Table Woodworking

The Boy's Desk

My son’s room has been the scene of many projects over the years…

As he has grown, so the things in the room have needed to grow around him. This has included the room itself, which used to be smaller, and somehow, mostly thanks to a lump hammer, gained an extra 20% of floorspace. I probably should write about that job someday, though it was more messing about with bricks than with wood. Anyway, as he made his way through school, he would need a desk.

For some reason, I thought curves would be nice. I imagined a desk that curved out of the wall by the door, around the corner and then into the other wall. Curves would of course be a little more tricky than nice straight lines, and would introduce some new practices to master.

The first step was to make some rough sketches, just to get a view of the scale of the job. The desk would be next to the bedroom door, so that set its maximum length. It also needed to have a suitable depth at the point at which he would sit, to allow legroom underneath and enough space for the inevitable computer keyboard and monitor. Of course, with the desk being curved, this depth would not be measured parallel to the wall, but would be judged at an angle from the notional front curve of the desk into the corner of the room. Then the desk would stretch a certain way down the other wall and be tapered so that it curved into the wall nicely. As with so many of these projects, I turned to my favourite software package, and began drawing freeform curves in PowerPoint.

The curves seemed to look best when the shape was asymmetrical. The basic design I settled on had the shape of the desk remaining larger on the right-hand side – suitable, I imagined, for my son’s hand and notepad – with the left-hand side being smaller and extending a little less down the wall. This choice tied in quite nicely with a decision my son had made while the room was being decorated. He had stated, quite firmly, that the end wall would be painted bright red. We were able to dissuade him from having the whole room red as it would probably burn out his retinas, but the one red wall was a must. Planning the desk to sit more against the other wall meant less obstruction of the redness, and also that he would be twisted a little away from the red and towards the other wall, again, saving his retinas just a little.

The wider right-hand side led naturally to the idea of having drawers or shelves or similar underneath this side of the desk. Those could be planned separately, once I had a little more idea of the actual shape.

To double-check my curve idea, I decided to make a mock-up of the desk out of cardboard. I spent an afternoon carving out the basic shape, cutting off bits and taping new pieces on until I had something that fitted nicely into the wall. One important side-effect of doing this was that I could see clearly that the walls were not precisely right-angled or flat. This is obvious really, as they had been hand-plastered, and I knew that I would need to shape the desk to fit the corner at some point in the construction. This cardboard construction let me factor that shape into the wood right from the start rather than requiring some re-factoring later. The cardboard and PowerPoint designs could now come together, and my virtual curve made to match my constructed curve.

The desk design would be affected by the choice of wood. I could not purchase a single piece of wood of the dimensions of the desk. So, there would need to be some joins somewhere. The positioning of these joins would influence the cost and the look of the desk. I went over to my local timber merchants in search of ideas. They suggested a block board countertop, which could be bought in a choice of lengths, widths and thicknesses. That turned my design into an exercise of tessellating pieces to fit most efficiently in the available wood.

This task was achieved using another nice trick of PowerPoint; the ability to drag pieces around and rotate them on the screen, and to align them with other pieces on the slide. I played around for some time with different arrangements, looking to see that I had enough material for all the pieces. Here are a couple of examples of the thought process:

In this first figure, I have taken the widest countertop size, 90cm, and pictured the desk-top with its back edge lined up with the edge of the wood. The desk was to be wider than 90cm, requiring a join to be made in the left-hand side of the desk that would cut across the desk front. A join here would’ve been quite visible if I wasn’t careful with the construction. It may also have been a point of weakness if the boy happened to lean on this corner.

However, playing with PowerPoint a little, I realised I could fit the desktop onto the wood at an angle – rather nicely, rotating by 30 degrees looked quite good. I could then position the shape so that the whole of the front curve fitted nicely within the wood area, with only a small part of the back of the desk needing joining. This join would be much less visible, and more sturdy, being in an area where the desktop would be fixed to the wall. The downside of course was that I would be left with several smaller and odd-shaped offcuts rather than one large piece. The remaining pieces of the desk would need to fit into these offcuts.

With this design in mind I settled on a 90cm by 300cm by 2.7cm countertop made of maple. My son’s cabin bed was also of maple, so I had a nice match for the room. At this orientation, the desk would fit into a 180cm section of this countertop, leaving me with a 120cm long piece that I could use to make some shelves. I was now ready to mark up the wood and begin cutting out the desktop.

That’s enough for now. I shall talk about cutting the top and building the shelves in the next post.



By nickcnickcnickc

I spend my working life staring at computer screens, so in my spare time I look for things to do with my hands, preferably involving wood. It's a little ironic then that I've now starting writing a blog about my woodworking, and thus introducing computer screens to my main hobby..!

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