A couple of weeks ago we conducted the first session of the Monticello Lap Desk; a design based upon the original made by Benjamin Randolph for Thomas Jefferson. I decided to build one with the class, for a good reason. First, the desk is a pretty neat bit of woodworking; much more involved than one might think, but an impressive piece to have hanging around the shop. Second, it really was essential that I precede the class’ progress, staying several steps ahead of the crowd. That lead gave me time to get comfortable with the project this time around and recall exactly how I performed some of the operations- or to figure out a better way to get something done. There are few experiences more uncomfortable than standing in front of a class, scratching your head, trying to figure out some detail; while they stand there waiting. . . and waiting. . .
How small is small?
Alan and I started with the best mahogany money could buy. Ouch! After bucking the planks into shorter, more manageable lengths, we stickered the material and left it for a few days before re-sawing it into thinner planks- and stickering the wood again. We wanted to end up with perfectly flat 3/8” panels for the case, so allowed for up to a 1/4” to be removed. Some of the material was re-sawn and then planed to 3/16” thickness (for the drawer sides). Have you ever cut dovetails in 3/16” thick mahogany?
This desk is tiny, so tiny that any itty-bitty bungle would be noticed. If a part is cut a hair too short, it’s done over. If a panel isn’t perfectly flat, it’s discarded. The case is only 2 1/2” high and 9 3/8” wide, leaving only 1 3/4” x 8 5/8” for the drawer. That’s not a lot of space into which a smoothly functioning drawer must be built and fitted.
At this first meeting, the class concentrated on building the case, fitting the end panel; cutting the mortises for both the lock bolt and the drawer stops; making both writing panels, and routing the recess on the back of the lower panel to accommodate the easel. I’m still surprised we got all that done. Everyone did a fine job and got off to a great start.
Next meeting: Building the drawer.