Sunday, March 30, 2008

Black Desk, Part 1

Black Desk, Part 2
Black Desk, Part 3

"Emo"? "Goth"? "Death Rocker"? What name do the kids with pale skin and black clothes go by now? Bleh. Can't keep it straight.

My 16 year old son, however, just likes black stuff. Especially with an asian twist. Can't help with the asian thing (I bought his dresser because of the asian styling), but I can go with black.

We picked up a bunkbed for him from AFW. It came with a little desk underneath. The desk was a piece of crap that broke during assembly. It was too small anyway, so we decided to make a desk the full length of the bed. So basically the bed and desk are the same size, bed on top, desk on the bottom.

We needed to do this on the cheap, so dimensional lumber from Lowe's is the material. $1.80 2x4's for the legs, and 1x2's for the framing. I usually like working with construction lumber, but not this time. I don't know if I didn't wait long enough to use it (I jointed and planed the 2x4's 3 weeks before milling for the legs) or if it was just craptacular wood. In addition to this, the 1x2's were made of friggin styrofoam or something. They virtually disintegrated when machined in any fashion. They splintered, chipped, cracked, etc, to the point where I gave up trying to improve the crap. It'll all be hidden anyway, so I've just got it as nice as possible then left it alone.

Whatever the reason, this became more of a challenge than I am used to.

Because of the expected abuse this desk will take (it is going into a teen's room, remember?) I wanted mass in the legs. So I doubled up the jointed and planed 2x4's. Rolled on the glue and used lots of clamps. This took forever because I only have enough clamps for one leg at a time. Glue, clamp, wait 2 hours. Glue, clamp, wait 2 hours.Glue, clamp, wait 2 hours.Glue, clamp, wait 2 hours.

The problem was I got some checking while the glue was drying. I couldn't believe it! I was furious. Stupid construction lumber.


Luckily, the ends of the legs will be hidden by the desk top and the floor. As long as the checks stay within the end grain, I'll be OK!

I trimmed to final length (29") and started on the design. First I used a 1/8" kerf saw blade to cut two lines around the bottom of the leg. This was a simple task with the crosscut sled. I just clamped a block at the distance to the first line, cut the kerf on all four sides of the leg, and repeated for all four legs. I then moved the block a little over an inch and repeated. Sanding was accomplished with 150 grit paper folded over a ruler.

I also wanted some vertical designs on just the front legs. So, thanks to the inspiration I received from a member of Woodnet's forums, I slapped together a jig to guide my router in cutting some tapered coves in the front of the two visible legs.

I basically used a strip of plywood, cut it in half, then cut a 3/8" piece off each half. Those acted to separate the two halves when glued together, creating a template for my router.

I used a 1/2" cove bit with a 1/4" shaft, and my 1/4" Porter Cable guide bushing.

A note about the PC bushings. If they're nickel plated, they're crap. The @#$%%^ nut will NOT stay locked in place. I bought a Woodcraft branded brass 1/2" one that stays tight with no problems. Porter Cable really REALLY needs to address this. I'm not the only one with problems with the silver bushing sets. In fact, it seems to be nearly common knowledge among the more experienced woodworkers online.

I made one cove shorter than the other by clamping a wrench across the opening to the jig, causing the router to stop sooner. This gave a little variety to the otherwise geometric designs in the legs.

When routing the coves, I had to fill in the middle because the coves were larger than my bit. But the 1/2" one was all that I could fit in the opening of the jig. So the effort was spent cleaning out the bottom of the cove with multiple router passes instead of coming up with a mickey mouse method of getting a larger bit into the jig, or redesigning the jig.

The taper was accomplished by sticking a piece of wood under one end of the jig, raising it up 3/8" or so. I set the bit depth so it took out less than 1/8" of the leg at the top, but a full 1/2" at the bottom. Because the cove bit cuts deeper, it also cuts wider at the bottom, giving even more interest to the design. This is the first time I've tried varying the depth of a cove like this, and I'm happy with the results.

The legs were attached with 1x2's using glue and pocket screws. The construction grade 1x2's were complete crap. Splintered and cracked at any opportunity. And it considered dirty looks opportunity enough!

I only attached 3 sides because the desk top and shelf will hold them together much better than these shitty 1x2's.

Once glued and screwed, and the glue scraped off I cleaned up the garage to make room to finish the legs. Because I'm going to have to make this a knock-down piece of furniture, I needed to make sure the normally hidden surfaces were stained. So the bottom got stained first. I used Minwax's water based stain in Onyx.

We did lots of tests with different "black" or "ebonizing" stains on pine and birch along with different final finishes. We ended up with the Minwax stain applied in two long-soaking coats, followed by 3 coats of water based poly. For the appearance checks I just used some rattle-can Minwax crap I happened to have. I'll find a better WB poly to use for the final finish next weekend.

The last photo was after the first coat of the onyx. It shows grain and even knots nicely, while keeping the feeling of a naturally black wood. The depth of the color will really come out when the second coat is shown and the poly applied. But before the poly, there will be an added detail that I'll show in the next installment.

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