Project Plans: Build a Wall Desk

If you're like me, you're probably involved in an ongoing struggle against clutter. Modern life seems to be marked by piles of paper — junk mail, bills, fliers, newspapers, books, magazines and to-do lists. Of course, most of these items are important, and we need to keep them organized.

This wall desk provides a place for you to begin that task. I constructed it out of solid mahogany, with a drop-down door that also functions as a writing surface. The actual writing surface is plastic laminate, which is smooth and easy to maintain and provides an interesting color contrast with the mahogany frame.

Gathering materials
I used 4/4 and 5/4 mahogany for the desk. Because mahogany is readily available in wide boards, you should not need to glue up panels for the wider case parts. If you choose another hardwood, you may have to assemble the panels for the top, bottom and sides from narrow stock. (See the Shopping List and Cutting List in the PDF below.)

The case back and door panels are 1/2-in. mahogany veneer on a mediumdensity fiberboard (MDF) core. I chose this core stock because it tends to be flatter and more stable than a veneer core. These panels are generally available from hardwood suppliers and some home centers. Because the project calls for only two small pieces, you might try to purchase a 4 x 4-ft. panel instead of the normal 4 x 8 ft. sheet.

If you don't own a jointer and planer, have your lumber supplier plane the 4/4 stock to 13/16 in. thick and the 5/4 stock to 1 in. thick. You should insist that the stock be flat, without any cupping or warping in the boards, because it is almost impossible to build a highquality piece of furniture with material that's not flat. You will also need a small amount of 3/4-in.-thick maple stock for the wall cleats and splines.

Case work
Begin by cutting all case parts to finished dimension. All joinery is done with plate-joining biscuits, so no allowances are needed for tenons.

Install the molding bit in the router table for shaping the case top profile. Although the bit has a ballbearing pilot, clamp a fence to the table for safety's sake. Keep the leading edge of the fence flush with the bearing. Cut the profile on the panel ends first; then shape the front edge. Change bits to shape the bottom panel.

Shape the ends and front edge of the case top with a molding bit. Clamp a fence to the router table to help guide the workpiece.

Next, mark the biscuit slot locations in the case top, sides, shelves, partitions and inside bottom panel (see the illustration in the PDF below). Use the plate joiner to cut the slots. When you need to cut slots in the face of a panel, clamp a straightedge to the workpiece to help position the plate joiner.

When cutting biscuit slots in the center of a panel, clamp a straightedge to the piece and position the plate joiner.

The case back rests in a groove cut in the case top and sides. Use a router with a spiral up-cutting bit and edge guide to make these cuts. Notice that the groove in the case top stops short of the panel ends. Square the ends with a sharp chisel.

Rout the grooves in the case back, top and sides using a spiral upcutting bit. Mount an accessory edge guide on the router.

I used special fall-flap hinges for mounting the desk door. These hinges fit in a 35mm-dia. mortise cut in both the desk bottom and door. Clamp a fence to the drill press table to properly locate the holes. You'll need a 35mm bit to bore the mortises. (This size bit is commonly used to mount Euro-style hinges for cabinet construction, so if you need to purchase one, it will be a handy addition to your tool kit.) Lay out and bore the mortises in the case bottom; then leave the drill press set up to bore the door mortises later.

Clamp the fence to the drill press table; then bore the 35mm hinge recesses in the inside bottom panel.

Sand all interior surfaces of the case parts before you start assembling the case. This eliminates the need for awkward sanding in narrow spaces after assembly. Use 120-, 150-, and 220-grit sandpaper, dusting off thoroughly each time you change grits.

Once you've completed sanding, spread glue in the biscuit slots and on the biscuits for the partition-shelf joints. Join the shelves to the partitions and clamp them to draw the joints tight.

Begin case assembly by joining the shelves to the inner partitions. You can save time by sanding the parts before assembly.

Compare opposite diagonal measurements to check that the assembly is square. If necessary, adjust the clamps until the measurements are identical; then let the glue set before removing the clamps.

Measure diagonally to be sure that the assembly is square. Adjust clamping pressure to square the assembly.

Next, join the partitions to the inside bottom panel; then add the case sides. When you clamp the sides, make sure that they stay square to the bottom. When the glue sets, remove the clamps and add the case top.

Join the partition/shelf assembly to the inside bottom; then add the case sides. Be sure that the sides remain square to the bottom while the glue sets.

Slide the case back into position in the side and top grooves. Drill and countersink pilot holes and screw the back to the partitions, shelves and bottom. Drill and countersink pilot holes in the bottom panel; then fasten it to the case.

Drill and countersink pilot holes; then fasten the back to the shelves, bottom and partitions with flathead screws.

