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Washington Monument


Do we ever reach an age where we become too old for heroes? And I don’t just mean every day heroes such as firemen, policemen, and teachers (not that they aren’t important), but legendary heroes such as King Arthur or Babe Ruth. Maybe you all have, but I haven’t.

Growing up in Philadelphia, stories about the American Revolution were pretty much second nature for me. Some of my earliest memories revolve around Valley Forge Park, the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin, and the Liberty Bell. The battles of Brandywine and Germantown were fought basically at my back door, so it was just a normal part of growing up, for me, to learn as much as I could about the War for Independence.

However, of all the legendary names from the War for Independence that I can spout off automatically, George Washington stands atop the list.

As a child, Washington was a mythical figure, a larger than life titan, a legendary demi-god who descended from Heaven, led America to a glorious victory, and rode off into immortality in a chariot of fire. As I grew older, my hobby of researching the American Revolution turned more towards the battles and tactics of the time. I loved the political intrigue, the clandestine spy operations with code names and invisible ink, and the sacrifices of the common soldier. Yet, I always found myself coming back the Washington, even if in passing.

Fast forward into married adulthood. Four years ago my family was going through a difficult time. A very close family member had become ill, I was not feeling so hot myself, and it was quite frankly very difficult on all of us, in particular my wife. Living so close to Valley Forge National Park, I found myself there often, taking long walks just to ease my mind. And though I had been to VFP many times, and though I had known the story of the park since before I could read, the park was still to me in many ways a place of legend, in much the same way that George Washington had become a legendary figure. But it was during those walks that began to look around, and not just inwardly. I found myself reading the many marker stones and inscribed monuments to those who served there; I spoke to park rangers and historians, I attended park events, and soon after I found myself once again engrossed in history. It saved me.

I read at least 50 or more books on the Revolution. I volunteered at the park whenever possible (and still do to this day). I took it upon myself to become a steward of history, learning whatever I could whenever I could. And in doing so I came to admire George Washington more and more, not just for his war time exploits, but as the leader of a new nation.

I don’t know how many books I’ve read just on Washington to be honest. I now count 22 on the book shelf right behind me, and at least that many more in my Kindle reader. A few of those books were little more than fluff pieces, but the majority of them are true in-depth studies, and just as I chose those books specifically to de-mystify the legend and learn more about the man, instead his legend grew in my eyes and I now hold him in greater esteem more than ever. He was far from perfect, and I am not implying that he was; he had faults like all of us do; I am only doing my utmost to understand the man in context to the era he lived in, and I found perhaps the greatest leader of men the world saw in the entire millennium.

So this is a woodworking blog, right, and not an ode to historical figure? Why then post a fanboy crush diary entry on George Washington and his ragtag band of rebels? Glad you asked.

A few weeks back I went with my family to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It was a geek-out heaven for me, and among the thousands of artifacts were some of George Washington’s personal belongings. Of course, there were also replicas, and among those was a desk that was believed to be similar to the furniture that would have been used by the officers, and perhaps Washington himself, during the American Revolution. I made the decision right then and there to build one for myself.

Washington desk

Washington’s campaign desk?

It just so happens that I have been planning for the past year to dedicate a section of our family room to my love of history. I have collected dozens if not hundreds of historical artifacts on the era: artwork, newspapers, broadsides, books, lamps, and tools. Admittedly, most of those artifacts are replicas, but they are of high quality. As of last month it was my plan to restore a desk which belonged to my father-in-law’s family and use that to house and display some of my collection. Though I still plan on restoring that desk, I have decided to make the “Washington” desk my centerpiece.

Even better news is that in doing some more research, I’ve found that most of Washington’s campaign furniture was made from walnut, which I thankfully have plenty to use ( I had planned on using it regardless). I’ve recently consulted with my first and best woodworking mentor, his excellency Chuck Bender, on some of the construction details, and he was, of course, a huge help.

With any luck I am hoping to not only have the final measurements down, but the material milled and the desktop panel glued up this weekend. The top I will make using breadboard ends. The legs may be a bit of a challenge in that I don’t plan on making them foldable because I have no intention of moving this desk throughout the colonies. So I may make those using a ship lap joint, which is a joint I’ve generally only made perpendicular. Otherwise, I plan on staying pretty much true to the photo.

