Canadian Woodworking

Build a desk with curved legs

Author: Carl Duguay
Photos: Carl Duguay
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: August September 2023

This simple design will work well in any home office.

  • COST
desk with curved legs illo
desk material list

The choice of wood for any project is almost always a mat­ter of personal preference. For this desk the client wanted sapele and white oak. I used sapele for the aprons, face frame, feet and drawer fronts, and white oak for the legs and drawer sides. For the face frame I used alder. Any secondary wood, includ­ing poplar, pine and maple, would also be good choices.

Leg-to-Apron Joint
Duguay chose to use floating tenons to connect the aprons to the legs, though there are many other options to choose from.

Leg-to-Apron Joint

Add a Foot
In order to add a bit of flair to this desk, Duguay added contrasting feet to each leg. A dowel helps position the foot and adds strength to the joint, which is otherwise just an end grain joint.

Add a Foot

Template Time
With the feet attached, make a template and mark the curves on all the legs. A template ensures the legs are all marked similarly.

Template Time

Joinery First
Duguay removes most of the waste with a bandsaw. Notice the mortise in the leg was cut before any curves were cut into the leg. Cutting joints in parts that are straight is much easier and more accurate than trying to secure and machine curved parts.

Joinery First

The First Assembly
The apron and leg assembly are now ready to measure for the web frame.

desk with curved legs

Web Frame Assembly
The web frame, which makes up the bulk of the work in this desk, must be machined accurately as it needs to fit into the apron and leg assembly nicely. Most of the web frame was made with a secondary wood, though the face frame was built with a primary wood; in this case, sapele.

Web Frame Assembly

A Nice Fit
The web frame is shown attached to the apron and leg assembly, here. Drawers can now be made to fit the three drawer openings in the web frame assembly. Notice the three holes in the long, rear piece of the web frame, as well as the three elongated holes in the long, front member of the web frame. These holes will allow connectors to be used to secure the top to the base. The elongated holes at the front will allow the solid wood top to move with the seasons.

A Nice Fit

Quick Connect
Install Quick-Connect inserts in the underside of the top, aligned with the holes in the web frame. Bolts can be driven up through the web frame into the connectors to secure the top.

Quick Connect

Custom Pulls
While it’s possible to purchase pulls, it’s also not difficult to make your own. Duguay inlaid sapele into white oak, then shaped the pulls.

Custom Pulls

Completed desk

desk with curved legs

Start at the bottom

The bottom section consists of four legs, a back apron and two side aprons. I chose to curve the legs on all four sides. Alternately you could curve two sides, taper them or leave them straight. I also put a slight curve on the bottom of the aprons. Floating tenons connect the aprons to the legs. Other choices include mortise and tenons, dowels, Dominos, or biscuits. Whichever joinery method you choose make sure to cut the joinery before shaping the legs. I like to add a foot made of contrasting wood on each leg. If you decide to do this, add the foot before you shape the legs.

I find curves more appealing than straight lines. If I were mak­ing legs for a production run of tables, desks or chairs I’d do the shaping on a router table. However, for a single desk, shaping the legs by hand is quick and easy, and much more enjoyable. I started by making a template using 1/8″ hardboard or MDF. After tracing the shape onto the legs, I bandsawed the two outside faces, then the two other surfaces. Final shaping was done with spokeshave, file, block plane and scraper. To add some visual interest, I glued a thin 1/8″ strip of oak beading to the bottom of the aprons.

Make a web frame

For this desk I didn’t attach front dividers to the legs. Rather, I made a web frame to house the drawers, added a face frame to the web frame and then screwed and glued the unit to glue blocks that I installed on the side aprons. I’ve used this method frequently over the past few decades and it’s proven to be very effective.

I routed elongated holes in the front and back rails. These are needed to secure the top to the web frame.

The runners, which are screwed and glued to the dividers, enable the drawers to glide smoothly in and out.

Once installed, I applied a liberal coat of wax on the runners.

All the parts are countersunk screwed and glued together. It’s a simple enough arrangement, but the key is to measure carefully and keep things as square as possible so the frame slips in between the legs ever so snugly, and the drawers glide smoothly into the frame without binding.

Face the frame

The face frame pieces are made from the same species as for the aprons (sapele on this desk) and simply glued to the face frame. I curved the lower rail to match the curves on the rear apron and glued an oak bead to the bottom of the rail.

Drawers and handles

The drawers are straightforward to make. To keep costs down I used dowels to secure the drawer sides to the front and back. To ensure a snug fit I made the drawers marginally wider and taller than the opening and hand planed them to fit.

While you can purchase drawer handles, they’re easy to make and designs are unlimited.

Top it off

Once the top is made, place it on the web frame and mark the loca­tion of the elongated holes that were cut in the front and back rails. Then install Quick-Connect insert nuts into the underside of the top and bolt it to the frame. The elongated holes will accommodate any wood movement due to seasonal fluctuations in humidity.

Apply a finish

To keep the wood as natural looking as pos­sible, yet afford decent abrasion and moisture resistance, I applied two coats of OSMO Polyx Hardwax Oil. I’ve used this product with great success over the past five years.

Carl Duguay - [email protected]

Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

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