Smallder Desk #1: Small Alder Desk = Smallder Desk -- see what I did there?

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Blog entry by SauceMan posted 04-24-2017 06:43 AM 743 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Smallder Desk series Part 2: The magic of finish »

Hey all!

I’m late to start this post because I’ve already made a fair amount of progress.

I recently got a used jointer and a planer ($250 total, both Delta), and I figured there was no better way to learn how to use them than to make something with them that will likely fall apart under it’s own weight. So I decided to build a narrow desk. I need it to set up my computer in a room I use for VR and couldn’t spare much depth. Many store bought desks are too deep for that and would eat into my virtual reality space.

So I head over to MacBeath Hardwoods in S.F. (holler!) with a shopping list of wood that wasn’t in stock. So instead I come home with 10 feet of 8/4, 9 feet of 6/4, and about 40 feet of 4/4 Alder. (For those of you who don’t know, lumber is measured in quarters of an inch, so 4/4 is 4 quarters, or 1 inch thick. 6/4 is 6 quarters, or 1.5 inches thick, and so on). It wasn’t my first choice, but it fit the bill – looked nice, and was cheap (that last part is important since this is a practice piece)

Best way to make a desk is just to wing it, right? Nobody told me otherwise! So I fire up the jointer for the first time ever, and joint the hell out of the 4/4 to make the desk top. Nobody told me how to use one! Sure, I watched some videos, but truth be told there’s no substitute for practice. I think I put too much pressure on the wood and in the wrong places, so I ended up with pieces thinner than they needed to be. But, live and learn! Then they went through the planer to get than nice sniped look on both ends. (Kidding, sort of)

Put in the 6/4 for the legs and aprons, and 8/4 for the feet, glue up the table top, and that was the end of the first weekend. All that​ was left was 8 mortise and tenon joints, and some finishing touches. Should be able to whip that up real quick, right? Nlnrver made an m&t joint before).

Come Monday, and I find myself home from work. Do I make my joints? No…. Of course not. Suddenly had the urge to make a new cross-cut sled. You know, to make sure the butt ends of those pieces a dead square before making my tenons. Or some silly logic like that. So Monday goes by, only progress on my desk was chamfering edges on many of the dimensioned pieces, and half making a sled and driving myself crazy trying to square it off, finally throwing my hands in the air and giving up.

So there I go all week wishing I could work on it, but by the time I get home there isn’t much time left that I can use power tools without disturbing the neighbors. Just had to wait.

Friday I get home early enough that I figure now that I’m fresh I should be able to quickly square off that sled and move on, right?

Wrong!!! And I have the post to prove it

So forget the sled. It’s​ a trap.

Saturday comes and I realize I don’t like my desk’s feet. They were just long slabs, and I figured if the wood moved at all they would end up warping and possibly turn the desk into a rocking chair if they bow in the middle. (Who wants that?). So I pull out my handsaw and make two new 2” thick feet out of freshly jointed wood. Much better.

Then I get to practice mortise and tenon joints on some 2×4s which, you guessed it, I just jointed and planed. (Using a jointer is so satisfying!).

Well the first two joints were a hot mess, and the third tenon split the mortise open. Sounds like all the practice I need! And it was getting late so it was time to quit.

Come Sunday, and it’s time to make joints for real. I decided to go deep on the joints attaching the legs but also figured it drawbore them. The peg looks pretty (I used walnut thanks to my local Woodcraft), and since the desk is held up by only two legs I wanted more than just glue supporting it.

Put a router bit on in the router table, measure it all up, and boom! Fail. Did you know that half of five is 2.5 and not 1.5? Well, I knew that too, but since the numbers on my combination square were obscured, I ended up setting my router bit too shallow and cutting past the end of my very first mortise. So it’s off to the band saw to cut a little strip to fix it up, and luckily it still first under the tenon’s shoulders, so you can’t even see the patch, it was there for strength.

Most of the rest of today was spent making mortise and tenon joints. The first two took me 3 hours, next two about 90 minutes. 4 last ones were maybe 2 hours or a bit less. I know I’m slow, but it’s my first time making them and routers are not the friendliest tools. The sure love to grab a hold of your piece when you least expect it and take an extra chunk off of them. Heck, I’ve never even used a chisel properly before!

A bit messy, but I ended the day with 8 very snuggly fitting joints and beaming with pride. Not content to stop there, I decide to make my 4 forstner holes for my drawbore joints, and, reaching the point of no return I put some glue and hammer the dowels in.

I was so nervous. What if the wood split? What if the dowels didn’t go in? But, as luck would have it, it all worked out.

Now I was 5 minutes away from completing the base. I couldn’t stop, though my kid was waiting for me to play with him. (I solved that problem by asking him to hold the pieces and pass the clamps to me, kept him distracted…). Nervous moment #2—would the parts align?

Sure enough, they did. Glue done, dowels done, sanding done. All that’s left is finishing it and attaching the top.

I just tested the top on the base just to see how well it will balance, and it’s looking promising! Not a screw in there yet, but I may have to out a few to attach the top so that it can move as the wood expands.

I’m attaching a couple of pictures of the work in progress.

Thanks for your attention.


Here is a view of the desk

This one shows the dowels used to hold the foot and apron to the legs. They are wedged in there, drawbore style.

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