Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

August 11, 2016

DIY Solid Walnut Waterfall Desk for Two

We are finally tackling our home office!  I'm so excited to add more style and function to this workspace.  We want to cram a lot into this room (our second bedroom, technically): a desk for two, storage, a reading nook, and a treadmill - we miss our treadmill so much!  Floor space for Szuka is obviously a must-have.  But to make room for all of this, I had to say goodbye to my beloved, DIY sewing machine treadle desk (Hubby made the top for me way back in 2007).  Back when Hubby built the solid wood top for my desk, I was a graduate student and teaching assistant and I liked being able to spread out my marking and research.  These days my work is more contained, so I decided that I could get by with a smaller desk - which meant that we could carve out a space for Hubby to use his laptop when he needs to.  A space that is not the kitchen counter.  (We sold his DIY welded wood top desk when we moved from the townhouse).

We spent over a year sketching out and pondering DIY desk designs - I devoted a whole Pinterest board to workspace inspiration and desk ideas!  We were coming up with more and more complicated designs until one day we decided that we just wanted something simple: no drawers, no fancy welded legs, nothing motion activated - just a modern surface that would help hide cords.  A mid-century modern look was on my wishlist, too.

The desk design we loved most?  A simple solid walnut, DIY waterfall desk:
 
DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

In order to get a desk to fit our wall perfectly (and not impede access to the room by jutting out into the doorway), we decided to make one so we could customize the height, length, and depth.  You'll see I left a little room to the left - that's just where I keep a basket to store papers we intend burn (in lieu of shredding sensitive documents).  I like keeping that basket handy, but more importantly, I didn't want the desk pushed right up against the drapes.  I'm using a wide-angle camera lens here, which distorts the proportions a bit and makes the desk to room ratio look larger than in reality.   

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

Let's chat about that DIY desk!

Full disclosure:  Hubby and I fully intended to build this desk ourselves (with the help of Craft-Art) at my father-in-law's woodworking studio, but once Hubby's Dad saw our plans - and the gorgeous slab of walnut we brought with us - he cleared his schedule and pretty much built this for us!  Isn't he the best?  Hubby helped him of course, but I mostly sat around the shop and played with the dogs all day, only stepping in for sanding (on the stroke sander!), some routing (which was fun!), and then hand sanding and finishing once we got the desk home.  I'm the finisher.

Want to make your own DIY waterfall desk?  Here's what you'll need, plus the step-by-step tutorial - in case a bottle of Scotch won't entice any woodworkers you know to make it for you.

Supplies:

Although Hubby and his Dad did a beautiful job building our solid maple kitchen counters from scratch, for this desk I wanted the tutorial to be a little simpler - and more doable - for blog readers, so I reached out to Craft-Art, a company that creates beautiful solid wood surfaces from different wood species.  Craft-Art sent me three pieces of solid black walnut (one 24"x72" length and two 24"x31" lengths, grains the long way on all three), in their "DIY" option, which required a little bit of sanding and finish - perfect for our use.  It arrived carefully wrapped in a really substantial shipping crate, so we skipped a lot of steps and started with this:

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

The first step was to fill the knots with epoxy.  Hubby's Dad explained that this adds strength to the knot and fills the holes.  Because the epoxy will sink a little into a hole before it sets, fill them in so the top is a bit higher than the wood surface.  Larger holes might require multiple applications.  You can also use wood filler, but epoxy dries in five minutes.  Once the epoxy dried, we just sanded it smooth and now there's no hole, although the beauty of the knot hasn't been obscured.

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

Next, Hubby and his Dad cut the mitred edges on the table saw, at 45 degrees.  It was tricky to keep the longest length of walnut level, so as to not distort the mitered edge, but they did an amazing job - it turned out perfectly.

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

Here's what the finished cut for the mitred corner looked like:

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

To add strength to the joint Hubby and his Dad used wood biscuits in the joint.

Here is the bottom of the biscuit cutter when cutting the grooves.  Hubby and his Dad worked carefully to ensure that the holes matched up with the corresponding piece in the finished mitered corner.

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse
DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse
DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

After that it was time to put the pieces on the stroke sander and make them nice and smooth.  Hubby's Dad tackled this because it was very important that the edges were not rounded because we needed a nice straight, sharp corner for the assembly so the joint would be tight.

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

Before gluing, Hubby and his Dad spent a long time carefully dry fitting everything together to make sure it all fit and that they had all the proper clamps in place.  It took awhile to figure out what clamp would go where and how to keep such a huge piece clamped tightly.  Once the wood glue is applied you pretty much have one shot because the biscuits start swelling and will not want to be removed.

