Monday, June 11, 2012

Rolltop Desk Rescue and Thoughts on Shop Satisfaction

I think it is interesting how shop projects give me satisfaction in various ways. In my experience, there are at least three distinct kinds of woodworking satisfaction. With most projects, it's the creative aspect that I enjoy. With others it's the challenge, or problem solving. And sometimes it's just the tools. This last project was definitely in the third category.

I'd been looking for a new desk for my classroom. I wanted something on the smaller side, with character, and definitely wood. After a lot of time online I found exactly what I was looking for - sort of.

It was a smallish roll-top desk and I really liked the way it looked in the pictures. In person though, it had problems - and a lot of them. It looked like it had fallen off a truck or down some stairs or maybe off a truck and down some stairs. Almost all the leg and panel joints were busted - or I should say had been busted. Someone had done some questionable repairs with a ton of glue and nails. Huh.

Clearly this was going to be a project and not just a purchase. I thought about just walking away, but it was the only desk I had found so far that I liked and it came with an awesome old wooden swivel chair. I ended up getting a much better price and it came home with me.

Now as projects go, this one was a little bit of a challenge. I had to figure out how to completely disassemble the desk without completely destroying the "repaired" parts or doing new harm to the few undamaged joints. It was also not without some creative elements. I had to create a new system of glue blocks to support the more damaged parts. However, it was the tools used that gave me the real satisfaction.

First, as I was getting ready to add the glue blocks, I needed to scrape off the old finish and much glue from earlier repairs. It just so happened that I had a cool old scraper holder sitting on the shelf. It worked great, and felt just perfect in my hand. I love putting old tools back to work; they just seem so happy.

Second, as I was adjusting the angle on the glue blocks the oak was really putting up a fight. Both my "go-to" jack and block plane were not quite doing it. I could have sharpened them and they would have done fine, but instead I decided to give the old bevel up jack a try. Shazam!

Talk about "the right tool for the job." Awesome and such a pleasure! Now I know a lot of folks are going minimalist, and there is a certain satisfaction in that (which I've touched on before). I guess I'd put that in my "challenge" category. But there is a special kind of joy in using a tool for the exact purpose it was created. For the purpose at which it excels. No "jack of all trades" but a true specialist. Could I have done this job without this tool - without a doubt. Would I have missed a deep and powerful satisfaction - yes! I'm glad I have that tool, and glad I used it.

Oh, and the desk itself? Here are a few shots of the final outcome:


  1. Dan,

    A beautiful desk and great work. A roll top desk would be a great shop teacher's desk to keep the dust away.

    1. Steve - It would! But this one is going to my 8th grade classroom, and hopefully it will help me control my clutter gene.

  2. Dan,

    Fantastic job on the repairs! The desk looks great!


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