Perfect Proportions Woodworking: I designed this compact desk to meet my doctor’s prescription to be less sedentary. “Sitting down is the new smoke,” I was warned.
It also gave me a challenge: to create a project that begins to end almost entirely in the realm of pre-industrial technology, increasing my training on how traditional craftsmen have done things.
- 1 The design process
- 2 Tell the story (Stick)
- 3 Joinery items
- 4 Standing desk cut list
- 5 Build the base frame
- 6 Taper the Legs
- 7 Prepare the aprons
- 8 Make the stretchers
- 9 Mount the base
- 10 Build the corner box
- 11 Cut the dovetail
- 12 Mount the bottom
- 13 Mount the box
- 14 Sliding shelves
- 15 Create the slanted lid
- 16 Do the molding
Build a standing desk tailored to your body.
My goals were to design the desk according to harmonic relationships related to the human body (a design sensitivity predominant until the end of the 18th century), to use carpentry that denied the need for glue or fasteners for structural longevity and to build the project mainly with manual tool feeding.
The desk also had to be perfectly comfortable for working and to be, at least, beautiful.
The design process
The design process began with the determination of a single parameter: the height of the drawing surface on its front edge.
For me (and for most people) this turns out to be about at the elbow – which I marked on a stick leaning against a cobbled model of the top surface of the desk (see photo above). I also used the model to determine a comfortable slope (mine was 1: 5).
I continued to develop all other dimensions as whole number harmonic ratios at floor to elbow height.
That comfortable working height has been designed to be five spans from the floor, typical for adults.
I therefore used one of these spans as a common factor (or “modulus”, as it would traditionally be called) to develop the proportions of the other dimensions.
■ For a large drawing space, the width should be at least one shoulder width (which is two spans) plus one span. The width-to-height ratio therefore resolves into a 3: 5 rectangle.
■ The depth of the desk should be at least one forearm from the elbow joint to the tip of the middle finger (which is two spans). So the depth-to-height ratio resolves to a 2: 5 rectangle.
The leg width is added to the outside of the 3: 5 ratio rectangle of the face and the 2: 5 ratio rectangle of the side elevation. This adds more breadth to the design and therefore greater stability.
■ The top of the desk resolves into a 2: 3 ratio rectangle. Note that this ratio also fits the size and shape of most drawing papers.
While I have included a cut list for this project, the dimensions listed are from the desk I made using my span and elbow height as a starting point. The final dimensions of your desk may vary according to your proportions.
Tell the story (Stick)
Using my eye tool set, a set of dividers and a ruler, I continued to develop proportional elevation drawings using these ratios, which I then erected in an isometric view. Having a full-scale drawing allowed me to have a good picture of what the piece would look like in three dimensions.
When I liked what I saw in elevation and isometric, I transferred the proportionate elements to a story stick using dividers. The layout revolves around the primary index marks transferred from the baseline / floor and the elbow height mark recorded on the stick by the model.
I drew the form (a fifth of the distance from my elbow to the ground) and divided it in half, then in fifths. These lengths are all the sizes I needed to have most of the design elements. I made life-size models of the side of the box and of the curved corner bracket.
Resistant and long-lasting joinery in a tall and relatively slender structure like this is essential. I chose mortise and tenon joints designed for the leg apron connections, wedged tenons passing through the side guides of the base and knurled tenons passing through for the connection between the stretcher and the rail.
Each of these joints is adjustable over time (in fact, the entire base can be knocked down for repair or transportation if necessary), and the joints provide opposite connective forces (blockers). The desk box is dovetailed at its corners and features a tongue-and-groove bottom and a writing surface covered with hooked breadboard ends.
None of these joints rely on glue or fasteners to resist bearing forces. The box is fixed to the base by removable screws, while the box-base transition is hidden behind a piece of molding permanently fixed to the base.
Since this project is essentially joining two independent structures – a base structure and a dovetail box with a slanted lid – it is better to approach the construction sequence in two sections: the base first, then the box. Note that this construction sequence assumes that the manufacturer will mainly carry out carpentry, assembly and sanding of hand tools.
