Make That Desk

February 13, 2017

I love making things out of unwanted junk/scrap. Nothing gives me more pleasure than taking something that's meant for the scrap heap and turning it into a functional (& hopefully beautiful) piece of furniture. That turned out to be the case with this one.

 

I understand it can be a bit daunting to just pick up an old door and say ‘yup – I’m going to turn that into an office desk’.

 

But honestly – it’s not that hard. It’s all about just getting into it, giving it a go and not expecting perfection first time out.

 

Almost every single piece I’ve made since I started doing this as a hobby five or so years back have ‘character’ … and by character, I mean – they have imperfections and don’t look shop bought.

But that just adds character no? And I also love the fact that it’s not just another factory mass manufactured cheap piece of laminate.

 

Turns out to be a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a similar item from a high-end furniture shop most of the time too … if you’re smart about you’re shopping list (I’ll get into that later).

 

Ok, so what you need to start is a basic design – an idea of the shape/substance you want to achieve out of whatever type of desk you’re building. I knew I wanted a functional adult sized office desk, so it had to fit the usual requirements.

800mm high – tick. 1400mm long – tick. 700mm deep – tick. But everything else was very much open for negotiation. I found a general design I liked on Pinterest and away I went.

 

I had the door for the top so all I needed was the timber.

I decided I’d go a bit high end seeming as I sourced the door for free (cheers Darcy), so I went with a 50mm Macrocarpa (Botanical Name: Cupressus Macrocarpa. Source Location: Originated from the USA).

 

Because I was making all the trestle shelves from individual boards glued together I had to get quite a bit of this milled. I think I spent $250 incl. GST all in on the timber/glue for this project.

 

I splashed out on marine grade wood glue too because it doesn’t fail over a long period of time. It also just gives you that certainty that whatever you make using pre-cut joins/glue alone will stand the test.

 

I personally go for Epiglue (http://www.smartmarine.co.nz/products/maintenance-paint/glues-velcro/50175/epiglue-epoxy-glue-pop-top-2-part-385g/details/), but you can use any of the many available glues out there.

 

Shopping List:

Top material (old door for me)

Trestle Legs materials (50mm milled Macrocarpa on this project, but the worlds your oyster)

Epiglue Marine Grade Wood Glue

20mm Panel Pins

 

Tools List:

Heat Gun

Scraper

Wire Brush

Mini-Crow Bar

Claw Hammer

Tape Measure

Square Ruler

Slide Bevel

Pencil

Hand Saw

Chisel

Mitre Saw (depending on the type of top you go for you may need a sliding arm)

Circular Saw/Guide

Clamps (large and small if you make one like mine)

 

Most of these items you can hire if you don’t fancy making multiple upfront purchases.

 

Step One:

Strip the door. This requires patience, time, a heat gun, a scraper, and a strong arm. It’s quite fun and if you’re using an old door you’ll see the multiple layers come off as you’re stripping the door. My original plan was to take this right back to bare bones wood and just have an oiled finish.

But once I saw the multiple layers make that oh so pretty pattern as I was removing the paint layers I quickly changed my mind. I ended up with a stunning multi-colored, but not in your face psychedelic multi-colored pattern to the top of my desk.

Step Two:

After all the paint was stripped I disassemble the door by taking off the back bracing. This had been put on with a combination of nails/screws over the years so with the help of a screwdriver followed by a mini-crowbar/claw hammer I made light work of this.

 

Just a note – you need patience and a strong but gentle hand when trying to prise these kinds of old pieces apart because they have an annoying habit of disintegrating when you use any sort of brute force.

 

I marked all boards 1 to 9 in clear pencil before I took them apart so I’d know which way to glue them back together. I have been caught before not knowing my arse from my elbow when trying to put things back together without labelling. Fool me once ………

 

I wasn't too worried about the underside of the door table top so I left the bracing pattern show on the finished desk. Character remember.

