Coziness is built right into this desk, because it was
inspired by a log cabin. Squint a bit and you’ll see logs and
chinking—the muck-and-straw mixture pioneers depended
on to keep out drafts. Squinting isn’t necessary to appreciate
the desk’s spacious writing surface and ample storage or its
Arts and Crafts motifs and modern style.
Like a log cabin, this desk is heavily built; its legs are
made from 8/4 walnut, its rails from 6/4 walnut and its figured
maple top is fully 1" thick. Figured maple splines fitted
between the rails create the chinking.
Mill the legs to final size as rectangular blanks (A1, Fig. A, and Cutting List, below). Two of the legs go on
the paneled front; three legs separate the drawers on the
back. The front legs have mortises on the inside edge and
the adjacent inside face. The back legs have mortises on the
inside face only. The 1/2" mortises are always spaced 11/16"
from the inside edge; the 3/8" mortises are always spaced 1/2" from the inside edge (Figs. B,
D and E). The 1/2" mortises on the
front legs are stepped, so they don’t
Lay out the 1/2" mortises and
rout them using a plunge router
with a guide fence and a 1/2" upcut
spiral bit (Photo 1). Complete
each mortise by making a series of
incrementally deeper passes. Rout
the stepped mortises in stages. First,
rout full-length to the shallow depth.
Then adjust the plunge depth and
rout the deep portion. Similarly, lay
out mortises for the splines and rout
them with a 3/8" up-cut spiral bit.
Square the ends of these mortises
with a chisel.
Shape the legs (Fig. C). Cut the
tapers a tiny bit wide to allow removing
the saw marks by making a pass
on the jointer or with a hand plane.
Use a jar or a lid to draw the arcs on
the feet. Then saw the curves and
sand them smooth. Cut 3/8" deep x
3/8" square holes for the decorative
plugs. A mortiser does the job in one
step, but you can also drill the holes
and square them with a chisel.
Mill stock for the rails (A2–A4) and
cut them to final dimensions. Then
lay out the tenons (Fig. G). Note that
1) the rail tenons are always offset
toward the outside face, and 2) when
the joint is assembled, the rail’s inside
face is always flush with the leg.
Use a dado set and a sled or a
miter gauge with a stout support
fence to cut the rail tenons (Photo 2).
Position the rip fence to establish the
tenons’ length. Cut the inside cheeks
first, matching their shoulder height
to the 11/16" distance between the
edge of the leg and the 1/2" mortises.
Lower the blade to cut the outside
cheeks. Start by making a shallow
cut on one rail, so the tenon is too
thick to fit the mortise. Then make
additional passes, raising the blade
in small increments until the tenon
fits without binding or wobbling.
Only the corner of the tenon will fit
into the mortise at this point, so it’s a
good idea to verify the correct thickness
with a dial caliper. When you’ve
dialed in a perfect fit, finish cutting
all the tenons’ outside cheeks.
Reposition the blade and stand
each rail on edge to cut the end shoulders.
Next, use the bandsaw equipped
with a fence to cut the stepped tenons.
Then round the ends of the tenons to
fit the mortises (Photo 3).
Leave square the top edges of the
four top rails and the inside edges of
the rails on the side panel and inside
panel that form the drawer bank.
Round over the rest of the rail edges.
Cut centered grooves for the figured
maple spline on the appropriate
rail edges. Mill the spline stock to fit
the grooves and then cut the splines
(A5–A7) to length and width. Apply
one coat of finish to the splines.
Test-fit each panel assembly without
glue (Photo 4). Mark the top
edges of the four middle drawer
bank rails. Disassemble the panels
and carefully glue cleats (A8) on the
marked edges (Fig. F). These cleats
allow installing the two middle web
frames. Sand all the parts to 180 grit.
Rout mortises in the front assembly
for the inside rail tenons and splines (Photo 5 and Fig. D). Note
that the 1/2" mortises are 13/16"
deep. Clamp the assembly square
and make sure each rail is correctly
positioned. Use a T-square and measure
from the assembly’s leg to locate
the 1/2" mortises. Make sure these
mortises perfectly align with the
mortises you’ve already cut on the
leg that goes with the inside rails.
