Sorry, I couldn’t resist a play on words. ‘Mission’ in this case, refers to the furniture style, not some grand undertaking – although, this was no easy project. I love mission style furniture, but like most of the things in my life, I’m not a stickler for details. That’s a play on words too, since Gustav Stickley and his brothers were famous for making mission style furniture. I like the traditional craftsmanship, the use of dye stains and the goal of building furniture that will stand strong for many years. However, I’m not bound to using white oak or any particular material. In fact, my favorite piece of mission furniture makes use of a very non-traditional material.
This project started when we bought our house. The man we bought it from left me a lot of material he said I might want to use. I think he was just too cheap to rent a dumpster. I threw out most of what he left scattered around the garage, in the storage area above the garage and in the garden shed that would become my workshop. One thing that I kept was a large piece of ungauged slate. For some reason, I thought I would be able to make something with that piece of stone. I moved it around my garage for years, then one day it occurred to me that I could use it as the surface of a small writing desk.
I decided to make the desk in the mission style. This meant I would incorporate vertical slats in the open sides and back, and I would use through mortises on the legs. As the name implies, through mortises are where the tenon goes through the entire piece of wood in which the mortise was cut.
Joining stone to wood is not the easiest thing to do. I decided to let the slate float in a groove of a wood frame. I have done this numerous times with wood panels, but it’s pretty easy to cut a rabbet on a piece of wood. Rabbeting the edge of a piece of slate??? I had no clue. Still, the idea of a framed piece of slate as a work surface was compelling.
Lacking a wet-saw, I decided to cut the slate with a masonry wheel in an angle grinder. Slate is soft, and it was very easy to cut. As I made multiple shallow passes over my cut, I realized that I could form the rabbeted edge simply by grinding away half the slate. The size of the desk was dictated by the largest rectangle I could cut from the slate. This wasn’t very big, but I adjusted the other measurements to keep everything proportional.
I decided to use a portion of the leftover slate for a little shelf that would rise up along the back edge of the desk. One more piece of slate and one more frame to make. As my wife was looking at the remaining pieces of slate, she suggested I could make two little shelves that would slide out of the sides of the desk. Initially, I told her that would be impossible. The desk was going to have three shallow drawers that pulled out from the front. I couldn’t possibly have shelves slide out side-to-side with drawers sliding out back-to-front…or could I?
Again, the notion of a little shelf to hold a cup of coffee, or perhaps a lamp was compelling. If the shelves were thin enough, it just might work. OK, two more rabbeted slate panels and two thin frames.
The desk base and the frames were cut from Ponderosa Pine I had left over from some custom windows I had made when I had my cabinet shop. Pine is not a standard mission wood, but I already owned it and it easy to work with. I made one drawer for the center of the desk that was wide enough to hold a standard pad of paper. That left me enough room to make two small drawers for the sides. Oil rubbed bronze hardware, Mission Oak dye stain and a wipe-on oil finish completed the woodwork. I tested the oil finish on the slate, and it gave it a deep rich chalkboard color.
The desk is where I would work on the rare days I was allowed to telecommute. Now, this desk is where I start my day. I recently added a new chair to the arrangement. The narrow opening under the desk proved to be a challenge for buying a chair. I found a gaming chair at Staples that has arms that fold up. It’s comfortable and it fits perfectly under the desk. Gustav Stickley might dismiss the chair as trendy, but I like to think he would approve of the desk I made.