5212 Pulaski Ave.
Philadelphia, Pa. 19144
Philadelphia Furniture Workshop

Monticello Lap Desk Woodworking Course

Master Class Series

Instructor - Mario Rodriguez
Class Size: 12 max.
9:00 a.m. - 4:00 pm - 3 weekends over 3 months

In 1776, while attending the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson commissioned local cabinetmaker Benjamin Randolph to build according to Jefferson’s design a portable lap desk to be used both for writing and as an adjustable book rest for reading.  It was to contain a drawer for his stationary, pens, nibs, and blotting sand. This portable desk would allow him to better use his time when traveling between Monticello and Philadelphia.

According to historical accounts, it was on this same desk that Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.


The original desk, which still survives, is noted to have several deficiencies in its construction that were addressed by California woodworker Lon Schleining with his 2001 version for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Mario’s re-design has introduced several small changes to ensure the completion of this desk as a 3-weekend (6-day) Master Class, without compromising the original appearance.

By substituting the original writing panel butt hinges with slender off-set brass strap hinges, the screws have better purchase and stress on the wood panels is eliminated. The addition of breadboard ends gives the writing panels rigidity while maintaining thin dimensions. Mario also recessed the green baize material into the writing surfaces to prevent binding between the panels when the desk is closed. And while keeping the drawer sides to 3/16” thickness, he increased the drawer front thickness by 1/16” and reduced the number of pins, to make dovetailing of the drawer easier.



Photographed at the Betsy Ross House, 239 Arch Street, Philadelphia


The completed lap desk would make a wonderful addition to any office, library, or study as an historical relic and as a testament to the woodworker’s developing skills. 

Cost: $1200 (including all materials and hardware)

In order to register, please call us at 215-849-5174, or drop us an email and we will forward the registration materials.

Stongly recommended prerequisitesHand Cut Dovetails, March 10-11, 2012; and Installing Fine Hardware, April 7, 2012


  • April 21-22, 2012 - day
  • May 5-6, 2012 - day
  • June 2-3, 2012 - day



Pull and lock detail

Strap hinge detail

Support detail

Breadboard ends detail