Do I need extra support on the legs of a writing desk?

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Forum topic by adamclyde posted 05-20-2013 05:06 PM 1489 views 1 time favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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43 posts in 2927 days

05-20-2013 05:06 PM

I’m in the final planning stages of a desk I’m making for my son. I posted the drawings and plans here as the first of a series of blog posts. I’ve included the drawing below as well.

As you can see in the drawing, I am thinking of connecting three sides of the legs with stretchers for extra support against racking. Then I realized that these are tapered legs, and I’m not yet very good at mortise and tenon joints to begin with. So having a mortise and tenon fit well half way down a tapered leg might be difficult.

So my question is, would you include the stretchers? Are they necessary for strength? Or would it be strong enough to go it alone? For reference, the distance from between the bottom of the leg to the bottom of the apron is about 24 inches, and the apron will be connected to the legs up top by mortise and tenon joints. Total height is 31 inches. The width of the desk is 30 inches and it’s about 20 inches deep.

What would you do?

11 replies so far

View muleskinner's profile


941 posts in 3450 days

#1 posted 05-20-2013 05:14 PM

I’d use the stretchers.

-- Visualize whirled peas

View ChrisK's profile


2051 posts in 4095 days

#2 posted 05-20-2013 05:23 PM

The stretchers will make the legs stiffer. However, if the legs are big enough, say 2-1/2 square at the tops and apron is firmly secured to the leg tops, you will be fine.

-- Chris K

View adamclyde's profile


43 posts in 2927 days

#3 posted 05-20-2013 05:33 PM

ChrisK, the legs are only 1-3/4 at the top. Hmm. Looks like I should do the stretchers. I want this to last a generation, so I’m probably best figuring out how to lay out good mortises and tenons on a tapered leg. I figured I would bore out the mortise before I taper them. Then after the legs are tapered, find the angle of the taper with a bevel guide and use that to lay out the shoulders?

View muleskinner's profile


941 posts in 3450 days

#4 posted 05-20-2013 05:47 PM

For an adult desk you may not need the stretchers. For a 5 year old boy it will no doubt at some point serve as more than a desk; the prow of a ship or the drivers’ seat of a stagecoach perhaps. Anyway, the stretchers are a good way to over-build without looking over-built.

-- Visualize whirled peas

View bondogaposis's profile


5953 posts in 3365 days

#5 posted 05-20-2013 06:43 PM

I would keep the stretchers but shorten up the taper on the legs so that it begins just below the stretchers.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View oldnovice's profile


7700 posts in 4381 days

#6 posted 05-20-2013 11:00 PM

Keep the stretchers, reduce the taper .... hey is there an echo in here?

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

View richardwootton's profile


1701 posts in 2969 days

#7 posted 05-21-2013 01:58 AM

Is there a taper on all 4 sides, or do you have the taper facing the inside as opposed to the outside? If you simply taper the two outside faces of the legs then you will have the square faces facing the stretchers making the M and T joinery much less complicated.

-- Richard, Hot Springs, Ar -- Galoot In Training

View Gary's profile


9418 posts in 4446 days

#8 posted 05-21-2013 02:22 AM

Just my 2 pennies here…I think you should do the same on scrap wood and practice that particular M&T with the angle. It will look great and you will have learned a new skill.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View adamclyde's profile


43 posts in 2927 days

#9 posted 05-21-2013 03:44 AM

Gary, I think that’s exactly what I’ll do. Great idea. No sure why I hadn’t thought of it… the mortise is easy, since I’ll cut out the mortise before it’s tapered. Then I’ll practice on scrap for the stretcher and tenon and use that as a template. Perfect. I like that a little better than starting the taper below the stretcher as that would significantly change the look of the desk.

richardwootton – the tapers are only on two sides, but they will be facing inward, so the square edges will be outside, hence the difficulty in laying out the tenons properly. Having the legs taper outside in would give it a different look than I’m going for, I think.

Folks, thanks for all the help and advice!

View Gary's profile


9418 posts in 4446 days

#10 posted 05-21-2013 04:29 AM

One more little tip. Make sure your mortis doesn’t end up too shallow when you cut the taper

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View Buckethead's profile


3196 posts in 2882 days

#11 posted 05-21-2013 09:42 AM

What Gary said. Meet the challenge head on. Stay with your design. Curse while you build. Revel in your success.

-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

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