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Building The Legs and Accent Panel For A Writing Desk

Building The Legs and Accent Panel For A Writing Desk

When I was designing the legs and side panels for the writing desk, I knew I wanted to incorporate a curved leg. I have seen a similar design element in several other pieces by different makers, and it has always caught my eye.
Knowing that I wanted to use a similar shape, the curved legs were my starting point.

Once I got the shape of the leg the way I wanted it, I needed to decide what to do with the side panels.  I had looked at several other writing desks for inspiration before starting this piece. The more elegant ones did incorporate a side panel centered between the legs, taking up about two-thirds of the space. It was a nice touch, but I wasn’t sold on this design aspect; the panels just seemed too plain. As I played around with the design, it came to me to mimic the curve of the legs in the panels. My sketch made it seem like the panels were now a pronounced accent piece. So, I decided to draw more attention to it by using a different wood to set it off. I chose spalted maple. In the picture, the two woods look very similar, but as the cherry ages, it will turn a deep brownish orange, which I think will add a nice contrast to the maple.

Layout Mortise and tenon jointsI started with a 16/4 thick piece of cherry for the legs, cut them to size, and milled them to the thickest dimension that the legs would be. Before cutting the curve, I marked out and cut the mortises. It is much easier to cut mortises in a square block of wood as opposed to a curved one.

shop made drawing bowI don’t have one of those fancy pants drawing bows.
So I used a string threaded through the ends of an old yardstick I had laying around. Once I decided on the right curve, I cut a scrap of wood to use as a spacer to keep the yardstick bent so I could transfer the curve to my template. It worked pretty well, however, it was a little cumbersome so someday when I have a few extra dollars to through around I plan on purchasing one.

router-templateTo cut the mortises, I used a homemade router template. It is a similar design to the commercially available ones, but unlike the drawing bow, I like my shop-made one better than the commercial ones. The main reason is I have a stop block on each side of the router. This adds a little insurance that if the router hits a knot or hard spot in the wood, the force of the router will not push or pull it out of alignment. The two stop blocks on either side help keep it locked into position and routing a straight line. It is about as foolproof as it can get.

Woodworking courses taught by master craftsman Brain Benham

Flexible Sanding StripThe standard procedure at the band saw is to cut out the curves, and then I use a flexible sanding strip to finish the curve to its final shape. This is a shop-made sanding strip I saw over at the wood whisperer site, and you can find out how to make it from Marc Spagnuolo

How to hand cut a tenonI cut two sides of the tenon at the table saw; I did, however, not cut all the way around. Typically, when I do, the table saw is off just enough so the shoulders are not flush on all four sides. I instead used a technique I picked up from Christopher Schwarz, where he uses a chisel to cut a small notch for his hand saw to ride in. (I tried to find a link on his blog where he shows this, but could not.  I think I saw him do it when he was on the Woodwright’s Shop TV Show.) This was a game-changer for me. Once I took the time to practice this technique, I have never messed up the shoulders of my tennis players since. To finish off the tenons, I used my chisel to round them over to fit in the round mortises created by my router and sneaked up on the fit with my shoulder plain.

Re-saw wood to book matchNext, I moved on to the side panels. I re-sawed them on the band saw to get book-matched pieces and used the same template for the legs to transfer the curve to the panels.

Sketchup Courses for Beginners and Advanced users

final assembly of legsFinally, for the glue up, I used West Systems epoxy. It is very dry in Colorado, so the epoxy gives me a little bit more working time as well as it is gap filling, so if a tenon is a little loose, I won’t lose too much strength. To be sure I didn’t mar the wood with the clamps and get good clamping pressure, I saved the cut-offs from the curves and taped some pieces of cloth to cushion them.

Please Check out my other posts on how to build a writing desk:

How to Make A Wooden Drawer Pull

Follow this link if you would like me to build you a custom desk or see more pictures of completion.

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.

1 comment

  1. It look great. I admire your skills and passions to do so. I would recommend your idea to my cousin, who is trying to build similar custom-made wooden particles and curved furniture for our villa.

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