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Desk Risers

On a worn bench top in an open space between a lattice of shadow, two nesting desk risers sit in the morning sunlight. Each riser is made from hard maple and shaped as if a long plank of wood were folded 90 degrees at the end, to lift it from the surface a few inches. Visible on the outer riser are the dovetail joints that connect the top of the riser to its Overview

A nesting set of risers to create elevation and shelving on a desk top.

Process

Crafted from hard maple with exposed dovetail joinery, and finished with hemp oil.

Timeline

Designed and built in 2023/2024. Estimated 20 hours of total work.

Takeaways

Learned the basics of chisel work and blade sharpening; cut my first (sixteen) dovetails; discovered the joy of hand tools and fine joinery.

Intention

This /woodworking project began as an attempt to declutter my desk and improve my posture. Since my primary computer was an iMac, there was no way to raise the height of the monitor without putting something underneath it. I wanted to take advantage of the vertical space underneath the monitor platform by having a "shelf", and I came up with the idea of a nested design of similar pieces to achieve that.

The idea of a rectangular platform lifted a few inches off the desk sounded incredibly dull (and too easy), so I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn how to cut a dovetail. After an almost month-long detour learning about technique, chisels, saws, and sharpening, I was finally able to cut a clean dovetail in practice material and returned to the project.

Process

With an overall approach decided, I finalized the design. I thought it would be nice to add a chamfer on the inner edge so that it caught the light in a way that made the wood look thinner, without actually sacrificing stability.

A closeup shot of two halves of a mitered dovetail joint. A longer board of wood that goes out of frame to the top left comes in at an angle to the center of the frame, where a 45-degree corner is cut, folowed by a few visible dove tails before they go out of frame to the right. Touching against the larger board is a very narrow smaller strip of wood where the receiving pins are cut, laid flat on the table and touching the mating edge of the larger dovetails. The orientation of the two pieces of woods lets you visualize the smaller piece being rotated into the mating joint of the larger piece.

In order to carry a clean chamfer all the way around the bottom lip and the legs, I needed to use a mitered dovetail, where the edges of the board come together at a 45-degree angle instead of the standard way. This added more complexity to my first dovetail project, but really pushed me to maintain precisions and use some chisel guide jigs to make those clean 45-degree corners.

A nested pair of simple wooden desk risers photographed from an angle with a backdrop of dark grey industrial slab concrete floor. Each riser is a simple rectangular board of maple, with short

The outer riser was completed first, in April of 2023. I used a few cut-offs of maple in my studio to glue up two roughly 10" wide panels, cut the joinery, and finished with raw hemp oil. The inner riser was started shortly after, but due to the very short legs and the threat of heavy warping if not finished quickly once the legs were cut from the main board, it wasn't until the end of February 2024 that I found the time to sit down and finish the rest of the joinery all in one go. In all, the full piece was completed in early March of 2024.

/desk-riser Stream

March 1, 2024

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Today I gave a final high-grit sanding to the desk risers after letting the oil saturate overnight, and another light wipe down of hemp oil.

A nested pair of simple wooden desk risers photographed from an angle with a backdrop of dark grey industrial slab concrete floor. Each riser is a simple rectangular board of maple, with short

I'll continue buffing with a rag every day or so while they cure over the next week. Once they're no longer leaving oil on my finger tips, it will be time to take them home.

February 29, 2024

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Last night I glued up the dovetail joints on the desk riser, and today I planed (with a chisel) down the protruding pins and then sanded the whole thing to 220 grit, and then 400 grit on the outer surface.

A close up shot of a sharp row of glued up dovetails cuts diagonally across the frame. In the center of the frame, a finger pushes a sharp, flush, chisel through the top of one of the protruding pins, bringing it in plane with the surface of the piece.

Once sanded, I finished with a generous coat of hemp oil. I didn't let it drink all it wanted, but I did pour the oil directly onto the surface to flood it a bit.

In the middle of the frame is a handmade desk riser: a wooden board about 20 inches long by 8 inches deep, joined to two

As a relatively "high use" surface, I wanted it to be better protected than a wipe-on application, but I don't think it needed to really drink all the oil it would take.

February 25, 2024

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It's been almost a year since I last worked on this desk riser project, since the next step was to cut three long rows of mitered dovetails in relatively quick succession. I finally had the time and focus to sit down for almost an entire day and get through that work, and so now all of the joinery work is complete on this small project. This was completed with my magnetic dovetail guide that I made, and my japanese dovetail saw (a Razorsaw #372).

A closeup shot of two halves of a mitered dovetail joint. A longer board of wood that goes out of frame to the top left comes in at an angle to the center of the frame, where a 45-degree corner is cut, folowed by a few visible dove tails before they go out of frame to the right. Touching against the larger board is a very narrow smaller strip of wood where the receiving pins are cut, laid flat on the table and touching the mating edge of the larger dovetails. The orientation of the two pieces of woods lets you visualize the smaller piece being rotated into the mating joint of the larger piece.

In addition to the dovetails and the mitered corners, I also cut a chamfer running along the entire "inner" surface of the board so that the visible edge looks thinner than it actually is. On this project I just used a router table, but in the future I hope to get a hand plane to do the job.

One wrinkle is that when doing the test fit, I realized that the smaller "leg" boards of the riser were so short that the end grain orientation made them weak; I split the end grain twice during the test fit process. Next time I'll keep in mind that I probably need a few more inches of board length to use dovetail joinery like this.

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