Standing desk cut list
No.Item size (inches) MaterialComments
t w l
❏ 4 legs 1 5/8 x 1 5/8 x 35 7/8 Mahogany
❏ 2 sides of the apron 3/4 x 4 x 18 mahogany 1 ″ TBE *
❏ 2 Front / rear apron 3/4 x 4 x 26 mahogany 1 ″ TBE *
❏ 2 side stretchers 3/4 x 2 3/8 x 19 5/8 Mahogany 113/16“TBE *
❏ 1 Transverse stretcher 3/4 x 1 5/8 x 27 1/4 Mahogany 23/8“TBE *
❏ 8 brackets 3/4 x 3 3/16 x 4 mahogany 3/8“Stub tenon
❏ 4 corner blocks 3/4 x 3 x 3 Mahogany shape as a triangular box
❏ 2 sides 3/4 x 7 3/16 x 17 5/8 Mahogany
❏ 1 Front 3/4 x 4 x 25 5/8 Mahogany
❏ 1 Back 3/4 x 7 3/16 x 25 5/8 Mahogany
❏ 1 At the top 3/4 x 16 x 23 3/4 Mahogany 3/8“TBE **
❏ 2 ends of the breadboard 3/4 x 3 x 16 mahogany
❏ 1 Fixed fixed part 3/4 x 4 x 27 1/4 Mahogany
❏ 1 fence 1/2 x 2 x 34 mahogany
❏ 1 ledger 5/8 x 1 1/2 x 27 1/4 Mahogany
❏ 1 below 3/8 x 17 x 25 mahogany †
❏ 1 Molding 13/16 x 11/16 x 90 mahogany
❏ 2 shelves 3/4 x 11 x 12 radial cut mahogany grain
❏ 2 Lower shelf guides 3/4 x Mahogany 3 x 24
❏ 2 Side shelf guides 3/4 x 1 1/2 x 24 mahogany
❏ 1 Internal divider 1/2 x 1 1/8 x 24 5/8 Mahogany 3/8“TBE Stub *
* TBE = Tenon at both ends; ** Tenon extends to 11/4“In the positions of the pegs; † = Size to fit the groove
Build the base frame
Select the straight and straight grain material for the legs, preferably made of material thick enough to allow the cutting of each leg so that each face has a straight grain pattern. This model contributes to stability and prevents wild veins on the legs which can make them appear bent or swollen
The width of the square tapered legs is a fifteenth of the distance between the bottom of the apron and the bottom of the stretcher. Each leg will taper in its lower fifth to one fifth of its width.
After dimensioning the square of the kick of the leg, arrange their lengths from the story stick, starting from a square end. To avoid discrepancies, tighten all four legs together and arrange the lengths at the same time.
Clearly mark the final cut, but make another mark to outline about an inch more at the top (called “horn”) to support the wood under pressure to be inserted. You will cut this horn when the mortises are complete.
Observe the grain and orient your legs for the best appearance, hiding the worst faces on the back of the desk. Mark the top and bottom ends with an orientation pattern: I use circles.
Arrange the position of the rudder pegs and drill from the front. Make sure you’re using the support blocks if you’re drilling, or you’re coming from both directions if you’re using a brace and a bit.
Mark from history attach the position and lengths of the apron and truncate the tenons on the appropriate faces of the legs. You can lock the four legs together for simultaneous marking to speed up the process.
Mark the width of the mortises with a meter set to the width of the mortise chisel you will use (in this case, a chisel slightly wider than a third of the thickness of the apron).
Make sure to index the shoulder of the marker on the outside of the legs. Make signs indicating the stub and apron mortise area. Make sharp marks along their length to record the chisel for the final paring.
Start with the mortise for the tenons of the curved apron. Mark the depth of the mortises on your chisel with masking tape or permanent marker. Note: there will be two signs, because one mortise is lower than the other, although they will eventually join together to reach the same depth. To avoid bursting, first cut the mortise.
Cut the mortises to the mark, checking your progress with a small square test blade set to the finished depth. (With practice, I think you will find that there is no benefit in waste drilling efficiency.) As you cut the waste, you will find that the mortals will eventually intersect inside the legs.
Cut the section mortise, working on the apron mortise; test the depth with a combination of squares.
For the side stretchers, from the weft stick stretch and mark the position and length of the mortise on each of the legs. Mark the outer face, then square around the inner face.
