Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sawhorse Desks

This blog post has been on my to-do list for about four months!  The first sawhorse desk that I built was back in December, so this is way overdue.  Part of the delay is that we didn't really like the way the finish came out back in December; we were going for an awesome antiqued look, but it just came out amateur (more on that in an upcoming post).  I built a second desk this month that I'm really excited about - it starts something new for my woodworking hobby! More details at the bottom.

And now, the post! 

The inspiration for this project came from over here and over here.  Both of these sites have been a great source of projects for us, and we very much appreciate the instructions! It's worth a browse through the archives just to get good ideas. 

Both sites have pretty good walkthroughs, so I'm not going to repeat all their details; I'm just going to point out the general process and some of the unique elements I did. 

To start with, I built the sawhorses.  The keys here are consistency and repeatability (that's not a word, but whatever).  

Someday over the rainbow, I'm going to build a chop saw station with some nice long fences and adjustable stop blocks, but for now I make do with clamps and scrap wood.  Once you have it set up right, do all similar pieces at the same time.  There are a few angles on the sawhorse legs, so it helps to draw the direction that you want the cut to go on at least the first few boards to make sure you don't slip up and waste a piece.  You can get the cut list from both of the sites linked above ... 

I used 2x3 stock as the frames and shelf supports for all the sawhorses, and 2x4 scraps to form the tops.  Cut all the legs (four for each sawhorse), and any shelf support pieces that you're going to need.  If you do it all at once, taking the time to set up a stop block in between, you can be sure you get a completely consistent angle and length out of your project. 

With the legs cut, I ripped the 2x4 stock down to a 3" width, taking about 1/4" off of each side to remove the roundover and leave the 2x4 flush with the edges of the legs. At this point, you should be able to stand the legs up next to each other and have it perfectly flush. I stuck with a ten degree angle for the legs, but you could play around with that to widen or narrow the profile.  

On desk #2, I went ahead and laid out a form on a piece of scrap plywood to help me keep a consistent angle for my sawhorses.  If there's ever a desk #3, I will definitely add to this so it guides all the angles and positions the shelf accurately.

Once I had the form laid out, I could just set a matching pair of legs on it, apply pressure with a clamp, and screw in the shelf support. 

Once the shelf support is attached, you can lay the 2x4 top out on the legs and attach it using screws from above.  I spent 45 minutes trying to come up with a jig to do this faster, then gave up and clamped it and finished it all in about five minutes.  There's a joke there somewhere, and I think it's on me ... 

With the basic A-frame complete on the sawhorses, the build for the two desks diverged. 

Desk #1: 
On this desk, I added a second shelf about halfway up the sawhorse, giving it a more traditional look.  I also used wide pine boards (like in the Ana-White plans) as the shelves.  Back in December, I cut the notches for the shelves with my table saw and cleaned it up with a hand saw (my wistful remarks about how much easier it would have been with a jig saw led my wonderful wife to buy me one for Christmas, so the second time around was easier).  

This desk was destined to become Samantha's craft desk (you've probably already seen glimpses of it in her posts).  Like the post on TommyAndEllie, we wanted the desk to be a full eight feet long, with three supporting sawhorses.  Because she often needs to plug in things like glue guns, laptops, and other essentials, I wanted to make sure she had easy access to a power strip somewhere. 

The desktop was made from three 1x10" boards, joined together with pocket holes made using my Kreg Jig.  

One of the boards had a large knot on one end, shortening it by a good two inches.  I'd planned to cut off a few inches from the end of the long boards, but then I realized that the natural hole would be a great way to bring power up to the table.  Using my router and a straight bit, I cut out a shallow recess right in front of the knot hole, sized to fit a spare power strip I had lying around. 

The power strip was glued in place later. 

We painted the table top brown, then white, and tried to distress it by sanding through the white to the brown.  It didn't work, and an attempt to apply a seal coat left the whole thing looking washed out and yellowish.  We did get the process figured out in our next project (blog post coming: it's a present, so we don't want to post it up too soon), and plan to go back and refinish the whole desk soon. I'll update this post with some pictures of the finished version.  

Desk #2:
Pretty much everything was different about this desk.  I was looking for a smaller-scale project without much investment required for materials.  I was ready to go ahead with another pine desk, but my imagination was captured by some of the Pinterest boards that a couple of my recent projects were pinned on (links at the bottom).  I decided to pick up some pallets and try my hand at making the desk out of pallet wood, and I seriously lucked out with the pallet I found.  It has some beautiful grain, and it totally made the project. 

Unlike the first desk, I only put one shelf on the bottom, which gave it a more open look and helped me avoid going out to get a third pallet (I'm still not sure which I prefer).  The shelves were made from a bunch of the leftover pieces from the pallets, which I'm not sure I like - I kept similar boards together, and the two sawhorses look pretty different.  I went through my normal process for preparing the pallets and then cut the notches with my jig saw. Glue and some brad nails keep them in place, and clamps kept them square while everything dried. 

The top boards weren't wide enough to use the Kreg Jig to join them, so I built a frame from my oak pallet. You can't really see it too well against the rough boards of the bench, unfortunately, but this was a good way to use some of the material that wasn't nice enough for the top of the desk.  

I made the frame slightly smaller in each dimension than the desk top would be, so that the edge boards would have solid support. Pocket hole joinery keeps the whole thing together. 

Once the frame was complete, I began laying on the boards for the table top, clamping each in position, then gluing and nailing the board on. 

