Sunday, January 22, 2012

Office Desk: Dream to Reality

Okay, now you’ve seen the final results of our huge desk project, let’s rewind to the beginning so we can examine the details.  The dream desk all began with a plan (which I showed you here). 

desk 2 iso

I drew it all by myself in Sketchup and shared it with Papa who helped make it a reality.  We started with a bunch of drawings, a stack of stain-grade birch plywood, and a cut list.  And since I did not print my plans to any known scale, we had to redraw the cabinet and drawers with a T-square and architect’s scale.  Things I know nothing of.  I let Papa do that part. :)  It was pretty, too and very professional-looking.  So, I took pictures.


Now maybe I will remember how to draw drawers for next time.


We spent the next two days cutting all the pieces.  The majority of the desk is 3/4” plywood, except for the drawers which have 1/2” sides and back, and 1/4” bottom.  The legs are 3x3’s that we bought pre-fabricated.  They actually measure 2 5/8” (<—irritating).  After we had cut, labeled, and sanded all the pieces (of which there were many), we began building the drawers.  I was responsible for making the cut list and calculating all the dimensions for the drawer pieces.  I was a little worried about my calculations since I’ve never done this before. :)  We put all the pieces together to make sure it would work out before we glued it and lo and behold… they fit!  I was so excited that I hadn’t messed it all up.  I was cheering so loudly that my niece Abby came to see what was the matter! :)  Anyway, the drawers were glued, clamped and nailed together with the air nailer. 


Then we began the process of staining them… on the pool table.  Yes, my parents’ pool table has infinite creative uses other than to play pool.  We use it to cut out fabric, store cake layers, make crafts and now to build and stain furniture!  Luckily we had a roll of plastic sheeting to protect the surface from accidental drips.  :)


After the drawers were complete we built the center cabinet.  Building furniture is basically like putting together a puzzle… you must get the right pieces in the right slots and then using glue and brute force, bring it all together and make it square before you nail it.  :)  Luckily I have my Papa for that part.  When all else fails, clamp it with like ten clamps and call it a day. :)


After the cabinet was built, we installed the drawer runners.  This step was easily the most frustrating and most rewarding one of all.  Once again, I let Papa do the hard part.  My job was measuring and drawing lines and holding things in place.  If you see any flaws in this piece, I’m sure they are my fault.  Papa did the best he could to keep me from screwing things up, but he only has two hands. :) 


Ta-da!  Drawers that open and close! 

These babies are installed with heavy duty slide mounts that hold up to 100 lbs.  And they have ball bearings that make for a smooth glide and rubber bump stops to keep them from falling open. 


Apron staining came next, since it was easier to completely stain and finish everything before we put it together.  We stained first with dark walnut to bring out the grain, then followed up with two coats of Bombay Mahogany poly-shade to get that rich color I was after, then two final coats of polyurethane to seal it all up.





Build puzzle:


Glue, clamp, check your square, nail in place.


You know how on Project Runway Tim Gunn is always saying “Make it work!”… well, in the world of woodworking our catch phrase should be “Check your square”.  I bet Papa said that a hundred times.  We did, we checked our square… that desk is more square than the room it’s in. :)

Anyway, after the two apron/leg pieces were constructed, all that was left was to finish the staining before we could put all the pieces together.  Mama did most of the poly-shade and polyurethane application for me while Papa and I built stuff.  The visible plywood edges were sealed with iron-on wood veneer edge banding.  It was super fun to use (at first)… just iron it on, trim it and sand it smooth.  After doing the cabinet front I thought it was super fun. 


Then we had to do the long straight edges on the tabletops.  That was not so fun.  But it worked out better than any other finishing technique to cover the plywood edge.  Everything was sealed with poly to make it super durable (and hopefully to prevent the veneer from coming un-stuck as time goes by). 

The tabletop for the desk was cut into two pieces because they don’t sell plywood ten feet long.  And also because I wanted this desk to be versatile in case the office ever moves to another room and for when we move to another house.  The way we constructed it, Michael’s side of the desk can be assembled with the cabinet and the large tabletop to make a separate desk.  That leaves me with a smaller tabletop and two legs, no cabinet.  I guess in this situation, I could fasten the other side of the desk to the wall to make a small table.  I had to put the seam somewhere so this plan seemed to make the most sense.  (If we had put the seam exactly in the center, the desk could never be made smaller into one half without there being a large gap on top of the cabinet.)


Once all the pieces were assembled and stained we had five sections:  2 apron/leg combos (left and right), 2 tabletop pieces (left and right), and 1 cabinet with drawers.  After Mama gave us the green light to transport the now dry pieces to my house, Papa came to install the desk. 

And I forgot to take any pictures of the installation!  Which is a shame, because I wanted you all to see the madness involved in trying to fasten sections together and make them level and square with only four hands and only an inch gap on three sides in which to work.  Madness!

We did it.  It was fun.  And once when I was putting a screw in the drawer slide while Papa held it… he said “Good!”  I think most of the rest of the screws I put it were crooked, or off-center, or over-tightened, which of course I got to hear about each time I did it wrong.  Except for that one.  I hope it was an important one.  :) 

Oh well, practice makes perfect.


And for all that hard work Michael and I were rewarded with a desk to be proud of!  Now if I can remember to dust the rich shiny finish once in a while, it will keep looking this good!  But for now, I’m just going to go stroke it some more and practice opening and closing the drawers…



Hannah said...

Stunning! "Good!" Magnificent! I like it a lot...very classy! Glad all your hard work and design paid off.