A few weeks ago, we showed you those two big reclaimed beams that we bought to build a work surface for the studio loft space. It would be easy – two beams turned on their side and connected together. Boom! Insta-desk!
But of course, it’s never that easy.
We had a rough idea of how we wanted to install the desktop, but before we made any cuts or bought any supplies we came up with some detailed hand sketches.
The sketch above is a section through the desktop. Originally we were just going to biscuit the hell out of the joint where the two pieces meet, but after a chance meeting with a woodworker named Burly, Kyle arrived at a better solution. (More on that later.)
For the connection to the wall, we went with our original idea of using steel angles. The dimensioned portion of the sketch above shows a plan view of where the angles would go on the walls and the larger section detail in the middle shows how the angle will attach to the wall and wood. Once we had the design fully flushed out, it was time to take stock of our inventory, buy supplies and get on with our building business.
First, Kyle cut the steel angles to size and then grinded the edges smooth.
Next, he marked the locations of the holes…
…and used a center punch to create a divot for the drill. Definitely don’t want your drill going all wonky on you y’know.
To set the holes even further he used a high speed steel countersink to create a bigger divot.
Next he loaded a high speed steel drill bit into his grandpa’s old drill press and occasionally dipped the bit in cutting oil the keep it from overheating. (If the bit gets too hot it dulls down really fast.)
After the holes were drilled, he then made a proper countersink so the screw heads flush out with the face of steel.
Meanwhile, superintendent Bailey keeps an eye on the operation.
After all of the holes were drilled, Kyle used his angle grinder with steel brush attachment to smooth everything out and prep the steel for painting.
Enough with the steel, time for wood! In addition to biscuits and glue, Kyle decided to install four hidden pieces of 3/8″ all-thread that would literally tie the two pieces of wood together and create a stronger connection. To do this, he first had to drill a series of parallel 1-3/4″ deep holes using a 1-1/2″ diameter forstener bit. To ensure he wasn’t over drilling, he kept an eye level view as he went, stopping when the blue tape line on the drill bit was aligned with the top of the wood.
Next, he attached an auger bit and drilled through the side of the wood, in the same line as his previous top-drilled holes. See where we’re going with this?
With a steady hand, he guided the drill until it connected with the other hole. We debated using the drill press for this but Kyle has a calibrated eyeball and mad drilling skills.
The long, skinny hole was sized to accept a piece of 12″ (3/8″ diameter) all-thread. Success. Phew!
But before anyone gets too excited about fasteners, Kyle still needed to chisel out a portion of the round hole to make a flat surface for the fender washer and nut to bear on.
Once the holes were all cut, we realigned the boards so Kyle could mark biscuit locations. (Since biscuits are like a type of tongue and groove connection, you have to be precise that you get both sides perfect so everything fits together.)
Then he used his biscuit joiner to cut thin, wafer-like slots along the entire length of each beam.
Taking a break from all that sawdust, Kyle set up the steel angles on his welding table (with an old canvas sheet on top) and gave everything a nice even coat our favorite automotive gray-black primer (same thing we used on the barn door track and loft ladder). As you can tell by the lack of sunlight, he’s officially been at it all day.
Back to the wood – Kyle calls this part “biscuits and gravy”. (Mmm…) Before inserting the football-shaped wood biscuits, he squirts a generous amount of wood glue into each slot. (Side note: we used this same process to join two pieces of lyptus for our kitchen island, saving a ton of money.)
Once all of the biscuits were inserted, we slipped in the 4 pieces of all-thread and pushed the two slabs together.
We needed the help of a few large clamps, but there she is, in all of her connected glory. (Note: we worked with the slab upside down so we could more easily install the hidden fasteners, so that’s why the wood looks a little less-than-perfect.)
Finally, Kyle used his nimble fingers to install a fender washer and nut to each end of the all-thread. You’ll never see this connection unless you’re laying under the desk. And no one is going to do that. Except maybe for Felix. And we don’t make design exceptions for judgmental cats.
Here’s a top view of the all-thread connection. Pretty clever, huh? If you had x-ray vision you would see the piece of all-thread buried within the slab. But you don’t, so you’ll just have to trust us on this one.
The last thing we did that night was to install the steel angles (the primer drives super fast).
We used 3″x3″x3/8″ steel with fasteners at stud locations (which we figured out beforehand as seen on Kyle’s sketch). The wood desktop will be fastened from the underside through the screw holes in the top of the angle.
Structurally, we didn’t need continuous lengths of steel and this was also a much cheaper route to take. Additionally, the gaps between angles allows a slot for cords to go (since we’ll be holding the wood off the wall by an inch or so).
I can’t wait to get the big sexy slab up there. But first we have to finish the wood. (And when I say “we” I mean Kyle. No fumes for preggers.) In fact, Kyle is outside right now sanding it down. Then there’s epoxy filling, more sanding and applying a few coats of finish. Oh, and devising a way to get it into the loft (hint: strong and willing friends).
Still, not bad for a day’s work. (Who says Sundays are for relaxing and rejuvenating?)
Oh, I also thought some of you might be interested to know how Kyle and I tackle a project. For weekend tasks like this, Kyle usually does a majority of the manual labor (he’s detail-oriented and good at being “in the zone” for long periods of time) while I take care of all the other tasks that we don’t have time for during the week (laundry, bills, dishes, etc.). That’s not to say we’re not a team though. In fact, we’ve devised this high-tech messaging system for when Kyle needs a hand with something or wants me to take some photos:
Poor guy, I assumed “Elmo” was one final plea for help. Damn you auto-correct. (For the record, I tend to just act out charades (like putting food in my mouth) in front of the back door till Kyle sees me.)
So yeah, not an easy project, but that’s how we roll. If we’re lucky, in the end it will look elegant and effortless, masking all of the hard work, sawdust and time that went into it.