I built a desk in my son’s room. This is how it came together. In Part 1, I described the planning process. Part 2 covered the tasks of cutting out the desk pieces from the block board countertop. In this part, I get to talk about the assembly…
The build began with a round of biscuit joining, to make up the shelf unit. This was mostly familiar territory – use the cutter to make grooves, fill with glue and a biscuit, clamp tight to bring the pieces together, and wipe up the excess glue that oozes out. There were a couple of changes to the routine this time, however: First, rather than using pieces nicely machine-cut by the timber merchants, I was working with wood that I had cut myself. This was a big test of my ability to saw a straight line by hand. I had a tube of maple-effect wood filler on hand in case things didn’t entirely line up, though I think in the end the joints came out very well – to the degree that anyone will notice that is.
The second issue was that the curved shelves were, well, curved, and would be difficult to secure with a clamp. I addressed this with a little bit of forward planning: foreseeing the problem, I kept hold of a curved off-cut from one of the shelves, in order for it to fit over the curve and along the length of each shelf in turn. This would provide a flat section for the clamp to hold. I then used three clamps to make each joint; two to secure the shelf to the unit, and a third to hold the off-cut in place and stop it sliding under pressure from the other two. The process was successful, but now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t take a picture of this arrangement at the time. Sorry!
The desktop was to be lined up against two walls. I decided to secure it by having it resting on the shelf unit and on a pair of wooden strips screwed into the walls. I would then need some mechanism to secure the desktop and prevent it from moving around. Many years ago (in a project I may write up in due course) I discovered Cam Locks. These are the metal widgets you get in flatpack furniture kits to bolt panels together. They comprise of a Cam Dowel, which sticks up out of one piece of wood, and a Cam Lock that is recessed into the other piece. When the two pieces of wood are brought together, the dowel goes into the side of the lock. The lock is then turned 90 degrees, and this causes it to grab the dowel and secure the two pieces together. You can buy these things in bags of 50 for not very much, so I have a jar full of them ready for jobs like these. The advantage of this mechanism is that it can be undone, and the join disassembled. I wanted the option of taking the desk apart should we move sometime, so cam locks seemed like the right option.
Cam locks require a particular type of hole to be drilled, that goes part way into a piece of wood, and has a flat base. A normal drill bit is no good for this, as it will leave a dented hole that might pierce all the way through the wood. (Cam bolts are about 12mm deep, and can be fitted in wood down to about 15mm in thickness. This means there may only be 3mm or so of wood left to play with after the hole is cut.) To solve this, I found a type of drill bit called a Hinge Cutter. These come in various diameters and, as the name suggests, they are normally used for cutting those large holes that concealed cabinet hinges sit in. They are closer in style to a router bit than to a drill bit and will cut a hole with an almost flat bottom.
There are several holes required for each cam lock to be fitted. The main hole to hold the cam lock is described above, then there is a second hole at 90 degrees to this that the cam dowel will enter when the pieces are put together. Lastly there’s a hole in the other piece of wood into which the dowel is screwed. It took a bit of practice getting these to line up, and of course, I had to get PowerPoint involved somehow.
So here are pictures of a hinge cutter in action, and of the resultant holes in my supporting strips. I painted the supporting strips the same colours as used on the walls, so that they will blend in a little when in place.
Now I can begin to fit the desk into the room. I started by putting the shelf unit in place, then fixing the supporting strips to the wall at the same height. I could then place the desktop on top and mark up where the cam dowels would be positioned. Some drilling later, I had a set of dowels in the desktop that fitted nicely into the locks.
Before final assembly, I got busy with the finish. I chose to use a clear satin varnish on the desk, which would give a little bit of shine to the wood, and more importantly, protect it from the abuse that a small boy might inflict. Four coats later and I was ready to finally mount.
There were two last details to add, the first functional, the second largely cosmetic. Firstly, the desk would be play host to computers, games consoles, monitors, etc. I drilled a large hole at the back of the desktop to take the cables from such things and allow them to be tidied away. I then found a box to fit under the desk that would hold a mains extension strip along with the various plugs, transformers and wires and so on, keeping them hidden and away from his feet.
Secondly, while the supporting strips were easily strong enough to hold the desktop, I felt this arrangement on its own would give the illusion that the desk was only supported on one side and the whole lot might tip over. I addressed this by adding a chrome worktop leg, the sort often used for kitchen counters. This was cut to length and screwed to the underside of the desktop. It probably doesn’t take any of the weight placed on the desk, but it makes the thing look a bit more balanced.
And with that, the boy’s desk was finished.