Set the marking marker to the appropriate width, then mark the mortise width on both the front and rear faces. Clearly mark the mortise area so as not to cut off the marks. Draw the lines of the knife to the lengths to record the chisel.
Cut the mortise halfway from each face.
Slightly taper the mortise outward. I use a simple mask (a block with a 1: 9 slope attached to the piece) to hold the chisel. Make sure to rest your leg firmly against a piece of scrap to prevent it from exploding when the chisel emerges.
Taper the Legs
I tapered my legs slightly on the inner faces starting just below the stretcher position (which is a fifth of the height of the front of the desk). The cone has a fifth of the thickness of the leg.
Draw the cut lines on the inner faces from the history stick and remove the waste with a small knife followed by a test plan.
Cut the horn at the top of the leg up to the finished cut line. Double check to make sure all legs are the same length.
Prepare the aprons
Scale the apron according to the thickness and width and arrange the stick lengths from a square end. Clearly mark the shoulder cut line and the cut line indicating the end of the tenon. Square these lines all around with a knife. I have seen each apron to length.
Clean the final cuts with a block plan to see the layout lines and mark the cuts of the tenon’s cheeks with the gauge to be inserted. Make sure to index your shoulder on the outer face of each apron. The tenon will be sized according to the mortise (and therefore the mortise chisel) and will be centered on the chessboard. Mark the thigh with a knife line. It also marks the cut lines for the bracket socket mortise.
Choosing the most beautiful pieces for the front and side, make orientation marks on the upper edge.
Mark a “V” on the shoulder cut lines, then mark the tenon’s cheek marks on each face, including the cosmos at the top and bottom.
If you are going to work a decorative bead along the bottom outer edge of the aprons, this is the time to do it.
I saw the tenon’s cheeks on his shoulder and the cuts in his thigh.
Miter the ends of the tenons, being careful to keep the angle oriented correctly on the face of each apron. Next, cut the stub mortise for the curved tenon.
Now dry insert the aprons one at a time into the legs, checking for squares and complete closure against the shoulders. Change if necessary. Then assemble all four and check if the assembly is square using a diagonal marking stick, grip rods or equal angle-angle measurements. Adjust if necessary – usually by slightly changing the angle of the face of the leg by meeting the shoulders of the apron with a plane. (More significant changes may require adjustment of the tenon’s cheeks.)
When everything looks fine, mark the center points of the rudder holes on the tenon’s cheeks using a point with a center point, then retract the aprons.
Using an awl, move the sign 1/16“Towards the shoulder. When the peg is brought home, it will force the shoulders tight against the face of the legs.
Drill the holes in the drawbar in the tenons centered on the insertion mark. Make sure to back up the tenon on a piece of wood.
Make the stretchers
Size the stretcher material based on thickness and width, then arrange the stem lengths from a square end of each stretcher.
Clearly mark the shoulder cut line and the line indicating the end of the tenon. Note that the shoulders of the side stretcher will have exactly the same distance as those on the side aprons. Square these lines around the stump with a knife.
I saw the two side stretchers and the transverse stretcher to lengthen and clean the final cuts.
Use a mortise marker to mark the width of the tenon’s cheeks, then use a handsaw to cut the shoulder lines down to the cheek lines.
Cut the tenon’s cheeks down to the shoulder lines, then see cracks in the tenons to receive the wedges.
Once again refer to the weft stick to arrange the position of the through slotting of the transverse stretcher on each side stretcher. Mark your mortas, cut them and work them to their final size.
Work a decorative bead detail (I added to 5/16“Heel) on the upper and lower edges of the side stretchers.
To add decorative details to the ends of the through tenons (as shown in the opening photo), use a small block plane to smooth the side stretchers and work a smooth curve with a chisel, followed by a ray of rays on the transverse stretcher.
Dry mount the cross stretcher in its mortises on the side stretchers, adjusting if necessary for a right angle alignment. Then mark the location of the fang mortise. Note that this will overlap within the sign towards the shoulder 1/16“So the tusk can do its job. Cut the mortise. Here, it might be helpful to drill to remove most of the waste.
Dry mount the side stretchers in the legs and check the alignment.
