CHERRY SERPENTINE DESK
This beautiful desk is a blend of veneered plywood, solid wood and cherry veneer.
SHOP OWNER: Felix B.
LOCATION: York, PA
When I was commissioned to build this desk, the requirements were very simple: it should be made out of cherry, it should have simple lines, and it should not look ordinary. Since this desk would be used daily in the office, the full extension drawers were an important feature to consider.
After extensive research and numerous discussions on WoodCentral, I came to the conclusion that Ύ cherry veneer core plywood would be ideal to use for this design. While all my shop drawings were made in SketchUp, AutoCAD was used to experiment with curves for the legs and front of the desk.
The pedestal is a simple plywood box with solids in corners reinforced with three frames inside (between the drawers). When the pedestal was initially glued up, the corner pieces were about 1/32 proud of plywood sides. Later they were hand planed and scraped flush with the side and back panels. The front corner pieces have a slight taper to accommodate the concave shape of the front of the pedestal.
I cut the concave profiles of the front rails on a band saw and dovetailed them into the front stiles.
The leg base is solid cherry; it is built using a mortise and tenon joint between the legs and the stretchers. I cut the legs on a band saw, cleaned up on a spindle sander, and then scraped.
With the mortise and tenon joints cut, I dry fitted the legs and the stretchers together and carefully marked the location of the curves using templates. Then I roughed out the curves on the band saw.
In order to achieve an uninterrupted curve line between the legs and the stretchers, each stretcher and its two legs were assembled together using clamps, and then sanded on the oscillating spindle sander. Once glued up, I smoothed the leg base with a hand plane and scraper.
A rabbet was milled in each leg base to receive a small decorative molding between the leg base and the pedestal.
Another level of difficulty was added when I realized that the drawer fronts needed to be veneered so that the grain direction would match the vertical grain direction of the pedestals.
The drawer fronts were built using a vacuum press and a mold. I constructed my first mold from a bunch of 2 x 4s that I cut to shape on the band saw (to form the curve of the fronts), glued up together, and then hand planed. Little did I know that the 2x4 material I used was not the ideal wood for the form. The freshly cut side dried overnight and curled up! I remade my second form using Ύ plywood strips glued together, shaped on the band saw, and hand planed to achieve a uniformed convex surface.
I made the curved drawer fronts using eight layers of bendable plywood (some call it Italian Poplar). The extremely flexible 1/8-inch-thick sheets of plywood were shaped using a vacuum press and a mold.
All seven drawers have dovetailed fronts and backs to achieve maximum structural strength. Due to the height of the filing drawers, I used ½ birch plywood for the sides and the backs to balance the seasonal wood movement.
In order to hide the drawer slides under the drawer bottoms, I had to mount the slides on wooden strips, which I fastened to the internal frames.
Once the drawers were ready for glue-up, I sandwiched the fronts between two pieces of 13-wide cherry veneer.
After completely assembling the drawers, I milled a rabbet around the perimeter of the drawer fronts and added a decorative 1/8-thick bead.
I cut the curved bead planks to shape on the band saw, and then ripped and milled to thickness. To form the edge, I used a scratch stock made from a scraper.
Mission accomplished 22 full extension drawers and no visible slides.
I connected the rear panel between the two pedestals by gluing it into dados milled into the corner posts and fastened from the inside using pocket screws. A decorative molding later covered the pocket screw holes.
The Ύ plywood panel that supports the middle drawer was glued in dados located on the sides of the pedestals. The panel was fastened using pocket screws.
The entire structure was re-enforced with the frame at the top. Once assembled, the structure of the desk was very rigid and it felt very solid when moving it around.
I made the top from Ύ cherry veneered plywood with a solid cherry edging around the perimeter. The challenge was to cut matching curves in the plywood and wooden edge for the front. Using AutoCAD I plotted the curve, taped together the 8x11 sheets of paper, transferred the curve to template material (3/16 ply), then cut the template on the band saw to make matching sides, and finally, I shaped the curved plywood middle and solid edging with a router. To join the solid wood edge and the plywood, I used #20 biscuits (I was Norm for a day).
To emphasize the serpentine front, I added a small rabbet to the solid edge before the top was assembled.
To achieve the gloss finish on this project, I used oil and urethane products by General Finishes. Since I dont have a spray gun, it took awhile to apply the twelve coats for the top and between 6-8 coats for the other parts. Overall dimensions of this desk are: 60 long, 30 wide (at the widest point at the top), and 30 high.
. . . Felix Milner