The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Washington desk conundrum


I started and completed phase 3 of the Washington Campaign Desk project on Sunday afternoon, but I ran into a few problems, one minor, two a bit more concerning.

As I mentioned in prior posts, when I began this project I decided to build the top with a breadboard end detail. The reason for going with breadboard ends was not only for added stability, but also for appearance.

I’ve seen breadboard ends made in several different styles, from one long tenon, to a ‘haunch’ style tenon, to dowels. I decided on the one long tenon (1 ¼”) for no particular reason other than it seemed to fit. The process for creating the joint went smoothly enough, though it was somewhat time consuming. I set up the table saw with a dado stack, made several test cuts to center the groove, and proceeded to make the groove, raising the blade height ¼” on each pass. Once that was finished I did the same for the tenon on the desk top.

The first issue, and to my mind the biggest, came when I was cleaning up the tenon. I used a shoulder plane to do the bulk of the work, and that worked well, but a slip of the hand left a nice little ding on the front left corner, which would not have made a difference had I not decided to go with breadboard ends. Unfortunately, when I was doing a test fit I noticed the gap that the ding made, around 3 inches long and 1/16th of an inch wide, which doesn’t sound like much until you compare it with the rest of the joint, which is pretty much right on the money.

IMG_2813 (002)

The desktop panel in its rough state…


The second issue, and to me almost as troubling as the ding, came when I installed the dowels.

I used 3/8” oak dowels to hold the joint in place, and I decided to drawbore the joint for added security. I’m not overly experienced in the art of drawboring, but I’ve done it enough to not be afraid of it. Drawboring, briefly and in layman’s terms for those of you who may not know how a drawbored joint works, is when you drill out the hole of your tenon slightly closer to the shoulder than the holes bored out on the breadboard ends. This, in theory, will pull the joint closed very snugly and help to eliminate any gaps between the shoulder of the desktop and the breadboard ends. To leave out the dull details, it worked just fine in 5 of the 6 holes. On the last joint (as usual) the dowel pin I used went crooked, which is a sure sign that it needed to be tapered more. So I took a nail set and used it to tap out the pin, and of course it blew out a  very small but noticeable chunk of the wood on the breadboard piece. Under other circumstance it wouldn’t have bothered me in the least, but because this piece is right next to the dowel, which is oak and much lighter in color than walnut, that little ding looks huge. I of course glued the blowout back in, but I have no idea how it is going to look until everything is completely sanded down and ready for finish.

IMG_2815 (002)

The panel trimmed with a 100g light hand sanding. I did my best to highlight the ding/gap.

The “minor” issue, and the easiest one to fix, is nonetheless the most disappointing to me. After all of the work, I’m not exactly sure that I like how the breadboard ends look. It’s an easy situation to remedy; I can just saw off the ends and in the process I would only be losing around 4 inches of desk top length (along with several hours of work and effort). I can easily chamfer or round over the top for a pleasing appearance. So I trimmed the breadboard ends flush (almost) and gave the top a light sanding and I’m still on the fence. I won’t lie, the dings are bothering me, and one showed up inexplicably near the center of the panel; don’t ask me how as nothing was dropped on it, but stuff like this seems to happen in my garage.

The center ding should easily be fixed with an iron, but that gap is not as simple. One option is to make up a filler with some glue and sawdust, the other is to just hide it with the drawer compartment. A third option, as I said, is removing the breadboard ends completely. I wanted the gappy area to serve as the front of the desk, because I like the grain pattern there and also because the other panel has two knots with some really funky stuff happening.

My plan now is to fix the dings as best I can, and then adding a coat of sanding sealer to see what I am working with. Otherwise, any advice would be much appreciated.




  1. Mark Dennehy says:

    Um… you drawbored *all* of the pegs? Not just the center ones?
    That doesn’t seem like it’ll work; I understood the idea is to have an odd number of boards going into the breadboard end, all edge glued; you drawbore the center tenon as normal which holds everything in place and then you peg the outer joints if you want to — but you enlarge the holes in the tenons (not the mortices) because as the boards shrink or contract, the outer ones need to be able to move laterally. Otherwise, you’ll probably split one of the outer boards eventually because the expansion/contraction forces will be putting a sideways force on the breadboard end joint (especially if it’s drawbored).
    Be interesting to see how it works out in practice though; a lot of the time these “rules” are “rules of thumb” more than “laws of physics” if you know what I mean…

    • billlattpa says:

      I should have clarified, if you notice in the photos, the center pins are actually off center. I drawbored those pins, but the outer pins on the same board are drawbored very slightly if that makes sense. It is a very mild draw, less than 1/16th, so I am not overly worried about movement any more than I would have been if I had not drawbored at all.
      I cannot give you an exactly scientific reason on why I chose to offset the center pin, other than I didn’t feel that boring a hole right through the center of the glue joint was necessarily correct, though at the same time I can imagine that it would hurt all that much, either.
      That chewed up gap is nothing more than carelessness with a shoulder plane, and not an actual gap in the joint. I slipped, likely not paying attention, and tore a chunk out of the top. I’ve seen joints where a light chamfer was added either to the breadboard or the table top itself i.e. farmhouse table tops, probably to eliminate exactly what happened in my case. Believe or not I thought about it before hand, but that gap to me is nothing more than a dust trap.
      Worse case scenario, I believe that I could actually tap those pins out as they are not glued, and make a repair (or add a chamfer), but I hope I don’t need to go that route.

      • Mark Dennehy says:

        Ah, I see now. Well, depending on the climate you could be worry-free (somewhere with marked winter/summer humidity levels might be a bit of a pain but most places in the US aren’t all *that* bad for that if I remember right). And yes, even if the worse happens, you can just knock out the pins (or drill them out), reglue the split and reassemble without the outer pins and just plug the holes with plugs cut from the same wood you made the pegs from (trying to hide away the holes by using walnut would probably be a pain, but making them from a contrasting wood gets you away from that and makes it look nicer to boot).

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