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Project Information

I like to make projects that fit in with my re-enacting & camping hobbies, so a couple of years ago I found some great plans for a Shaker Lap Desk & some beautiful Walnut lumber & was ready to build. But like many of us my shop wasn't ready. Since finishing my new shop I now have the tools set up for resawing lumber, which is what I needed to do for this project & finally got started. This project requires wood thicknesses of 5/16", 1/4", 3/16" & 1/8". It was thouroughly enjoyable just walking over to the table saw & ringing the edges of the panel & then just walking over to the band saw & re-sawing the panel without having to move stuff from pillar to post for a half an hour or so to access the top of the tool..

This project also required making hand-cut dovetail corners & edge joining some thin wood. I think I did OK for my first time on "half-blind" dovetails. The front of the drawer was the "blind side" & is 5/16" thick. The sides of the drawer are 1/4" thick. I think it would have been a bit easier working on thicker wood the first try. But I believe it was fairly good. Making the molding for the bread-board top was fun. I made a couple of changes to the plans… I just added a strip to the top & the lid to give the hinges a bit more wood to grip into. The only hardware is a tiny pewter knob that I saved from somewhere years ago, some wire brads, a couple of old brass tacks for drawer slides & two store-bought hinges. I took a propane torch to the hinges to burn the cadmium plating off. (I took care to give myself plenty of ventilation because of the cadmium fumes.) This gave the hinges a nice patina that matched the hinges real well. I topped the thing off with a couple of coats of Tung Oil applied with some 280 wet/dry sand paper. This allows the sand paper to grind up the walnut, mix it with the tung oil & fill the grain & joints a bit. I then finished with 2 coats of tung oil applied with a cloth & after drying the gloss was removed with an X-fine scotch bright pad.

This Shaker Lap Desk is very light for it's size, about 14" X 20" X 6.5", which makes it easy to carry. I thought about adding handles & a lock but I believe the Shakers had it right by relying on only simple lines, the beauty of the wood & their own skill.

Gallery

Comments

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Nice work Frank. The size makes it nice and big enough to do just about anything on.
 

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you used 280 sandpaper wet with tung oil for a finish? what ould tat look like with a paste wax finish? I have two walnut shaker tables that I am building and am looking for the perfect finish?
 

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The tung oil dries with the saw dust suspended in it This fills joints & grain. I slipped when I didn't say that there is a light sanding between applications of tung oil. I don't think that paste wax would dry to a hard enough finish. I believe that boiled linseed oil can be used the same way though. I used this method with tung oil to finish some rifle stocks. I used many more applications because of the use of rifles outside & in bad weather. The multiple applications gave the grain a very "deep" look, almost 3-D.
 

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the original "laptop" i like it
 

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A very good piece of work. Is a drawer to the side a normal feature for a shaker lap desk because of convenience or you have done the change?
Sharad
 

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Sharad; the same feature appears on Thos Jefferson's lap desk.

Nice work Frank!
 

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Wow, that is really beautiful! Walnut is my favorite wood to work with, and you have done it justice! Thank you for showing me this!
 

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Beautiful, just gorgeous! I love the shaker stuff and I've wanted to build this one for some time now. Great work, esp. with making the hinges more authentic. There are a number of similar patterns floating around, did you use one of those? Thank you for posting and explaining your build.
 

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Very nicely done, Frank.
 

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Very nice. All us old "Civil War veterans" used to carry desks like this through the campaigns.
 

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I'm a big fan of Shaker piece and this one is why….simple and very slick…Blkcherry
 

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Great job on that. Love the walnut too. Thought of making one of those also. Fun project.
 

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This would make any Shaker jealous!!
 

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This is a great piece. I lug around a scattered assortment of pens, pencils, paper, and plans throughout the house and it drives my fiance crazy. This would be perfect for storing everything together.
 

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I didn't know the Shakers were in the Civil War.

Great job on the construction. It looks great.
 

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I looked over a lot of lap desks at re-enactments & antique shops. I also checked out a bunch of plans. This plan was off of the internet. The lap desks that have NO drawer & the writing board that hinges up or lifts out is always cumbersome. You always have to move the paper you are writing on, dig to the bottom of the piece to get the note pad or document that you're looking for & move everything back. I have found that the lap desks with the drawer on one side or the other are the easiest to use. The drawer in the front has a problem with my pot belly getting in the way! The "Lap Desks" with lots of pockets are actually little supply cabinets. With those you always seem to end up using some other piece of furniture to actually write on.

I purchased a lap desk at Mackinac Island Historic Site last year & it was literally a sixth the size of the one I just made… but it weighs probably three times this Shaker lap desk. It must have been made just south of St.Louis in the "Lead Belt". The price was right for a souvenir & the size is efficient. So I'll use it for a plan & use lighter wood. This one is really a small supply cabinet too. There's no practicle writing surface.
 

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Coincidently, I just found at a used book store "Shaker Furniture" by Edward Deming and Faith Andrews, Dover Publications.

A photograph of a lap desk very much like yours is shown on plate 38. At the end of the very interesting commentary on page 92 is the comment; "The rule for making writing boxes: 22 inches long, 15 inches wide and six deep. One drawer for paper and one for an inkstand. If any desire, they may be made slanting. The frames of Shaker lap desks are pine, planed to three-eights of an inch; the members forming the till, the interior partitions and the fronts of the ink drawers usually measure in thickness only one-quarter of an inch; and the sides of these drawers are a fragile eighth of an inch. All joinings are dovetailed, and tiny wooden pulls equip all drawers. The color is a uniform red or yellow."

For those who wish to further pursue the Shaker history and their style of furniture, many other furniture items are photographed and described in this publication.
 

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I have several books on shaker furniture & have searched the WEB for info but I don't have this book. Thanks for telling me about this book… I'll be searching the local book & wood shops for it now. It sounds interesting. Thanks again!
 
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