Rip and crosscut 3/4-in.-thick maple stock to size for the wall cleats. Use the table saw to rip a 45-degree bevel along one long edge of each piece. Drill and countersink pilot holes in one of the strips for mounting it to the case back. Position the holes so the screws run into the edges of the partitions. Attach the cleat to the case. Note that the long point of the bevel should be positioned away from the back panel.

Door parts
After you've attached the cleat, begin making the door. Cut the door panel to size; then cut the plastic laminate about 1 in. longer and wider than the panel. You can use a jigsaw or band saw with a metal-cutting blade to cut the laminate. Next, coat the back of both the panel and laminate with water-based contact cement. Use a brush or roller to spread the cement, taking care to coat Allow the cement to dry until it doesn't feel sticky when you touch it.

To attach the laminate, first place a row of dowels across the door panel; then position the laminate over the dowels. The laminate should overhang the panel evenly on all edges. Start at one end and remove the dowels one at a time until the laminate rests on the panel. Note that the cement grabs immediately, so adjusting the laminate is impossible. Use a small roller to press the laminate onto the panel. This works out any bubbles and ensures a good bond. Once the laminate is bonded to the panel, rout the overhang with a flush-trimming bit.

Spread contact cement on the door panel and plastic laminate. When the cement is dry to the touch, place dowels on the panel and position the laminate.

Next, place a 3/16-in. slotting cutter in the router table and clamp a fence to the table to yield a 3/8-in.-deep cut. With the laminate side down on the table, cut a slot in all edges of the door panel. To make the door frame, rip the stock for the door rails and stiles to all surfaces evenly and completely. width; then cut it to rough length. Readjust the height of the slotting cutter in the router table to cut a slot in the edges of the frame parts. Then install a chamfer bit in the router table to shape the molded edge of the frame parts. Cut 45-degree miters on the ends of the frame at the finished length. Lay out and cut biscuit slots in each mitered face.

Finally, cut splines to size for the door frame and panel and dry-assemble the parts to check the fit. If everything looks good, apply glue to the spline and biscuit joints and assemble the door. Use clamps to pull all joints tight; then let the glue set fully.

Carefully cut the door frame parts to size with 45-degree mitered ends.

Hardware and finishing
Once you've assembled the door, bore the door-hinge mortises; then attach the hinges to the case and the door. Engage the door hinges with those in the case and tighten the large screws that hold the parts together. Use the small adjustment screws to level the door with the inside bottom panel. Attach the fallflap supports to the case sides; then hold the door level to mark the pilot holes for the screws that attach the support arms. Mount the strikes for the magnetic catches. Drill 1/16-in.-dia. pilot holes for the strikes; then tap them in with a hammer. Finally, bore and counterbore a pilot hole for the knob, but don't mount it yet.

Install the fall-flap hinges in both the case bottom and door. Engage the two parts of the hinge and lock them together with the large screw.

Attach the fall-flap supports to the case sides; then hold the lid in a horizontal position to mark to location of pilot holes for the support arm.

Finishing the case is easiest if you can break it down into component parts. To that end, remove the door and all hardware; then remove the bottom, wall cleat and case back. Sand all parts with 220-grit paper, and ease all edges as required.

I decided to stain the exterior of this case and leave the interior a natural mahogany color. Before staining, apply masking tape to the interior surfaces that abut the areas to be stained. Press the tape firmly onto the wood surface so the stain cannot bleed underneath. You should also mask the edges of the plastic laminate writing surface so the finish won't stain the surface.

If you're staining only the outside of the case, apply masking tape to protect the areas adjacent to the stained surfaces. Also mask the plastic laminate.

I used a water-soluble brown mahogany stain, but use any stain that suits your design scheme. Water-soluble stains tend to raise the wood grain. To eliminate this problem, first lightly wipe the areas to be stained with a damp sponge. Then, when dry, lightly wipe the surface with 320-grit sandpaper to remove the raised grain. Do not sand too aggressively. Finally, apply the stain according to the manufacturer's directions.

When the stain is dry, you can apply the first coat of finish. (I used Waterlox Transparent Finish.) Use a brush or rag to coat the wood surface, allowing the finish to soak in for 20 to 30 minutes; then wipe off any excess. After overnight drying, lightly scuff the surface with 320-grit sandpaper and dust off. Apply two or three more coats, using the same technique. When the last coat is dry, you can buff the finish with 0000 steel wool and polish with a soft cloth.

Once the finishing is complete, assemble the case parts, including all hardware. To hang the desk on the wall, first locate the wall studs with an electronic stud finder. Transfer the stud location onto the wall cleat; then drill and countersink pilot holes for No. 8 x 2-1/2-in. flathead screws. For a writing surface height of 29 in., mount the cleat to the wall with its bottom edge at a height of 35 in. The long point of the bevel should be held away from the wall surface. Make sure that the cleat is installed level. Finally, hang the desk on the wall, engaging the two beveled wall cleat edges.