel with out the shaper bits.

Step 3: Making of the Base Drawers

I wanted the based drawers to be solid wood, so I cut 3/4" oak to 1/2" thickness to create them.

I also wanted to use my dovetail jig, so I decided on 1/2" dovetails for the base drawers.

I also wanted to use drawer slides, and the all wood dovetail slides that I saw tended to bind.

I used 28" slides from Grant.. Today I would use a full extension guide.

Step 4: Adding Pull Out Surfaces on Each Side

I also like the idea of added work space that could be pushed in when not in use.

I created 2 pull outs that are on the top of the drawers much like a breadboard in the older kitchens.

I added a push latch to the pull outs as this was something I used at work doing interiors for executive jets.

Step 5: Drawer Pulls

In looking at different desks, I like one that had wood drawer pulls I liked.

I made these out of 3/4" Oak, they are 5 1/2" on the bottom, 4 3/4" on top and 1 3/4" high.

I routed them with a 3/4" router and then a 1/2" cove bit..

I made 1 extra that I have had since 1980.....

Step 6: Base Desk Complete

I stained the desk with American Walnut and a gloss varnish.

I left the drawers natural and added dividers and shown.

Step 7: I Then Set Out to Create the Top of the Desk

I wanted a lot of cubby's on the top and created it out of 1/2 Oak plywood with 1/4" banding.

I wish I had the tools I have today as I still remember having the 1/4" Oak "POP" on the saw and my hands sore from pushing it through my Sears Table saw....

Note that the back frame of the top is separated from where the rolltop door comes down.

These are mounted to the back with 2 hinges, which I saw on a rolltop desk, and liked. I did not realize at the time that this was a lifesaver when putting in and out the rolltop drawer.

Step 8: Creating the Rolltop Door / Tamber Door

The next step was to create the rolltop door.

There were 2 ways at the time to do this.

1. With pins and wire holding the sections in place or

2. Using a heavy canvas and gluing the tambers to the canvas. I choose this method

The Tambers are cut from 3/4" Oak x 3/4" and I used a Sears table saw Molding cutter. I ran the piece through 2 times to get the rounded top.

I then laid a piece of canvas larger than the finished door size on a flat surface and applied contact cement to the canvas and then the wood tambers and started gluing from front to back. I left 3 inches on the front to add the front of the tamber door as shown in the 3rd photo.

As I glued the the strips down, I made sure they were square with one another and when finished I cut the canvas 1/2" less on the sides, square to the back and square leaving 3 inches on the front.

The front is 2 - 3/4" thick pieces of oak glued together with a rounded section similar to the tamber's on the side. See second to last photo.

I also routed 2 round over grooves on the front of the tamber.

This is attached to the canvas with a 1/4" oak piece screwed into the front piece.

Step 9: Top Drawers

The top drawers are also solid and 1/4" thick with 1/4" dovetails...

Lets just say that this was a lot of work.... too many cubby's... But glad I did it in the end..

I also purchased solid brass drawer pulls as shown in the photo for each drawer.

Step 10: Finishing It Off

I added hinges to the front section of the top where the door rolls down and a latch as shown to hold it steady when closed.

Step 11: Desk Complete

The desk is too heavy and large to get through most interior doors, thus it is build in place inside a room.

I have 4 different secrete compartments in the desk, but these I can not share as they would no longer be secrete..

The desk has put me through college to become a Mechanical Engineer, so a lot of writing on it.

The desk is just over 35 years old and solid as a rock.

Only changes would have been a solid oak desk surface, but nothing else.

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    13 Discussions


    2 years ago

    wow GREAT!!! very nice desk!!! planning to build one :) :)

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you and good luck.
    It will take a lot time but well worth it in the end


    2 years ago

    Absolutely no small project here. I do woodworking and know how much work it takes to build this desk. You did a very nice job with it.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you.. I was 20 at the time and was glad I took photos of the build. I have made a lot of things, but this by far was the biggest.


    Reply 2 years ago

    A lot of work but you will be glad when you are done


    Reply 2 years ago

    Take's too long, plus I have a day job.. I sell pens


    2 years ago

    Very nice job. My dad has an original 1800's desk that he revived. It is almost identical to yours right down to the dimensions! Again, great job.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks. I went to a lot of antique stores getting ideas before I started


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you...
    35 years ago and it seems like only yesterday that I made it..