I’ve written/posted pictures about my workspace before (most recently, here), but through this semester I’ve been thinking about increasing my desk space. This all started when I was working on the Thesis, and had to move my dining room table into the office to handle the oversized staff paper. My current L-shaped desk is fine, but I’ve been thinking that I’d really like to have a dedicated computer desk. Like a writing desk. A mission-style writing desk. Since I’ll be moving around for a while until I’m settled, something portable. How about something that folds? A folding, mission-style writing desk. That’s cheap.

No one makes that desk. So in the great Vanderburgian tradition, I decided to design it myself. Luckily, while I was back home for Christmas, dad and I were able to build it. Here’s how that adventure went. It all started with a basic plan.

Desk plan 

Basically, the desk is built in panels. The back panel, about four feet in length, is attached to the two side panels, which are about two feet in length. These side panels are hinged to the back, and fold in to save space while traveling. The skinny part of the top is attached to that back panel, and the dark line across the desktop is a piano hinge that allows the top to be folded down.

The basic measurements I decided on for the desk are 30” tall, 4.5’ wide, and 2.5’ deep. So how does the building process begin? With a sheet of mahogany plywood.

I’m going to skip some of the pictures, because cutting boards isn’t all that exciting, but they’re all over on in a flickr set. We decided to build the panels out of 1×6 hard rock maple, which dad had stored in the old car shop (that’s right, the Vanderburg family compound includes a woodworking shop, an upholstery shop, an automotive shop, and a classic car shop, where mine and dad’s mustangs spend their time). For some reason, our collection of maple was in the classic car shop. Here’s one of the side panels, disassembled, with the slats cut.

And here’s a picture of the slats glued to the top and bottom boards. We used dowels for these. Guess who got to drill all the holes for the dowels?

And here’s what it looks like with the sides glued on. We used a biscuit joiner for the joints here. Fun tip: If you don’t hold onto a board properly when using a biscuit joiner, it is within the realm of possibility that the board will fly across the shop. Not that this…actually…happened…more than once.

Multiply this by two, and you have your sides. The back, on the other hand, requires a bit more wood, but overall is the same. We decided on 10 slats in this one instead of 5. Here’s some wood:

And here’s what it looks like all clamped together and waiting to dry.

We tried several different colors of stain (on scrap wood), because someone wanted them to match his dining room chairs, without knowing what stain we used on those chairs. We ended up mixing a color that’s close enough. Here’s a picture of the three panels, stained (the third panel is hiding behind the rightmost slat on the back. They’re standing on end because the laws of physics don’t apply in Poplar Bluff. Or, they’re wired together in a delicate balance. Your pick).

Add a coat or two of varnish to all of that, and of course, to the desktop (with trim added to the edges), and it’s ready to assemble. Here’s the desktop.

I don’t have any pictures of the assembly because it was essentially screwing piano hinges to everything, and usually required all four hands. But here’s how it turned out:


I unfortunately don’t have a picture of it folded (yet), but I’ll include that when I load it into my car.

So overall, I have a desk for almost-free. The only things we had to buy were 2 4-foot piano hinges (one of those was cut in half and used for the two leg-back joints), and 50 screws for the top hinge (because somehow the half-inch screws that were included went all the way through the half-inch wood). Overall, it took around 56 man-hours to complete. I’ve left out a lot of the measurement errors, equipment problems, and a lot of time waiting for the glue to dry. And of course, it helps to have a fully-stocked woodworking shop.

Once I return to Norman, I’ll be reworking my office, and I’ll hopefully have something moderately interesting to write about that process.