The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Washington Campaign Desk, Day 2


This past Sunday afternoon I began day 2 of the Washington Campaign Desk project. The main objective was to get the legs sawn to finish length and width along with the cleats to attach it to the desk top, the secondary objective was to get the desk top planed flat. If everything was working at optimal level I even considered getting the rabbets cut for the breadboard ends. Happily, I at least got the first two items on the list checked off.

To start, on Friday night I got the desktop sawn to final size (minus the breadboards) 40 inches. I then ripped one of the boards I had prepped last week into 4 strips, 2 ¾ inches wide and 6 ft long. Those boards were to be used for the breadboard ends and the 4 legs. So on Sunday afternoon I first chose the nicest board and cut that to the rough lengths needed for the breadboard ends. I then got to work on the legs.

The legs turned into a bit of a challenge. Cutting the angles was not really much of an issue as I simply used the cardboard template I made, but working around some of the knot holes and defects was a bit more difficult, or at the least time consuming. I basically hemmed and hawed for 15 minutes trying to lay out the cuts in such a way as to utilize the best parts of the boards, and then I got to sawing with the table saw.

The table saw work went quickly; after a few test cuts to set the angle of the legs, I had them sawn to length along with the cleats in a matter of minutes. But there was a minor drawback; in choosing the best aspects of the boards, I was forced to shorten the overall height of the desk from 29 inches to just over 28 inches, which I can certainly live with, in particular if that is the worst thing that happens during this project.

After the legs were sawn to length, I ripped them to just over their final width: 2 ¼ inches, as I will use a hand plane to finish them.. I then did a few test layouts using the template and so far everything looks good. Once that was all finished I turned to the desk top, where I discovered a minor issue.

IMG_2801 (002)

The legs and cross braces are sawn to length

When I glued up the two boards to make the desktop I wanted to remove any of the sapwood that I could, and I thought that I had. But at the seem there is a very fine line of sapwood that I honestly hadn’t noticed. Initially I thought it was just a bit of glue that had seeped through when the boards were clamped, unfortunately I was wrong. But, I am not going to worry about it. These boards are old and have a lot of “character”, so going in I knew that I was not going to end up with a French Polish level of refinement. But I did get the top planed to where I wanted it, using the jack plane and smooth plane. On that note, in cases like this I use the jack plane very much like a smooth plane to take fine shavings. The Walnut planed nicely, and I can live with the results.

IMG_2800 (002)

The planing has begun…

Before I called it a day I gave the underside a quick plane as well. As I had mentioned in the prior post, the glue up went smoothly, so the panel was nearly flat to begin with, and really only needed some touch up work. While I had the desktop flipped over I added some epoxy to a knot that had developed a small crack, just in case. Lastly, I got to cleaning up the garage. It wasn’t too late, so I probably could have made an attempt at the breadboard ends, but I didn’t want to push the matter; I’m in no rush.

Next weekend, my goal is to complete the breadboard ends, and quite possibly assemble the base. If I manage to get the breadboard ends finished I will give the entire top a quick once over with a plane and possibly start sanding. Once I do that I can get to work on the base assembly. Initially I was a little worried about the base, but I figured out a very simple method to attach the legs accurately that should allow me to get to the fun part: the desk top cubby.



  1. oltexasboy says:

    I looked at the original desk and I was wondering why you decided to put breadboard ends on the desk? It doesn’t appear to have breadboard ends.
    BTW I really enjoy your effort spent here. It’s kind of nice to see a woodworker that doesn’t think he is God’s gift to the world.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks for the nice comment. The reason I am using breadboard ends is because I’m a little worried that the two panels I glued up may warp. At that, because I am using cleats underneath, and considering the boards are old and fairly stable, I think they would be okay. But I do like the appearance of breadboard ends, and they aren’t overly difficult to install.
      The version of the desk I saw at the museum looked like it had breadboard ends, but it was dark and I was not close enough to tell. The photo I used was from an online company that sells the desk. It looks like the desktop has been made from many laminated boards, so that would probably make it much more stable.
      Thanks again!

  2. Jonas Jensen says:

    Hi Bill

    That table is coming along really well.
    I like the idea of making a set of full scale drawings, it can really help in they lay out of the wood.

    I think that character to the table is more important than if there is a small streak of sapwood or not. I always tell myself that if people were after a 100 % uniform surface – plastic would be a better option that wood.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Jonas!
      The sapwood was a touch upsetting at first, but I quickly got over it. Of course every project starts out with the idea of perfect joints, pristine round overs, and a glass smooth finish, but with this walnut, which I believe was barnwood at one time, I realized pretty much right away that the character of the wood was going to win out over perfect smoothness.
      But, I will still attempt to get it as smooth as possible, hopefully clean up all of the plane tracks etc, but I will live with it regardless. As you said, it’s wood, not plastic.


  3. Art Watson says:

    It’s going to be a beaut Bill. Looking forward to seeing it all come together!

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Art! I very nearly sawed off the breadboard ends on Sunday afternoon, but I am going to leave it as-is. I did a little research, and consulted with a friend, and with proper pilot hole drilling those breadboard ends will actually serve the useful purpose of allowing the drawer unit to “float” somewhat on the desk top.
      I should have the base attached to the desktop and ready for finish before the weekend is over. Then I can get to the actual fun part.

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