Charles Rohlfs Revolving (Swivel) Slant Front Desk

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Project by Woodbridge posted 06-27-2014 06:11 PM 3885 views 9 times favorited 26 comments Add to Favorites Watch

In addition to creating my own original works one of my woodworking objectives is to reproduce a number of Charles Rohlfs iconic pieces of furniture. So far I have reproduced the 1989 Desk Chair, Tall Back Chair, Oak Rocker and Coal Hod (as a coffee table).

Rohlfs Swivel desk is by far the most complex and difficult reproduction I have attempted. It would not have been possible without the generosity of a fellow woodworker, who contacted me and allowed me to visit his shop where an original Rohlfs Swivel desk was being refurbished. I was able to photograph the original piece and record all the dimensions needed to accurately reproduce the swivel desk.

I started the process in January 2014 by building a prototype out of plywood and MDF.

I built this desk from Khaya (African Mahogany) to match a Rohlfs Desk Chair that I have built. Although I tried to stay true to Rohlfs original I did make some changes.

Rohlfs used simple butt joints and screws to make the drawers. Since I mostly make chairs, I don’t get a chance to cut many dovetails so I decided to get some practice hand cutting dovetails and included full dovetails at the back and blind dovetails at the front of each drawer.

On the Rohlfs original a groove was cut into each end of the desk top and a ¼ inch spline was inserted. I choose to use a pinned breadboard edge instead. This did change the look of the desk. Rohlfs version is better looking.

On Rohlfs original the shelves simply sat on the drawer runners (which ran across the length on the desk) and they were open at the sides and back. I choose to build a box to enclose the shelves and drilled a series of holes for shelf pins for greater adjustability.

On Rohlfs original the desk writing surface slips underneath and is supported by the desk bottom and by the front bracket. This does not appear to provide good support for the desk surface. Later versions of the original desk included large gussets on the front to provide better support to the desk when opened. Instead of adding the large brackets I choose to use chains to support the desk.

I did order hand forged hinges and hasps. I had to modify the hasps to fit. The chains were painted flat black.
Similar to the Rohlfs original I installed burlap behind the fretwork on the front, back and door. I painted it with shellac to stiffen it.

I pulled out my go to colour (Miniwax English Chestnut stain) to darken the mahogany a bit. I recently purchased an Earlex HVLP sprayer and had a chance to try it out on this project. I used a water based sanding sealer and then water based urethane for the finish.

In addition to a desk, with some reconfiguring of the shelves and drawers this might make an interesting liquor or wine tasting cabinet.

The overall dimensions are 25” wide X 24” deep X 57” tall.

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

26 comments so far

View TheDane's profile


5829 posts in 4470 days

#1 posted 06-27-2014 06:28 PM

Wow! Very impressive … a well-executed piece. Thanks for posting.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View DocSavage45's profile


9008 posts in 3649 days

#2 posted 06-27-2014 06:38 PM

Wow! and Wow again! David Savage says woodworkers say that meaning “I wish I’d built that.” did you sigh or say TA TA when you felt it was completed? sometimes I just sigh. LOL! Others then say nice things. Usually?

You are one step closer to your monument to Rohfs!

I’m really wondering where your snake chairs are going????


-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View DocSavage45's profile


9008 posts in 3649 days

#3 posted 06-27-2014 06:40 PM

Oh yeah. Patience is a woodworking skill you seem to have a lot of.

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5212 days

#4 posted 06-27-2014 07:15 PM

THIS IS Awesome Peter!
Well done, looks just like the Museum piece at the Nelson-Atkins in KC, just fresher looking.
A testimony to a serious collection of your skills in wood.


-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Woodbridge's profile


3718 posts in 3225 days

#5 posted 06-27-2014 07:26 PM

Doc, this project really did try my patience. It seems like it took forever to complete and I probably rushed the finishing process a bit.

Snake chairs are on hold for now. I’ve got another glass ball and a great piece of olive wood. So once I get my shop, the basement and garage cleaned up, another coffee table is in the works. Then it is on to another Modigliani chair (here is the model).

Marc, thanks for the comments they are very much appreciated.

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1335 posts in 2742 days

#6 posted 06-27-2014 08:09 PM

Um. wow

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View Scott R. Turner's profile

Scott R. Turner

273 posts in 3995 days

#7 posted 06-27-2014 08:28 PM

I pity the poor woodworker who posted today thinking “My project’s pretty good, maybe it will make the Daily Top Three” and then boom you drop an unbelievable museum-quality one-of-a-kind reproduction on the heap!


I’m not sure why one would want a revolving desk (I’m sure there was some good reason) but that’s definitely a show-stopper of a piece.

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4110 days

#8 posted 06-27-2014 08:34 PM

Ive Been Waiting For This, Well Worth The Wait, What a Beautiful Job

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View stefang's profile


17039 posts in 4141 days

#9 posted 06-27-2014 08:41 PM

This came out really nice Peter. A beautifully done build.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2828 posts in 4399 days

#10 posted 06-27-2014 08:58 PM

Absolutely Beautiful!!! You did a fantastic job on this project. Congratulations, on a job very well done!

-- Dennis Zongker

View Woodbridge's profile


3718 posts in 3225 days

#11 posted 06-27-2014 09:01 PM

Hey guys thanks for the comments.

Scott – I ‘m not sure why he made a swivel desk either. I guess he had not yet figured out that it was better to put the swivel on the desk chair and not the desk.

The only rationale I can can come up with (and these are just guesses) is that being able to swivel the desk provides easier access to the drawers and shelves located on the either side of the desk. Perhaps as well you could rotate the desk and use the back side as a stand for a portrait or a large book/bible.

In any case Rohlfs furniture is a bit eccentric and that is why I like to build it.

Thanks again for the kind comments.

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1925 posts in 2776 days

#12 posted 06-27-2014 09:43 PM

Wow! WOW! WOOOOW! Amazing work! Thanks for sharing this

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 3018 days

#13 posted 06-27-2014 09:47 PM

Don’t think I can add anything to WoodenOyster’s comment.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View CC's profile


22 posts in 2639 days

#14 posted 06-27-2014 10:12 PM

Your list of outstanding pieces of ART just keeps on growing. Get work again.

-- CC, King City, Ontario

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 3099 days

#15 posted 06-27-2014 11:58 PM

Outstanding, meticulous work.

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

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