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Staked Student's Desk: A Last Minute Addition

I had the idea to add a pencil rail to the back edge of the desk top. I've seen them used in many of the danish desks I studied when I was considering the design for this one.


When I look at it from a purely utilitarian view point I'm not sure its worth the trouble. This will be, at it's essence, a writer's desk. The only drawers in the piece will be a single row that is hung from the underside of the writing surface. If a pencil rolls off the back edge you can easily reach under the desk and pick it up.


From a design standpoint, it's an elegant little detail. But it will probably be hidden by a computer monitor and stacks of workbooks.


As a woodworker, I see it as a chance to stretch my skill set. It requires that I think through the entire process. I'll have to consider all the steps involved and decide what order will lead to success. Here's what I came up with.


I decided to rip off the back edge of the panel and rotate it 90 degrees toward the front of the desk. Doing this gives me the best chance at a color match. It also has the added benefit of keeping the grain running in the same direction as I transition from flat to vertical. This may or may not be a big deal when I cleanup the transition.


I'll be using dominos to keep the trim piece aligned during glue up. After cutting those mortises and test fitting the trim strip, I marked the location of the top of the desk along the front edge of the trim. Then I dug out the only pair of hollow and round planes I own.


I go back and forth on these planes. If I haven't used them in a while I'm certain I can do without them. But they are so much fun to use. And every time I use them I start thinking that maybe I should have at least a quarter set. You know... Just in case.


I'm sure this isn't the official way to accomplish the task, but I remember enough from Matt Bickford's excellent book "Mouldings In Practice" to make a simple shape like this one. It boils down to starting with a pair of rails to guide the convex face of the plane.


I don't have a sticking board. Rather than making one, I used the planing stop and a straight piece of maple from the lumber pile. I hammered one end of the maple into the teeth of the stop and secured the other with a holdfast. I left enough of the teeth on the stop exposed so that I could drive them into the end of the trim and I was ready to go.


I could have run the trim all the way to the end of the desk, but I think that would have looked unfinished. So I roughed in a curved transition on the ends. The radius of curve is slower than the profile on the front of the trim, which I think adds a little refinement to the design.


This is as cleaned up as it needs to be at this point. I'll have to blend the everything together with scrapers and sandpaper at the end of the build. I just wanted to make sure I wouldn't have to do any further rough shaping with tools that could do more harm than good.


The final challenge in this part of the build was glueing the trim onto the back edge of the desk top. A trim piece this small requires either a lot of clamps or a good sized clamping caul to make sure the pressure is spread evenly enough. As I began to scrounge around for a wide enough piece of scrap with a straight enough edge I remembered there was one sitting in the middle of my shop.


My workbench is probably the biggest clamping surface I have. Clamping the trim between the bench top and the rest of the panel is a great way to spread the clamping pressure with a minimal number of clamps.


If you find a need to do this yourself, there's one thing to remember. Make sure you position the clamps so that the panel doesn't bow or pull to one side or the other. If you forget to do this, you might end up with a glue joint that is closed on one edge and open on the other.


The last step in creating this detail will be to blend the transition between the trim and the top as well as refining the profile.


But that will have to wait until a little later in the build. Up next I'll be cutting and fitting the dovetail battens in the underside of the desk top.

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