I’m hoping this turns out well, because even though it may not be my most ambitious project, I can already guarantee that it will be my favorite thus far. George Washington has inspired me for much of my life, even more so as an adult than as a child, and I cannot think of a better way to adorn my home and continue my research than to create a piece of furniture inspired by the man himself.

 

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12 Comments

  1. GH says:

    Make it foldable… You’ll never really experience the essence of the piece if you don’t.
    … and there is a good chance that it will last longer than you (or I) and the next custodian of it may wish to move it.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ve considered it, but I’m still not sure. I’ve never been overly keen on foldable table leg, they always seemed wobbly to me. My idea was more along the lines of making the desk easy to break down, in this case into 3 sections. But I do think that a ship lapped joint would be stronger. Or I could make the legs in such a way where they will fold up, but not before the top is removed. At this point, I’m still open.
      Thanks for the comment!
      Bill

  2. bloksav says:

    Hi Bill

    Great post.
    I really like the small desk. It has got some very nice proportions, and I also like that it seems built with a minimum of ornamentation.

    The idea of making a history section sounds like a good one, given that you have so much material of different kind.

    Danish military history is in stark contrast to American ditto. Our incredibly useless kings all had a strong desire to go to war against Sweden, who happened to have some brilliant generals and we lost every single time. and the country got smaller every time too.
    If they did not go to war against Sweden, they were teaming up on the wrong side in the Napoleonic wars, and that wasn’t pretty either.
    Finally we could always get into a fight with Prussia who just like Sweden actually knew how to make an army work efficiently.

    So finding a true Danish military hero is not easy, I can’t name one from the top of my head if I had to.

    Brgds
    Jonas

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Jonas! As soon as I saw the desk I knew I had to make one. The small size is a plus because my wife would probably be too happy if I built a large, full-sized desk, even though I am really the only person who uses the family room on a regular basis. The desk is not large enough to display all of my stuff, but I think it will fit in with my idea, and considering we will have the other desk I think it will all work out well. But I have a reproduction lantern and a quill pen set that I think will look awesome there.

      Well, I’m stumped as well when it comes to Danish military history. I admit that I’ve done much more reading about America and Britain than I have about other countries, and I should be more well-rounded than I am. But you cannot discount Hamlet! Though I guess his story is mostly a tragedy…

      Bill

  3. senrabc says:

    Great post. As a kid we went to many civil war battle fields and as a result I became a huge Abe Lincoln fan. Can’t wait to see your finished desk. Take Care
    Chris

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks for the comment Chris! We visit parks and museums as much as possible, and though my wife may get a little bored by it all, but there are few things I enjoy doing more.

      I’m hoping to get this started immediately, because I know that if I don’t I will put it off. But I should be able to get the stock milled and the top glued up on Saturday as well as the legs cut to the correct length. If I can manage to get that part done the rest (the fun part) should fall into place nicely.

      Bill

  4. bobbarnettpe says:

    Looking forward to following you make the desk. Hope you blog about the project and provide photos of the steps.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks for the comment. I’ll do my best to keep a good record of the building process. It should be interesting, considering that I am not using any plans and building the desk from scratch. I just hope to do a good job.

      Bill

  5. Art Watson says:

    What an awesome and inspired project Bill! “May the grain be with you!”

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Art! I’m really looking forward to this one. It’s my hope that once I get past the initial stock prep and glue up the rest of the project should be fun.
      Bill

  6. Jae Franklin says:

    Dear Bill I love reading your blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts……more inspiring than you can appreciate. I showed the photograph of the desk to my wife. We both agreed it is magnificent; we love “Georgian” proportions. No permission to have a go myself until I finish the sash window! I shall look forward to you blog with great interest.

    • billlattpa says:

      Jae, thanks for the nice comment! I’m hoping to get this project up and running on Saturday. It’s been the most excited I’ve been about making furniture in a long time.
      Thanks again!
      Bill

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