Brazilian Walnut Corner Desk

I started working on building a home office desk a few months ago. Okay, maybe it was a little longer ago than I’m willing to admit (“few” is subjective, right?)

Well, I suppose I’m willing to admit how long it took: fourteen months. Though, it’s not my fault – I think that it is in my genes to start woodworking projects and then complete them a couple of years later. (Remember the railing from the living room looking into the entry way at the Winters Road house, Dad?)

All joking aside, I wanted a solid desk with a nice hardwood surface, and I didn’t want to spend an unreasonable amount of money on a nice piece of hardwood furniture. I also wanted to get into woodworking so that I could add yet-another-hobby to my hobby closet. I had prior some woodworking experience from college that I felt was being unused in my day-to-day life as an engineer. Luckily I wasn’t starting from scratch – I had done some woodworking in the past (Boy Scout projects, Footlighters musical sets, etc.) One difference from my past experience: this project was one of my first attempts at “fine woodworking” as opposed to “functional woodworking.”

An alternative to building a desk (or buying a really expensive desk) is to buy a fairly cheap desk – but I decided early on that I didn’t want to buy another piece of Ikea furniture for something that would be used as often as a good desk should be used.

I started out with a sketch of a desk that could fit in the space that I had – in my bedroom at the Bescott rental house. I envisioned a desk that was 8 ft. long by 3.5 ft. at the widest point. After reading up on conventional woodworking techniques, I realized that I could buy slabs of hardwood and join them using conventional joinery techniques to make a continuous surface. Another idea came to mind: why not use hardwood flooring that has already been manufactured with tongue/groove for joinery?

A quick visit to the local Lumber Liquidators and an order for “one box of Brazilian walnut” hardwood floor later and I got started. (“Are you flooring a closet?” and “Are you repairing some floor?” were both questions I heard when I ordered one box; after a quick monologue, they were really fascinated to hear that I had come up with a different application for their hardwood floor product.)

Here’s the general process I followed to build the desk:

  • I used saw horses constructed out of pine 2x4s as a work surface.
  • I used a sheet of MDF as a substrate.
  • I used a circular saw to cut out the basic shape of the desk.
  • I used a pneumatic nail gun from Harbor Freight with beads of glue to secure each row of flooring to the MDF substrate.
  • I used a miter saw to cut the individual planks into appropriate lengths – and to cut some of the complicated angles. Most miter saws only cut to 45 degrees, so a quick and dirty jig made out of pine led to the 30 degree cuts I needed.
  • I used a table saw to rip strips of the flooring into trim.
  • I tried to use a Buck Brothers plane which did not work out well (it didn’t come sharpened/honed, and my use only seemed to mess up the surface.) So, I used a belt sander to get the surface smooth.
  • I used a palm sander to smooth out and finish the surface to ~220 grit.
  • I used a coat of Tung oil to finish the surface. (I should have done two or three or four, but I had no patience left!)
  • I used a few of these legs from Ikea (as I realized that I needed to add legs to the desk, which had rested on saw horses for the better part of a year.)

The whole process was probably somewhere between 100-200 hours over the course of fourteen months. Why did it take much time on the calendar, then?

  • It gets hot in the summer in Texas: woodworking in a space that isn’t air-conditioned isn’t fun.
  • Working on other woodworking projects distracted me from this specific project (Dad’s birthday present, Mom’s Christmas present, etc…), although the desk worked great as a temporary workbench on some sawhorses!
  • Sanding takes forever. Really, sanding takes a long time. And, it’s not the most exciting part of the project – getting feedback on the progress you’re making is pretty slow.
  • I wanted to have nice hardwood legs. In retrospect, it was good that I decided to give up on a little quality (and use Ikea legs…) just to get the project done! Also, I realized that I can always rework it to have nice legs in the future.

The result was this beautiful hardwood surface desk (with purely functional legs from Ikea.) I’m happy to have finally finished this project, but I’m even happier to have a desk for the first time in a long time. Oddly, I’m writing this blog post on the couch – hm – maybe I should go use my new desk!


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