Cheap Materials... that about sums it up. I was given (as in free) this nice spalted maple slab (about 16" across, 3" thick, and 10ft long) by the gentleman that I get a lot of my rough lumber from. It has sat in my lumber stacks for the past 6 months until I had the time/motivation/inspiration to do something with it. Currently I don't have a really good place in my house to do work for my full time job. Stuff like working at my computer, reading papers, etc. Usually I end up in my single lazy chair which isn't the greatest place to do work. So I finally decided to go make a desk out of the thing.
I have a room with a large bay window. It looks out over the street corner and the park across the road. I figured this was the best place to put a desk to do work at. I originally thought about a desk with three "sides", matching the bay window. However, I soured on that idea after awhile and decided to go with just one angle. For the base I wanted to try to make a "floating" system. The idea here is that from most common viewing angles (i.e. typical human height) you can't see that the desk top is resting on the base. Only if you get underneath will you be able to tell. I wasn't quite sure exactly how I was going to do that but I tend to play fast and loose with my design as I go, so I figured I'd make it work some how.
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Large Slab of Wood, spalted maple in my case
Black Walnut beam ( mine was 4" x 6" x 8')
Some type of router bit to cut mortises, there are a few different options (I have had great luck with Whiteside, highly recommend).
Long Pipe Clamps (Rather than dropping $100 dollars on a single big clamp, make your own with 1/2" galvanized tube (from your local box store) and Bessy H Style Pipe Clamp Ends
Small Dowels (I got this bottle from Woodpecker, at 300 it will last a long time)
Dowel Centering Set (Super useful for marking out drill spots)
Lancelot (Basically a chainsaw blade for an angle grinder, super cool...and dangerous)
Goggles and Respirator (basically wear these all the time haha)
Allright, lets get it!
Step 1: The Base
I'll ask forgiveness now as I made a lot of this up as I went and may not remember all the specific dimensions.
I wanted to make two sets of X's that would serve as the two different legs. I sketched this up in Autodesk Fusion to get an idea of the angle between them as well as the length and height. I wanted my desk to be 30 inches off the ground. Subtracting for my slab and the floating framing, I would need an X height of about 26 inches. Play with your sketch to get the height and width you want. I was restricted to keep the X a width of 16" inches as that is the total width of my slab. My legs came out around 29 inches in length, my angle between them was ~15 degrees off the vertical ( or 30 degrees in total).
With the calculations done, lets make some dust.
- I first used my chop saw to cut the walnut beam down to about 33 inches (I'll trim things down later).
- If you have a jointer and/or planer try to square the stock up. There are also jigs you can make for your table saw that can do this.
- Time to rip things on the table saw. The beams making up my legs were each going to be 1.5" inches square. **If I could go back I would make this 2", just a note***.
- Rip the walnut beam down until you have four sticks that are 1.5" square.
- Now you need to lay out the sticks and align them at the angles you decided on earlier. Mark the overlap once you get them set.
- I choose to cut out a piece of each leg where they overlapped so that the legs fit together like a puzzle piece. Look at the pictures if this doesn't make sense.
- You can use a hand saw and chisel to cut these mortises out or you can use a router with the appropriate bit. I choose to take the router path to save time.
Coooooool, go get some coffee. Good break point.
Step 2: The Desk Top
I really just wanted to cut that slab up so I changed gears and went after the desk top.
After I identified the general areas of the slab I liked I started marking out my cuts. I wanted the desk top to have a slight 20 degree angle to it, this would allow it to sit into the bay window area better. To do this you need to mark out a horizontal line along one edge (can be tricky with a slab thats got some curve) and then mark a line that is 10 degrees off the perpendicular. You need to do this again at another spot but off the vertical in the other direction. I apologize I know, this is getting into geometry and trig and what not haha. If you are not sure, just do some test cuts on scrap. Make sure you are cutting at the correct angles and getting the layout you're looking for (that's what I did).
With your slab cut you need to prep the two piece for gluing. Luckily I have a 6" jointer and am strong enough to lift my desk pieces off the ground. This allowed me to just run them down the jointer to get a good edge for gluing.
**This slab was already pretty flat, otherwise I would have flattened it before cutting it down**
Now apply glue to both faces (toothbrush is super good for glue spreading) and clamp them together. I needed to use 6 foot pipe clamps to do this.
Step 3: Back to the Base
While the top is gluing up we can finish getting the base ready.
I milled a rectangular stick of walnut that would serve as a cap to the X. This was 1.5" tall, 2" wide and 15" long (to stay hidden under my desk top).
I cut small mortises in this that the legs of the X would fit into.
This is a good point to check if the legs are level and the same length. Stand them up on a known level surface and play with a bubble level.
If necessary, trim the legs down to match things up.
Step 4: And Back to the Top
Ok, glue has dried and we are good to keep working.
- At this point I put the slab up on my work bench and went at it with my hand planes to smooth the surface. Do this for awhile until you are happy. I smoothed it out for the most part but left a few marks from the sawmill for character.
Important: since the slab isnt a uniform length, when we glued them together the edges didn't match up perfectly. One piece might have been wider than the other (you can see this in my pictures).
- This is where you pull out your lancelot chainsaw blade. Heads Up: This is a super dangerous tool. You are putting a chainsaw blade on an angle grinder which you will be swinging this thing all around. Flap disc will take flesh off, metal blade can slice you up, lancelot will remove your hand. You have been warned. Also, wear goggles and a dust mask, this will get messy.
- Free hand with the lancelot to bring the two edges back together. Try to follow the natural curve of the wood and make things flow. You can clean it up with a flap disc if you think it necessary.
- With that done we need to work on our floating base. I decided to mount two long walnut beams into the bottom of the top, these would then interface with my X base I made earlier. I decided to recess them into the top to try to get that floating illusion I was looking for.
- So after measure and marking things on the top, I settled on 30" long pieces of walnut, both 1" thick, one was 1" wide the other was 2" wide.
- Using my router I milled a 3/8" deep pocket into the bottom of the desk top that these pieces fit into. Make it tight. I choose to glue these pieces into place.
Almost Done!! Hit the coffee again, you earned it champ!
Step 5: Finishing and Assembly
So now is probably a good time to give everything a good sanding. With that done you should glue up the X legs.
Just break them back down and apply glue and reassemble with some clamps for awhile. I also glued the tops of the X's on.
Now is when I would apply your finishing coats. I prefer danish oil so I gave it a few generous coats.
Finally we are ready to assemble. I suggest getting this in the desired room first as it is quite heavy.
I drilled little holes and put dowels into the top of the X bars that would then mate into matching holes in the walnut cross members on the bottom of the desk top. Make sure the legs will be even with respect to each other and centered so your desk is steady.
With that done, simple have a friend hold the slab up while you align the legs underneath. Set things down and you are good to go!
Way to go! Go put some classy stuff on your desk so it looks like you've been doing actual work.