Wall-Hung Desk

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This article is from Issue 84 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Beautiful, compact concealability with no footprint 

When it comes to timeless, functional furniture, it’s hard to beat a desk. These days, we all need a place to park a laptop computer, tablet, or other personal electronic device, along with their attendant cords, chargers, etc. Here’s a great wall-mounted unit designed by Andy Rae and myself that can conveniently hang on a wall in any room, for either sitting or standing work. (See page 72 for more on its inception.) The door drops down to create a generous, very sturdy desktop surface, with wire management in the form of a PVC pipe at each end of the unit. When not in use, a laptop, tablet, and/or file folders can be stored in a bar-corralled pocket that is flanked by a cubby on each end to accommodate all manner of accoutrements. Four drawers provide more storage below, with the small outer drawers offering a great place to tuck charger wires and the like. 

I made this desk from figured maple, lightly dyeing it to pop the flame. The pulls are made of rosewood. However, suit yourself as to the woods. I suggest you use something really nice, as this piece is likely to become an heirloom.

Order of Work

  • Make the templates.
  • Make and dado the case sides.
  • Make the top, shelf, and bottom.
  • Assemble the case.
  • Make the cubby-and-pocket section.
  • Make the door & drawers.
  • Finish and assemble.

Make the templates

Lay out the two templates on good quality hardwood plywood with at least 9 plies. (I used 11-ply birch.) Rout the slots in both templates with a 1/2"-dia. upcut spiral bit. Then cut the side profile with a jigsaw or bandsaw, and fair the edges with files and sandpaper. Don’t cut the tapers on the cubby side template. 

Slotting the template. Rout the through-slots in the template using a 1⁄2"-dia. upcut spiral bit, guiding the router with a T-square. (See onlineEXTRAS.)

Make the case sides

Decide on the orientation of the case sides, and use the side template to lay out the case side profile on two pieces of 3/4"-thick stock. Then saw about 1/16" outside the lines. Next, mark the exterior faces as such, finish-sand the interior faces, then attach the template to one of the sides. Chuck a flush-trim bit into a table router, and rout the edges of the side flush to the template edge. Then outfit a plunge router with a 1/2"o.d. template guide and 1/4"-dia. upcut spiral bit. With the template still attached to the first side, rout the 1/4"-deep dados. Remove the template, attach it to the inside face of the remaining case side, and repeat the flush-trimming and dado-routing. Finally, rout the 1/4" × 1/2" stopped rabbet in each side to accept the case back, squaring off the ends of the rabbet with a chisel.

Attach the template. Use double-faced tape to attach the template to the inside face of a rough-shaped side. To prevent the tape from tearing the template veneer upon removal, I first lay down wide cellophane tape, extending tabbed ends off the edge. Press the carefully aligned template to the case side, and then apply clamp pressure to the taped areas for a few moments to secure the bond. 

Flush-trim the case side curves. With the template attached to a rough-cut case side, use a flush-trim bit to trim the sides flush to the template edges. An “over/under” bit, like the one shown, has both a top and bottom bearing, allowing you to invert the work as necessary in order to cut with the grain to prevent tearout.

Rout the dadoes. Cut the 1⁄4"-deep dadoes in the sides with a router outfitted with a 1⁄2" o.d. template guide. 

Make and fit the case top, bottom, and shelf

Mill the case top, bottom, and shelf to size, and hand plane and/or

sand them smooth. Do the same for a length of stock that will yield the three drawer dividers, but don’t cut them to length yet. Mark the top, bottom, and shelf for orientation, and then saw their tenons using a dado head on the tablesaw. Cut them a bit fat, and then fine-tune them with a shoulder plane. Now, drill the blind hole in the case top edge to accept a 1/2"magnet, and cut the 1/4 × 1/2" rabbet in the rear edge of the case top and bottom. 

Lay out and rout the stopped drawer divider dadoes in the shelf and bottom. Also lay out the center points for the PVC pipes. Then rout the dadoes using the same set-up as you did when routing the template slots, except with a 1/4" dia. upcut spiral bit this time. 

Dry-assemble the parts, and measure for the length of the drawer dividers. For accuracy, take your measurement close to the case sides, adding 1/2" to the distance between the shelf and case bottom to account for the tenons. Then crosscut your drawer divider material to length, and cut and fit the tenons as before. Work precisely to ensure that the tenon shoulder-to-shoulder measurement equals the height of the drawer opening. Also, using the drill press, bore the 2"-dia., 1/4"-deep recesses to accept the ends of the pipes. (No matter that these holes will be slightly oversized in diameter.) Then drill a 1-1/2"-dia. through hole at the center of each recess as shown. Cut the spacer to size, and attach it to the shelf with double-faced tape, carefully aligning the rear edges. Use the shelf holes as a guide for drilling the through-holes in the spacer, then detach the spacer. Finally, cut the two pipes to fit snugly between their recesses.

