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Building a Reception Desk For a Local Art Gallery

Building a Reception Desk For a Local Art Gallery

In this build I make a reception desk for a local art gallery here in Colorado.  The Hunter Wolf Art Gallery.

The Top and outside wrap is made from solid Cherry, while the cabinets on the employee side are made from cherry faced plywood.


Some of the Specialty Product I used in this project (Affiliate Links)


Building a reception desk script

Today I’m building a reception desk for a local art gallery, complete with a hidden drawer to store packing paper paper to wrap the art in for so it can be safely transported home.  A Lighted corner to feature a few art pieces, and some cabinets with cubbies and drawers to keep the store operations organized.

I started with the cabinets.  Since they are all the same height, I batched out the sides, ripping to width on the table saw, and then cutting them to length with the track saw.

Referring to my cut list on which parts get shelves and their locations, I then set up a dado stack and batched out the shelf locations.

Then I reset the dado stack to cut the rabbets to accept the bottom, backs and top bracing.  Cabinets are pretty simple to make, the biggest thing it to make sure they are all square.

Before assembly I pre-sanded all the parts, and prefinished a few that I knew would be difficult to finish after the fact.

Then it was just a matter of keeping track of which shelves went with which sides.  Each cabinet varied in width slightly to accommodate its particular use.   Some cabinets where sized the width of the printer, others where sided to accommodate the different sizes of shopping bags that needed to be stored under the desk.

To assemble them I just used some standard wood glue and a few staples to reinforce the joints.

I have found it is a lot easier and more efficient to build cabinets with square bottoms, and then build the toe kick as a separate piece.  I used some of the off cuts from building the cabinets, ripped them down to a toe kick width and used them to build a base for the cabinets to sit on.

With a little bit of measuring I stapled cleats to the bottom of the cabinets so they would basically clip into the toe kick, making it easier to line up a screw together once on site.

After I did a test fit I moved onto milling up the lumber for the legs.

The legs are going to start out around 3 ½” thick at the bottom and taper up to a few inches at the top.  So I laminated together 2 pieces of 8/4 material to make up the thickness.

After a few passes through the planer to clean them up I spent a few minutes matching the pieces with color, and grain consideration so once glued together, the glue seem would not be too noticeable.

After the glue dried I cleaned up any dried squeeze out at the jointer, cut them to length, and then made a quick jig to hold the legs at the right angle so I could cut the tapper at the band saw.

Since they are being tapered on multiple and opposing sides, I saved the cut off from the first one, so I could use it as a spacer and wedge to help cut the other tapers, as I rotated the leg in the jig.

I set the legs aside and moved on to the lower decorative panels.  I wanted them to be book matched so I re-sawed some 5/4 material in half, and used a carpenter’s triangle to keep track of which edges went together as I cleaned up them up at the jointer so I would get a nice tight fit.

There was a little glue squeeze out on each panel so I ran them through the planer to clean them up and mill them to their final thickness.

Now to build the frame for the panels to go in.  I milled and ripped to width some more 8/4 stock to build the frame out of.  I cut the stiles to length along with to top and bottom rail, and did a dry assembly to test fit everything.

For the middle rails, I used the pre-assembled frame as my guide, holding each one in its position as I marked its length then cut them at the table saw insuring each one would fit perfectly.

To attach the rails to the legs I used floating tenons.  For the leg on the corner where the mortises intersected each other, I simply mitered the tenons so they would not get in one another’s way.

Once the joinery was all laid out and cut, I set up a dado stack in the table saw and cut dadoes for the lower panels to fit into.

Then I switched back to a standard blade and did at 2 cut pass to cut a large rabbit for the glass to be installed into on a later step.

The reason for the 2 cut pass on the rabbet, instead of the stacked dado, was just because it was a lot of material to remove all at once.  I felt it safer and a cleaner cut without worrying about burring the wood having to reduce the feed rate to remove that much material.

Each of the legs needed a stopped dado to accept the panels, so I used my router to plow out a stopped dado and then squared up the ends with a chisel.

Now the center dividers need a stopped rabbet to accept the grid work for the glass, so I stacked up some scrap plywood and attached a fence to it so my router would have a stable platform to ride against while cutting the rabbet.

On the legs, the rabbet needed to be stopped on both top and bottom so I notched out a piece of plywood and used that as a stable platform to ride the router against.

Before cutting the rabbit, I used a handsaw to notch a starting and ending points to prevent tear out from the router.
Now the last thing to do before assembly was to cut the panels to final width. I used the book matched seam as a center line and measured out to where the panel should end, adjusted the table saw and ripped them to width.

Then I glued the front wrap up in sections.  The final assembly of all the sections will be done on site, to make transporting the desk easier.

The sections that will be assembled on site are the front L wrap, the corner display case, side wrap, each cabinet is its own separate unit, and of course the top.

Once I got the sections glued up I cut some material for the glass dividers.

