Sunday, August 12, 2012

DIY deconstructed: Desk, revisited

Another ideal not to be realized.

A while agoi I made the decision to build myself a desk instead of buying one at the furniture storeii. I had seen several I liked, and Sketchup'd a design I thought would work (as detailed in a previous blog post). I ran into a few snags with my decision, namely: 1) I had selected what turned out to be VERY expensive wood in VERY unusual dimensions. 2) I was having trouble making some decisions about necessary tools (Table saw versus miter saw, etc), 3) it ended up being a ridiculously busy work year, 4) I got overwhelmed by all of the other new house stuff, and 5) I didn't follow through.

Original design. Abandoned for no good reason.

After a hiatus, I have once more sauntered into the realm of manly power tools and mangled wood, and am actually making progress on a desk. I may still make a version of my original design, but I based on our space and my whim of the moment, I decided to go a slight different direction. I really like the look of some of the old “campaign furniture” from military campaigns of yore. The simplicity combined with the old-timey fixtures and functionality was appealing. What follows is a description of the first half of my endeavor, presented for your amusementiii.

The new general design is simple, though I haven't decided whether alternating accent wood color will look cool or like a cheesy racing stripe. Also, drawer fixtures are apparently really hard to draw in Mspaint.

With new design in hand, I made a go at starting the project using the tools already at my disposal. It became quickly apparent that while they were at my disposal in terms of availability, actual disposal was also probably a better choice for them in the long run. But logic and foresight have no place in manly exploration of new territoryiv, so off I went. Before I spent the cash on good lumberv I decided to make a preliminary version/mock up with generic Lowe's whitewood.

The first step was cutting the pieces to roughly the dimensions of the plan. Lacking a table saw or miter saw, I used an old miter box and rusty hacksaw. This was a less than ideal route to govi but it got me started.

Making the initial cuts.

About this time, as inevitably happens with any project, I become bored/delude myself that it is going to be too easy, and decide to add bells and whistlesvii. I decided that the front of the desk needed drawersviii. I puzzled for a while on how to accomplish this sans a router/table saw, and came up with the brilliantix idea of drilling large holes in each of the four corners in which to insert a jigsaw blade and finish the cut. In general terms this worked. I produced three drawer holes. In more specific terms, it failed spectacularly in that the holes were irregular, not square, and needed about an hour with a wood rasp and chisel to get anywhere near useful.

This approach is firmly ensconced in the “works in theory” department.

I had originally planned to use a nicer wood (in this case, birdseye maple) for the drawer front to class this thing up a bit. However, the wood I ordered ended up being too large to fit the pre-cut holes and I lacked a table saw to rip it down effectively. I cut three pieces of whitewood to meet the task, and after much sanding, rasping, and moderate skin abrasion, I had drawer fronts that roughly conformed to the drawer holes.

The last step in preparing the pieces was cutting the legs, which were designed as crossed, angled pieces. To get the right angled cut, I was facing two problems. First of all, there was math involved. After finally figuring out the proper cut anglesx I had to figure out how to make them. I tried using a roofer's square to accurately cut a 31.2% angle into a homemade miter box. This worked in the sense that a cut was made in the miter box. It did not work in the more traditional “achieving the purpose” sense of working. After some deliberation I broke down and bought a miter saw and made my final cuts.

A lot of hardware to make some glorified X's out of wood...

Ready to assemble. Sort of.

So here we are at the end of preparations, with all my pieces matching relatively well, ready to assemble and stain. Part 2 of this post will document the inevitable future horrors this process will entail as I move forward.
iI am speaking generically to keep myself from realizing this was almost a year ago.
iiBecause, you know, everything turns out better when a neophyte with no recognizable skill does something as opposed to paying skilled craftsmen to do it.
iiiAn/or moderate concern for my mental wellfare.
iv“Hey Columbus, do you have a map to this new trade route to the Indies?” “Hell no, I figure we just sail the hell out of this western ocean....we're bound to hit the Indies at some point..”
vSome lumber comes from the mightiest, densest trees in the forest. Mighty trees who stand proudly above the forest floor, with richly figured wood. The lumber one gets at Lowes/Home depot is not from these trees. If lumber may be viewed along the lines of high school hierarchy, the Lowes trees were asthmatic AV club members. One has to pick through the bins to find whitewood/pine that has few enough knots to maintain structural integrity, and hasn't been warped into 3, potentially 4, new dimensions. On the plus side, you can buy a tree's worth of wood for like $6.50.
viThis, in turn, is a phrase I have become very very accustomed to saying.
viiIronically, adding ACTUAL bells and whistles would have been a much, much easier process...and I mean, who doesn't want a desk with bells and whistles? That would be awesome.
viiiGiven the ubiquitousness of drawers in our lives, we may be lulled by our drawer-abundance driven complacency to think that this is an easy accomodation for DIY furniture. We were wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. Akin to thinking “hey, I use ice all the time, there's ice in my drink right now. Therefore ramming that iceberg with this passenger liner should be an easy accomodation to our route.”
ixOnly applicable for very large subsets of definitions for brilliant. Subsets large enough to include synonyms like “lunacy”, “drill-happy”, and “rutabega.”
xAmong other things I actually delved into high school side angle side, SOHCAHTOA stuff. Part of me seethed at proving my math teachers right...that this was applicable in the real world. However, given that I didn't actually remember these things but went the Google route, I feel partially vindicated. It may have real world application, but the internet has made learning and struggling to retain it obsolete. Take THAT, excellent NY high school education....I am now now repurposing those brain cells for beer buffering.

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