The framing squares were clamped in place and used as reference to make sure the legs were square to the top, which was placed upside down in the photo below.  We put painters tape all around the glue joints to keep most of the glue that squishes out from going on the wood.  Once we were ready it was simply a case of gluing the biscuits, putting it together and clamping it.

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse
DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

Even though Hubby and his Dad worked quickly, they still needed to persuade the joints together.

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

Whew!  Everything was clamped together with a million clamps and then we went inside to have dinner.  Later in the evening, once the glue was dried, Hubby routed the edges of the desk.

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

I even did a little bit of the routing!  I'd never used a router before - I'm always stuck with hand sanding edges instead.  I love a sharp, squared off edge but rounding it the tiniest bit not only strengthens the edge and prevent chipping, but it also makes it less sharp.  The edges now are comfortable and smooth - great for when I'm tap-tap-tapping away on my computer...like right now!

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

The final step of construction was to add the support piece at the back, which may be optional but we all decided that a little bit of extra hold is never a bad idea - plus this piece helps hide cords!  We picked up a solid black walnut plank at the lumber yard and planed and sanded it before cutting it to length.  It too was installed using biscuits and wood glue, and held with clamps. 

  
In the photo below you can see the bracing piece we added for support more clearly.  It's inset, so we plan to affix our surge arrest power bar there and contain all of the cords between this channel we've created and the wall - completely unseen, but easily accessible.

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

Here's a look a the completed desk, before it was finished with Danish Oil:

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse
DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse
DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

Now came my part: a morning of hand sanding (moving from a 100 grit to a finer 220 grit) and then giving the walnut a coat of oil.

I've used different Danish/teak oils before, but this time I tried the Watco brand Danish Oil - in natural (although I'm curious about the different color finishes).  It's an oil and varnish in one, so it was a quick process with no laborious burnishing or hand-rubbing required - although it gives the look of a hand-rubbed surface.  The application was so simple: apply generously (watch for any areas that soak it up and apply more there right away), wait half an hour, apply another coat, wait fifteen minutes and wipe off.  That's all!  It penetrated into the walnut wood and created a rich finish from within.  I will keep you posted on how durable it is, but so far the wood has been protected and looks great (it's been a few weeks).  I love the velvety feel - it's SO smooth.

A quick note:  I do not believe that this is food safe so while it's great for a desk, I would not recommend this for counters.  For counters, please refer to Craft-Art's suggestions or look for a wood oil that specifies it is food safe.         

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

There are few things in life more satisfying than oiling walnut...

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

Look at the beautiful walnut grain!  The finish brought out the lustrous beauty of natural walnut and made me so loopy with heart eyes that I use words like "lustrous".

You can see my epoxy filled knots, too:

  DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

After the Danish Oil had cured, we added some felt feet underneath to protect our floors and that was it!  Done!  All told, this took about a day and a half to build, sand, and finish. 

We love our new walnut waterfall desk!  Now we're on the hunt for a pair of mid-century modern inspired desk chairs and a pair of lamps - I am just using Hubby's former desk chair and a Lotte lamp stolen back from my Mom for the time being.  When I share more details of the office makeover, I'll show you how our computers fit too! 

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse
DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse
DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

From the doorway, the look is clean and simple  - thanks to the waterfall style.  I prefer this to legs for the location of our desk because everything is hidden and when you walk past, the room doesn't feel "office-y," which is nice because you can pretty much see in here from the front door (small house problems). 

DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse
DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse
DIY Solid Walnut Desk Tutorial + Photos // www.danslelakehouse.com // @danslelakehouse

In these photos you're getting a peek at our new aqua tweed curtains (I talked about the fabric choice soooo long ago) and the art placement... More updates soon!

A HUGE thanks to Craft-Art for providing the gorgeous black walnut for this project.  The quality of construction was met with approval by my father-in-law, who has really high standards!  The walnut was packed more carefully than any item I've ever been shipped (the pallet was so insanely study, to call it a mere "pallet" doesn't do it justice).  I highly recommend them! 
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22 comments

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Elaine! I'm so thrilled with how it turned out!

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  2. So in love with this desk!! It's a beautiful piece of furniture. The pictures after oiling, almost makes me want to run my hands on the wood! Is that creepy ����

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    1. Thank you! No, not creepy at all! Wanting to run your hands on this walnut is perfectly acceptable :) It's really velvety - which is good, because I wasn't sure if the desk was done being sanded, or I was just done sanding the desk, haha.

