My Five-year Desk Project by
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Five years in the making

I’m an engineer.  I love putting stuff together, and sometimes taking things apart, to see how they work.  I still remember running downstairs on Christmas morning when I was five years old and tearing open the package under the tree that I knew was mine – an Erector Set!  I immediately started putting things together, and that Erector Set kept my brothers and me engaged for many years.

Of course, like all woodworkers, I could show you every place where I made a mistake, where the final project is not perfect - but I won't.

Fast forward to about 2013.  June and I had moved to North Carolina, and we finally had a dedicated office room with enough space for me to put a large desk, one which I was determined to build myself.  (The move had also provided a space in the garage where I could put my new woodshop tools, replacements for the sorry collection of tools that had been stuffed into a corner of the garage in our house in central Ohio.  I bought the best tools I could afford, a step below industrial grade pieces, but top-end for weekend warrior purposes.)

I had researched various woodworking magazines for the best plans for my desk, and finally decided on a plan from Woodsmith magazine.  I then set about buying the wood that I would need and carefully planning how to implement the plan.  The Woodsmith plan called for using a lot of oak plywood, but June and I had decided that we liked cherry much more than oak, and I had decided that i was going to use solid cherry rather than cherry plywood.  That forced a modification of the plan, because a wide expanse of solid cherry would have the potential to crack with changes in humidity, unlike plywood.  So I decided that the sides of the desk which would be open to view would be raised panel construction.

Now, I had never done anything with raised panels.  I knew that I had to build rails and stiles to hold the panels, and that I would need to leave space around the panels and put in little rubber balls to held the panels in place, so that the panels would “float” as changes in humidity caused the panels to expand and contract.  Then I had to learn how to use a raised panel router bit, a somewhat scary operation with a bit about three inches in diameter spinning at several thousand revolutions per minute.  Because I didn’t want to ruin very expensive cherry boards, I practiced most of the cuts on pine boards first, until I was confident I could make the pieces accurately.

The plans also called for  drawers that just fit into the rectangular openings in the desk, but I wanted more elegant false fronts on the drawers, and I wanted them to slide on manufactured drawer slides rather than just running on top of the bottoms of the openings.  So that involved a good bit of re-design, especially on the one large drawer for holding files, the front of which looks like two separate drawers.

And I considered putting brass drawer pulls on the desk, but June convinced me to go with the solid wood pulls called for in the plans.  Those had to be carefully crafted on my router table using a jig built from a plan within the plans.

Finally, I wanted the desk to include a slide-out tray for my keyboard, which required making the center opening several inches wider than had been called for in the plans.  The desk as built is now 30 inches deep by 63-1/4 inches wide by 30-1/4 inches high.

Five years after the start of the project, I finished the desk.  I’m pretty happy with the result.  Of course, like all woodworkers, I could show you every place where I made a mistake, where the final project is not perfect – but I won’t.  I will say that if I were to do it all over again, I would not go with the manufactured drawer slides – they work, but slides like that have to be “dead nuts on” to work right, and mine, while they work, do not work as well as I would like.

Profile photo of Jeff Gerken Jeff Gerken

Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Thank you, Jeff. You will see I gave you a shout out even before your story was published and you didn’t disappoint. Your story underscored what I already knew: that you are a true craftsman in all respect and I am a mere DIY dabbler. It is sort of like saying that Rafael Nadal and I play the same sport. Not even close.

    So congratulations on your story and on your beautfiful desk. I am wiser and even humbler having read about it.

  2. Marian says:

    What a long project, Jeff, and you did it. I’m in awe of woodworkers, having a colleague whose hobby that was who did outstandingly beautiful creations. And, I love the song. Never heard it before, but it could be a theme for many.

  3. Suzy says:

    Wow, Jeff, that is an incredibly beautiful desk, I’m not surprised that you spent five years on it. True craftsmanship! And your descriptions of the modifications you made to the Woodsmith Magazine plan are mind-boggling. You are a better woodsmith than the magazine people! Thanks for showing us a project that goes far beyond “some assembly required.” Perfect song too!

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      Much of the five years was spent in learning about the techniques and thinking about the problems arising from the re-designs. If I were to build another desk from the same modified plan, I could probably do it in a month.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Jeff, truly an incredible feat! What a project. I can see from the photo that you even have pieces of wood on either side that can slide out for more space when you are sitting and working. This is masterful, beautiful, professional quality. I am in awe. I am also impressed by all the changes you made to the original design in the Woodsmith Magazine (not just the type of wood, but going from plywood to whole planks of the desired cherrywood, for example). And knowing how to do the floating panels to allow for changes in sizing for humidity. You are a true master woodworker. Thank you so much for giving us so much detail about how this project evolved and the great pain you took to bring it to fruition. We can all see that is was worth the effort (no matter how long it took).

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      Yes, the pullout writing surfaces on either side were features that drew me to this plan. I have taped a sheet of paper to the one on the right with the ALT+ codes that I need to put accented letters, Greek letters, math symbols, etc. into things that I write.

  5. Glad you enjoyed your project Jeff, and I’m sure June agrees it kept you busy and out of trouble for 5 years!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    The desk is beautiful and I’m sure its creation gave you much pleasure (aside from the challenges) over five years. So, what’s next? And thanks for the song. Never heard it before.

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      Harry Nilsson was a fairly prolific songwriter and musician in the 1960s and 70s. He was very highly regarded by the Beatles. Probably his best known song is “Everybody’s Talking”, the theme song of the movie “Midnight Cowboy”.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Okay, I am just in awe of your persistence and capabilities. So glad there are people like you in the world. As you said in one of the comments, you could probably make the desk MUCH faster now–so much you learned in the process. I hope it was a fun challenge. Certainly well met.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    If I had space, I’d probably have a woodworking shop. Not that I need another expensive hobby!

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      When we lived in Ohio, I had to move both cars out of the garage and then start moving tools around until I got to the one that I needed. When we were deciding what house to build in North Carolina, my one “must have” was an L-shaped garage with enough space for all the new, higher-end tools that I wanted to buy. I now have a SawStop table saw, a big Rikon lathe, a bid Rikon bandsaw, a free-standing drill press, a router table, a planer, and numerous other small tools.

      Like you, I don’t need another expensive hobby. I dropped out of a fly-fishing club after just one meeting, didn’t see having the time to get really good at it. I do have a reasonable nice telescope, but don’t really have the time to invest in that hobby, since I discovered that most of the time, the stars only come out at night.

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