Picking up where we left off last time with my build-a-desk series, the construction of the desk top was completed and now it is time to figure out how to support the top. Our design diverges from the original in a few places at this point and we met a few structural challenges in this section of the project. Our design constraints and how we chose to tackle them are below:
Only using solid hardwood
No metal supports or fasteners. No plywood with veneers. Only solid hardwood construction everywhere and for every piece. This is a great statement for the build quality we are striving for but there are special considerations that come into play when choosing the no-shortcuts route. Wood is a living, breathing entity that expands and contracts over time. The reason your dresser draws become tighter and harder to open in hot and humid summers is the same reason we have to build play into key spots in our design. If the legs are attached too rigidly to the desk top, then when the top expands in the summer the joinery will split. Like ice freezing into rock crevices that over time form fissures, if we do not allow for the natural forces then the desk will be ruined in the future. Our goal is to create a timeless piece built to last forever.
There is no apron
Think of almost every dining room table or wood desk you have sat at. Chances are they all have an apron that spans between the legs and oriented vertically. This provides great rigidity to keep the top from warping and provides the legs with strength to combat racking forces. Our design does not have this feature so we had to reconcile how to keep the top strong and prevent the legs from snapping off if the desk were dragged across a rug. The original resolves this problem with metal fasteners into a metal brace to get away with a no apron design.
We decided to tackle the issue by attaching a double cleat system on the bottom of the top. The cleats will help keep the top from cupping while also providing a substrate to securely attach the legs to. The cleats are white oak boards 5 inches wide that span the desk’s width. The first cleat is screwed directly to the desk top with slotted holes to allow for the expansions and contractions of the top as shown in the picture below. The second cleat screws into the first and allows us to accomplish my next point.
The legs have to be detachable for moving and storage
The original has chrome fasteners that allow the legs to detach easily. To keep the legs removable but also strong enough to handle the racking forces we attached a second cleat to the first. The two legs, the stretcher between them, and the cleat make up a system that come off as one unit. If this is hard to picture, wait and you will see a picture of how this all comes together later in the post. This also means that our legs have to be sturdy so we opted for 1.5 inch red oak for the legs.
The first step for creating the legs was to square off the oak boards and cut holes for the joinery. We used a Festool which cuts uniform holes for pre-made pins to fit inside.
Next we made a pattern that would then be used to rough cut and then template route the final shapes. We used a combination of a jigsaw and band-saw for the rough cuts on the legs.
Next we used a router with our template mounted on it to cut the final shape. The router spins a cutting bit at around 20,000 RPM and has a guide which rides along the template’s outline. This allows us to cut the oak boards to the exact shape of our template. The wood shavings are sub-paper thin because so little is being shaved off at a time. It is also a pretty fun process with wood flying everywhere!
We also used the router to round the edges of the legs. Next, it was time to sand all the piece of the under structure, make them smooth-to-the-touch, and ready for finishing.
After carving out a space for the legs to nest gracefully into the top, it was ready to put together for the first time!
And it finally looks like a desk! Everything is starting to come together! We still have a lot of finishing work to do as well as constructing the drawer section but so far so good. Thanks for checking in on my progress!