Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools – Part 1: Dovetail Carcass

//Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools – Part 1: Dovetail Carcass

HOW TO BUILD A DOVETAIL DESK WITH WOODWORKING HAND TOOLS (PART ONE)

In this series of 17 short videos & blog posts, you’ll learn how to build a traditional antique-style hinged dovetail desk with woodworking hand tools. Even if you don’t want to build this exact desk, these tutorials will teach you the fundamental hand tool skills required to build almost any table or desk. I built this historic hinged-top desk for my sons, as a Christmas gift. The best part is that they’ve helped me build it! You can see the list of tools that I used at the bottom of this page. This is the finished desk (click here to view the final blog post & video):

 In the video I suggest that you make the desk according to your size requirements, but here are the measurements that I used for the desk carcass: the base is 30-in. x 24-in. The rear piece is 8-in tall and the front piece is 5″ tall.
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These carcass pieces are white pine, but you can use different types of wood. For beginner hand tool woodworking, pine or poplar is a good choice because they are easy to cut and handplane, and inexpensive to purchase.
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I drew the angles on the side pieces, cut close to the line with a rip saw, then planed them down to my layout lines with a #7 jointer plane. I then cut through-dovetails all around the carcass, and used half-lap dovetails on the bottom tails (above photo) to hide the groove that I plowed for the bottom. I have covered these skills in previous tutorials, so see them here:
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At my local home center I found some tongue and grooved pine bead boards to create the bottom of my desk. They are about 1/4″ thick. I made sure to leave a little space so they can expand during seasonal changes, but not too spaced out that I could see gaps of light. These were inserted into grooves that were plowed into the shell pieces. If you want an even more sturdy desk bottom, then you can mill up boards and use ship lap joints or tongue and groove joints, both of which I’ve done video tutorials on here. I won’t cover the details of the desk carcass as much as the other parts of the desk because I’ve covered much of it in the above dovetail tutorials.
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The legs and skirt are held together with double-sided mortise and tenon joints, which I’ll show you how to do in great detail in the next videos. The skirt is made from white pine and the legs are made from Southern Yellow Pine, but again, you can use most any type of wood.
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Several years ago Roy Underhill personally showed me how to simply rip the quartersawn sides off a 2×12 yellow pine construction board (from Lowes or Home Depot) and use them as stable wood for the legs. This is then referred to as “Quartersawn” lumber, which is very stable:
I have created a very detailed tutorial on how to square up boards with hand tools, like hand saws and hand planes (here). You can also use some basic power tools to square the boards. On smaller projects I normally square my boards with hand tools, but larger pieces of furniture like this can really be sped up by using power tools, so don’t feel guilty using power tools (jointer, planer, table saw) for milling your boards square and straight! You can even mix power tools with hand tools, depending on which tools you have, but I highly suggest that you use hand tools for the joinery.
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You’ll notice that I use my chisel to make roman numerals to keep track of which mortise goes to which tenon.
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 If you need more clarification on cutting mortise and tenon joints, then please see my mortise and tenon tutorial here.
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In the following videos I’ll build the base (legs, skirts, stretchers), peg my tenons tight with a technique called drawboring, build the lid, and apply an antique-style painted finish.

TOOLS THAT I USED:

Even though I have a helpful hand tool buying guide (here), I’m still often asked for a list of and links to the tools that I use in my videos, so here is a list of tools that I used in this series of video on desk building (I also included tools that I used in construction that wasn’t in the video):

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WORKBENCH:

HAND PLANES:

SAWS:

CHISELS:

MARKING & MEASURING:

MALLETS & HAMMERS:

 

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  1. Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools – Part 1: Dovetail Carcass
  2. Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools – Part 2: Legs
  3. How to Chop Mortises {Part 3 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  4. How to Clean Mortises {Part 4 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  5. How to Layout Tenons {Part 5 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  6. How to Cut Tenon Shoulders {Part 6 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  7. How to Cut Tenon Cheeks {Part 7 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  8. How to Square Tenon Cheeks {Part 8 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  9. How to Fit a Mortise & Tenon {Part 9 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  10. How to Drawbore Mortise and Tenon Joints {Part 10 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  11. How to Make Pegs for Drawboring Mortise & Tenon {Part 11 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  12. How to Make a Through Mortise & Tenon {Part 12 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  13. How to Attach a Desk Top {Part 13 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  14. How to Use Traditional Cut Nails {Part 14 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  15. How to Make Breadboard Ends {Part 15 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  16. How to Make Breadboard Ends {Part 16 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}
  17. The Completed Dovetail Desk! {Part 17 of “Build a Dovetail Desk with Hand Tools”}

 

Please pin this image to your Pinterest boards!

2017-07-21T13:29:55+00:00

About the Author:

Joshua loves mixing his passion for traditional hand tool woodworking with his ability to teach in a simple manner. He lives on a small farm in Earlysville, Virginia with his wife and four children, and builds furniture in his workshop / woodworking school.

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