Queen Anne Desk


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Case Joinery

It always surprises me how much effort goes into something you never see. That's certainly true with the joinery for this desk. This is not something I'm willing to cut corners while doing, though. This is the stage that will make or break a project. I take great care to make sure the joints fit and are square, assembling and disassembling many times before opening the glue bottle.

This desk has a lot going on as far as the construction of the case. There are 30 mortise and tenons cut for joining the panels. Most of these are in the legs, with a few more on the inside knee hole corners. These also have a shallow (5/16") groove cut to keep the panels aligned so they will blend seamlessly into the legs. Add to these another 12 mortise and tenons for the drawer dividers and internal supports. Finally, there are 8 fairly large dovetails in the top and bottom dividers. None of this will be visible in the end.

I read somewhere once that, "If you want to do good joinery, use a sharp pencil. If you want to do great joinery, use a knife." My marking knife is indispensable when I'm laying out where to cut, where a mortise goes or simply aligning two parts. If you look closely at period furniture you can often spot these marks, a hint at how a joint was constructed.


In addition to being an imperceptibly fine line the scored mark offers a place to register your chisel as you cut, ensuring you are cutting exactly where you should. In this picture I'm using a 2" chisel to do the final cut on the shoulder of a panel. The initial cut was made about 1/16" from the shoulder. The chisel was then registered in the knife mark to make the final cut. By tilting the chisel 1 to 2 degrees you undercut the shoulder slightly and get tighter joint.


Besides a marking knife you see this principle at work in other tools. For example, I use a panel gauge to correctly size the panels, by planing the first edge square, then scoring a knife line at the height of the panel. I then plane to the point where this line just disappears. Another example is with the use of a marking gauge to lay out both the mortise and the tenons.


Joinery on the legs began with a 5/16" groove for the panel. I used the router table to cut these as it's much easier to start and stop at a point. Even so it was a bit tricky in that the top sections are 2" square, but the largest diameter at the foot is 2-1/4". To get around the foot preventing the leg from sliding all the way I had to shim both the table and the fence with 1/8" material (double-sided tape holds the bottom shim to the table).


This groove is only 5/16" deep, except for where a tenon will go. There are three tenons where each panel joins. Since I have so many of these to make I began by making a story stick ("T" is for tenon). This speeds up the layout and minimizes the chance of making an error. I use it on both legs and panels. You'll also notice I'm big on labeling things, like "Left inside front" to remind me this is the front end of the left interior panel.



I've gotten a lot of use out of the Moxon vise I made a few years ago. It's wide enough to hold the panel for sawing the tenons.


There is a top rail that runs the full length of the desk at the front. This supports the top and locks the sides of the desk together in front. Likewise, there are smaller bottom rails underneath the drawers to join the knee well panels to the legs. I could have mortised these, but dovetails seemed a better choice.



One of the rewards of all the effort is a first look at the desk. I've assembled and disassembled sections of the desk many times by this point. Finally, with all parts fitting I can pull the whole frame together (This is where I can show the "client" that all that noise was producing something). With the exception of a few clamps the case is able to stay together on its own.




I still have a bit more interior work before I can begin gluing the sections together. I want to make sure I have done everything necessary while I can still take it apart. It's very frustrating when you've already glued up a section only to discover you forgot something, like boring a hole, installing a drawer support, etc., and now it's impossible to easily access.


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Corporate Member
The desk is coming along very nicely and your craftsmanship is first-rate! Jim, once again thank you for taking the time to document this build, it is both interesting and informative!


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Very impressive.
I must ask, though, did you get the "customer" initial the design drawings before going to production? I've had that issue before with "important" or "difficult" clients.


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Excellent work and write-up Jim. Question, on that wide panel will you glue all three tenons or just one to allow for movement?


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Question, on that wide panel will you glue all three tenons or just one to allow for movement?
Thanks. Good observation, and question. I'll have more to say on this in an upcoming post. The general plan is to only glue the bottom tenon on these panels. That's because I need the bottom to remain fixed so shrinkage does not separate it from the trim around the base. The top third of the panel will only be attached via the pins. These will be inserted into elongated holes to allow some movement.


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Pegging the Sides

It's finally time to start putting some square pegs in round holes. By that I mean making some dowels and pegging the desk sides to the legs. For the first step I used my dowel plate that I wrote about earlier. The blanks are riven rather than sawn so the grain in each peg is straight. I inserted each peg into a pencil sharpener so the first 1/8" was tapered to make them easier to insert.

There is something therapeutic about making these -- starting with a square blank and driving it through successively smaller holes until you get the right size. I've gone through a couple of dozen so far on the sides and will need to make a few more before joining the back. I'm actually looking forward to it.


A supply of 1/4" pegs at the ready, the next step is to mark the holes in the legs and side pieces. I used the story stick again to speed the process and make sure all holes were in the correct spot.


After boring the holes in the legs, I reassembled and clamped the side pieces in order to mark the location of the tenons. Here's where the magic of this type of joint begins to happen. Rather than bore straight through leg and tenon, I want the holes in the tenon to be closer to the shoulder. Thus, the act of driving the peg into the hole actually pulls the joint tighter together.

In my case the holes are 1/4" in diameter and I wanted the tenon holes offset by 1/32". To mark the center of each I used a 3/16" center punch held against the shoulder side of the leg hole. Notice how the resulting mark is off-center from the hole. Just make sure you hole the punch correctly, or the reverse effect will be true.


I only want glue on the bottom tenon. This equates to roughly the bottom third of the panel being glued. The top two tenons are held in place only by pegging. This is to allow the panels to expand and contract with changes in humidity. I also have to elongate the holes in the top two tenons for this to happen. I used a round file to expand each about 1/16" in either direction.


After applying glue, assembling the parts and clamping everything in place, I drove a peg in each hole. Just before the peg hit bottom I applied a dab of glue -- just enough so the peg would hold, but not too much to allow glue into the joint. I glued the bottom peg completely.

In these pictures you can see the steps:
  1. Drive the peg in until it hits the bottom of the hole.
  2. Use a thin scrap when sawing off the excess to 1) avoid scratching the surface and 2) leave about 1/16" of the peg proud.
  3. Wet the end of the peg (I used thinned glue) and mushroom the head to force it to expand and fill any gaps.
  4. Work around the peg with a sharp chisel to shear it off even with the surface.



I really like the effect these make. They're just visible enough to make an honest statement about how this joint is made. There is an excellent article in Fine Woodworking magazine #191 (June 2007) on pegged joints in furniture. It gives a lot of options and practical advice.


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Edge Mouldings (cont)

Been a busy week, but I did manage to complete the second moulding plane for the project. This one cuts the same profile as the first, only smaller. This will create the edge around the base of the desk and mirror the one around the desk top. Both are QS cherry.


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