By Thomas Fickley
Option 1: I built my desks using a kreg-jig pocket hole system and lots of glue. The nice thing about this option is you can hide all of the holes-- it looks really nice! But it also requires having this tool.
Option 2: you can do this entire project by screwing boards together from the outside of the desk. If you do this, pick up some wood screws and wood-filler to cover up the screw holes before you sand and finish your desk.
In either case, adding a lot of wood glue is what is going to make these desks hold up over time and many prayers!
Having a set of clamps on hand is pretty necessary for this project. You can get away without them (add more screws!) but I would recommend having at least two sturdy clamps. Four is best. Actually, a dozen is best. You can never have too many clamps!
I have used oak for the benches pictured below. You can buy finished 4 side (F4S) oak at Lowes in both long lengths and smaller pre-cut lengths. You could use pine, and it would be much cheaper, but wouldn’t finish as nicely or hold up as well.
Three 8’ 1x6 boards
You need 197” total (221” if you include the optional side trim boards, and 246” if you include the optional front trim board), so the minimum purchase (without the optional boards included) would be one 8’ and one 10’ board.
(RECOMMENDED) However, I find it safer to buy three 8’ boards. You will have some left over this way, but you won’t run short mid-project because you accidentally cut off part of the wrong board. This will also give you enough for the optional trim pieces if you decide you would like to have them.
One 4’ 1x12 board
You need 28” for the desktop, so if you can buy a short (3-4’) piece, that will keep you from having a few extra feet of lumber left over.
One 2’ 1x3 board (optional)
This will be the back of your shelf. It isn’t a must, but it keeps prayer books and bibles from sliding off the back
This will be around 23”
Mitre saw, skill saw, or hand saw,
Drill and wood screws OR kreg-jig pocket hole system
Doweling kit-- see step 9a
Speed square and level
A great attitude!
You can do this project with a saw, tape measure, glue, and screws, but it's easier if you have the other tools.
Build the base
Cut four pieces of 1x6 for the base (2 pieces x 16” and 2 pieces x 26”).
Connect by screwing and wood-gluing boards together (note: the glue is what makes the structure strong and steady).
Method one: Use Kreg Jig to drill pocket holes into both ends of the short pieces. These holes will be covered up by other boards later. Place the holes on the inside of the rectangle, so no screw holes show on the outside.
Method two: drill wood screws from the outside in to connect the rectangle. Your short boards (the sides) will connect to the inside of the long boards. This means the short sides of your rectangle will be more than 16” (18”) and the long sides (your front and back) will be 26”. The result will look something like this, only bigger (this was a children’s sized base):
Build the wings
Cut two segments of 1x6 to 33” each. These will have one flat end, and one end cut off at a very slight slant so the prayer desk tips down.
I used a miter saw to make an 8 degree cut
You could use a protractor or speed square and a hand-saw-- saw carefully! Here is a great video on how to free-hand saw
Make sure the angled cuts match, or you will have a difficult time getting the desk to sit level!
Attach the wings
Apply a lot of glue, and clamp the wings tightly to whichever part of the desk you want to be your front (you could also glue and screw the boards instead of clamping).
Make sure the angled part of the wings is on top and the slope is facing inwards towards the rest of the base.
The picture below has this step completed. Before adding the shelf the two wings will stick up on their own.
Notice the slope is back towards the rest of the base:
Finish the Base (Optional)
Add an extra board on the inside between each of the wings and the back
This is purely cosmetic
Measure the distance between the back of the wing and the rear of the desk. Cut pieces to span the distance (one on each side), and glue and clamp them. This will make the base look more solid and make the wings look flush with the rest of the base.
See the picture above--- clamping in progress.
(extra optional): add an extra board on the front between the wings
Again, this is purely cosmetic. If you want to see the difference, look at the pictures on pgs. 8 and 9 of this document. In both pictures the front desk has this extra piece added in between the wings and the back desk does not.
Measure the distance between the two wings, and cut, glue, and clamp a piece that size onto the inside of the frame. This makes the base look even all around. There won’t be an extra piece on the back, because the kneeler will cover the inside of the base.
Make the bookshelf
Cut a 1x6 to the distance between the wings (somewhere around 23”). Measure carefully. Cut carefully. You want the shelf to sit snug.
Attach the shelf in between the wings.
Level: You can either use a level to make sure your shelf is level, or measure from the bottom up and mark the same distance on both shelves.
Option 1: Secure with Kreg Jig: I used two pocket holes underneath each size. Use lots of glue
Option 2: Secure with screws from the outside. Use lots of glue
Measure, cut, and attach the shelf-stop (the 1x3 board that sits at a 90 degree angle to the shelf and keeps books from falling off the back)
Measure your shelf and cut a 1x3 piece to the same length
Attach with glue and clamps (picture of clamping below, which includes a picture of clamping the finish boards to the base)
Build the desktop
Cut a piece of 1x12” board to be the desktop. Mine is 28 inches long, which is slightly wider than the base.
Secure to the desktop (this is probably the trickiest part of the process)
Carefully drill dowel holes in the top of the wings
Carefully match and drill dowel holes in the underside of the desk in the corresponding spot
Add lots of glue to the top of the wing
Insert glued dowels and place connect the top to the wings
Clamp tightly for several hours (picture below)
Option 2: screw through the top of the desktop and into the wings. Use lots of glue on top of the wings to make it secure.
Your built but not finished desk will look something like this!
Make your desk nice and smooth by sanding down rough spots and proud connections. You can use either an electric orbital sander (much faster) or a hand-held sanding block.
Start with a shaping grain (80 grit is best)
Move up to at least 120 grit. 220 grit gives a nice glossy finish.
Before attaching the fabric-covered kneeler, add some sort of protective coat.
I usually add several coats of polyurethane over the oak boards. This is the only finish I apply.
I have also used danish oil by itself.
Other stain and coating options would work fine too! A and B both give very light finishes.
Cut and upholster the kneeler
Cut a board (1x6 or wider) to the width of the base. This is the board your kneeler will be attached to.
Add a piece of multi-purpose or upholstery foam to the top. This can be bought in sheets or large rolls for relatively inexpensive from Home Depot online (I had a roll delivered for a small cost), or you can get some at the local fabric store. It will be much more expensive at the fabric store. 2” is plenty thick, but 3” is very comfortable.
Cover the foam and board with some sort of upholstery fabric. Wrap around the top (much like wrapping a present) and staple to the bottom of the board.
Attach the kneeler with screws.
The only way I know to do this is with pocket-hole screws drilled into the side and back of the base on the inside, aiming up. Screw into the base of the kneeler with pocket hole screws.
There is certainly another way to attach this, but I have not tried it. Other ideas:
Attach small metal brackets to the base, and screw the underside of the kneeler into those brackets
Attach a 2x4 in between the base sides, and then screw up through the 2x4 into the kneeler.
You’re finished! Time to put the desk to use.
Thomas Fickley teaches literature at The Covenant School in Charlottesville, Virginia.