- Ideas & How-Tos
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This bright little desk offers the perfect perch for the budding toddler scholar. School bus-yellow paint is an eye-catching accent.
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Projects such as this child's desk provide a great opportunity for almost any woodworker. For a shop veteran, it's just challenging enough to be interesting and can be easily built in multiples if you have a lot of grandkids or want to donate your efforts to a local children's charity. For beginning woodworkers, it offers a chance to work with some unusual angles and contours and to practice a useful technique called pattern-routing.
Pattern-routing involves making one durable master pattern, or template, that is the exact shape you want to reproduce to make the project parts. Depending on the project, making templates can be painstaking work, but they offer big advantages in accuracy and efficiency once the construction is underway.
Patterns often involve arcs, curves, or other irregular shapes and they are usually made using a band saw, portable jigsaw, router, various power sanders and/or hand tools such as coping saws, rasps, files, and sanding blocks. Typically, the shape is cut very close to the traced outline and then sanded or filed to its finished form. It can then be secured to a workpiece blank with clamps or attached to a jig that helps hold the workpiece blank in position.
To produce your actual project parts, it's often best to lay the template onto the workpiece blank, trace the outline, then remove the template and rough-cut the part so no more than 1/4- inch of waste material remains outside the pattern lines. Then, use clamps (or screws if holes in your workpiece won't matter) to re-attach the template (or jig) to the workpiece and you're ready for routing.
There are two kinds of router bits commonly used for pattern-routing, and both rely on a ball-bearing guide that rides along the edge of the template while the bit's cutting flutes trim the workpiece to match. The most common is a flush-trim bit, which has the guide bearing at the bottom of the bit and the cutting flutes above, nearer to the bit shank you secure in the router collet. The cutting stresses can be substantial, so use a 1/2-inch shank bit if your router will accept it. This style bit typically has carbide cutting flutes from 1 inch to 1-1/2 inches long and the same cutting diameter as the shank, so it can cut fairly thick material and follow very tight curves. When cutting with this bit, you'll have the workpiece on top and the template underneath.
A pattern-routing bit works on the same principle but has the guide bearing mounted on the upper portion of the shank, just below where the router collet grips the bit. The cutting flutes are at the lower end of the bit, so your setup would be slightly different. The template would be on top and the workpiece below. Pattern-routing bits often have larger cutting diameters (3/4 inch is typical), shorter cutting flutes and smaller shanks (typically 1/4 inch), so they aren't as versatile as some flush-trim bits.
We have provided two versions of the patterns for this project. One is at a reduced scale that you can take to a print shop and have enlarged 400 percent to full size on oversize paper. The other is a set of full-size patterns you can print out on letter size paper and tape together.
Start by cutting the plywood 24x48-inch sheets into manageable sections and then cutting the parts blanks from them. Most of this can be done with a portable circular saw and a straightedge, or with a table saw. Many of the parts cut from the 1/2-inch plywood have straight edges but non-rectangular shapes and/or large-radius corners, and the front and back panels (E,F) have their vertical edges beveled at 7 degrees to create the tapered angles of the completed desk.
The legs (B) are the most complex part of the project. They can be cut using the pattern-routing techniques described earlier. If you prefer, you can simply cut and shape one leg and use it as the template for routing the second, but once you have the project together you'd have to start again from scratch if you ever wanted to build another one. So if you think you might ever want to build more of this project, fabricate a template from scrap plywood and hang onto it for possible future use.
Print out the patterns and use them to trace the outline of the legs onto the template blank. Cut and sand the template to shape, then use it to trace the outlines for the two legs onto the 3/4-inch birch plywood. Rough-cut the parts, staying just outside the pattern lines, then clamp them (one at a time) to your master template and rout them to final shape. Re-position the paper patterns on the inside faces of each leg and mark the locations of the cleats you'll add later.
After the legs are routed to shape, cut the support cleats (I,J,K,L) from the poplar stock, and drill 3/16-inch holes for mounting screws, as shown.
After you have all of the parts cut, sand any sharp edges or corners to remove splinters, then paint any parts you want colored. Don't apply paint to edges or surfaces that will need gluing. (Refer to the pattern sheets to see where the shelf cleats (I,L), desktop cleats (J), and bottom shelf cleats (K) will attach to the inside surfaces of the legs.)
To start the assembly process, use glue and 1-1/4-inch screws to attach the various support cleats to the inside surfaces of each leg as shown. Position the cleats carefully as some of them act as a positioning stops when fitting the back panel (E) and front panel (F).
Next, attach the front panel (F) to both legs as shown with glue and 4d finishing nails, then install the lower shelf (D) and upper shelf (G) as shown with glue and 1-1/4-inch screws. The desktop (A) and the seat (C) come next, fastened with 1-inch screws driven up through their support cleats. Then attach the back panel (F) with glue and 4d finishing nails. Finally, secure the footrests with glue and 2-inch screws driven from inside the legs as shown.