Build a Curved-Front Desk
A smart approach to the joinery makes it an easier build.
Synopsis: This desk is awash in curves: the inward curve of the front, the stepped heights of the drawer fronts, the shape of the legs, and the edge of the top—even the drawers have curved fronts. But before you discount it as too difficult (after all, joinery can be challenging on curved parts), take another look. Chris Gochnour’s method ensures that all of the joinery is cut while the parts are still straight, and they are shaped after the joinery is complete. He even has a trick for cutting the dovetails. That’s the key to simplifying this project—plus templates, and plenty of them.
Of all the furniture that I’ve designed, this desk is one of my favorites. I love its graceful lines and the inward curve of the front. The stepped drawer fronts echo that arc, but are also practical, creating space for your legs. The shape of the legs—a simplified turn on the cabriole—is curvaceous, too. and the top, which has a curved edge to match the front of the base, completes the picture.
Because it’s a study in curves, i know this desk might seem too difficult for many woodworkers. Joinery on curved parts can be demanding. But actually it isn’t. All of the joints are cut when the parts are still straight. The shaping is done after they’re complete. That’s even true of the drawers, which have curved fronts. And you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to cut the dovetails, after i show you a trick that lets you treat them as if the front were square to the sides.
Another key is to make templates of all of the curves. You can use a batten or flexible ruler to make the leg template. But because the template for the front rails and top is also used for shaping those parts, I recommend Paul Schürch’s jig for large-radius arcs (“Drawing Big curves,” FWW #175), because it produces a smooth, perfectly shaped arc.
The side and back aprons are standard fare, straight with tenons on both ends. However, the legs have curves on all four sides—the shape is a version of a cabriole leg. They aren’t difficult to make: Just trace and bandsaw a pattern onto the two outside faces. But before you shape them, you’ll need to mortise them and cut a bevel on the front face of the front legs, so that they flow seamlessly into the curve of the front rails and drawers. Also tenon the side and back aprons to fit their mortises.
Now you can shape the front legs. Cut the sides of the legs first by cutting the shape marked on the front. Next, cut the front and back profiles of the leg by cutting out the pattern marked on the outside face. Last, break off the waste from the first two cuts and clean up the leg with a spokeshave and block plane.
There are three drawers in the desk. To make fitting them easier, it’s important to build the rail and divider assembly so that the drawer pockets are square. I do that by dry-fitting the back apron between the two side assemblies, clamping a precise spacer near the front, and then fitting the top rail and drawer dividers.
For the full article, download the PDF below.
From Fine Woodworking #225