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Desk Woodworking Project

Back in September, I built the boys two wooden desks. Ever since, I've been telling myself I should do a blog post about it. But then I got involved with wanting to redo my website, obsessed about various projects, and got overwhelmed with obligations in the face of everything that is 2020.

A Pressing Need

My project started when we realized COVID was going to have significant impact on the boy's school. In specific, we were given the choice of having in-school or at-home schooling. Given my vulnerabilities to respiratory illnesses (rightfully so, given my November), we decided to keep the boys at home.

The only problem was that we didn't have anywhere to set up the boy's computers. My office had been destroyed in the derecho that hit in August, the roof still leaked, and I had to move up into one of their bedrooms for my own job. I also stole the dining room table because the desk my father had made was covered in “get it off the floor now!” piles.

The Grand Idea

The grand idea was to build the boy's desks. I had done some woodworking projects when we lived in Illinois, but since we moved to Iowa, I had pretty much stopped. I had no more tools left, only a few boxes of screws, and a decade-old memory of working in wood.

Seemed like a perfect opportunity to me to have a project beyond my current skill level but still possible.

I searched for some designs online, found something that vaguely looked like it would work (sadly, I seem to have lost the link), and then promptly modified it. Because these were going to be desks by two active children, I added cross-beams near the bottom on three sides and shortened the legs by a few inches.

Cleaning Up

Naturally, the first thing I ended up doing was cleaning the garage. You'll see some of the crud along the edges of the pictures below but I was working with a small space, mostly twenty-year old power tools, and vague ideas.

Lumber

The design I started with:

  • 2x2s for the legs
  • 1x4s for the sides and back
  • 1x3 for the top ridge
  • 2'x4'x¾" for the top surface
  • ¾" trim

It didn't look like much piled up on the garage floor:

A pile of loose lumber

The Bottom

One of the things about the design I found was that it used pocket screws. I had never used a pocket hole jig, but it looked like it would so what I wanted. I picked up a jig at Lowe's.

After measuring out everything, getting confused a few times, and drilling out the pocket holes, I had a stack of wood ready to assemble. I also had to borrow a friend to clean up the pieces because I made multiple mistakes hand-cutting pieces (hence the next project being a workbench).

The side pieces were the first one to be built up. I started with those because they would produce less stress while I held up everything since I didn't have jigs or even proper clamps.

A pair of side frames

Somehow, I managed to attach the front and side pieces to the side. This mainly involved stacking up wood and cans to steady things on a pair of plastic sawhorses.

The bottom assembled Bottom frame standing up

Things looked a lot better once I got the sandpaper out, though I hurt my arm more than once since I really should have gotten out the power sander for some of them. Overall, it is still fun making rough wood smooth.

The Top

Once I got more used to working with the tools and in the cramped quarters (you can see my messy garage), I started to attach the tops to the frames using pocket holes from the bottom.

Surface on top

Getting the top was pretty easy. The trim, however, was a bit harder because I didn't have the right tools. Of all the pieces, I feel this was the less elegant of everything. I ended up having some gaps along the edges which I filled with wood putty; the result was not as pretty as I hoped.

Attached trim

Throughout this entire process, I was doing this during my lunch hours and while the boys were doing their bedtime ritual. Basically sneaked out into the garage to do some work and then come back covered in sawdust.

The Blue

When the spouse and I first talked about this, we planned on going with a cherry finish. The boys, on the other hand, had different ideas and wanted blue. At the last minute, I ran out, got some blue tinted stain and used that instead. It took a few days to get it done, but the results were pretty startling.

Matte blue stain

Then we got to my second favorite part of woodworking: polyurethane. Like PVC adhesive, the smell of polyurethane brings memories of woodworking with my mother and father (separately, each one had their own styles). Though, I used a rubber glove and sponge instead of old socks.

First coat of poly Second coat of poly

Deadlines

The entire goal was to get everything done for the first day of class, which was September 21. Sadly, I really needed a third coat of polyurethane because of the abuse these desks would see. I ended up finishing everything on the 22nd.

Set up in the living room Set up in the living room 2

Documentation

I'm not used to documenting projects. It still feels foreign to stop, take pictures, and try to gather thoughts. A lot of the druge work of drilling and sanding where skipped but I thought they would be somewhat interesting to look at.

Final Thoughts

The desks were a hit and they are still being used pretty heavily. I need to make hutches for them “soon” and I liked them so much I want to build three more for the adults in the household (two for me, one for spouse) that have higher legs. There were also requests for side tables.

In general, I think the result was pretty solid and, unlike most of my projects, I don't hate them three months later. There were a couple chips, but they have survived a lot of abuse and still had that lovely blue shine.

After this, we decided that I should do more woodworking so I'm slowly building up a set of tools. Now that the roof is almost done (in December), my basement should stop flooding with every rain and I can move a workshop downstairs and do some winter projects.