The Shaker Lap Desk

Even in contemporary times, a Shaker lap desk is a distinctive yet functional furniture piece. Here's how to build one.

| May/June 1985

  • shaker lap desk - desk in use

  • shaker lap desk - interior, full view

  • shaker lap desk - interior closeup


  • shaker lap desk - desk in use
  • shaker lap desk - interior, full view
  • shaker lap desk - interior closeup

The lap desk is only one of many practical contributions bestowed upon us by the Shakers, members of a communal religious sect active in agriculture and manufacturing since the eighteenth century. In accordance with their lifestyle, Shaker furniture and other crafted goods tended to be straightforward, functional, and devoid of any frills.

This modified version of the original Shaker lap desk — developed by the tool folks at Dremel as part of their Compact Project Plans package — serves a like purpose: It's designed to hold papers, correspondence, and business effects, yet it's portable and lightweight enough to be set on the knees and used as a writing surface. The dimensions are appropriate to the storage of stationery, note cards, writing implements, and even a calculator.

To start, we'd suggest using a straight-grained, knot-free hardwood, such as the walnut we chose. A softwood could be used, but it wouldn't take a stain gracefully and would probably be marred by the pressure of pen points.

Our materials list and assembly diagram will provide you with the finished dimensions for each of the desk's component parts. Since the major pieces are 3/8" thick, you'll either have to purchase surfaced boards from a quality lumber dealer, or cut and plane the wood yourself from larger billets. A jack plane can be used to dress your stock as required, but you'll also need a table saw, a router, a mortising chisel, a hammer, a drill with an assortment of small bits, some bar clamps, and carpenter's glue to complete the project. (Many of these tools perform jobs which can be handled by the various Dremel products — as you'd imagine, since that firm produces these plans.)

Once you've cut all the pieces to size, fine-sand them, then measure and cut the dado grooves in the desk's front and back sections. With this done, cut the matching rabbets on the sidepieces and check to see if the outside edges of the corners come out flush. (To guarantee accuracy, consider making a few practice joints using wood scraps; they'll allow you to establish your technique and to set your saw at the same time.)

Next, prepare to assemble the right and left accessory trays by cutting dadoes into the bottom pieces to secure the dividers. We've located the right- and left-hand dividers 5 1/2" and 8 1/2" from the back edges,  respectively, but you should measure your calculator (if you use one) and reposition the appropriate grooves if necessary. Glue the dividers in place, then glue and screw the sides against the mated assemblies, using No. 2 X 3/8" roundhead fasteners.

Jeanne Swanstrom
10/31/2011 1:57:06 AM

Cannot find the "accompanying list of materials" for the Shaker Lap desk. I would love to build this but there are not even measurements to go by. Please help.



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