Thomas Jefferson's Lap Desk

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Project by Oldtool posted 10-03-2017 07:08 PM 3120 views 13 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I needed another project to work on & came across this Fine Woodworking article by Lon Schleining with instructions for creating a copy of the lap desk Thomas Jefferson used to script the Declaration Of Independence. As this project offers extensive hand tool work, I proceeded with construction.

I made two of these desks, the first constructed out of my stock black cherry, however Lon suggests the use of plywood which would have solved my first problem, bowed lids with the cherry. I then secured some mahogany for the second attempt, which worked out well. I read that mahogany is good at retaining its flatness when milled thin.

This desk deviates from the overall dimensions in height, because the smallest ink well I could find was taller than the original. In addition, Lon, who couldn’t get his hands on the original for the article, assumed the drawer bottom was set into rabbets in the 1/8” drawer sides, so I used drawer slips for strength. The bottom slip can be seen in photo 6 above, and this is the inside slip:

For the case sides, the article assumes hidden & mitered dovetails are used, while Lon used splines. I opted for hidden and mitered box joints, somewhat easier than dovetails but just as strong. Photo 5 above shows this, with the completed case like this:

Resawing the mahogany to just over 3/8” and 1/8” pieces then hand planing to final dimensions proved to be fun as mahogany mills like warm butter. All in all, this was a fun project to work on.

Thanks for viewing.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

18 comments so far

View recycle1943's profile


4693 posts in 2470 days

#1 posted 10-03-2017 07:12 PM

a good challenge and you won. – NICE !!

-- Dick, Malvern Ohio - my biggest fear is that when I die, my wife sells my toys for what I told her I paid for them

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 4945 days

#2 posted 10-03-2017 07:36 PM

Lovely desk. I hope it gets frequent use.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View AJ1104's profile


1112 posts in 2507 days

#3 posted 10-04-2017 12:53 AM

A great desk. Jefferson would be proud to use it. Great job!

-- AJ

View oldrivers's profile


2286 posts in 2414 days

#4 posted 10-04-2017 12:56 AM

You did a mighty fine job.

-- Soli Deo gloria!

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30566 posts in 3186 days

#5 posted 10-04-2017 01:23 AM

Really nice work

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View knockknock's profile


473 posts in 3021 days

#6 posted 10-04-2017 09:03 AM

That looks intricate to make, well done.

-- 👀 --

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1495 days

#7 posted 10-04-2017 11:28 AM

That’s some craftsmanship, Tom. Great joinery. From my vantage point it looks like the original!

View Dave Polaschek's profile (online now)

Dave Polaschek

5838 posts in 1430 days

#8 posted 10-04-2017 11:39 AM

That’s a fine-looking desk. Bookmarked for me to tackle once I can cut a couple dovetails in a row without a disaster. Now I have a goal to practice for!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View CL810's profile


4058 posts in 3836 days

#9 posted 10-04-2017 12:49 PM

Very nice work Oldtool. Details are great and hand skills are mighty fine.

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3714 days

#10 posted 10-04-2017 01:26 PM

This is a nice reproduction of Jefferson’s desk. Based on the pictures I have seen it’s close if not an exact copy. You did a fine job on it.

Jefferson's desk

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View James E McIntyre's profile

James E McIntyre

890 posts in 2140 days

#11 posted 10-04-2017 02:49 PM

Great craftsmenship and use of hand tools. I’m building a 21” high arts & crafts clock from QSWO and was going to resaw the oak to 3/8” to cover the clock movement and tile from the back I know the oak will bow. I have a piece of mahagony and was wondering if it would bow like the oak when resawed. Now I know it won’t. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

-- James E McIntyre

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James E McIntyre

890 posts in 2140 days

#12 posted 10-04-2017 02:59 PM

-- James E McIntyre

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Kaleb the Swede

1926 posts in 2817 days

#13 posted 10-04-2017 03:01 PM

Wow that is beautifully done. Very nice work

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View jim65's profile


1020 posts in 2781 days

#14 posted 10-04-2017 03:03 PM

I love this box, I have seen the article and will say you did an absoutely fantastic job on the build, beautiful!

-- Jim, Marostica Italy

View ArtMann's profile


1480 posts in 1664 days

#15 posted 10-04-2017 06:12 PM

African mahogany?

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