Starting the New Desk

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to say that I was out in the workshop last night until darkness fell and, that’s one of the small things I missed most while I was living away from home. Last night, I was out there until 21.30, making early progress on the folding laptop desk I’ve been wanting to build for a while now.


You see, I’ve spent the past two weeks (since moving back home) using my laptop in such a manner. It’s far from comfortable and, not matter how I sit, resting in one position on the floor for too long leaves me with either a dead leg or pins and needles!

After work, I went to my local timber merchant, Staddons who, as I discovered last Friday when I tried to call in there, have actually moved to a new site a couple of miles across the town. They see to be expanding and it’s certainly great to see in these hard times (I honestly feared the worst when I saw the sign on the old door). Their website’s currently undergoing some kind of makeover but, don’t let that put you off a visit, if you’re in the area. From what I’ve read online, they’re introducing more of a ‘self-service’ warehouse system, where you can pick out your consumables and, as I discovered yesterday, even small quantities of cut-to-length timber, PAR. For longer lengths and larger quantities, etc., you would still need to order over the desk and wait for someone to bring the timber to you. It still looks like a work-in-progress but, it certainly seems more welcoming and ‘open’ than some of the larger yards in Bristol.

I was hoping to buy sawn timber and allow it to acclimatise and settle for a couple of days before machining but, when I saw the PAR wood in the racks, I didn’t complain. I came away with the following, for less than £27 including VAT, which I think is quite reasonable:

4 off x 1.8m x 4x1in

2 off x 1.5m x 4x1in

2 off x 1.2m x 4x1in

6 off x 1.2m x 3x1in

That should be enough to build this desk and, the fact that the timber was already prepared has admittedly saved me some time. As I have some concerns that this timber may want to start cupping and distorting, I decided to crack on straight away by assembling the top. But, these are all such narrow widths that it shouldn’t affect things too much, really.

I started by taking those four 1.8m lengths and crosscutting them in two. They were actually cut 5mm over length so, taking the saw kerf in to account, I still had eight 900mm lengths to use (seven for the top; one for a back rail). This makes the wood easier to work with, particularly in a small workshop. I’m hoping for a finishing length of 840mm and, after cleaning both ends, there don’t appear to be any splits, which I’m very pleased with.

There are quite a number of dead knots though; some are quite large. I’ve done my best to hide the worst of them on the underside, while trying to maintain alternating growth rings from one board to the next. There are one or two that I may have to ‘deal with’ later, on the show face…

This top is to be made up in two parts. There’s a narrow section (180mm) that forms part of the back from and, hinged off of that will be the larger width (450mm). These boards were finished at 93mm or 94mm so, I needed to reduce the widths on these slightly and settled on 91mm, which still gave me a little extra to play with. Before sending them through my thicknesser, I decided to re-joint one edge of each board to ensure it was straight. It was also an opportunity to try out my new workshop layout, using both planing machines. 😉

With all boards now straight and parallel and, also marked out for orientation during assembly later, I further prepared these edges ready for assembly by clamping them in the vice in pairs (face to face, with meeting edges flush on top) and hand planed them with my no.5 jack plane. I was taught at college to create a slight ‘hollow’ between the joint of two boards and, whatever you may think of this approach, it does (in my experience) make assembly much easier and guarantees  tight-fitting joints.

I always keep a bag near my workbench for collecting shavings like this before they hit the floor. Just a little tip I have to try and look after the area as I work and to keep things as clean and tidy as possible.

Biscuit slots were cut (four per length) to aid the alignment and I was careful to ensure they could not be seen when I cut the top to size later (I set them in about 120mm from each end). When gluing up, I covered to sash cramp bars in masking tape to prevent the glue from sticking and, for the first assembly, I’ve only assembled for of the five boards, in pairs of two. I’ll add the middle board later; it always seems easier this way; less glue to go on; less biscuits to fit; less of a panic and a reduced risk of the whole thing cupping as you tighten the clamps.

I also hooked my biscuit jointer up directly to my vacuum (after unblocking the port!). It’s one of the best ways to keep the workshop clean (prevention, precaution) and it reminds me that I really should try to get my plumbed-in systems working more efficiently. I suspect that the design of the Triton Dust Bucket causes a loss or leak of air somewhere… Maybe it’s the opposite problem; not enough space for air to come in? Whichever is true, I’ve always found the airflow to be significantly weaker than why I’m using my vacuum directly.

Is that common with these systems?

I’ll be working on this one over the weekend and I look forward to keeping you updated.

Thanks for reading.

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