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  • Writer's pictureBryan Hall

Foiled Again! An Executive Desk for a Waterman.

My oh my what a fun build! I have been wanting to build a desk for myself for years and I finally had a splash of free time to invest in this journey. I mulled over the idea for a bit as I considered building something classic out of walnut that would match the overall styling in our home. However, I started pondering over a list of ideas and techniques that I have wanted to try for quite some time. Since this is my own desk, I decided to throw caution to the wind by turning this into an extremely exciting experimental build where I packed in as many learning opportunities as possible with the hope that it would blow my mind at the end.


Building from the top down.

The very first piece built for this desk has actually been ready to go for several years. I built an extremely heavy, solid, and beautiful workbench top out of maple that I intended to have in my shop workspace every day. After seeing it built, leveled, polished, and ready to go, Sheena completely shut down that idea. "It's way too beautiful! You can't use that as a beat around worktop!" She did have a point... Soooo with my new top built and not appropriate for my traditional work setting it became a desktop that simply sat on sawhorses for about two years. As the saying goes, the cobbler's children have no shoes.


Fresh out of the shop, a perfect workbench top?


Blackened white oak boxes with maple inlays!?

At the end of every job I do there's always a little bit of "waste" that needs to be dealt with. For the most part, I gave up on trying to hoard every last scrap of wood that comes through my shop and I either donate the wood to local builders/woodworkers or, the smallest cutoffs end up in the fireplace keeping my pup's belly warm through the winter. Larger boards are saved for future projects. Over the last year I acquired a small collection of figured maple cutoffs and a few white oak plywood panels that I held on to since they were big enough to make cabinet boxes out of. I, however, have always been intrigued by the look of blackened white oak. I love that you can still see the rivers of grain after the wood has been blackened and think it looks lovely up close, while also creating a unique visual effect that highlights the wood around it. Right now, brass inlays are all the rage in the semiclassical woodworking circles but I wanted to keep it fresh and maple feels so much more modern.


I'm going to spare you all the details of dealing with black stain, the awkward messy slop of it all and I hope you just believe me that while turning wood black isn't a profoundly exciting process, the results are. What was a little more exciting to me was adding in the color. I had some mahogany rubio leftover from a project a year ago and figured I would try adding a red hue over a black finish, with the expectation that it would stay black in all but the most unique lighting scenarios. While it was a bit crazy looking turning everything reddish/orange for a short bit, my prediction about everything staying black once polished was dead on.


Rolling the dice: Notice you can still see the grain valleys even with the black stain and now mahogany oil being rubbed in.


The maple inlays brought about an opportunity to "pop" the look of the cabinet boxes and I wanted to try a few different designs so I decided on four different layouts that I could refer back to at any point in the future. Some would cross over each other, some would remain independent, but they would all be unique.


2/4 sides with the flame maple inlays in place.


The other 2/4 sides. The one on the left is the only one that I didn't especially love. I think the dead space was amplified by the parallel lines (good learning experience). The other three had their own unique elegance.


With all four boxes made and the inlays in place, I added a pure coat of rubio monocoat over everything, and then another sheen coat on top of that. This resulted in a nice polished look on the boxes.


I have no idea what I want to do for the drawer fronts:

Now, we've reached a dangerous point in the project journey for myself. I in fact have, a functional desk at this point. Two boxes with a couple drawers and a top. This is really all I need and if the two years that my desktop lived on sawhorses for is anything to worry about, this is even worse. I was determined to button this up before my next big work project kicked off but I didn't have a clear vision. Fortunately, my wood supplier showed me the way. I buy my lumber exclusively from Crosscut Hardwoods unless some extremely rare circumstance forces me to shop elsewhere. When I popped in to buy my drawer boxes for this project I came across some of my all time favorite wood. Quilted Pacific Maple. While I don't hoard cutoffs, when I find nice figured wood I'm an absolute sucker for it and the benefit of going to the lumber yard numerous times a week is that you see boards arrive that wont be there for long. So, I buy figured wood and hold on to it until the right project comes along. This time, the right project was already waiting.


With a stack of really ugly looking maple boards (that I secretly knew would be beautiful once I worked them) in hand I got to building my drawer fronts. Continuous grain runs are important to me in all my projects and this situation was no different. I got to milling, gluing, and cutting to size the drawer fronts and was quite pleased with how they turned out. I absolutely love the look of the bubbling grain, it reminds me of the water features that surround us and have so much of my love in them.


Testing fit and look. As hoped but still needing a final touch.


With the drawer fronts built and ready for use, I needed to decide on pulls. This is a terribly challenging decision because once you commit, it can be relatively hard to reverse the look if you change your mind after installation. Fortunately, doors without pulls make for wildly useless cabinets and this couldn't stay for long.


A woodworker and a waterman.

My entire life has been around water. I grew up in Minnesota and yes, we had 10,000 lakes. I could ride my bike in any direction as a kid and end up at a different body of water within minutes. I served in the Navy where I got to spend some time running around on the beach and swimming in the dark. Now, I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and my days off are spent kiteboarding, wingfoiling, and surfing in the gorge or at our coast. This past year, wingfoiling has been my primary pursuit and as such, I found a bit of inspiration in the design of the hydrofoils that allow me to fly over the water.


The author, your carpenter, enjoying his leisure days sailing in the gorge.


This hydrofoil allows me to fly above the water and its shape would serve as the inspiration for my drawer pulls.


With inspiration in hand I got to trying one final new technique for this build, routed drawer pulls. I had seen this done in a variety of ways online, but I was looking to do something new and fresh on this build and this couldn't have been a better fit for my project. I got to making a template out of my hydrofoil that would serve as a routing guide for the pulls. I made short work out of that with the bandsaw and some sanding. Then, a specialty router bit was needed that would create a recessed finger pull for me to reach for. I was nervous, a mishap with the router could easily ruin the wood and I'd be back to square one with the drawer fronts. To my delight, my first try with this new technique went quite well.


All four drawer fronts with their new hydrofoil inspired drawer pulls. Turned black after routing of course.


A profile shot taken while I worked the black into the newly routed maple. The finger pulls work excellent!


Almost there. Note the difference in blackened maple on the left vs blackened and polished white oak on the right!


The cobbler's children get their shoes.

As a small business owner, passionate adventurer, and family man it's hard to find time to build something for myself. This project was made up largely of extra materials I had on hand as well as something that I had built specifically for work. To be able to find time to bring it home, and to do so in a way that I felt great about, was extremely rewarding.


It's beyond what I hoped it would be.


Until the next build,


Your carpenter, Bryan Hall.

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