Work Smarter with a Standing DeskComments (0)
This article is from Issue 70 of Woodcraft Magazine.
Create a compact work station that’s higher & healthier
Sitting all day is one of the worst things we can do to our bodies. Unfortunately, many of us have jobs that force us to do just that. The penalties for extended periods of sitting are familiar to many: unnecessary weight gain, neck and back pain, and poor cardiovascular health, just for starters. Standing desks can significantly lessen these ill effects. In fact, research has shown that switching to a standing desk not only improves health; it can also improve mood and work performance.
My standing desk incorporates traditional joinery details and pleasing proportions in a design that can easily accommodate a laptop or desktop computer. The desk’s small footprint should make it easier to fit into a home office or other setting. Although the desk shown here is made from ash and cherry, other cabinet-grade woods can also be used. When building your own version, just make sure to adjust the length of the legs so that the desk’s top is at the proper height (see sidebar, facing page).
Legs, rails, and aprons
In style and construction, this desk resembles a bedside table–but with longer legs. It’s important to adjust leg length so that the desk’s work surface is at a comfortable height for the user (see sidebar, below).
Think About Elbows When Sizing a Standing Desk
Like a conventional desk, a standing desk can have a work surface that’s small, large or anything in between. But there is one critical dimension: work surface height. Ideally, this should be at or just slightly below elbow height when you’re standing at the desk (see drawing). For prolonged stints at a standing desk, ergonomic experts recommend a fairly level sightline to a computer monitor, and a typing posture that puts arms at a right angle. While some commercial desks offer adjustable-height tops, many users simply use blocking or platforms to achieve the most comfortable working height. In this case, you can build your desk to fit by adjusting the length of the legs.
Mortise the legs, then make taper cuts on the tablesaw
The legs come first on a project like this, and for good reason. They need to be cut from clear, straight-grained stock and oriented to display the most pleasing grain lines in the finished desk. After cutting all four legs, I identify the best “show” face on each leg and establish the final orientation of the legs. Witness marks on the ends of the legs ensure that I’ll maintain the correct orientation as mortises and tapers are cut. Lay out and cut all mortises before tapering the legs.
Mortise & tenon details
The stepped mortises are designed to accommodate the movement of a wide tenon by dividing it in two. Rather than squaring the ends of apron mortises to fit the tenons, I simply rout them slightly longer, as shown in the drawing.
Create a drawer opening by cutting the front apron apart, then gluing it back together
In the finished desk, the drawer opening appears to have been cut into a single board, but that’s an illusion. To achieve it, I cut the front apron board apart with two ripcuts, remove the center section (where the drawer opening will be), and glue the four remaining parts back together again. Once I’ve cut the front apron to finished length (including tenons) and width, I can cut the three remaining aprons to their finished sizes. Make sure to allow for saw kerfs and tenons when selecting your front apron workpiece.
Front apron cutting diagram
Start with a blank at least 51⁄2" wide and 25" long. Make 2 ripcuts first, then cut out the waste and glue up the apron.
Cut tenons & grooves to complete the aprons
Size your apron tenons for a snug fit in the leg mortises (drawing, facing page), I make the cheek and shoulder cuts using my dado cutter on the tablesaw (photo below), then remove the small center portion on the scrollsaw. Grooves are also required in each apron, as shown in the photo below. The grooves near apron top edges will hold the wood buttons I use to attach the desktop (see page 37). The grooves near the bottom edges of front and back aprons will hold the tenoned drawer guides I’ll install when assembling the desk.
Dry-fit the desk to lay out the lower rail assembly
The joinery for the desk’s upper structure is complete. Now it’s time to work on the lower rail assembly, which consists of a pair of rails joined by a stretcher. The stretcher tenons extend all the way through the rails. The rail tenons need to be scribe-fit so their shoulders will match the tapered legs. To do this, I dry-fit the leg-and-apron assembly, making sure that the desk structure sits flat and square. A pair of sled-type jigs enables me to cut the angled tenon shoulders on the tablesaw, using my stack dado.
Sled jigs do the trick. Designed to run in the miter gauge groove, these matching jigs are marked “R” and “L” to identify the angled cuts that need to be made in the lower rails. I transfer the leg tapers to each jig with a bevel gauge, then screw alignment cleats to each jig. After cutting tenon cheeks on the tablesaw, I hand-cut rail tenons to finished width.
Prepare drawer runners, assemble the desk, then attach the top
I need to make a pair of drawer runners before I can assemble the desk. Each runner is a two-part assembly. Using a dado joint to connect the side and bottom pieces (see drawing) ensures that they’ll always provide true alignment in guiding the drawer. For similar reasons, I don’t want to rely on fasteners to hold the drawer runners in place. Instead, they’re tenoned to fit in grooves I made earlier in the front and back aprons. When making the runners, take your measurements when the desk is dry-fit together, and cut your runner parts to fit. When the runners are complete, you can assemble the desk.
Desk Assembly Details
Make sure the tenons in the drawer runner assembly fit snugly in the front and rear apron grooves. It’s also important for the bottom and side of each runner assembly to be flush with the bottom and sides of the drawer opening.
A traditional drawer with two kinds of dovetails
I wanted this desk to have traditional details from top to bottom. That’s why I built the drawer using solid wood and dovetail joinery. As shown in the drawing, the drawer sides join the front with half-blind dovetails, and the back with through dovetails. I like to cut my drawer parts to the same size as the drawer opening. This eliminates any chance of undersizing, and allows me to trim the drawer box for a perfect fit. The technique I use for making half-blind dovetails is explained in the Joinery Class that begins on p. 62. The through dovetail joints are less demanding (and less visible, too–since they’re at the back of the drawer). To make these joints, I use a combination of hand and power tool techniques. If you don’t have a scrollsaw, remove waste between tails with a coping saw.
Tails On the Tablesaw, Then Cut the Pins by Hand
My dovetailing sled slides in the tablesaw’s miter grooves. The blade is angled at 14°. A sliding, adjustable stop on the rear fence makes repeat cuts foolproof.
Clear the pin space on the scrollsaw. Staying inside layout lines, I cut away the waste between tails. Follow up this work by paring to the line.
Cut pins by hand. I use my dovetail saw to cut along the waste side of my layout lines. Then I remove the waste between pins using a coping saw. Paring the joints to fit completes the back corners.
Go to woodcraftmagazine.com for more details on the techniques featured in this article, including a video of Chris Hedges demonstrating his tablesaw dovetailing jig.
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