The Butler’s Desk – Gets Detailed!

This post continues a series in which I’m building a butler’s desk of American black walnut. Where we left off the work surface had been completed.  Now that the Butler’s desk is well on it’s way, it’s time to begin working out the small details which make the user’s experience all the more enjoyable.  I feel that the details of a product should match its overall design and in my experience the details are often the most difficult part of cabinetry design, given that the ‘details’ are the user interface and are often make or break for the user.

Along with detailing the case, I have begun finishing the cabinet, for me the two processes seem to go hand in hand.  The finish I’m using is super blonde shellac that I mix from flakes.

To finish the case exterior I first plane the outside surfaces by hand, then follow up by wiping on shellac.  In the near ground you can see one of the important exterior details, a chamfered corner.



The chamfer was continued over the rounded edge, both to eliminate the sharp corner and for an uninterrupted appearance.  The chamfer plane would not allow this, so it was continued with a chisel.  The rounded over corners on the front and back of the case are also cut with a plane.  Having only ever seen round overs created by a router and sanded, the beauty of them was lost on me until I began cutting them with a plane.  The crisp transition and bright surface make all the difference to my eye.


Lining up the many chamfers and edges of the desk has been one of the more tedious processes, but it is very important in an otherwise simple appearing design.  In this case I had to enlarge the chamfer at the bottom of the drawer to help conceal seasonal movement and to allow the door to swing down.


The chamfer continues around to the sides of the case making the transition between the case and the stand obvious.  This will also help to conceal seasonal movement at the back of the case.


Many of you may have been wondering exactly what I had planned for drawer pulls and I’ve determined that rather than drawer pulls, I would use cutouts as I had done previously on the jewelry cabinet built last year.  I begin the process by making cuts with my finest tooth crosscut saw.  This saw leaves a nearly finished surface.


Followed by chiseling away the waste, all of which is done with a paring chisel.  Then finally the corners are detailed with chamfers.


I’ve created a video of the process for those interested in seeing how it is done.

Next, I grooved the front edge of the desk drawer to accommodate the desk swing.  Then I created a drawer stop (ball detent rather than a hard stop) followed by creating similar grooves in the drawer sides at that corresponding location.


Finally what I have been working toward is now able to be seen in its mostly completed stage.  Some things are left to do; a lock and stay for the desk.  I’ve begun finishing the remainder of the case and legs, the results of which can be seen here.


I hope you have enjoyed reading, please comment below.

Locking The Butler’s Desk


  1. I would like to say your workshop is beautifully clean and well organised, today will a big clean up day of my own shop. This has been in the planning for some time now but work always gets in that way so I’m halting all work and will devote to this.

    Your work is outstanding as well, you dovetails are great and I adore those chamfers and as you’ve said no router can achieve this. Your work with Japanese tools which fascinate me, I’ve never had the pleasure besides using some of their saws and the finished surface it leave behind is great. The claim is that japanese saws aid newcomers in sawing straight so I decided to test this theory by placing this saw in the hands of a professional well seasoned sawyer who has never used one of these saws before only 2 days ago and proved this theory to be incorrect. I couldn’t test it on myself as I have used these saws on a number of occasions and am accustomed to them.

    This project is coming together nicely something to be quite proud of but I’m curious about the black walnut, it isn’t as dark as to what I am accustomed too. I’m now wondering if black walnut has variations in the tone like our blackwood.

    How long has this build being been in the making. I look forward in reading the rest of your blog and the further progress on this desk. Well done.

    1. Thanks for you reading my blog and for your comment!

      Having checked out your workshop in the videos, I think it’s very well put together. I especially like the cabinet that you have right behind your bench.

      I really enjoy Japanese saws but they did take a bit of time for me to saw straighter with them than their western counter parts, the work holding is a bit different than with western saws and so that was the biggest adjustment for me….now of course I prefer them after making a few changes to my work holding. The finish left by some of the crosscut saws is particularly fine, often I can just leave it be after cutting it.

      Black walnut has quite a bit of variation from tree to tree, I’ve had some that is dark and deep yellowish brown, and others that are more of a grayish brown. If you look at the tall cabinet that I built in my completed furniture section, then compare to this, the contrast is amazing but the wood…actually sourced from the same sawyer who sourced both logs locally.

      I’ve been building this for about three months, and started planning the building about a month or two prior to that to detail the build in drawings.

      1. Amazing trees are like people were basically all alike but with some variations. We too have a species known as Blackwood or more commonly known as Tasmanian Blackwood, the variations are the same as your Walnut. I have purchased American Black Walnut you can actually see it in the background in the videos or probably not as the door is covering it but it is a dark chocolate bordering black colour and that’s what I thought they all were. I’m actually going to be using it in the coming weeks it’s my first time with this species. The tas blackwood has a lot of silica and reversing grain and they say that black walnut is the opposite what a welcomed relief that will be. Today I’ve started the big cleanup I’m throwing out a lot of old finishes that I never use, there’s going to be a lot of changes in my shop this year from a new 2metre work bench, a decent sharpening station, moulding planes galore and so forth. I’m going to be making an announcement soon enough which is what’s prompting me to make all these long overdue changes.

  2. Based on what I know about Aussie woods, I think you’ll find black walnut to be a real treat to work with. Even with some character to the grain it is fairly easy to work, and a quarter sawn vertical grain is practically like planing softwoods.

    That stuff can pile up, I make it a once every couple months routine to toss all of the small cutoffs that I will never use but keep stored forever.

  3. Pingback: The Butler’s Desk – Workspace | Brian Holcombe Woodworker

  4. Like a well-crafted wrist watch, this is a beautiful design both aesthetically and functionally, inside and out. Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to share this amazing project.


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