Monticello Lap Desk Woodworking Course
Master Class Series
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.