Ladies Writing Desk

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Project by Bertha posted 09-06-2018 12:38 AM 1955 views 2 times favorited 31 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I wanted to make a cherry ladies writing desk, or slant-front desk, or drop-front desk, whatever you want to call it. I don’t like curves, so I wanted a lot of curves. I had some non-select cherry from a mill purchase and I figured I’d use that. I wanted to see tool marks and was going to force-antique it.

The wood was really dry at 10% and kind of warpy. I got it as close as I could and planed everything, put it under pressure, let it sit, then planed it again. Then breadboarded it for good measure.

I pinned the breadboard into oversized with brass rod. I used a story stick (trammels) throughout the build.

I asymmetrically over-sprung the writing surface so I could add bowties. I wanted it to look as if it had been repaired, not knowing that a true repair would be coming down the greasy pipe.

Now to the legs. I wanted cabriolet-type in the front and dual tapered in the back. I made templates.

I had just installed a new carter rig on my bandsaw with a new 1/4” 3 tpi, so the legs went pretty easy. I glued with a hot gun and I won’t do that again. That crap is strong. But a major mistake is coming.

So I start carving the paw feet before I even got the rear legs sawn.

Then, I bang one leg into the bench and it breaks mid-shaft, right over a subtle knot. I looked back at the cutoffs and I should have known it was there. And I should have seen it on the raw leg. And I shouldn’t have started carving, etc. So I mortised out and epoxied in 1/4” keystock. Lesson learned.

Got all the legs now.

I laid out the leg mortises.

Made some really weird joints on the fly. I should have mentioned that I don’t like desks that are a table with a gallery plopped on top, moulding between, etc. So I did this unconventionally. I wanted only 1 primary drawer and don’t like the automatic lid supports. I like the leather writing surface but I chickened out.

Started work on the gallery. I wanted one fixed base and an inserted gallery that I could remove if I had to. I also wanted a slit on the back for wiring (a usb and 110V hub). Carved a traditional shell.

Got some vintage hardware from the getting place (ebay).

Made a drawer and lid supports.

OK, the finish. I put on a couple coats of Danish oil and card scraped again. I put 0.5 lb. amber shellac in the crevices and sprinkled fine sawdust while it was tacky. Card scraped again. Added Briwax dark brown wax and it looked like hell. Used mineral spirits to remove the dark wax where appropriate. Finished up with renaissance wax.

It wasn’t bad but it took a long time. I really had trouble squaring the mortise-end of the legs with only hand tools. I finally got it there but I probably ate 1/4 inch in both directions.

I have tons more pictures if you’re interested in something specific. Thanks for looking.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

31 comments so far

View Grandpa's profile


3264 posts in 3789 days

#1 posted 09-06-2018 01:14 AM

That is beautiful work.

View balidoug's profile


524 posts in 3592 days

#2 posted 09-06-2018 01:22 AM

A classical piece, all the better for the struggles along the way. Thanks, too, for the detailed photo tour of the build. I’m inspired.

-- From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. Immanuel Kant

View EarlS's profile


4541 posts in 3461 days

#3 posted 09-06-2018 01:26 AM

I’m not usually fond of this style of furniture but your desk looks amazing. The details and curves catch the eye as does the wild grain of the cherry. So unique!!!

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View Bertha's profile


13615 posts in 3806 days

#4 posted 09-06-2018 01:44 AM

Thanks, guys. I’m not a big fan of the style either but it was something different than my typical Shaker stuff. Plus, I got to buy some curved tools! Of course, I HAD to have a compass plane (for tight curves lol).

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View swirt's profile


6264 posts in 4085 days

#5 posted 09-06-2018 01:45 AM

Very nice. I enjoyed all the build photos. Thanks for including them.

-- Galootish log blog,

View TheFridge's profile


10863 posts in 2599 days

#6 posted 09-06-2018 01:46 AM

Reminds me of Jupiter.

Came out great.

Ditto on the hot glue. I thought the worst part about it was it smearing on the sole of the shave. I think I remember something about it not being too bad if you only glue on the cut off parts.

I’ve gotten into the habit of cutting mortises and dry fitting before running through the bandsaw.

Great work.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View oldrivers's profile


2579 posts in 2680 days

#7 posted 09-06-2018 02:29 AM

Well I understand your frustration when thing went wrong. Sometimes I think I learn more from the corrections than the build. I see you persistencs payed off in a Big way. Great job congratulations.

-- Soli Deo gloria!

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

26281 posts in 4219 days

#8 posted 09-06-2018 02:42 AM

Beautiful desk. Very fine details in it!!

Nice work!!....................Cheers, Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View therealSteveN's profile


8009 posts in 1687 days

#9 posted 09-06-2018 02:48 AM

Outstanding look on this desk, much from your design, and much from that off Cherry. It’s the mutts that often bark loudest, and that stuff is making all kind of noise, all of it good.

The pic post itself, even if this was a set of cornhole boards would be noteworthy. Awesome job with that.

Winner winner chicken dinner here, nice work. Thanks for posting it for us.

-- Think safe, be safe

View Don W's profile

Don W

20089 posts in 3681 days

#10 posted 09-06-2018 09:15 AM

Food stuff!! Some fine work there Al.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

7650 posts in 1695 days

#11 posted 09-06-2018 10:02 AM

That’s a good looking desk, and the wild grain of the cherry sure pops out at you!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View Markslawes's profile


115 posts in 1020 days

#12 posted 09-06-2018 10:07 AM

Lovely desk and the photo story was excellent, it is great seeing something in construction… very interesting.

-- If your going to your mums.... can I go in the shed ?

View Bertha's profile


13615 posts in 3806 days

#13 posted 09-06-2018 02:02 PM

I made an error above in the finishing section. The amber shellac I gummed everything up with was tinted with TransTint dark walnut. The dye also mixes in well with polyurethane and dries typically. Here, the foot has received the shellac. You can card scrape it to your liking and gently remove any with alcohol. It’s actually pretty fun if you like showing tool marks.

People who have seen the desk complain about the drop leaf looking “dirty”.

And they’re right. I figured that the cherry will only darken with time, so I didn’t aggressively remove the tinted wax with spirits. The whole thing looks dirty and beaten up, which is how I like it. It’s pretty nerve wracking to slather something black onto your finished piece, especially if there is tearout to really grab hold of it.

Here’s also the hardware for the drawer. I found it on Etsy (which is now more like Ebay v2.0.

I didn’t comment on the decorative rail at the top b/c I’m not really fond of it. I simply used a marking gauge to establish the rim and carved out the center. Few problems 1) I just don’t like it with the door closed; not so bad with it open, 2) I should have used heartwood and the contrast with the tint and the gouge marks is more than I wanted; 3) I mounted it with screws only b/c I had reservations; I might change it.

Other random photos that are on the SD card

I now charge my batteries and lights by solar, not because I care about the environment; just because I want to rely less on the government.

leg laid out

Choosing the slope. I wanted a big writing surface with minimal floor footprint. I kind of over-did it, though; and the writing surface is huuuuge.

Weird joints

drawer web

Beading. 66 with LN pre-made cutter

Part of secret compartment

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View AnthonyReed's profile


10173 posts in 3553 days

#14 posted 09-06-2018 02:45 PM

What’s the story on that striped hammer?

-- ~Tony

View ElroyD's profile


134 posts in 1701 days

#15 posted 09-06-2018 03:12 PM

That’s really a beautiful piece of work. Thanks for sharing all the in-progress photos.

-- Elroy

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