Desk

I built this desk in summer 2021 using primarily hand tools and a design adapted from Dinesen. I'd wanted to learn to build furniture within the space and noise constraints of a city apartment for several years, and when we moved into a new apartment with space for both a home office and woodworking, I had my opportunity. The project took about 4 months in total: from buying tools to building a workbench, to making the desk. I'm quite happy with the results. It's a bit rickety when moved, and the soft Douglas Fir is prone to dents, but it's wonderful having a desk built exactly to our needs, and we love the look of it.

The top is 71 x 180 cm; large enough for two people to comfortably work at.

I selected the Dinesen as my reference design because it was both beautiful, and relatively simple in construction. I love how it elegantly creates visual interest from relatively simple joinery and a small number of pieces. Long apron boards poke out the end slightly, legs and apron overlap, etc. My favorite detail is the way the top floats slightly above the base.

Simple but effective visual interest is created by extending and/or intersecting the boards.

After learning about the pros and cons of various species of wood, I chose to use Douglas Fir. I love the look of it, and as a softwood it promised to be easy to work with (as opposed to hardwoods like oak). Fir is also relatively sustainable: it's fast-growing and found in abundance in my home province of British Columbia. Using a common species enabled me to source my stock from Home Depot, carefully picking through stacks to find boards without knots, cups or bows.

Legs: Squaring 2x6 boards then glueing into pairs to create thick post legs.

Construction was a serious challenge. I quickly realized that I'd made my life difficult by choosing to build a large piece of furniture (versus, say, a stool). Large size + inexperience + perfectionism were a dangerous combination. I'd been careful to choose good boards, but they still needed to be squared up where edges met, at a minimum. Without an electric planer or jointer, this was done by hand, using a Stanley jack plane, and some mediocre clamping arragements on my (too small) workbench.

Making cauls to help align the boards of the top when they are glued up.

In some cases, tools needed to be made from scratch before work could progress. A workbench was the first thing that was built. I needed a surface on which I could do everything from sawing to planing, and that would fit within the space constraints of our apartment's patio and storage locker. After much research I went with a low roman workbench.

Top: Edge jointing 7" boards then glueing into a panel.

The top was created from four 7" boards. The edges were first made square by match planing. Because of their size, this needed to be done using the bench surface as a giant shooting board. The prepped boards were then glued into a single panel using pipe clamps and cauls.

Joinery: Legs are fixed to apron with drawbore mortice and tenon (two dowels and glue).
I used Cinema 4D to plan the layout and measurements.

I'm happy with the end result. I was able to build a piece of furniture that we love the look of, that fits both our needs and our available space perfectly, and I picked up a bunch of useful skills along the way. I wish it hadn't taken as long as it did, and if I had to do it again I'd probably use a wood that's less prone to denting, but overall I'm very pleased with this as a first project.

The finished desk sitting in our home office space, facing east.
Josh Carpenter

Hello! I'm a product designer based in Vancouver, Canada. Most recently I led design teams at Google and Mozilla, working to bring virtual and augmented reality to the open web. Since 2019 I've been traveling and working on a series of personal projects, including an Electron-based Markdown editor and a deep dive into climate change.

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