Make the rudder rungs, 2 ”long tusks and wedges. Then, create the corner brackets from leg to apron, modeling, sculpting and creating stub tenons for each bracket.
If you wish, you can pre-finish all components before final assembly (which I recommend – it’s easier to get into corners before they are corners).
Mount the base
Work first on the side assemblies of the base. Attach the apron to one of the legs by touching the tenon in its mortise, then draw the shoulder in place with a tapered tapered pin. Now drive between the traction pins.
Make sure to put a little cone on the oversized end of the pegs, wax them with a candle, then drive them home. If you wish, you can lock the apron in place first, but it is generally not necessary. Not even glue is needed.
Now fix the stretcher on that leg by touching it in place, then touching a couple of hardwood wedges in the slots. Glue one side of the wedge to keep it in position during periods of variation in the level of ambient humidity. Repeat the procedure to connect the second leg. (Use hidden glue if you want the option to knock down the base.)
Finally, saw and cut the excess material on wedges and pegs. Install the fang in his mortise. If it comes loose when you shake the base, you are allowed to add a smidgen of glue to hide to hold it in place.
When both side groups are complete (it is not necessary to wait for the glue to dry) install the front and rear aprons and the transverse stretcher on one of the groups. Then mount the second side on these parts.
Check that the base is square, then glue and screw a 3 “x 3” triangular block onto each corner. These will be used when screwing the top to the base.
Build the corner box
Referring to the story stick for the dimensions, create a model for the sides of the box. From this model you will be able to quickly trace the angle of inclination and mark the position of the dovetails and optional functions such as internal dividers and pull-out shelves.
Check carefully that the pattern and weft stick marks for the front and back pieces have the correct lengths, allowing for a uniform perimeter margin on the base (which will be filled with cyma transition molding).
Size the boards according to the thickness and width, then arrange the lengths of the story stick from a square end of each board. (For this, the story stick is easier to manipulate than the model.)
Do not cut the angle of inclination on the side pieces yet: it is convenient to have parallel edges for the layout.
Note that the front is approx 3/16“Over-width – this allows you to machine a bevel on the edge to match the angle of inclination.
I saw each board for length and clean up the final cuts with a block plane, then mark the baseline for the dovetails. Square these lines around the stump with a knife.
Plow a groove on the inside of each board to accept the bottom panel.
If you choose to install a divider, refer to the model to arrange and cut the mortise for the tenon of the divider stub.
Using a chisel, drill triangular pocket screw holes on the inside top of the sides and on the back. The pocket screws will secure the fixed top board to the box.
Cut the dovetail
Always referring to the model, mark the position of the dovetails at the ends of the side pieces. If you plan to create more than one of these desks, it may be more efficient to cut the tails in the model so that you can simply track them on the stand.
Square the marks across the ends of the boards, then use a caliper to smooth the tails down to the shoulder line.
I saw the tails, so cut the rubbish. Most of the waste can be perforated or a coping saw can be used.
Using a small saw followed by a plane, work the tilt angle on the sides, then trace the pins at the ends of the front and back. Also mark the angle of inclination at the front end to provide a cut line for the bevel that you will be working on the edge. Cut the sockets for the tails.
Dry mount the box, making sure that all the shoulders fit perfectly into the square box. Adjust your shoulders as needed until they do.
While the box is in the dry assembly phase, use the levers inserted in the grooves to obtain the final dimensions of the lower panel and the internal divider.
From the sticks, arrange the length and width of the bottom panel (which may need to be glued if you don’t have a board wide enough). Cut the panel to size, subtracting 1/8“From the width to adapt to the potential expansion.
Remove the box and check that the panel fits into its grooves without binding. Plan the bottom along the edge to correct if necessary.
Plan the top edge of the front panel with the marked tilt angle, as shown below in the center.
If you plan to add an internal divider, use the levers to stretch its length, including the stub tenons, onto the stock. Cut the tenons and check the mates at each end, cutting if necessary.
Mount the box
Pre-finish the internal surfaces of the box and the bottom of the fixed fixed table. A couple of coats of shellac are adequate. I don’t recommend oil; it will smell oily for years every time you open the lid.