Position a straightedge to guide the
router, then plunge-rout the mortises.
Repeat the procedure to rout
the 3/8" mortises.
The web frames
The web frames support the drawers,
provide structure for the case and
continue the chinking detail (note
that the two middle web frame stiles
are made of curly maple). Make each
frame about 1/8" oversize in width,
so it can be trimmed to fit just before
installation. Use Domino tenons or
biscuits to join the stiles and rails
(B1–B2, C1–C2, D1–D2 and Photo
6). Glue and clamp, making sure
every frame is square and fl at. Mill
centered mortises for Domino tenons
(or biscuit slots) in both sides of
each frame. Install the Domino tenons
(Photo 7). Then sand the frames
to 180 grit and burnish their top surfaces
with paraffin (Photo 8).
The side panels
Glue the legs and rails together to
create the two side panels (Photo
9). Make sure the rails are spaced
exactly 3/4" apart. Using the same
spacing, glue the inside rails to the
middle back leg—this creates the
inside panel. When the glue is dry,
remove the clamps and trim the
front tenons to 3/4" long.
Glue on the spacer (A9). The
spacer builds out the top rail for
attaching the pencil-drawer face
frames. Its bottom edge should be
flush with the outside edge of the
leg; its top edge will protrude slightly,
because of the leg’s taper. Install the
inside panel splines without glue.
The top, bottom and middle web
frames fit between the side panel and
the inside panel to form the drawer
bank. Transfer the mortise locations
from these web frames to the two
panels (Fig F.). Then cut the mortises in the rails and cleats (Photo 9
10). Burnish the inside surfaces with
paraffin to help the drawers slide easily.
(Keep wax away from the open
joints and the leg fronts.) Repeat the
process to rout mortises for the two
pencil-drawer web frames.
Assemble the front panel rails and
splines without glue. Square this
assembly and then glue and clamp
the inside panel to it (Photo 11). As
before, don’t glue the splines. Make
sure the inside panel is square to
the front panel. Note: This unusual
assembly will be somewhat unstable
as the following steps are completed.
Apply glue and slide the drawerbank
web frames into position
against the inside panel. Similarly,
apply glue and slide on the drawer
bank side panel (Photo 12). Make
sure everything’s aligned and square,
then clamp. Repeat the process to
install the pencil-drawer web frames
and the remaining side panel.
Create the decorative plugs
(A10) from a length of wenge milled
just over 3/8" square. Create facets
on the end using a disc sander with a
worn-out 220 grit disc. Clamp a fence
to the table, facing the disc about 10˚
from perpendicular. Set the wenge
on the fence and gently push it forward
to touch the disc. Turn it, and
repeat the process three more times.
Cut off the end to create a plug that’s
about 3/8" long. Ease the rough-cut
corners by dragging the plug at an
angle across a piece of sandpaper.
Dab a bit of glue inside the hole
and gently tap in the plug, using a
piece of leather to prevent marring.
Rough out the drawer box parts
(E1–E4, F1–F2, G1–G2, H1–H2 and
J) and let them sit overnight to stabilize.
Then mill the parts exactly as
wide as the height of the spaces they
will fit into.
Use a dovetail jig to cut through
dovetails in the box parts. Cut grooves
for the drawer bottoms and dadoes in
the pencil drawer sides for the divider.
Mark each drawer side according
to where it will go and slide it into
the appropriate opening in the case (Photo 13). The sides will either fit
very tightly or not at all. Joint the top
edges (away from the dado) to create
adequate room for seasonal movement
between the drawer and the
frame above it. The optimal amount
depends on a number of factors,
but a good rule of thumb is to allow
at least 1/16" for the top two drawers
and 1/8" for the bottom drawer.
Sand and finish the inside faces of
all the drawer box parts. Assemble
the drawer boxes and mark where
the sides meet the fronts and backs.
Then joint the fronts and backs to
match the sides. Sand and finish the
inside faces of the five main drawer
box parts—tape off the glue joints
before applying the finish. Then
glue and clamp together the drawer
boxes. Sand and finish the pencil
drawer divider and glue it in—drive
nails through the bottom to serve as
clamps and to stiffen the 1/4" plywood.
