The Story Behind "Mom's Desk"
People's Choice Award - 2005 Colorado Woodworkers Guild Craftsman Show
Mom liked to spend her weekends touring the Missouri and Illinois countryside looking for bargains
on antiques. I think antiquing was a pastime that reminded her of her youth, growing up in the rural
farmlands of Arkansas. Among the wonderful finds from her weekend excursions was a small,
simple writing desk, probably built in the late 1800’s.
Mom's desk has a drawer that pulls out to reveal a writing surface, inkwell storage, and a carved
recession to hold a fountain pen. The writing surface is hinged and lifts to reveal a storage area for
paper, extra pens and items that a writer might need to store. The desk also features nicely shaped legs
that are spanned by a low shelf. I believe that the wood on the original desk is either pecan or
mahogany. I always loved this desk.
When Mom left us in the early eighties, my sister and I had the difficult task of separating her belongings
between us. The desk went Sal’s way and it has always held a special place in her home. On a visit to
Sal’s a few years ago, I was once again admiring Mom’s desk. I had recently completed my first
woodworking class project: a very basic, small table. I knew that many of the same principles used for
the table could be applied in recreating Mom’s desk…with some new challenges such as the drawer,
the hinged writing surface and the band-sawn legs.
After several measurements, sketches and photographs (thank goodness for digital cameras!), I drew
some plans and set about recreating Mom’s desk. A trip to the local wood supply store with my
husband, Pat, led to the selection of walnut for my desk. We picked out a nicely figured piece for the
At this time, I did not have many of my own tools and signed up for Open Shop at the local recreation
center. Ken, who oversaw the woodshop and was experienced in furniture building, was helpful in
getting me pointed in the right direction. Working one evening a week for about 12 months, I finally
completed the assembly of the desk. Along the way I learned many things: how to use a dovetail jig,
router & band saw, how to mortise for hinges and mount drawer guides. More important, I learned how
NEVER to sand a surface that you intend use as a joint (oops!). When I brought the assembled desk
home from the shop, Pat’s jaw dropped --- he was amazed and impressed with what I had built.
Then came the agony of deciding how to apply a finish to the desk without ruining all of the hard work
thus far. After becoming completely overwhelmed with the options for finishing, I enrolled in local
community college class. Applying my newfound knowledge, I decided to use shellac along with wood
grain filler to accentuate the walnut grain. After applying coats of blonde shellac followed by rubbing out
with steel wool, I finally had a decent finish on the desk. I think that I’m done with the desk…but wait!
The Weighty Challenge
One more challenge to overcome: My desk had a tendency to tip forward when the drawer was extended;
something I did not recall from Mom’s desk. A call to Sal and closer examination by her son, Evan,
revealed a mysterious hunk of metal mounted underneath the back of the desk --- a counterweight, of
course! With good fortune, our neighbor, Andy, happens to be a blacksmith hobbyist and he graciously
made a counterweight and mounting brackets that fit perfectly into the desk. No more tipping!
The “New” Heirloom
Nearly two years after my visit with Sal, I finally had my version of Mom’s desk completed. It was a labor
of love and a real learning experience. It was also the “hook” that caused me to seriously pursue
woodworking. I think Mom would be proud. Thank you for the inspiration, Mom!