To account for any accumulative error I measured and marked each piece individually as I cut them.  I did this for both rails and Stiles, and it ensured a perfect fit.

Then I set up a sacrificial fence to cut a notch on both ends so it would slide into the rabbets I had cut earlier.

To create the divided lite in the glass I cut a half lap in the center of each one. I used a spacer against the fence to reduce the chance of the pieces binding, during the cut.

Then finally I re installed the sacrificial fence and adjust the dado stack to cut a rabbit in all of the grid work pieces to accept the glass.

I assembled each grid with a little dab of glue, and instead of clamping each piece I pinned it from behind with a pin nailer.

Then I tapped them into place with a hammer.  For A few of them I didn’t wait long enough for the glue to dry so they stared to come apart at the center during assembly.  To fix this I used a clamp to pull the center joint back tight.

Now onto the hidden drawer for the packing paper.  I’m cutting a matched pair of dados in two boards, one board will be the drawer side and the other will act as a drawer glide.  The glide will be screwed to the inside of the wrap and rest on top of the cabinets.  This will give the drawer something to slide on.

A little past wax and I think it will slide really well.

I cut all the drawer parts to length and cut a dado to accept the bottom.

The drawer front is held in place in a rabbit and pinned with dowels.  The dowels should add enough strength to withstand the weight of the paper, and the abuse of being opened and closed multiple times a day.

The extra length on the back of the drawer is to act as a cantilever, allowing the drawer to be fully opened and still have enough structure inside the desk to prevent it from tipping down, dumping the contents of the drawer.

I did a final finessing on the drawer bottom to be sure all the parts were flush and running smoothly as the drawer operated.

We are getting down to the final details.  I had a local glass shop send over a sheet of frosted glass.  I measured and cut each one.

I cut some ¼” hardwood to act as a glass stop and carefully pinned them in place to hold the glass.  And Yes I did break one piece of glass with a wayward pin nail.  I also got a little clumsy and dropped one on the ground.  Hence why you always order a little more than you need.

I had several drawers to make for the filing cabinet, and a few junk drawers, so I got out the Liegh Dovetail jig and knocked them out.

If you are running a production shop this is one of the best things I have invested in.  Once set up you can crank out drawer boxes with high tolerances.

After I had all the dovetails cut, I was back at the table saw to cut dados to receive the drawer bottom and back.

I am using the Blum soft closing hardware for drawer glides, so I pre planed the placement of the bottom so the dado would not run through the visible part of the dovetail, but still have enough room to conceal the metal hardware.

At first the Blum hardware seems pretty complicated to install and their instructions are pretty useless as you can see me ignoring them during as I do install.

But once you do one, you will find it pretty straight forward.  I highly recommend getting the drilling jig.

You place the jig on its side, and using the small drill bit with a stop collar to pre drill the holes in the front of the drawer, Then turn the jig over with the tab down, using the larger drill bit with stop collar to drill in the back of the drawer for the guide pins.

You the screw the orange quick release doohickeys to the drawer front using the holes you just pre drilled.

Then the drawer rests on the metal drawer guide as it hooks on the guide pin.  Sounds simple right.

When I built the cabinet I set it up so the drawer dividers where on the front and back of the cabinet so I could just rest the hardware on them while I installed it.  Makes holding and lining everything up easier.

The drawer fronts are going to be flush with the frame.  So the wood block you see me using to line everything up is milled to the thickness of the decorative drawer front that will be installing later.

Now I’m sure in the instructions it tells me exactly which one of the 10 holes I am supposed to screw through to attach the hardware to the case, But I like to live dangerously so I am just winging it and using whichever hole is convenient.

Then all you have to do is set the drawer on top of the hardware, and push it shut.  Once it clicks into place you are good to go.

To install the decorative drawer fronts I measured and cut each one to width and length.

Then I used a few spacers to help position the drawer front, added a little glue once I was happy with the fit.  Then used my 23 gauge pin nailer just to tack it in place so I could open the drawer and add some clamps until the glue dries.  Don’t worry those little pin nail holes disappear once you rub some fine sawdust in the holes and apply finish.

We are almost finished, for the top I milled up some 8/4 stock,

Added some floating tenons to help with alignment during assembly

Glued and clamped,

Cut to final size, sanded and applied the finish.

When fully assembled the desk was so big I could only test fit it in a few stages in the shop, so there wasn’t a good place to set the camera and the action was out of frame, But everything lined up nicely, and the sections screwed together on sit without any major problems.

The light kit I used was an LED strip light.  I attached it to the underside of the top and shelf.  It’s powered from a switch screwed to the inside of the cabinet.

The desk resides at the Hunter Wolff Gallery in Old Colorado City.  If you are in the area stop by and thank the staff for their support of local artist.

If you are subscribed to my channel you may also recognize some of the other pieces of furniture that I have made which are for sale there.

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I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.

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