Thursday, January 26, 2012

My New Desk

Beautiful Doug Fir

Hi there PORC fans.

It's been a fun week doing something new to me. I'm building a new desk for my office. I wanted something I could make from wood on hand, had simple clean lines and was solid. I think I got all of them. I got a good butt kicking at the same time. I've never cut 2.125" dovetails before.
I've also been working on the shop to get it ready for the big shop-warming party on MARCH 29th. New electric, benches, walls, dust collection, air compressor piping, painting and storage and ......... The list goes on and on. It should be a good party that all my readers are more than welcome to attend!

But for today, were going to focus the cool desk, keep on reading for the full report and plenty of pics.

You may remember from an earlier post about sustainable woodworking. I've got 3 sequential Doug Fir slabs we milled up a few years ago in Southern Oregon. I built a smaller table out of some of the "scraps," but I've been saving these big boys for the right project. This desk was just what I needed them for.

2 of the 3 were put together to make a solid piece about 10' long, by 30" wide. I can barely lift these things, much less mill them. As always in this situation, I headed over to my buddies at Creative Woodworking NW after I cut the boards to the approximate length. I also took along the 4 remaining rough cut slabs to have surfaced for a later date.

My Skil Saw couldn't quite get through the 2.5" slabs unless I flipped the big boy over.
These 3 are 12' or so.

Every time I go in that place I feel so 'small.' My material seems so tiny. I wanted flat and square material for the desk. My intention all along has been to dovetail the legs to the top, and I knew that material that we prepped properly would save me a ton of headaches.

First step. Lets flatten these boards on the Martin 20" Joiner. This baby is HUGE! We fed the boards over the cutter about 3 times and ended up with perfect flat boards. Then we flipped them up to edge joint them. Just for a laugh, we took off 5/16" on one pass. We backed it off for a nice clean final cut. I couldn't even hear the machine running. WOW!

20" x over 9' bed. THAT is a joiner. I want one.
Easy to take off .25"

We then took the slabs over to the wide-belt sander. This 53" sander has 3 heads. 1 is a planer head. (That's right, a 53" planer) and 2 sanding heads. One course, and one fine. When the boards come out the other end, you've got a beautiful material all perfectly flat, and consistent.

The whole machining process took about 20 minutes. WOW, again.

When I think about a dust collector, I don't generally think about using a truck to dump the dust. But that's how they do it here. Sometimes it gets dumped 2 times a day.

I headed back to the shop to start my glue-ups. I added a few Domino's for alignment. I'm glad I did. Once they were in place, the glue up was effortless. It really helped that all the material was damn near perfect.

Once I pulled them from the clamps I squared them up on the table saw.

We are now entering serious virgin territory. I needed a way to cut really big dovetails well, and quickly. (Let's not forget I am building this "for fun." Every minute I work on this, I am putting other paying jobs on hold. I needed to move efficiently)

I dug into the vault that is my goofy brain and started stealing from those whom have come before me. I built a very large cross cut sled for my saw. I bolted it too the Jess-em crosscutting sled and made the first run of parts. The sled worked perfectly!

The 6' sled has a plywood piece attached to hold the workpiece tight in place.

Cutting just shy of the line

The cut-lines are marked on both sides of the workpiece.
By flipping the orientation of the workpiece to the fence, you get both angles.

I got rid of all the waste between tails with a chisel and mallet. I clamped a guide to the board to make sure I kept this big guys square and at 90ยบ.

Fir is so soft. The fibers barely cut. They like to smash and rip out. Especially using blunt objects like my dull chisels.

Once I transferred my lines from the legs to the top, I need a good way to cut the pins. Whatever my solution, it had to work around the large top. I could barely lift the thing by myself. It was out of the question to move the wood around a cutting device. I needed to bring the tool to it.