The only tricky part here was keeping the boards in the correct order and with the correct side up. I laid them all out on the frame exactly the way I wanted them, then stacked them in reverse order and attached them one at a time. 

I planed and sanded the top, then set it aside. 

I was looking for a quick and easy way to attach the top of the desk to the supporting sawhorses.  I wanted it to be possible for me to disassemble the sawhorse and put it back together again without worrying each time about whether it was square and even. 

I decided that a set of dowels would be perfect for correctly positioning the top, and knew just what I wanted to use. Since I am all about saving money the planet, I've been making a point of saving bits of scrap and other potentially re-usable items, and had just the thing for this project.  I went through a lot of disposable brushes when I did the Farmhouse Table, and saved the wooden handles of all of them when I threw out the foam section.  

A 1/2" paddle bit with some painter's tape marking the correct depth took care of drilling through the sawhorse and into the bottom of the desktop. 

Note that the two holes are offset here.  After flipping the desktop and sawhorse upside down, I clamped the sawhorse in place directly on top of the support frame (I'd intentionally cut the sawhorse's top to be the same dimensions as the side piece of the support frame).  I spaced the two dowel holes out unevenly so that the table could only be assembled one way: on one sawhorse the holes are 10" apart, and on the other they are 9".  They also aren't centered on the width of the 2x4; one is 1" from the nearest edge, the other is 1 1/2".  This means that my choices for left, right, and center are permanent, and there's no way to get it wrong when reassembling

I used an extremely high-tech caliper system to figure out how high the dowels should stick up from the sawhorse. 

After marking the cut by inserting the dowel through the sawhorse and scribing along the bottom with a pencil, I trimmed them all to size, then glued them into the holes with a board clamped in place underneath to prevent them from falling down.  If your hole is a little too big, mix some sawdust in with the glue.  At this point, there's plenty of that kicking around. 

Before attaching the shelves, I stained the sawhorses using Minwax Special Walnut.  I saw a picture of a contrasting desk on one of Ana-White's brag posts, and like the look.  The pallet sections were all stained using Minwax Natural, which is basically a stain with all the dyes removed.  It still brings out the grain of the project, but doesn't impose any artificial coloring.  

After apply two coats of stain to everything and then several layers of polyurethane (desk top five times, everything else two times), I had two more steps.  I'd read a Woodsmith article about hand-buffing a table top for a nice finish; you don't want to sand it at all, but a little bit of rubbing can help smooth out any dust bumps and shine the whole project up.  Lacking a pumice stone or rotten stone, I used a paper towel roll.  It was just abrasive enough to smooth it out a little, but soft enough that it wouldn't scratch up the finish.  Try it!  

The other thing I did was drill pilot holes for half a dozen 2" screws going up through the underside of the sawhorse.  The dowels do a great job of positioning everything, but not so great a job at actually holding the table together.  

I drilled the thin shaft through the sawhorse first, then countersunk a small recess using a larger drill bit.  After positioning the sawhorses and the desk top, I clamped them together and finished drilling the holes with the small bit. 

Now the desk is done!  We brought it upstairs to take the final pictures (the basement is a great workshop but a horrible photo studio).  

So what makes this project different than all the others? This one's for sale!  I'm going to be putting it up on Craigslist today (or maybe start an Etsy shop).  

I really enjoy my hobby, and love the pieces I make for our house and for gifts.  But I don't want to take away from our grocery budget, either.  So I'm starting to make some pieces to sell.  I'm not really after a profit (I already have a full-time job, thank you very much), but I do want to see if I can break even on this, earning enough money to buy materials and tools for projects around the house.  

Why the sawhorse desk?  It's a low-investment project with a simple, repeatable design, easy-to-find materials, and some fun.  It's meant to be rustic, so small imperfections (like the knots in the picture above) actually add to the project.   

The only downside is letting it go!  I love this, and it's a little weird to think of it being owned by a complete stranger!  

Similar designs from Restoration Hardware go for $640, which is way more than I think I would get for this.  I'm going to list it for $300 and see what happens. 

I'd also be fine with giving a friend or relative a 10% (after materials) finder's fee if they can locate a buyer for me.  I'd be willing to build a copy of the Farmhouse Table, too, if someone wanted it (the full model like I built, with extensions and benches, would probably be about $1200 unfinished; a scaled-down version with a single bench and no extensions would be maybe $600). We'll see what happens.  

EDIT: September 5, 2013
It sold today!  I'd let the Craigslist post expire after initially posting it, and only recently reposted it to clear some basement space for upcoming projects.  I was able to sell it for $250, there were a few people who wanted it for less but since I didn't have a lot of money in the project, I was okay with waiting for the right buyer to come along. So excited that it is finally going to get some use!

Tool List: 
Table Saw
Miter Saw
Kreg Jig
Electric Drill (plus screw driver and twist bits)
Sawzall with metal-cutting blade (to disassemble the pallets)
Belt Sander
Random-Orbit Sander

Material List:
Brad Nails
Two Pallets
2x3 stock - see the Ana-White site for quantities
2x4 stock - one 24" piece per sawhorse
< 1/2 quart of Minwax Special Walnut
1/2 quart of Minwax Natural
1/2 quart of Arm-R-Seal Urethane Topcoat

Idea Sources:

1 comment:

  1. Wow! It is beautiful! I love the desk! I love the grain of the wood! But that's me the Granddaughter & daughter of a carpenter & the wife of a wood's man! Great job Andrew! MIL