Desk restoration, will biscuits hold this, if not how do I join them?

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Forum topic by Woodknack posted 04-01-2013 08:28 PM 1433 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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13552 posts in 3438 days

04-01-2013 08:28 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question jig restoration

I’ve been restoring a roll top desk built by my uncle in HS shop class. The end panels that held the tambour were put on with screws but I didn’t want to tear the desk apart to put in more screws so had planned to use dowels. Despite being super careful the dowel holes don’t line up so I need a plan B.

1) Use #20 biscuits, easy, quick, not sure if they are strong enough.
2) Homemade dowel jig, basically a board with a series of holes, clamp it down and drill but dowels are fussy and even a tiny bit off and they will not line up (as I’ve already learned).
3) Tear everything apart and use screws again.
4) Use pocket hole screws and plug the holes. Quick and easy, should be strong but the plugs will be somewhat visible. This wouldn’t be terrible, the desk was far from fine furniture and is made of 3 or 4 different species of wood.
5) Other ideas?

I cut a biscuit in half to give me an idea of how much will be holding.

-- Rick M,

14 replies so far

View DrDirt's profile


4615 posts in 4800 days

#1 posted 04-01-2013 08:33 PM

I would use dowel centers. Basically drill one side, put these in the holds, line up the panel as you want it, and then give a couple whacks and it will basically “centerpunch” the other board to line up.

Works awesome for things like table leaves and lining up chair legs and arm holes.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

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13552 posts in 3438 days

#2 posted 04-01-2013 08:44 PM

Dowel centers would help though I was hoping not to have to buy anything as I never use dowels in my own projects.

-- Rick M,

View CharlesNeil's profile


2501 posts in 4928 days

#3 posted 04-01-2013 08:49 PM

Rick, I think you would be fine, modern day adhesives are pretty strong,

View Hammerthumb's profile


3088 posts in 3033 days

#4 posted 04-01-2013 08:49 PM

Rick – I agree with Dr. Dirt. I dont think the biscuits will have the holding power that you would need for this joint. If you already have holes drilled that do not line up, fill them with dowels and redrill. You can also make a template from the tambor side using the dowel centers on a scrap piece of wood, drilling it out and using it for a guide on the top. Let me know how you make out.

-- Paul, Duvall, WA

View bondogaposis's profile


5978 posts in 3409 days

#5 posted 04-01-2013 08:50 PM

I think loose tenons would be the answer here.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 4343 days

#6 posted 04-01-2013 10:13 PM


Biscuits should work fine. Your screws/dowels or biscuits will be used more for alignment then actual structual strength ( unless you plan on picking the whole desk up by the panels.)

When the very top is mounted and the back is installed, this will keep it from racking or at least as much as the original screws or dowels.

#20 buiscuts and a good clean glue joint should hold fine.

-- John @

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13552 posts in 3438 days

#7 posted 04-01-2013 10:14 PM

After stepping away for a bit I went back and used dowels. I was just extra, extra, careful drilling new holes and they lined up fine. Thanks for the help. One of these days I should pick up a set of dowel centers.

-- Rick M,

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 4343 days

#8 posted 04-01-2013 10:17 PM

BTW; Some of the large antique roll top desks, the whole top section simply lifts off and they used dowels for alignment.

-- John @

View oldnovice's profile


7702 posts in 4426 days

#9 posted 04-01-2013 10:52 PM

For the table top I built I used loose tenons … home made ones out of 1/4” plywood ... this was in 1976 and commercial loose tenons were not available (I don’t believe biscuit were either).

I did not have a doweling jig and thought that three 1-1/2” wide 2” long plywood tenons were better than dowels.

-- "It's fine in practise but it will never work in theory"

View Woodknack's profile


13552 posts in 3438 days

#10 posted 04-01-2013 10:54 PM

I didn’t know that Huff, interesting. This is a child’s size and I’d be afraid to do that.
Yeah, if I were building it from scratch I would use tenons.

The desk is interesting because it was obviously made from scraps, I’ve identified oak, maple, cherry and even pressboard. But the overall construction was quality, almost factory, but unfortunately it had a very hard life going through several kids before my Mom got it then it sat in a hot attic for 10 years, then in a dank basement for 10 years, then in the back of my shop for 15 years. By the time I started repairs it was in pieces. My mom said my uncle made it in HS but he says he didn’t; but my mom never forgot anything – and I mean never, so I take her word on it.

-- Rick M,

View held105mp's profile


3 posts in 2941 days

#11 posted 04-02-2013 10:51 AM

Pocket screws by far. Its not cheating. Noone will know except you.

View remdds's profile


40 posts in 3683 days

#12 posted 04-02-2013 11:51 AM

I’ve seen where someone pared the offending dowel a bit and it dropped right to place.
Are you off by a mile? Might be worth a try.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

6928 posts in 3551 days

#13 posted 04-02-2013 12:08 PM

I’m on the side of the biscuits. They would be plenty for this….and they help more than many will admit. The only thing I’m unsure of is whether they will be easier to get properly aligned than the dowels…but if ouy can they will be plenty strong.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Woodknack's profile


13552 posts in 3438 days

#14 posted 04-02-2013 10:04 PM

After looking at this for another day I’ve decided this one time my mom must have been wrong, there is no way my uncle built this in HS and I suspect it really is factory made from scraps, difficult as that is to believe. I considered it being a mish-mash but the parts fit together too well, it must have been made this way. On the bottom of a pencil tray that may or may not be original to the desk (I can’t tell) was a Japan sticker. The pencil tray may not be original or the sticker might have been added by a kid. The desk is a conundrum.

-- Rick M,

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