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  3. The desk is beautiful!

    Also, I popped over to the Craft-Art website and holy cripes--this is definitely the most expensive desk diy I've ever seen. I might try something similar with plywood and a huge sheet of walnut veneer to allow for a "true" waterfall edge.

    Last thing: what's your (your dad's?) opinion on using biscuits to edge join larger boards? I've read that it's not necessary but I'm skeptical.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Liza! I'm so happy you like it.

      Yes, walnut wood is VERY expensive - even walnut plywood. But we often DIY not to make something less expensive, but to make something custom. I DO love a cheap and cheerful makeover, but I also want to make some things we can keep and enjoy (and that will last) for a long time. I had my last DIY desk almost a decade and I would have kept it still, but now we wanted room for two. I hope than in 10+ years we still have this desk. Maybe even 20? We have so many projects to do, I can't see having time to circle back to this one before I'm 50, lol. I have made many things from plywood but after living with our solid maple counters, my heart was set on a solid wood desk. I just love the feel, personally.

      I like your idea of using veneer, though! You can always chose a less expensive wood as well. Pine, for example, is much, much cheaper even when sold in a laminated block. There are some great wood stains that mimic the color of walnut - the Danish Oil I used came in different colors. If you tackle your idea, will you share photos? I am sure it will turn out beautifully! I have used walnut veneer ply but never played with the walnut veneer sheets but I have been tempted!

      Hubby's Dad admittedly overbuilds things. Watching him plan a project and build it is amazing because he thinks about every possible outcome and is so aware of how the wood might move. He definitely wanted as much strength as possible and the biscuits and back piece offer more strength than simple gluing. For constructing the desk as well, the biscuits helped keep the corners tightly in place while the glue dried. Given the difficulty holding it in place with bar clamps, I cannot imagine having done this without biscuits. If we had built the desk in our office, we might have gotten away with a glued corner - and even skipped that brace piece - but because we transported it an hour down bumpy country roads, we wanted that extra measure. There's also a lot of leverage because of the long pieces so bumping into the desk could potentially snap a joint that's only glued. I think the idea is that it's better to be safe, than sorry.

      If you have a specific project in mind, I can bend his ear about it - just don't tell him I said that :)

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  4. Replies
    1. Thank you!!! I'm so excited to find some chairs and see how we like working side by side... should be interesting!

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  5. I love the desk!!! Also, so cute to see your dog resting as your father-in-law works in the shop:) Pets are awesome!


    Amy in MN

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Amy! She is such a cutie, but behind the scenes she bullied my father-in-law's oddly sensitive pup, who was hiding from her. She positioned herself between us and him and kept him away at all costs, which I think hurt his feelings.

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  6. Oh wow, that is one thing about living creatures, personalities can be intense at times---poor other dog:(

    Amy

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    Replies
    1. I know! Szuka also has a thing with a dog in the neighborhood we (affectionately) refer to as "that bitch Gracie" - they totally spar, but with every other dog on the blog Szuka is cool. It's so interesting to watch!

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  7. Very, very nice! My father was a skilled hobbiest woodworker and walnut was one of his favorites along with wormy chestnut.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! Did you pick up any woodworking skills from your dad? I'm Googling wormy chestnut right now - sounds intriguing!

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  8. Skills? Sadly no. Appreciation? Yes :)

    Poor dad, no one else in the family shared his appreciation for wormy chestnut. He had stockpiles of it in the barn, just waiting to make cabinets or furniture and my mom wouldn't hear of it.

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    Replies
    1. Awww, your poor Dad didn't get to live out his wormy chestnut dreams? It's actually kind of beautiful!

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  9. That's a killer desk for sure! I especially love the color choice

    How long did it take for this little project? I am so tempted to make one though my DIY skill is poor....

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! Well, with the wood already prepped for us and ready to be used as counters, the project took a lazy day to build (we chatted, we discussed the plan of attack, we had dinner) and then another afternoon to sand and finish. Really, quite a quick DIY in the grand scheme of things.

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  10. o love the desk, it so unique, vintage. I especially love the color choice
    thanks for sharing

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  11. Gorgeous! What a beautiful piece, My father was a skilled hobbiest woodworker and walnut was one of his favorites along with wormy chestnut.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, I'm so happy with it! Another reader's woodworking dad loved wormy Chesnut - isn't that interesting? I'd never heard of it before.

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