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Washington Desk Day 6

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For all intents and purposes I completed the construction phase of the Washington Campaign Desk over the weekend. On paper there wasn’t much left to do. Basically I had to assemble the drawer compartment parts and attach it to the desk top. But we all know that “on paper” doesn’t mean much.

Assembling the drawer compartment wasn’t overly difficult. I pre-drilled and counter-sunk the screw holes, applied a little glue, and screwed it together. That part was relatively easy. I had one minor issue, and that was the right side drawer divider would, for some reason, not sit perpendicular to the desk top. I double and triple checked the dado fit and no matter what I did I could not get it perfectly straight. Don’t get me wrong, it is not off much, probably 1 mm or so (for all you metric people), so I decided to not let it bother me. To finish it off I used walnut plugs purchased from Rockler; they worked surprisingly well, and I’m very happy with the finished appearance.

In the meanwhile, I also pre-drilled and counter sunk the holes in the desk top to attach it to the leg assemblies (using elongated holes to allow for movement). But before I went any further I disassembled the base and spent a good 90 minutes with a hand plane and sandpaper cleaning the parts up for finish. As far as the sanding was concerned, I used the grit sequence 60/120/220/320. I did not use a random orbit sander, rather, I just used a sanding block because it seemed easier to control, though it was definitely more time consuming. Once the sanding was finished I reassembled the legs, and thankfully I marked all of the parts before I took them apart to assure that I would put them back together correctly. I used a little glue to attach the filler pieces to the leg cleats, but otherwise, the only glue used in the entire project was on the four dadoes on the drawer compartment, and the walnut plugs. (I promise once it is finished, with finish, I will photograph all of the relevant parts). With the leg assemblies ready to go, I attached them to the desktop and reattached the cross cleat, once again plugging the countersunk holes and cleaning them up.

The last part of the assembly for me was the scariest, and that was attaching the drawer unit to the desktop. Before I took everything apart I marked and predrilled holes into the desktop. To attach the drawer unit I decided to use pocket-hole screws. I like using pocket-hole screws in situations like this because of the pan head holds nicely on elongated holes. In any case, I used two combination squares (I highly recommend having two BTW) to align the drawer unit, enlisted my lovely wife to hold the drawer unit in place, and carefully screwed the drawer unit to the desk top. Speaking for myself, it’s always a bit nerve wracking lying on my back and screwing through a tabletop sight unseen. Thankfully, everything went well.

IMG_2936 (002)

The desk just before final assembly. Please note that the drawer unit was still temporarily assembled in this photo and it was still not attached to the desk top.

And speaking of pocket screws, I may attach a cleat underneath the desktop to connect the two leg assemblies, just for added strength, because as of right now they are only connected by one cross brace. After doing some research it appears that pocket screws were traditionally used for such a task, believe it or not, but as of right now I still haven’t made up my mind.

The last task of the day was milling up some poplar for making the drawers. The drawer fronts were completed last week, but I didn’t want to plane them to final size until the drawer unit was assembled. I decided to go with half-blind dovetails for the drawers, which is the logical choice. So I gang sawed all four drawer sides at once, tails first obviously. I am holding off on the drawer backs just to make sure there is no settling, or what have you, before I glue the drawers together, but that part should only take a matter of minutes.

As far as the finish is concerned, when I started the project I spent some time searching the forums to find a nice finish for Walnut and kept coming back to a product called Sam Maloof poly/oil. It seemed to get good reviews, so I ordered a can of both the poly/oil and the poly/wax. The instructions call for 3 to 4 coats of the oil and 1 to 2 coats of the wax, with an overnight dry in between each application. I likely won’t start applying the finish until this coming Friday night, when I will have time to take my time.

And on another note, I am not overly concerned with the finish when it comes down to it. I used to worry a great deal about having a perfectly smooth, plastic-like appearance. But considering that the boards used to make this desk likely came from barn walls, I am more than happy with how it looks. I was more concerned with doing the best job I could do, and I believe that I did that. The desk looks like I want it to look, and I believe that it is well constructed and it should last for quite a while. I think that George Washington would have liked it, and more importantly, my daughter loves it, and I have a feeling that she will be the one to use it most, and that is about all I could ask.

 

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2 Comments

  1. bloksav says:

    Hi Bill
    That is a beautiful desk!
    I am impressed with your sanding sequence.
    That is one of those things that I have never been really good at.
    Usually I sand a bit with grit 80, and then perhaps to grit 120. If I go all nuts, I go up to 180. I actually like to use a sanding block over a random orbit sander, because if I look very closely at the surface, you can often see the very fine “circles” left behind by the sander. A sanding block on the other hand will follow the grain if you do so.

    I think that waiting till Friday before starting on the finish is a wise decision. Waiting that long is something that I have never been able to do – Normally I perceive myself as a fairly patient person, but as soon as a project is assembled, I just want to get the finish on and be done with it.

    I’ll be looking forward to see the desk with the finish on it.

    Brgds
    Jonas

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Jonas. Initially I was overly concerned with sanding. The boards were very rough, even out of the surface planer, so I used the jack plane quite a bit. After most of the components were finished I started sanding 60/120 grit. Then, as it came nearer to completion, I went back over everything 120 up to 320. I probably sanded too much in truth. There are still a few patches here and there with a bit of roughness relative to the rest of the desk, but I am no longer worried about it. Once the finish is applied it should turn out nicely.

      Like you, I am not patient at all, but in this case it will be easier because I will be at work late for much of the week.

      Speaking of patience, I have several old tools that have been sitting patiently waiting for restoration. Considering that this will likely be my last large furniture project before winter sets in, I should have plenty of time to get them up and running again.

      Thanks again!
      Bill

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