Earlier in the spring, friends and I found an abandoned buffet counter complete with glass sneeze-guard. After some cleanup and leg construction, the desk provides a great working surface and even holds my weight. The legs were made with through-mortise and tenon joints for easy disassembly.
The desk is 6' by 22", and stands 31" tall.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
- 1 tempered-glass sneeze guard
- 10 1-1/4" wood screws
- 5 bolts (optional: used to hold plywood to surface; size doesn't really matter)
- 2x4 dimensional pine: 4 x 20", 4 x 31", 1 x 6' lengths
- strip of veneered plywood
- 0000 steel wool
- table saw w/ ripping blade
- drill w/ 1/2", 3/16" bits
- 1" chisel, but any chisel or sandpaper would work
- No. 4 jack plane
- at least 2 clamps of some sort. I used quickclamps; pipe clamps would work better
Step 2: Starting Surface
I got this pane of tempered glass from an abandoned food counter, so it started out being absolutely disgusting. Immediate 'ew' factors included ancient sauce stains and mold discoloration. Removal of the micaform coating revealed even more stains.
I went to town with soap, water, and steel wool (soap & water minus steel wool for the glass). This gave me a sanitized, if not pretty, table surface. I then decided to cover the wood part with veneered plywood and move on.
My strips (one wasn't long enough so I cut it in half) of plywood weren't perfect and at some point I would want to replace them. Securing the plywood with bolts seemed a viable solution, and while I had steel wool around I decided to shine some bolts to match the metal brackets from the food counter.
Step 3: Making Mortises
I constructed a simple jig by screwing a piece of plywood into 4x4 scrap. That jig was clamped onto the protractor in the runners to compensate for a few degrees misalignment, and the table legs were clamped upright to the jig fence. In retrospect, I should have looked for a pipe clamp instead of using my quick clamps for this, since the quick clamp had some trouble holding the legs upright. But for the most part this method worked fine.
I'm using the 31" lengths of wood here.
I made my mortises 0.5" wide in wood 1.5" wide. (A good rule of thumb for mortises is to make the 1/3 the width of the total stock) I didn't have a dado blade, so I made one initial pass on each side to outline the mortise, then made several passes between them to remove the inner material. Normally the procedure is to start from the center and end with outline passes, but pine is soft and I didn't want to risk chipping off one of the sides.
When mortise is complete, rotate leg and repeat. Finished products have mortises on both ends.
*Safety check! I wore safety glasses; you should too. Also don't run the table saw while your jig is on top; always start with your wood off the cutting area and only start cutting when the blade is at top speed.
Step 4: Tenons
I'm using the 20" lengths of 2x4 here.
Tenons were much simpler. I set my jig such that the fence was at the final cutting width, lowered the saw blade to 0.5", then passed table legs through until all the material was removed. Start slow, and remember that the blade only removes a blade-width of material each time.
Flip over and repeat for other half of tenon. When finished, rotate leg and repeat. Each leg has tenons on both ends.
Step 5: Frame Assembly
I ended up making my mortises too short, so the tenons stuck out. A couple runs through the table saw solved that problem. The joints were just loose enough to fit together by hand, but friction held during my walk upstairs. No mallet required.
Not bad for my first-ever mortise-and-tenon joints.
The 6' cross beam ended up being attached with screws, 2 x 1-1/4" screws through both ends. It is offset 1/4" from the top, since the wooden part of the tabletop sits 1/4" below the bottom edge of the glass.
I eventually want to attach another cross piece below it to help minimize horizontal flexing, but I couldn't find any that were long enough.
Step 6: Attaching the Tabletop
The tabletop fits perfectly onto the frame, with the glass sitting on the legs and the wooden part resting on the cross-piece.
For additional stability, I attached the table to the cross pieces with countersunk 1-1/4" screws. In addition, I drilled holes to accommodate bolts for the veneer. The bolts sit in front of, but do not go through) the cross-piece. That way if I find a longer strip of veneered plywood, it will be a simple matter to swap out this one.
Step 7: Final Pictures, Thoughts and Future Improvements
While the glass desk satisfies all my needs and will easily disassemble for my move next term, it could use some improvements.
An immediate issue is horizontal stability. I can comfortably use it as a desk and feel fine jostling into it, but it does wobble side-to-side if I push it back-and-forth with some effort. An additional 6' 2x4 crosspiece would easily fix this issue.
As soon as I find another strip of veneered plywood, I'll replace the current one. This one's bolt holes are slightly off such that the rightmost bolt won't fit through. Eventually I hope to find a singular strip that stretches the entire length of the table.
I'm a little disappointed that I resorted to using visible screws to fasten the crosspiece to the legs, especially after making mortise-and-tenon joints in the first place. I have a few options that preserve modularity for the top crosspiece (the one that bumps into the top joints): 1) keep the screw holes and replace the screws with dowel pegs or 2) remake that corner into a 3-way corner joint by cutting a dado into the leg. The next iteration of this desk would probably use option 1.
I will also likely remake my mortises and tenons. My current legs are all slightly warped, since I made them from scrap wood found in a moist basement. In the summer, my dorm will receive less-warped scrap wood that I can grab ahold of. On top of that, I would make my mortises deeper such that I wouldn't have to correct with the tablesaw.
If you like this project please vote for it in the Spring's Coming Contest. My next project wish is a motorized ripstik, for which I would happily make use of a socket set.
This project will also be entered in the Woodworking Contest. Winning a planer and chisel set there would make the next iteration of this desk much more precise and aesthetically pleasing.