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    Door Desk

    more on woodworking safety

    Tools and Materials

    Solid wooden doors are fine demonstrations of woodworking -- a grid of stiles and rails create a frame that retains a varying number of inset panels, all held together with an intricate, hidden joinery system.  The extreme temperature and moisture differences between exterior and interior surfaces can wreak havoc on the wood, so the panels are fitted with a certain amount of "play", allowing the wood to swell and contract with the seasons and still remain weathertight.  These days, solid wooden doors are harder to come by, replaced with cheaper, more energy-efficient alternatives made of steel, aluminum, fiberglass, or veneered wood products.  While phased out of new construction, wooden doors can still be found in older buildings, creating a secondary market for them in antique shops, salvage warehouses, flea markets, and thrift stores.   

    A door makes for an ideal table, just about the right length and width, relatively lightweight, and strong.  The main problem is the panels -- all those insets make for an uneven surface.  There are dozens of schemes for flushing out the top, from tile mosaics to glass inlays to my last door table, which used concrete.  This time around, I was more concerned with making the table portable, so I looked for a lightweight way to fill in the panels.  I used pieces of aluminum cut from old road signs.  If you can't find signs, you can easily order plate aluminum online for relatively cheap -- enough 1/8" stock to do this table will run $35-40.  The frame is made of standard 2" x 4"s, put together with simple joinery and lag bolts.  It is strong, yet easy to break down for moving, coming apart into four main pieces.  At six-and-a-half feet long, and just under three feet wide, it provides a generous desk for one or two people.  If you tweak the bracing scheme a little bit, you could also provide enough leg room to turn it into a dining table.

    A door at a salvage shop can run anywhere from $10-50, a couple 2" x 4"s and lag bolts can be picked up at any hardware store, and the aluminum can be found online or at a local junkyard.  Add in some glue and polyurethane, and you can easily build this for under a hundred bucks; that said, I made this one entirely out of found, scrapped, and recycled materials, costing me nothing but the time it took to rustle them up.  It could be made with just a circular saw and drill, but a bandsaw or jigsaw makes things much easier.  Dimensions are specific to the door I used; adjust measurements according to your materials.

    How to Make

    Prepare the Door

    click to enlargeJust a couple capfuls of bleach per gallon of water is plenty.

    My door was painted, so I started by removing any loose paint with a stiff wire brush and scraper. If your door is stained or just plain wood, just sand it with a power sander and 80 grit paper, moving to 100 grit when the finish has been removed. Then, it clean thoroughly with a mixture of bleach and hot water to remove dirt and stains, whiten the paint, and kill any mold. Sand the edges, taking care to remove any splinters.


    click to enlargeUse a miter saw for precision-angled cross cuts.

    Sand the wood for your legs with an orbital sander and 80 grit paper to remove any stains, discoloration, or manufacturing stamps. Cut them to length, according to the downloadable plan, with a chop saw or circular saw, mitering each end at about 10 degrees. The miters should be parallel to one another. While you've got the chop saw out, cut the two crosspieces that make up the top of the leg "A" frames.

    Tapering the Legs

    click to enlargeMake sure your clamps won't interfere with the saw as you make your cut.

    As shown in the drawings, the legs taper from 2" to the full 3-1/2" width of a standard 2" x 4". Measure 2" in from one edge, then connect that mark with the opposite corner of the board. Clamp the leg and carefully cut the taper with a circular saw. You can also use a bandsaw for this step, but the circular saw tends to cut much straighter. The bandsaw, on the other hand, is a safer way for a beginner to make angled cuts. It all depends on your comfort level with shop tools . . .

    Notching the Legs

    click to enlargeAlways cut just inside your scribe line for a tight fit.

    Measure 1-1/2" in from the outside edge of the leg and mark. Align your crosspiece with the mark and scribe onto the leg. Cut out the resultant "L"-shaped notch with a bandsaw or jigsaw.

    Drilling for Leg Brace

    click to enlargeMake sure your workpiece is clamped firmly to prevent it from spinning when the bit hits the material.