Saw the tenons on the case horizontals. To cut the tenons on the case top, bottom, and shelf, set up a dado head, and partially embed it in a sacrificial fence. Use a miter gauge to feed the workpieces. Afterward, raise the cutter the appropriate amount, and feed the stock on edge to nip off the front and rear end of each tenon to match the length of its dado. 

Fine-tune the fit. Having cut the tenons a bit fat for safety, use a shoulder plane to trim them to a perfectly snug fit in their dadoes. (If you make furniture, and you lack a shoulder plane, get one. Trust me; you don’t know what you’re missing.)

Pipe holes. Use a 11⁄2"-dia. Forstner bit to drill a through-hole at the center of each 2"-dia. recess. This creates a stepped hole to hold each end of a pipe in place. Make sure to place a backer under the work to minimize tear-out.

Crosscut cradle. For safety and accuracy when cutting PVC pipe at a chop saw, mount the stock in a simple V-notched cradle lined with sandpaper. 

Assemble the case

Dry-clamp the unit together to make sure everything fits well. Then measure for the back. Cut it for a very snug fit within its rabbets, which will help keep the case square. Now glue up the drawer section as shown. After the glue dries, plane the front edges flush if necessary. Then rout the edges of the sides with a 1/8" roundover bit, and finish-sand the sides. Also finish-sand the case bottom, shelf, and top, as it’s much easier to do this before assembly. Finally, glue the sides to the drawer section and case top. 

Next, make and attach the top and bottom rails and screw cleat. After thicknessing the blanks and ripping the rails slightly oversized in width, precisely crosscut the parts to length. Then lay out the rail curves. Saw the curves, and fair and smooth them. Finish-sand the rails and cleat. Drill a pocket screw hole in each end of the top rail, centering it across the width. Also drill one in each end of the bottom rail, 2-1/4" from the top edge. Glue the long edges of the rails and cleat to the case, and install the pocket screws. Finally, using a 1/8" roundover bit, rout the top front edge of the spacer as well as its pipe openings, and glue it to the shelf, carefully aligning the rear edges of each.

Just snug it up. When dry-clamping the case to measure for the back, don’t overdo the clamp pressure. Apply just enough to pull the joints together, and then take your measurements at the joint locations for accuracy. 

Case Glue-Up

Stage 1. Glue the shelf and case bottom to the drawer dividers, checking the unit for square under clamp pressure.

Stage 2. Glue the finish-sanded sides to the previously assembled drawer section. Make sure the assembly is square under clamp pressure. I use squaring sticks to make sure the diagonals match.

Rail curve layout. After marking out the curve’s center point and ends onto a rail, tape it to scrap, and install finish nails at the curve’s end points. Attach a flexible straightedge (your desk hinge will work fine) to the nails using binder clips, and trace the curve while holding the straightedge against the center point. 

Make the cubbies

Cut two 1/2 × 6-7/8 × 9-3/4" blanks for the cubby sides. Each blank will yield 2 sides. Outfit a plunge router with a 1/4"-dia. upcut spiral bit and a 1/2" O.D. template guide, and then rout the 1/4"-deep dadoes as shown using the cubby side template. Rip each blank into two 3-1/4"-wide pieces to create the sides. Draw the taper on one of the right-hand pieces, and use it to set up for the taper cut as shown. After cutting the tapers, finish the shaping by rounding off the top front corners of the cubby sides. (I gang-stacked them in a vise, and routed all corners at once using a 3/8" roundover bit.) Then make the shelves and cut their tenons. Finish-sand the faces of the parts, and glue up the cubbies, carefully checking them for square under clamp pressure. After assembly, ease all edges with 220-grit paper.

Rout the cubby dadoes. With the cubby side template clamped atop each cubby side blank in turn, rout the dadoes in the same manner as you did the dadoes in the case sides. 

Taper the sides. With the bottom end of the marked cubby side touching your tablesaw sled fence, and the taper cut line aligned with the sled’s kerf, tack a small fence to the sled against the cubby side. Then cut the taper on each piece in turn. 

Fit the cubbies and pocket bars

The cubby-and-pocket assembly gets fit in place, and is then removed for easy finishing. Begin by clamping the cubbies in place to the case sides. Mill the pocket bars, and also a strip of 1-1/4"-wide scrap to use as a temporary spacer. Rabbet the ends of the bars, aiming for a very snug shoulder-to-shoulder fit between the cubbies. Then sand and install the bars. After marking their back faces for reorientation later, detach them and set the cubby parts aside for finishing. 

