Contemporary Desk - Cherry

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Project by MJCD posted 07-29-2021 02:46 AM 1038 views 5 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’ll post this with the hope of inspiring others to tackle curves and arcs in their work; also, for those who want to challenge themselves to meet functional issues in a less conventional build.

Designing and working with curves significantly increases the attention to precise layout, the need to think in 3 dimensions, to consider racking and loading, and to execute to well-considered plan. As with most of my projects, the actual woodworking time is less than half of the time spent on the build.

This desk is a modified version of one that I posted some time ago, and it gave me the opportunity to revisit both the tools that I used and the methods to achieve similar results. It was not my intent to revisit this design; however, the client was insistent.

For those interested in this type of design and construction, I’ll go through some of the considerations…
The most challenging aspect of the contemporary desk is the 6 legs (3 leg-sets): they need to be identical in length and span, the bottoms must be parallel to the tops (the tops’ centerline is offset 10” from the bottom’s centerline), and racking is an important consideration given that the tops span 22” (Leg Span), while the bottom of each legs set is slightly more than 4” – the downward load on the legs is spread wide from the feet supporting the arc. Also, the tops and bottoms are held by floating tenons, requiring precise layout in the mating surfaces – when the legs’ mortises seat in the tenons, the bottoms and tops must be flush.

From a design perspective, the overall leg set spread must sit within (and be placed equidistant) from the desktop edge – which then determines the location of the corresponding leg bottom. Each leg set is braced by a 1/4″ × 10″ ‘spacer’, that is dado’d into interior sides – structurally, this provide significant racking strength. This dado needs to be created while the legs has a straight reference edge (that is, not after the arches are cut).

There are some Art-Deco design elements – the leg sets rest on small plinths, which then sit on the primary plinth; though my intention here is not necessarily to pay homage to Art-Deco – the visual effect is what I’m shooting for.
The other challenge are the 4 risers (Desktop – to – Shelf), in that, they are held (top & bottom) by floating tenons, and are angled toward the seater’s position: as designed, when seated in a typical typing position – approximately 3’ from the shelf, each riser is inline with the typist’s line-of-sight. For decorative purposes, the risers are 4” at the top, and via a progressive arch, reduce to 3” at the Desktop.

The final challenge is the layout and routing of the Domino mortises: in the main plinth, secondary plinths, and leg sets. The Festool Domino is an excellent horizontal mortiser, but is not well-suited for vertical work: with some patience and much layout and clamping, it can be precisely done.

The finish is two coats Zinnser Sealcoat and 4 coats Deft Waterborne Clear Acrylic (Gloss); sprayed with a Fuji HVLP setup: I highly recommend each of these components. The Sealcoat portion needs to be done with care, as the product will dry in the gun and in the cup (at least mine did) – you need to have denatured alcohol ready to shoot through the gun as soon as you finish each Sealcoat application. The Acrylic, being waterborne, cleans with water sprayed through the gun. Between coats, I wet sanded (Abranet) with 600 grit, and buffed after the final top coat. I have failed in my attempts to brush or wipe-on finishes; for all of the time and effort that goes into each build, I was never happy with the finishing process – the Fuji sprayer has solved this.

The Desktop and Shelf, as well as the main plinth, have gentle (110” radius) arc. From a build consideration, the sweep of the arc must be considered when laying out the Legset spread… it would be easy to cut-away the very wood needed to capture the top of the legset.

I have purposely allowed variations in wood color, grain pattern, tight knots, and live edge blemishes to be part of the project. Though I have grain-matched where possible (I started with an 18” wide board), I’m not one to discard structurally-sound wood simply because it has a knot or a blemish in it.

The finished Desktop is 27” from the floor – a client request; and it is 48” wide.

There are many nuances that I’m skipping-over; but overall, this is a very buildable project. If I can address any questions, please feel free to inquire.

22 comments so far

View Woodchuckswife's profile


114 posts in 2526 days

#1 posted 07-29-2021 03:31 AM

Very nice.

View Rich's profile


7369 posts in 1805 days

#2 posted 07-29-2021 04:28 AM

I really like that desk. I think you’ve done a beautiful job of taking something functional and turning it into a work of art. My hat’s off to you.

I think I see a Daily Top 3 in your future.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View Rich's profile


7369 posts in 1805 days

#3 posted 07-29-2021 05:34 AM

I think I see a Daily Top 3 in your future.

- Rich

Told ya’! Congrats. You earned it.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View Peteybadboy's profile


3893 posts in 3165 days

#4 posted 07-29-2021 10:42 AM

Beautiful design and build! Earned the DT3!

-- Petey

View EarlS's profile (online now)


4725 posts in 3564 days

#5 posted 07-29-2021 12:20 PM

Nice work, the art-deco is subtle but immediately recognizable.

Doing curved work, especially if it is on more than one axis is something that has always intimidated me, especially with larger pieces like this desk. I’m sure most of the consternation most woodworkers have working in curves comes from fear of the unknown and worrying that they will mess something up and lose a lot of time, effort, and expensive wood. You also have to be able to make your own designs if you use curves because the most furniture is basically a box, which is easy to mass produce.

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

View 987Ron's profile


1985 posts in 532 days

#6 posted 07-29-2021 12:29 PM

Really nice build and design. Really like the desk.

-- Ron

View gdaveg's profile


319 posts in 418 days

#7 posted 07-29-2021 01:22 PM

Very creative design and build. Truly deserving of Top 3. Client must be delighted.

-- Dave, Vancouver, WA & Tucson, AZ

View pottz's profile


20145 posts in 2200 days

#8 posted 07-29-2021 01:54 PM

wow thats just a beautiful design done with great craftsmanship.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

View sras's profile


6329 posts in 4345 days

#9 posted 07-29-2021 02:45 PM

Beautiful desk!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View rtbrmb's profile


810 posts in 3604 days

#10 posted 07-29-2021 02:59 PM

Very impressive…..and inspirational.

Thanks for posting

Bill in MI

View MJCD's profile


617 posts in 3587 days

#11 posted 07-29-2021 03:14 PM

Thanks… All… for the kind comments.

My primary interest is designing projects; whereas most woodworkers would likely choose the build process. As with everything, you have to give yourself the chance to be successful; that is, parts have to be consistent (leg sets, risers – in this instance), the layout – how things fit and flow – needs to tested through dry-fits, and you need to mentally see a process before you execute it – for example, if you want to inset a spacer at the bottom of the legs set, you realize that you lose the straight reference edge once the continuous arc is cut.

Finally, you have to enjoy the process.

Everyone, stay safe!

View splintergroup's profile


5743 posts in 2438 days

#12 posted 07-29-2021 03:42 PM

100% on stressing the design foremost!

Perfect application for router templates and full scale reference drawings. Even a full sized mock-up with a cheaper material to confirm everything is “right”, especially if making more than one.

The design is very nice, light and “airy” and the arches provide the support for the top without intruding into the base area.

Thanks for sharing!

View controlfreak's profile


2744 posts in 817 days

#13 posted 07-29-2021 04:25 PM

Beautiful work! This is one of those pieces that make me want to get down on my knees and study both top and bottom sides.

View Hazem's profile


265 posts in 2464 days

#14 posted 07-29-2021 08:34 PM

Damn. Nice.

View tim0001's profile


183 posts in 3563 days

#15 posted 07-29-2021 09:04 PM

Eloquent desk design and top craftsmanship. Well executed in all aspects. Congratulations.

-- TimV: The understanding eye sees the maker's fingerprints. They are evident in every detail ... Leave Fingerprints. Author: James Krenov

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