    The brace at the base of the legs keeps the table from rocking back and forth along the long axis. It is made from a light-gauge steel pole leftover from a chain-link fence project. Centered left-to-right, 6" up from the base of each of the back legs, drill a hole to accomodate the exact diameter of the pole. It is important to get this hole perfectly straight through the depth of the wood; otherwise the legs will sit crooked when the brace is installed. I used a drill press, but a hand drill could be used if you're extremely careful to keep the bit straight. If you can't find an appropriate steel pole, a wooden rod or just square-sectioned piece of 2" x 4" would work fine. The brace is held in place by friction alone, so it can be broken down later for transport.

    Assembling the Legs

    click to enlargeJoint pulled apart for illustration purposes -- keep your joint clamped firmly together during the assembly process.

    On the face of each leg, lay out the bolt locations with a tape measure and a square. Drill out each first with a 3/16" bit, then counterbore with a 1" spade bit. Fit the crosspieces into the notches, spreading wood glue generously on all surfaces. Camp everything tight, then drill again with the 3/16" bit, this time going into the crosspieces. Use a ratchet to install lag bolts, each with a washer to prevent crushing. Once the glue dries, peel up excess with a putty knife, then sand everything flush with the orbital sander. Lay out and counterbore one central bolt hole in each crosspiece, and two bolt holes from underneath, to attach the door.

    Cutting the Door Brace

    click to enlarge

    A 2" x 4" brace runs the length of the door on the underside, strengthening the door panels, stiffening the overall structure, and providing an opportunity to attach the legs. Cut it to length first, then lay it on the door, centering it on the long axis. Scribe the panels onto the 2" x 4", then use a jigsaw to cut shallow notches so the brace fits tightly against the door, following the contours of panels and rails.

    Attaching the Door Brace

    click to enlargeMake sure the brace is centered in both axes of the door.

    Attach the door brace to the underside of the door with drywall or deck screws. Screw in from above, through the panels only, so the screw heads will be hidden by the aluminum inlays.


    click to enlarge

    Once everything is sanded to your satisfaction, wipe with a damp rag, then a dry rag, to remove dust. Finish the door and legs with two coats of your favorite sealant -- varnish, lacquer, polyurethane -- sanding with 220 grit in between coats. If your door is painted, apply the finish right over the old paint, which will seal it into place and retain that great old patina.

    Bottom Brace

    click to enlargeA hacksaw miter box clamp is mighty useful for creating straight cuts on curved surfaces.

    Use a hacksaw to trim your bottom brace to the right length -- the length of the brace on the bottom of the door, plus 3".

    Inlaying the Aluminum

    click to enlargePut down a thick bead to ensure good adhesion.

    Cut your aluminum plate to the same size as your panels -- perhaps a 1/16" less to ensure a tight fit. Aluminum is relatively soft, and cuts easily with a metal bandsaw blade, metal jigsaw blade, or a circular saw with a 60 tooth carbide blade. I recommend the circular saw, as the other methods are not the best for making perfectly straight cuts. Make sure to wear eye and ear protection -- cutting aluminum is extremely loud and throws up a lot of sharp little chips. Use a scrap of 60-grit sandpaper to de-burr the edges, then test fit all your panels. You want them to fit tightly, perhaps with a little persuasion from a mallet. Lay a heavy bead of construction or sub-floor adhesive down with a caulk gun, then hammer each panel in. This type of adhesive is very strong, works well for joining dissimilar materials (i.e. wood and metal), and stays flexible after curing, so it can deal with the seasonal swelling and contracting of the panels in the door. If you have very large panels to fill in on your door, the aluminum may flex in the middle. If this is a problem, shim up underneath with some masonite or other thin sheet stock.

    Final Assembly

    click to enlarge

    Tap the bottom leg brace into the two sets of legs with a mallet. It should fit extremely tightly. Once in, the legs should stand up, connected along the back bottom. Put the door on top, aligning the center of each "A" frame with the center of the brace on the underside of the door. Lag bolt the frames to the brace on the underside of the door, then lag bolt into the underside of the door itself with 4" bolts.