Test-fit the boxes in the drawer
openings. The fit is ideal if you can
pull the box two-thirds out and then
close it by pushing with a finger at
the side of the front, rather than the
center. If the fit is too tight, lightly
plane or sand one side and try again.
Burnish the outside faces and bottom
edges of the drawer box sides
Cut, fit and install the drawer fronts
(E5, F3, G3 and H3). The bank’s top
drawer front extends above the box to
cover the web frame, its bottom drawer
front extends below the box and its
middle drawer front is flush, so it fits
between the middle web frames (which
protrude farther than the top and bottom
frames). The pencil drawer front
extends above and below the drawer
box. Angle one end to match the slope
of the inside panel’s leg. Install drawer
stops (A11) to position the middle
drawer flush with the others.
Cut blanks for the drawer pulls
(L) and shape the curves by sawing
and sanding (Fig. A, Detail 3). Center
the pulls on the drawer fronts and fasten
them with screws from inside the
Mill the top boards to within 1/4" of
the finished thickness and let them stabilize overnight. The next day, mill
the boards to final thickness. Planing
figured wood such as the curly
maple shown here is likely to cause
substantial tearout, unless you know
this nifty trick. Simply dampen the
surface of the board with a sponge
just before running it through the
machine. Dampening virtually eliminates
tearout and it won’t harm your
machine as long as you keep the tables
waxed and dry off the cutterhead as
soon as you’ve finished.
Lay out the boards in a pleasing
arrangement that’s about 1" oversize
in width. Then cut the boards to
length, about 2" oversize. Joint the
edges (get out the sponge again).
Then glue and clamp the top (A12).
Cut the top to final width and
length and then sand it to 180 grit
Create the edge profile using a
1/4" roundover bit with a smaller
bearing installed to create the fillet.
Cut notches about every 10" around
the top of the case and install the
“figure 8” desktop fasteners. These
fasteners swivel to allow the top’s seasonal
movement. Center the top on
the case and install additional screws
through the fasteners to secure it.
Remove the top. Sand all the parts
to 180 grit—be sure to remove the
scratches from the previous grit with
each step up. Then apply your favorite
finish. Tip: Oil finishes look better
when the surfaces are sanded to a
Fig. A: Exploded View
Detail 1: Bank Drawer
Detail 2: Pencil Drawer
Detail 3: Drawer Pull
Fig. B: Leg Mortise Dimensions
Fig. C: Tapered Leg Dimensions
Fig. D: Front Panel Mortises
Fig. E: Side and Inside Panel Mortises
Fig. F: Web Frame Cleat Locations
Fig. G: Rail Tenon Dimensions
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Rout mortises in
the legs for the
rails and figured
2. Cut tenons on the
rails with a dado
set. The tenons
are offset from
center, so cut one
cheek and then
adjust the blade
height to cut the
3. The tenons that
go in the front
legs are stepped
to nest together.
This creates a long
tenon on each
rail and a haunch
Round the ends
of the tenons
to match the
4. Test-fit all the
The rails for
the side panels
have wide tenons
at the back and
stepped tenons at
5. Rout mortises for
the inside panel’s
rails and splines
in the front panel,
which is clamped
glue. The inside
panel’s rails have
wide tenons on
6. Assemble the web frames with
loose tenons. A
works like a
biscuit joiner, but
it creates mortises
rather than slots.
7. Install Domino
tenons in both
sides of the
frames in the case.
8. Burnish the web
frames so the
paraffin wax into
the wood with
an iron. Allow the
wax to cool, then
vigorously rub the
surface with an
9. Glue the side
Apply glue to the
large mortises in
the legs and to
the rail tenons.
Don’t glue the
the rails to
10. Cut mortises for the web frames
in the side panels
and in the inside
11. Glue the inside
to the front
panel rails, which
make sure the
front rail assembly
is square and
the edges of the
inside panel rails
and front rails are
12. Install the web
frames and the
side panels. The
parts simply slide
because all the
joints are oriented
the same way.
13. Fit each pair of
drawer sides to
cut the drawer
fronts and backs
14. Build the top. It’s the perfect place
wood such as
this curly maple.
The same stock
was used to make
the splines that