Legen- …wait for it…
Or should I say, bow-chicka-bow-wow!
Well, guys, what do you think? Isn’t she a beaut? If you’ve been following me on Facebook, you know that this desk started as this:
I had a pile of leftover plywood in my basement, a set of hairpin legs from a broken table, and a big idea in my head. Chris wanted a desk for the music room, so I thought, why not?
Here are the supplies I ended up using:
Plywood scraps — free
Hairpin legs — free
1 gallon of wood glue — $15
1 pint of Minwax white wash stain — $10
1 pint of Minwax polycrylic — $13
1 pair of 17-inch LANSA handles from IKEA — $9
Rustoleum glossy black spray paint — $6
But I must give credit where credit is due. The concept for this fabulous piece of furniture was all mine, but I wouldn’t have managed to build it without some expert help and time-saving tools. I’m talking, of course, about American Workshop. Here’s how we went about turning a big idea into an actual desk.
Step 1: Plan. This all started a couple of weeks ago, when I took my design into the workshop to ask, “Is this possible?” I drew this plan:
which later turned into this:
The desk I used in my Photoshop drawing is this TV console, which inspired my idea in the first place.
I had my doubts. Would glued-up plywood strips be strong enough to make into furniture? If so, was it possible to get the “infinity” look I wanted on the corners? Jim assured me it was, and helped me solidify my plan. I came back a few days later with my final measurements, and got down to business.
Step 2: Cut. I started by cutting all my scraps into 1-inch-wide strips. I figured that once everything was glued together and sanded smooth, I’d still have 3/4-inch of material left.
Technically, I probably could have done this part at home. I do have a table saw, but I don’t have an actual table around it, which makes it awkward to cut bigger panels. At the workshop, it only took me about an hour to cut all those strips. At home, it probably would have taken more like seventeen.
Step 3: Lay it out. This was putzy. Being the obsessive-compulsive perfectionist that I am, I wanted each row to be made up of the same type of plywood, so that the stripes would match all the way across. Then I cut each joint at a 45-degree angle, to make the joints tight and minimize interruptions in the pattern.
I kept going until I had just over 6 feet x 3 feet of material, when all compressed together.
Step 4: Glue and clamp. This went super fast. It was a 2-person job. Actually 3, because there was one good Samaritan standing by with clamps at the ready. (I’m sorry, good Samaritan, I don’t know who you are, but thanks for your help!) It probably looked quite chaotic. Our antics even drew spectators.
Jim used a 3-inch paint roller and a tray full of glue to roll the glue on, while I brought all the pieces over to the gluing table and kept them in order, and helped slap the pieces into place after they were rolled with glue. Once every single piece was in place, we clamped.
The whole process took about 15 minutes. I could not have done this at home. I don’t have a big enough work bench, I don’t have 4-6 hands, and I don’t have 15 (yes, 15!) 5-foot-long bar clamps (which probably cost upwards of $50 a piece). Plus, I never get spectators at home.
I love this place.
Step 5: Sand. After 24 hours, I took the clamps off and went about making a desk-worthy surface out of my plywood slab. The surface was totally uneven, since the strips were not all level with each other, and the glue had stuck to the waxed paper that we had used to protect the table underneath.
Picture me in my basement with an orbital sander in each hand, a 50-pound carton of sandpaper discs, a handful of speed, and 48 hours to kill. That’s probably what it would have taken, if I had done this as home. And the surface would still be kind of wavy.
Luckily, American Workshop has the Timesaver — a 36-inch belt sander, which I first met during my wainscoting escapade. It took a lot of passes, but within 30 minutes we had a smooth surface — without the aid of illegal substances.
Before the final sanding, I used wood filler to fill in all the little holes that you’ll find inside plywood.
Step 6: Cut all your pieces. Remember, I was going for an infinity look on the desk — I wanted the lines to be as uninterrupted as possible. I figured the best way to do that was to make one single slab, and cut the individual pieces out of it.
Most of the joints in this desk are mitered, to preserve the pattern. When I was cutting the pieces, Steve helped me figure out where the miters needed to happen so that everything would line up correctly. I don’t know anything about joinery, so working backwards from the final product (in my head) to the actual cutting and sizing of pieces…let’s just say, I’m glad I had help.
Step 7: Assemble.
This was pretty straightforward, because in the process of cutting the pieces, I had finally started to understand the plan. But it was another 2-person job — a fact that I discovered after I managed to drop one of the side pieces. Twice. And it broke. Twice. Both times elicited inappropriate language from me. And both times, if they had occurred at home, would probably have resulted in me quitting. But at the workshop, I had Steve to shrug his shoulders and hand me the glue.
Work of art destroyed? No big deal. Put some more glue on it.
Step 8: Drawers. I learned how to build drawer boxes with rabbets instead of butt-joints! Now there’s a sentence that only makes sense in context.
The drawers just sit on wooden slides. Super simple design. Underneath the desk, there are a couple of blocks of plywood that add stability, but also provide a place to attach the drawer slides.
Step 9: Drawer fronts. This was the hardest part of the entire desk-building process. The drawer fronts were cut directly out of the front piece, so that the pattern would line up. Getting them placed perfectly on the drawer boxes so that the lines looked continuous, and so that the gaps around the drawers were as small as possible, took some trial and error…and a little double-stick tape. But in the end, it turned out just about perfect.
Step 10: Take the desk home for finishing, and start screwing up. Oh, did you think this was going too smoothly? It wouldn’t be a Big Idea without at least one monkey. I started with a good sanding and a coat of clear satin polyurethane.
And the poly did exactly what I expected it to: it brought out all the gorgeous details. Unfortunately, it also added waaaay more of a yellow tint than I wanted.
It wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t what I had imagined. And I had a very specific picture in my head of what this desk was going to look like. Perfectionist, remember?
So I sanded the whole thing down and started over.
Take Two: Minwax White Wash, and its recommended top coat, Polycrylic (instead of the regular oil-based poly I used for my first attempt).
I brushed the stain on and wiped it off almost immediately; I didn’t want to end up with a white desk. And I didn’t want to take the chance of obscuring the wood grain.
Ahh, much better. I followed up the stain with Polycrylic. And in between coats, I spray painted a pair of cheap IKEA handles.
When it all finally came together, the end result was EXACTLY what I had imagined.
I hope Polycrylic protects against drool.
And…I can’t wait to make the matching shelves.
Update: If you’d like to see more gratuitous pictures of this sexy plywood desk, click here. And if that’s still not enough to satisfy your craving, get a load of these sexy plywood shelves I made to match.
Update #2: I went back and put an extra special finish on this desk to make it satiny-smooth. Read about that here.
P.S. If you like stories of something made from nothing, I’m sharing this one with Mandi over on Vintage Revivals. Hop over there to check out her first Rock What Ya Got party!
P.P.S. I would probably make a terrible and hilarious contestant in Creating with the Stars. But I entered anyway, and used this desk as my submission. Hop on over to East Coast Creative to see what all the other entrants submitted.
Disclosure: This post was written in partnership with American Workshop. They have generously allowed me to use their space for this project, but have not told me what to write. All projects and opinions are my own.