Maple Desk Hutch

When it comes to wood­work­ing projects, I sup­pose my daugh­ter is my num­ber one cus­tomer. At least, she asks me to make her the most projects and they tend to be very spe­cif­ic requests. So when she asked about get­ting a hutch/shelf for her fair small IKEA desk, I fig­ured she might find some match­ing IKEA piece. How­ev­er, she had in mind some­thing a bit more high-end. She found a sol­id maple top shelf from Grove­made that cost $300. Mind you, it’s prob­a­bly a rea­son­able price for qual­i­ty, hand­made goods. But I fig­ured I could make her one.

Daughter enjoying her added desk space with her desk hutch!
A sol­id maple desk shelf for my daughter

She sketched out the dimen­sions she want­ed and then I refined the design a bit based on what was pos­si­ble. We even went to Wood­craft togeth­er to pick out a nice maple board! It was about a 6“x1” board with some nice grain pat­terns and fair­ly flat. I ran it through the pla­nar to clean it up on the top & bot­tom faces. I used my router table with a spi­ral down-cut, flush-trim bit to joint an edge. I could then clean up the oth­er edge using the table saw.

I used my bis­cuit join­er to cut slots for align­ment bis­cuits on both the new­ly cleaned edges. The glue does all of the struc­tur­al work in the joint. These bis­cuits are real­ly just there to help keep the faces flush dur­ing assem­bly. The legs were sim­i­lar­ly glued up so as to have the grain run­ning up/down the leg rather than show­ing the end-grain on the front side. How­ev­er, they were small enough to just clamp togeth­er with­in the need of biscuits.

A biscuit joiner machine was used to cut slots along the jointed edge of boards.
Cut­ting bis­cuit slots in the joint­ed edge

I knew I want­ed to have a cham­fered edge to give the over­all piece a slim­mer appear­ance. The ref­er­ence piece appears to have 45° edges, but I want­ed a small edge with a steep­er cham­fer below. So I pur­chased the cheap­est 60° cham­fer router bit I could find. These can be very pricey and I was­n’t sure I’d have a use for it after this project any­way. I sup­pose I could get away with using this a few more times, but I don’t think it would stay sharp for long. And hon­est­ly, using that large of a bit in my router was more than a lit­tle ter­ri­fy­ing. For­tu­nate­ly, this maple cut very eas­i­ly even with the cheap bit. I man­aged to not take any pho­tos of that process, though (prob­a­bly too busy fear­ing for my safety!).

Slots cut along the legs stopped short of the front edge.
“Blind” slot cut into the legs

The far eas­i­er (and less ter­ri­fy­ing) router process was cut­ting some “blind” slots in the legs. I do hap­pen to have some “under­sized” straight router bits which are the com­mon thick­ness for ply­wood. So I could start the cut by drop­ping the leg piece down on the bit and then push­ing it on through. Com­bined with a notch in the cor­ner of the shelf, this makes for an “invis­i­ble” sup­port slot once assem­bled. The shelf is made from 1/4″ ply­wood (which, in case you did­n’t know, is actu­al­ly 7/32″ thick), which was the only part which was­n’t sol­id maple. How­ev­er, I did man­age to use some of the thin rip off cuts from the joint­ing process to glue on a sol­id edge to the shelf.

Now, wood­work­ing purists should prob­a­bly just stop read­ing here. Why? because I just used pock­et holes to attach the legs to the top. I had con­sid­ered using some thread­ed inserts and long bolts (as I did with the cen­ter shelf sup­port), but they would have just inter­fered with the slot I had already cut. So, in the inter­est of keep­ing things sim­ple, I just used pock­et holes. They’re not vis­i­ble at all when this is being used and allowed me to dis­as­sem­ble the piece for finishing.

Brass threaded inserts to hold the center support for the shelf.

The cen­ter sup­port is real­ly just glued up from a lot of scrap off-cuts. I notched out the front of the shelf there as well to accom­mo­date a slight­ly longer front edge just for some visu­al inter­est. This sup­port is attached with some 2–1/2″ long machine screws into some brass thread­ed inserts. Those were fair­ly easy to install but drilling out the hole for these proved to be very tough as the brad-point bit poked through the top of the shelf on one! Ouch! I man­aged to patch up the tiny hole with some black CA glue, but worth not­ing to be very cau­tious when using these in the future.

Then came lots of sand­ing and fin­ish­ing. I used Total Boat brand Hal­cy­on again, as it’s just very for­giv­ing. I put four coats on all the pieces and sand­ed it with 400 grit after the last coat. I even took a very fine fin­ish pad to the top shelf sur­face to give it a real­ly nice feel. I cut some strips of shelf lin­er and glued those to the bot­toms of the legs using some spray adhe­sive. These will serve as both padding and to pre­vent the shelf from slid­ing around. Of course, I had to add my Cicero Craft­ed stamp to the fin­ished piece once it was complete!

The shop stamp applied to the bottom of the shelf.
Final step: branding!

I have to say that the few projects where I’ve tak­en a rough-sawn piece of wood and then milled it and shaped it into a final piece like this have been real­ly excit­ing. There is just this real­ly great feel­ing at see­ing a piece of that rough lum­ber next to this fin­ished piece. Know­ing that there was a nice piece of fur­ni­ture or frame in there and I found it and made it real is awesome. 

Categorized as General

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.

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