On the front and back of the box, brush a light film of glue to hide the liquid on the cheeks of the pins. Slide on one side.
Slide the bottom panel and divider (which you can pre-finish with shellac) and install the second side.
Secure the assembly together (if necessary) to press the dovetails at home. Make sure the structure is square.
When the glue is dry, unlock the box, then smooth the top edge of the front panel to adapt it to the side slopes.
Next, align the slopes parallel to each other (test it with a flat board). Smoothes the slope and bevel of the front edge to eliminate any oscillations. Then, smoothly plan all the pins and tails flush with the external faces.
To finish the outside of the box, I used Bioshield Hard Oil # 9, followed by three coats of waxed amber shellac.
Install the fixed top board finished with the pocket screws guided by a squat screwdriver. (You will make your life a little easier if you cut and assemble the hinge slots for the slanted cover before installing this piece.)
In each of the four corners, glue in small corner blocks to accept the screws from the blocks installed in the upper corners of the base.
To make the fence along the rear edge of the desk, saw and shape the three pieces that will sit on the small apartment (the fixed surface) behind the inclined cover.
Join the two sides to the back with a mortise stub and a tenon and fix it with glue on the tenon’s cheeks.
The fence group is fixed to the floor with small wooden pins (dowels or pegs made in the shop). To locate the pins, turn into a brad at each point of the pin, hook it so that it protrudes slightly, then press the assembly against the plane to leave a mark.
Remove and dig deep into the marks with an awl, then pull the brads out of the fence panels. Now you have the center points to drill the pin holes.
Tor add pull-out shelves on each side of the desk, I have identified the bottom of the box 3/4“From the lower edge to accommodate the vertical grain Douglas fir in mine 3/4“-Piano shelf.
I carved the sides of the box to make room for the shelves, adding 1/8“Of space along the top and side.
The shelves slide along two lower guides fixed to the base, with a vertical lateral guide screwed on the opposite side of each lower guide.
Create the slanted lid
Cut the lid and ends of the large breadboard to provide the appropriate final cut.
Arrange the full length tenons on the ends, then cut them with the shoulder and batting planes. So, I saw the tenons (see image below).
Groove each end of the breadboard as shown above, then use a mortise chisel to cut the mortises. The groove helps keep the chisel aligned while cutting.
Arrange and drill holes for the pegs that will catch the tenons.
Dry mount the ends of the breadboard on the cover panel and mark the position of the pegs on the tenons. Remove the ends and drill the pin holes in the tenons, inserting them slightly (1/32” it’s enough).
If your cover is not made of semi-finished material, consider extending the fixing holes on the external tenons to allow movement.
Mount the ends on the panel for final assembly. Glue isn’t really necessary as long as the pegs are snug, but go ahead and apply a light film inside the grooves and mortises.
I modeled a simple cyma curve at the ends of the ledger (the strip on the front of the lid) with a chisel, then smoothed the curves with a small radius of rays.
I then worked a shallow ruler on the leading side of the ledger to create a load-bearing surface that would resist downward pressure from the elbows.
I used brass nozzle pins and some glue to hide to hold it in place. (Note that the pins do not bear any load; they simply hold it in place so that the wood can support the load.)
Do the molding
I blocked the cyma molding for the box using a molding plan that creates the complete profile. An alternative is to use a pair of cavities and rounds (or, of course, router bits).
Centrare la scatola sulla base per garantire un margine uniforme, quindi fissarla con le viti attraverso i blocchi angolari della base nei blocchi angolari della scatola.
Ora fai il giro del perimetro, marcando, mitigando e adattando le estremità del cyma modellando mentre procedi. Il pezzo finale è complicato perché devi far combaciare entrambi i miters in una volta.
Sovrapporre leggermente la lunghezza e bloccarla fino a quando non si adatta perfettamente ad entrambe le estremità (una tavola da tiro assicura un angolo di taglio preciso).
Installa la modanatura con chiodi (uso piccoli chiodi quadrati perché si nascondono meglio e tendono a non spaccare il legno).
Ora affila la tua penna d’oca, sii un tipo o una ragazza in piedi e scrivi a tua madre (o ai tuoi figli).
Plan: Scarica un modello SketchUp gratuito di questo progetto.
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