My solution was to cut out the majority of the waste with a jigsaw. I made sure to stay clear of the final line. Once complete, I decided to route the waste with the longest template bit I had for my router. 1.5" in length. First I took a board and put it back on the sled that cut the pins. I ran it through the saw without adjusting anything. Now I knew that I had a perfect match to the angle already cut. I cut a small dado in it and mounted a "fence" if you will that will align the template with the edge of the slab.

Before routing the pins.

After clamped in place, I route out the waste as deep as that little bit would go. After I get both sides of the top routed, I do a quick check to see if they actually fit to the legs. They did! Thank heavens. If I blew it, the desk was going to be 2" shorter. :)

After routing most of the pins.

I know need to clean up the rest of the waste. By clamping two boards to the sides, I create an enormous worksurface for the router to ride on. I adjust the depth of the bit, plunge in and ta-da! We've got dovetails. Easy Breezy.

**Jason's tip of the day** When plunge routing with a non-plunge router, rest the edge of the router on the work surface and slowly move the cutter into the work piece. While your moving from non vertical to vertical, make small circles with the base. This keeps the router bit moving, and from becoming trapped in a hole that could easily allow for a "catch" from the router bit.

We are now most of the way home. When assembling them, I glue anywhere and everywhere. I use a mallet to lightly drive it home. It fit like a glove. Five clamps pull it the final way home.

After the glue sets, I head to work on smoothing everything out. I start with a hand place to cut away the bulk of extra wood. The belt sander does the rest with 80 and 120 grit paper. A chisel being pulled works as a great scraper for the edges of the desk.

Once I put a coat of Profin oil on the desk, I quickly realized that one of my design ideas has led me astray. I wanted one live edge and one clean cut sharp edge on the other side of the desk.

No go!

It looked too log cabin-ish. The live edge was covered with worm holes and other imperfections. Frankly it looked like I shaped the outer edge with a chainsaw. Fine for some, but not on this one. I kicked and screamed a bit, but decided it best to cut off the live edge. I could just feed the whole desk through the table saw, but at 170ish pounds I saw a "Hey Cletis watch this!" moment in the making. I played it safe and brought out the Festool again.

The edge looked very unclean and crappy. It had to go.

Grab the stool and flip this baby on it's side to cut the legs.
I am now very pleased. I have 4 coats of Daly's Profin oil on it. The color is great, and the hand is so smooth and sweet. Next week I will get a piece of 3/8" glass to protect the top. That Fir is pretty, but soft soft soft.
After the 2nd coat of oil.

I am looking forward to the next big desk like this. Like all new things. The first time is always the slowest. Next time, it should go quite a bit faster.

Thanks to all for the comments and reads. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to drop me a note, or post it in the comment section. As always, thanks for reading!


  1. Those are handsome dovetails. I have never attempted them on the table saw. I need to make me a sled like yours. That is one big honkin' jointer - it is good to have as friends. :)

  2. Thanks Jeff! Indeed, I'm glad I have such a good relationship with them. Every dime I spend with them is worth it. Such a great business.

  3. quite the undertaking, nice work! Curious to the type of glue you used on the dovetails?


  4. Thanks Tyler! I was about to comment on your amazing desk. :) Titebond 2 is the glue. Thanks again.

  5. Um, honey? I want a new desk at home! ;)

  6. Jason,

    Very beautiful work. It takes nerves of steel (and trust in your clamps) to do such precise dovetails on this scale. What a great feeling when it taps together tight! Joanna was very proud to show me at work.


  7. Thanks Michael! I lucked out and just wedged the slab tightly with the board on the sled and that thing just held itself in place. Say hi to Joanna for me. :)

  8. Great desk Jason. Its really cool to see the process. I know a sustainable timber farm in southern Oregon that can supply Doug Fir for next production run. :)

  9. Fir! I would really like to do a project in Fir!
    Yes soft woods can be quite difficult to work, particularly the end grain.
    I wish I had friends like yours heh.
    Keep 'em comin' sir!