Mission Accomplished

The basic desk is complete. The side shelves are in their stored position.

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.

Cutting the slate to get the largest pieces that aren’t badly chipped. The rabbets were cut the same way – messy business.

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.


104 thoughts on “Mission Accomplished

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  1. Wow. That is amazing craftsmanship (and problem-solving), Dan, and the resulting desk is spectacular. I really like your “use what I have” approach. It turns out quite often that we don’ always need the specialized gear or materials to produce great results–it may just be a little harder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mike. I enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to build this. These days, I’m really enjoying the desk. It meets my needs and with its small size, I have no choice but to avoid cluttering it with stuff.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I am constantly amazed at the stuff that comes out of your workshop. It’s not just that you can make something like this, but the fact that you can visualize an end product from the ‘odds and ends’ you have or find … and then make it happen. What a talent!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am ‘sooo’ glad you’re retired because now we get more DIY posts. :-) This is a truly a beautiful project that 99% of us would never visualize let alone tackle. Your skills are enviable. I don’t know how or where you learned, but if you had a mentor, s/he would be pretty chuffed with your finished projects. I bow to your skills and look forward to learning more from you. Happy Monday and whoever is using that desk is a lucky person. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Judy. Fortunately, I am using this desk (as we ‘speak’). I think maybe in the spring, or if we get some nice days in the winter, I might make a narrow bookcase to go with it. We don’t have room for much in the way of furniture, but I could use another bookcase.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lois. Yes, “Mission,” ‘Craftsman” and ‘“Arts and Crafts” generally refer to the same style of furniture. There are so many elements that are characteristic of those styles, that it’s hard to pin it down. We have some slate stepping stones/slabs in our yard. You’re right, it isn’t very common these days.

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  4. Okay, Dan, I’m just going to call you Norm McGyver from now on. That’s a beautiful writing desk, one that I would definitely be proud to own and one that you’ll use many times during your morning routine. Love the slate top, it’s very a very unique piece. As Joanne has already said, you are so talented!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary. My two heroes. It’s my new home in the morning, and I am really starting to appreciate it. It’s funny, when I built it, there was no way I could have used a computer on it. But it’s the perfect size for a laptop.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very impressive, Dan. I like the addition of the side shelves. I am glad I spent so many Saturdays watching “This Old House”, “The New Yankee Workshop”, and “The Woodwright Shop”. I understood all of your terminology. What a great family heirloom you created.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love “The Woodwright Shop” !! – Our daughter has always enjoyed woodworking, and I try to teach her how to do things with hand tools before using the power tools that replaced them. I’m no Ray Underhill, by any means, but it helps to know what you’re doing with a tool. He’s fascinating to watch. The side shelves are a very nice feature. I thought it was a crazy idea when she first mentioned it, but I am very happy I added them.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yowzer!! This desk is just awesome. The patience it took to plan this project out so that everything moved and fit properly is mind-boggling! And the Editor is no slacker either. Fantastic stain job she did. Staining all those slats without dripping down edges is no easy task!

    Have MiMi or MuMu jumped up on desk to check out what they could create with their claws on that beautiful slate surface!! 😳
    🐾Ginger 🐾

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ginger. The Editor has the patience or perhaps the self-control for proper staining. I tend to put too much on and rely upon being able to rub off the excess. She also gets bonus points for suggesting the side shelves. They have proven to be very helpful.

      MiMi and MuMu use the desk as a step to the cat shelf in the window above it. I have a funny story about that that I think I might use for One-Liner Wednesday. So far, they haven’t done any damage to the desk. Believe it or not, Maddie has been known to curl up under the desk while I’m working. It’s a tight fit, but she manages. I’ve tried to get a picture of that, but I’ve never had any luck.

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  7. Hmmm Ponderosa Pine and you opted not to throw in a Bonanza word play. I might have to call Homeland Security and tell them about the alien that is impersonating you and let them know that you are being held prisoner on the mother ship. So when are you making a guest appearance on Roy Underhill’s show ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha – Ponderosa Pine does always make me think of Ben, Hoss, Litte Joe and Adam, but I thought I had used enough play on words, John. Roy Underhill is my hero. I’ve been watching some of his older shows on PBS Passport. What that man can do without electricity is amazing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. At the risk of sounding like word play you have certainly nailed Roy’s skills. Though he is most likely to have mortised, tenon, dove tailed or otherwise pegged something to fasten it together. Now where do the batterypacks go on these chisels and hammers ?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. That explains my chronic addiction to The Woodwright Shop. It’s such a relaxing hobby. I can’t wait to be able to spend more time in my shop. OK, I can’t wait to build my shop, and then spend more time in it. Right now, I have a small shop and I spill into the garage.

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    1. Thanks Laurie. I have enjoyed woodworking for as long as I can remember, starting with watching/helping my father. I tried to make a living at it, but that didn’t work, so I kept it as a hobby.

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    1. Thanks Deborah. Oak is certainly more in keeping with the Mission style. Those little shelves come in very handy. I’m glad she suggested adding them. I was surprised that I was able to find tiny little pulls for them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I always enjoy your DIY posts, Dan. The finished product here looks great. The idea of a shelf for a coffee cup is particularly appealing. And wait, you have no wet saw? I didn’t think there was any tool you didn’t own!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I really love when bloggers give a photo of them in action – it makes the sharing come alive! And the mission furniture always reminds me the show Monk – because that is the kind of furniture Monk had in a lot of episodes –
    And your desk looks so legit Mission – and so unique to have slate like that- truly one of a kind and something extra nice about the size –
    We are really into less is more these days and a desk that size has a nice open feeling to it.
    Did I tell you we got rid of this huge cherry desk we had gifted to us 15 years ago. Enormous – and we loved it – but like the space it freed up in that room now that it is gone

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  10. Well that is some kinda wonderful! Good job! I am continually amazed at your attention to detail in these woodworking matters. I am very fond of the upper shelf Editor suggested; to me, that makes a world of difference and it’s now completely bespoke.

    Liked by 1 person

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