The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Washington Campaign Desk completed.


On Saturday afternoon the Washington Campaign Desk project officially became a completed piece of furniture when I moved it from our downstairs family room into our “office”.  In actuality, the construction of the project was completed two weeks ago and the finish applied over the course of a week. While I’m very much an amateur when it comes to finishing, and I may have already mentioned it in another post, I will briefly touch on the topic again.


The finished desk.



Candle and lantern lit..

In most cases I would have finished walnut with BLO and some wax. I wanted to go with something more refined, and after some online research I wound up with a product from Rockler called ‘Sam Maloof poly oil/poly wax’. The instructions were similar to other finishes: sand to 400g, burnish with 0000 steel wool and a soft cotton cloth, apply liberally, and immediately wipe off the excess with a soft cloth. (I’m glad they added the immediately, because letting the finish sit is a recipe for disaster no matter what anybody, anywhere will tell you). Anyway, the recommended sequence was 3 to 4 coats of the poly/oil blend, and 1-2 coats of the wax blend, with a 24 hour drying time in between coats. I went with 3 coats of the poly/oil, and 2 coats of the poly/wax, and I can say without any reservation that it was the easiest and nicest finish I’ve ever applied. Even better, it is dead simple to apply further coats in the future for renewal purposes. At $20 per pint it was not inexpensive, but in my opinion it was well worth the cost.

IMG_2983 (002)

Detail of the leg assembly.

desk drawer

Desk drawers opened.


I have two regrets with this project: One, I wish that I had documented the little details a bit more. Two, I would have done a better job on the through dovetails at the back of the drawers. Don’t get me wrong, the drawers are square and tight, but compared to the rest of the desk, I think the through dovetails are a bit sloppy. Speaking of the drawers, I did not fully assemble (meaning glue them together) and finish them until after the final coat of finish was applied to the desk itself, just in case some final resizing needed to be done. And the last task, adding felt bottoms to the drawers, was completed yesterday.


Detail of the drawer interior. The nail next to the ink (which you can barely see) is from the blacksmith shop at Mt Vernon.

I felt a great sense of accomplishment when we moved the desk into our office. I added some of my memorabilia to it and it really brought the desk to life. Everything looked like it belonged, and when I replace the oil lamp with a real candle lantern I believe it will look even better.

This desk was the first full-sized piece of furniture I built this year, and more significantly, it could be the last full-sized piece I make in a long time. Not that I’m planning on giving up woodworking, but the real truth is I have very little room in my house for more furniture. Currently, the living areas of my house contain 14 pieces of furniture I built. That is a respectable number. So from now into the foreseeable future, I will likely be making small boxes and such, which I am fine with, because whatever else happens, I built something that I am extremely proud of, and I set the bar higher. Now, I just need to find a suitable chair…




  1. Andrew says:

    That’s a great looking desk, but yes, you should have documented your steps a bit better. I love the style and the finish. Really professional looking. I get my plans from, but I will incorporate your finishing in my next project.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Andrew! I wish I would have done more in describing the leg assemblies as I was making them. There is nothing complicated about them, but they did require precision, and that in and of itself is quite important. Because I had no access to the original, I had to kind of guess when it came to making the legs and cleats, so I definitely should have taken a lot more photos, etc. At the same time, I was so consumed at the time that I took few photos of anything to be honest.

      The drawers were made with basic half-blind dovetails, which have been discussed thousands of times, so I didn’t really think they were worth going over in much detail.

      As far as the finish, I thought it was fantastic. I have enough left over to easily do another desk, so it goes a long way. And I really liked the idea of adding future coats as needed. So I couldn’t recommend it more.


  2. AusWorkshop says:

    Well done, love the candle holder and lantern, I’ll have to give that Sam Maloof finish a go one of these days. (As soon as I have room for yet another tin of oil in my finishing cabinet!) It sounds a bit like Rustins, you have to be quick to wipe off Rustins as well. Other oils I’ve tried without the poly and you have a bit more time usually. This time of year over here everything dries too fast!
    Today I’m passing out from the smell of decking oil in my workshop – too many signs sitting in here waiting collection for Christmas. I’ve finally finished for the year. Hope you and your family have a happy Christmas and new year.

    Fingers crossed we will all be here for another year of woodworking…. Just reading that we might have a nuclear war by March!? Oh well, there goes my plans. I better extend my holidays a bit longer and dig that bunker. That lantern might come in handy Bill.

    • billlattpa says:

      I was really impressed with the Sam Maloof finish. It’s pretty rare to find something that works completely as advertised. I’ve seen the recipe online and it is easy to make, but considering the amount of furniture I will be building it makes more sense to just purchase it by the pint.

      Another good point with the finish is that it does not smell as badly as traditional oil stain. Our Novembers and early Decembers are generally not too cold, but of course this year it’s been quite cold, so the finish took a bit longer to cure between coats, and I couldn’t just open the window and garage door without freezing out the house.

      The candle holder is very traditional, made by hand from tin. The lantern is a “modern” oil lantern that we keep in the house in case the power goes out. I have a traditional candle lantern ordered, but it won’t be available until the New Year I’m guessing.

      I always forget that it is Summer ‘Down Under’ during Christmas. I hope you have a great Christmas as well. And don’t worry so much about a war 🙂 It’s nothing more than a lot of bluster.

  3. Jonas Jensen says:

    Hi Bill

    I don’t know how this post slipped my attention. Probably due to it being posted around Christmas time.
    The table looks fantastic, and I agree that the candle in the tin holder looks perfect for the table.

    Best regards

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Jonas! This is truly my favorite project. I use the desk nearly every day, and it is fun displaying some of my memorabilia in such a traditional setting. I have been looking for a chair that will fit in with the desk, but haven’t had any luck yet. I’m not up to making one myself, at least not now, but maybe down the road.

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