Step Three:

With your large sash clamps lay all boards out on a flat surface (I used my concrete garage floor). Mix up an adequate amount of glue (it’s a two-part epoxy so make sure you have enough – too much is far better than too little when you’re ten minutes into a gluing mish) and apply a generous amount to the edge of each board.

 

Butt together by hand and position the way you want them ensuring they’re flat. Then gently tighten until they bite.

 

Once they bite – lay glad wrap across the top and put a heavy weight (anything) across all boards to get some lateral spread so when you tighten properly they won’t all curl up and pop out. This is key to ensuring a nice flat finished surface to your desk.

 

So, that’s your top sorted apart from square cutting later with your circular saw/guide and sanding/finishing in whatever fashion you like (stain/oil/French polish/polyurethane/etc.)

 

Step Four:

Make your cutting list for your legs/shelves. You’ve got eight legs, four shelves (if you’re using solid wood) and a top joiner that connects the trestle legs themselves, but also gives you a fixing point to the underside of your table.

 

Cut your eight long pieces for the legs at 15degrees off square cut parallel to each other. This will give your table a flat base/flat top support.

 

I used individual boards to make my shelves with a planer ran along the edge of each board to give a nice effect to mirror the top.

If I were to make one of these again I’d go with a solid piece for each shelve – I just wanted design/look uniformity with the table top to shelves.

 

In hindsight, I don’t think I’d even have noticed if I’d used solid wood and used a plunge router to cut line effects into the shelves tops.

 

You live and learn eh?

 

There are so many possibilities to your sizing so I won’t bore you with my cutting list – you just need to decide what will work for you in terms of angle (I used a 15degree splay throughout) and go for it.

 

If you want a detailed cutting list the net is a never ending source of ready to make DIY plans with dimensions – example here: http://www.ana-white.com/2012/07/plans/1x3-sawhorse-desk (it is in metric though)

 

Step Five:

Marking and cutting the angled cuts in the shelves for the legs to fit into was probably the hardest part and if you have a flush leg to shelve (no overhang), this will make your life a whole lot easier. This was trial and error for me and they are by no means perfect after hand cutting/chiseling out. But they look good.

 

You need to lay out your legs on a flat surface and slide the shelves in to see where they will sit. Ensure you mirror both sides so your shelves will sit even on the finished legs.

 

Mark the cuts with your slide bevel and use your hand saw to cut/chisel to notch out. Just take your time on this one and very important step – this makes the entire desk really.

 

I would recommend practicing all your cuts on some scrap wood before attempting anything on what you know is going to be a finished piece of timber. Practice makes perfect and all that jazz.

 

Step Six:

Assembling the legs/shelves and gluing together is easy because once you have all your cuts successfully completed you just line everything up/apply the glue you can lay one set top to toe on top of each other and clamp.

 

Same as last time – apply weight onto everything with glad wrap in between to ensure nice even joins before tightening as if your life depended on it.

 

Step Seven:

Once the legs have dried use your 20mm pins to add extra reinforcement before going any further. If you use the right pins it gives it a cool look too.

Step Eight:

After sanding everything (legs, shelves, top, etc.) join the legs to the table top. I used a line of Epiglue and screwed the top directly to the top rail of each trestle.

I did add an extra piece of the old desk bracing to give an extra fixing point/added depth just in case you want to use a decent length screw and not have the tips protruding.

 

Step Nine (Final):

Finish in whatever finish your heart desires. I went for a basic oil (I use pure tung oil: http://www.supremeoils.co.nz/tung-oil.html) – looks and smells amazing and gives the timber a deep body finish that you can’t get with a standard Danish oil.

After that it’s wait for her to dry, apply a beeswax luster if you fancy and that’s your finished table.

 

You can make this as easy or as difficult a process as you want depending on the materials you chose to use. This desk took me 40-50 hours to make because of the materials I used, but if I went for a plywood top/shelves and pine legs with no gluing and all screw/pin fixing I could have knocked this one out in an afternoon.

 

These desks are very stylish now and you can use any sort of material you want to achieve any sort of finish you can think of.

 

My advice – don’t be afraid … just go for it, what’s the worst that can happen?

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