The Butler’s Desk – Base Frame Continued

Hello and welcome.  This post continues a series in which I’m building a butler’s desk of American black walnut.   Where we left off the base frame was standing on its own.  The base frame will accept a drawer which will serve as a support for the fold down desktop.  The drawer will be supported by two runners and a crossmember and this post will detail those items and how they were built as well as how the assembly came together.

I began by prepping stock for the crossmember from 8/4 material.  I wanted the crossmember to be invisible from the edges of the cabinet, so I cut a full length sweeping curve on the underside and planned joinery will seat into the cabinet skirt.  First I cut a rabbet on the outside edges.


Next I layout the intended joinery onto the side stretchers.  I’m planning a blind half-lap dovetail fully housed at the shoulder.  The reason for doing this is that I want the crossmember to offer more support to the front legs against splaying forces.  The dovetails will work to counter those forces.


I begin the cutout with the crossmember so that I can transfer marks onto the skirt with a knife.


Next I cutout the skirt and test fit the joint.


I leave large dovetails relatively tight so that I can tweak them into seating, I’m doing the test fit here.


Next I prepare stock for the drawer runners.  The drawer runners will intersect with the crossmember, fit into mortises into the rear skirt, half lap into the front support and they will be rabbeted into side skirts.

Cutting both tenons.


Then I cutout a recess for the center stretcher.  The center stretcher itself will also be recessed creating a half lap joint.

I use a shooting board as a backstop when I want to remove very heavy shavings with a paring chisel.


Next I mortise the rear crossmember, starting by chopping the waste.


Then removing the waste (the waste is not levered out with Japanese mortise chisels).


Then pare the bottoms flat.


I’m now able to test fit the runners in their mortises.


Next I cut recesses into the crossmember.



Then groove the side skirts and also the runners.


Now I’m able to test fit the assembly, then tweak and tune any areas that may be causing distortion.  The last part of this assembly is a beech wood drawer guide that will serve double duty as a hold down for the upper cabinet.  Shown here it is mortised into the rear skirt and rabbeted into the drawer runner.


In test fitting I noticed some areas which needed attention.


Finally it was time to glue up the frame.  I did not take pictures of the process because it is very much time sensitive.  After gluing I cut down the excess tenons.  I used to flush cut these but noticed more often than not it would cause more aggravation than anything else.  I’ve since switched to cutting with a typical ryoba, then planing flush.


It’s critical to note your grain direction and plane with the grain.  Tearout at this juncture would be disastrous.



Next I’m applying the outside radius on the legs.  I’ve since determined that I will need to increase the diameter of the radius, but this is a good start.  I’ve moved away from doing this with a router to doing this with a hand plane.  The finished surface with a hand plane is a high sheen, where a router always needs cleanup and often enough any unsteadiness leads to dips or other issues.


Next I prepare to saw the horns from the frame.


I saw them off leaving about 1/16″ to pare flat.


After they’re sawn off the remainder is pared down flush.


I’ve taken a video of the process.

The horns on the front of the frame are planned to become stub tenons.  I’ve also taken a video of that process.


Now that the frame is fully assembled with tenons cut and horns removed it’s time to level out the top surface.  The top surface will support the case and it must be true and square.  I’ve leveled it out with a series of planes.  I’m checking to ensure that I’ve removed all wind here.


The frame is now complete, I hope you have enjoyed seeing the process.  Thank you for joining me!

The Butler’s Desk – Casework Begins



    1. Thank you David! They’ve gotten a good reception so I think I’ll continue making them.

      Often time I work larger pieces right on the floor, so I use the seiza, agura and kiza positions. For instance I found myself chopping mortises in the bottom panel of the case (coming up next week) in the agura position.

  1. Pingback: The Butler’s Desk | Brian Holcombe Woodworker

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