Refurbished Oak Desk

I had this Parsons-style oak desk built in the early 70s while I was in graduate school. It's not particularly elegant and the construction is pedestrian—no joinery beyond screws, glue, and blocking. A major design flaw is the lack of support across the front edge to support the plywood top adequately. After a few years of heavy computer terminals, the top sagged so badly that the drawers wouldn't open. I removed the drawers (and eventually used them in the melamine desk), screwed a long 3/4"x2" plywood rail to the underside of the top along the front edge, and screwed the drawer fronts to this rail. This lash-up fixed most of the sagging and turned the desk into a table, but Maylee used it as her desk for over a decade. She reversed the desk because there was less sagging along the back edge.

Perhaps prompted by the rounded front edge on the rolling computer table, Maylee complained that the edge of the desk was sharp and dug into her wrists when she worked at her computer, so I promised to round over the front edge while she was out of town. I also realized that I could fix the sagging and accommodate drawers if I used a flat steel bar under the front edge instead of the plywood rail. The 1/8"x1" steel bar is attached underneath the 3" wide aprons at the ends of the desk.

Notice the change in wood grain along the front edge in the photo on the right. When I was doing the round over, the height adjustment on my router slipped and the bit dove into the wood producing a nasty 6" gouge. The only recourse was to rout and chisel a clean recess and glue in an oak patch. I also built new side-hung drawers using the original drawer fronts. Of course, I had to refinish the whole desk because the front edge round over and patch exposed much unfinished wood. I sanded off most of the old finish and applied a reddish-brown aniline dye to even out the various colors, followed by a coat of Watco dark walnut Danish oil and 4 coats of Daly's satin CrystalFin.

What started as a simple improvement turned into a major project.

September 2004.