Pocket bar pilots. With the lower pocket bar in place, resting on a 11⁄4" spacer, drill a pilot hole in each end for a #6 × 3⁄4" round-head screw. Follow up with a clearance hole through the bar, install the screw, and repeat at the other end. Next, place the spacer atop the lower bar to install the upper bar in the same manner. (Note the plywood I-beam supports that allow clamping the desk to the bench.)

Make & mount the door

Build the door as shown in the drawing on page 37, making it a tight side-to-side fit in its opening. I cut the rail mortises with a hollow chisel mortiser, carefully centering them across the width of the stock. I sawed the stile tenons with a dado head, in the same manner as cutting the case tenons. The panel grooves are best cut on a router table as shown. Size the door panel, making sure to allow for about 1/8" seasonal movement across the grain. Then saw or rout the opposing rabbets on its edges to create a snug, but easy fit in the grooves. Dry-clamp the panel into its frame to make sure everything fits well. While dry-fit, plane or sand the parts level to each other, and then lightly chamfer the outer edges of the panel and the inner edges of the frame, avoiding the frame joints. Apply at least one coat of finish to the edges of the panel (I stained them first) before gluing up the door. Pin the panel with bamboo skewers as shown in the drawing. Trim the door’s side edges to create a 1/32" gap at the case sides. (Do this with the back temporarily in place to help keep the case square.) Then minimally attach the door as shown. Mark the top of the door flush with the case top, and locate the magnet recess center. Remove the door, trim the top, drill for the magnet, and rout the outer edge of the top rail with a 1/8" roundover bit.

Mortise the rails. A hollow chisel mortiser is a great tool for cutting the relatively deep mortises required by a door with wide frame pieces like this.

Groove for the panel. Using a table router outfitted with a 1⁄4" straight bit set for a 3⁄8"-deep cut, rout the grooves in the door stiles and rails. The stile grooves run through end-to-end, while the rail grooves run between the mortises. 

Attach the door. With a few screws holding the piano hinge to the door’s bottom edge, attach the other leaf to the case shelf, shimming it out from the spacer about 1⁄32". Also shim the door side-to-side to center it. A few screws will do to check the fit, but do drill all of your screw pilot holes now, while the cubbies aren’t in the way. Scrap supports the door, and double-faced tape holds the shims to the spacer (inset above). 

Make the drawers

I’m going to assume that if you’re a good enough woodworker to build a cabinet like this, you already know how to make drawers. (If not, check out the link on onlineExtras.) I built mine as shown in the drawing, with through dovetails at the rear, and half-blinds at the front. Alternatively, you could join the boxes any way you like, and then glue false fronts to them. For the best aesthetics, crosscut the drawer fronts contiguously from the same board. After assembly, judiciously plane the sides and all edges to create a snug, but easy sliding fit in each drawer opening. To create a reveal on the bottom edges, I plane a slight bevel on them. Last, make the 8 drawer stops, and glue them in place behind each drawer, with the drawer faces carefully aligned with the case front. No need for clamping here; a rub joint will be fine. 

Plane to fit. To fit the drawers to their openings, begin by planing the bottom edges so that the drawer sits solidly on a dead flat surface. Then work the top edges and the sides, trimming and test-fitting bit by bit until the drawer slides easily into place without racking. Use a planing perch as shown to work the sides.

Finish and final assembly

I used dye stain to accentuate the figured maple, then topped it off with several coats of varnish. Before you apply your finish, mark for the cubby rear screws as shown. Also mark off the glue-contact areas between the cubby side and the case side, as well as the areas where the back contacts the case edges. Apply your finish, avoiding those locations, and then turn and install the pulls. Glue and clamp the cubbies to the case sides, glue and tack the back in place, and install the cubby screws. Epoxy the magnets in their holes, install the door, and attach the pocket bars. Beautiful. Reach around behind you and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. 

Cubby screw locations. With a 1⁄4" spacer (a drawer bottom works great)between the cubby and case side, trace along the inner edge of the cubby wall. This locates the centerline for two #6 × 1" screws that will pull the case back against the cubbies. Then drill clearance holes through the case back 3" and 8" up from the bottom of the centerline.

Slippery smoothing. To ensure a smooth, nib-free surface, wet-sand between coats with successively finer abrasives, going very light on edges. After applying 2 coats of oil-based wiping varnish, I sand with 400-grit wet/dry silicon carbide paper lubricated with mineral spirits. After the 3rd coat, I use 600-grit paper (lubricated), and then rub out with 0000 steel wool after the 4th, final, coat. 


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