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Mission Desk with Monitor Well
Copyright 2005

Mission Style Computer Desk

with Monitor Well

The Mission Desk is solid, rectilinear, dark, and rich. This style was influenced by the missions in California but manufactured in New York early in the twentieth century. There are no curved lines but there are rounded steps like those found in adobe houses. You stain the quarter-sawn oak very dark so that the grain is almost a black-on-black pattern.

This design has the monitor let into the desk top and the keyboard setting on a low shelf. You can adjust the monitor shelf in both angle and height. The design also includes a cable way to hide the wires and a small pencil drawer.

We have a another Mission version that has a flat desk top and the monitor sitting on a bridge to raise it. Please look that one over too and decide which one suites you best.

Although we call this a Mission-style desk, it does not conform to all the elements of that style. Features from Arts and Crafts and even Santa Fe styles have crept in. If you want a purer-styled Mission desk, check out some books at your local library that show a number of true pieces and make appropriate minor modifications to the design. Computers, of course, were not around at the time authentic Mission furniture was manufactured.

A good reference to look for is:

Mission Furniture -- How to Make it (Parts I, II, and III, Complete), Popular Mechanics Co., Dover Publications, Inc. NY, NY, 1980.

All the materials can be bought at your local home improvement store but the more authentic hardwood will have to come from a hardwood lumber yard. The cost of the materials is about $440.00.

Rockler order link to first page

This design includes nine detailed sketches that are critical to you successfully building this desk. Here is where to get all the ordering information.

The plans for our major projects are brought to you on the Honor Plan. You may look at as many plans as you like, but when you start to build please pay for the plans you use. These small payments are critical to keeping this Web Site open.

You can make this desk by:

  1. Downloading this text.
  2. Ordering the Sketches.
  3. Studying the information and locating materials.
  4. Purchasing materials.
  5. Cutting wooden pieces.
  6. Assembling the desk.
  7. Finishing all pieces
  8. Installing the computer.
  1. Discussion of Sketches

    After you download the sketches, these notes will help you understand them.

    1. Mission Style Computer Desk with Monitor Well (above)

      This is a three-view drawing of the Mission Desk showing the placement of the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Note the three sections of the top on two levels and the well for the monitor.

    2. Mission Style Computer Desk, Sketch #2, Overall Dimensions

      This drawing shows the overall dimensions of the finished desk. Note the slats and the extended tenons.

    3. Mission Style Computer Desk, Sketch #3, Top

      The dimensions of the three-piece top are shown. The two large pieces can be glued up as one and then cut apart. You can buy special hardware for the cable holes from mail order houses.

    4. Mission Style Computer Desk, Sketch #4, Frame Details

      Gives a view of the desk frame with the top removed. Notice the special hardware to mount the top and the holes for the slats.

    5. Mission Style Computer Desk, Sketch #5, Upright Pieces

      Illustrates the legs and slats, with dimensions. Notice the through holes for the tenons.

    6. Mission Style Computer Desk, Sketch #6, Back-to-Front Pieces

      This drawing shows all the pieces that run from the back of the desk to the front. It also details the long tenon.

    7. Mission Style Computer Desk, Sketch #7, Cross Pieces

      This sketch shows all the pieces that run from one side of the desk to the other. The monitor well breaks some of these pieces. It also details the short tenon.

    8. Mission Style Computer Desk, Sketch #8, Monitor Well

      Details of the monitor well are shown. Notice the placement of the 'T' bolts in the side of the Monitor Shelf. The back line of bolt holes in the well side are elongated so that the shelf can be mounted at an angle. The rectangular hole is for cables.

    9. Mission Style Computer Desk, Sketch #9, Drawer

      Details of the pencil drawer are given. A heavy duty metal drawer slide is shown.

    Rockler order link to first page
  2. Materials

    The classical Mission style featured large surfaces of quarter-sawn oak stained very dark. This produced a rich, heavy appearance and extreme durability. It is possible to use hardwood plywood for the top, but this would give little cost advantage.

    The lower structure can be of plank sawn oak which is a little cheaper. Secondary parts (drawer body and supports, monitor shelf) can be constructed from any good wood and painted black.

    1. Wood
      • Tops (quarter sawn oak) ---- 14 board feet
      • Support structure (oak) ----- 6.5 board feet
      • Slats ---------------------- 3 board feet
      • Front-to-Back Pieces -------- 4.5 board feet
      • Cross Pieces --------------- 6 board feet
      • Monitor Well ---------------- 4.5 board feet
      • Drawer --------------------- 3.5 board feet

      Example @7.70/bf quarter sawn oak and @ 5.50 /bf Red Oak

      ------- Subtotal: $262.00


      • 1/4-inch plywood, fur, B/C --- 24 x 24 Inch ----- $4.00

      Wood Subtotal: $324.00

    2. Hardware
      • Heavy duty drawer guide ----- 1 pair --- 16.00
      • #8 x 1.25 flat head ---- Box of 100 ---- 3.00
      • #8 x .75 flat head ------ 16 ----------- 1.00
      • Table top mounts -------- 10 ----------- 5.00
      • Oak Plugs ------------------------------ 5.00
      • Bolts ------------------- 4 ------------ 2.00
      • 'T' Nuts----------------- 4 ------------ 3.00
      • Brads, .75 inch --------- 1 Box -------- 1.50
      • Foot pads --------------- 4 ------------ 1.50
      Rockler order link to first page

      Construction Hardware Subtotal: $ 54.00

    3. Finish:
      • Stain -------------------- 2 Quart ----- $16.00
      • Shellac ------------------ 1 pint ------ 5.00
      • Shellac thinner ---------- 1 pint ------ 3.00
      • Tong Oil ----------------- 2 16 oz. ---- 24.00
      • Black Wax ---------------- 1 pint ------ 12.00

      Finish Subtotal: $60.00

    4. Omissions and Contingencies (~14%)( Tax, sand paper, etc.) $64.00
    5. Estimate Total Cost: $440.00

    This is only an estimate and was done in the summer of 1996. Your exact cost will depend on the price you pay for the hardwood.

  3. Tools

    This desk was designed so that it could be build by an amateur woodworker with a modest home shop. It requires the use of a radial-arm or table saw and common hand tools.

    The following tools are not an absolute requirement but will make a better job:

    Rockler order link to first page
  4. Fabrication Notes

    This is not intended to be a detailed step-by-step construction guide but rather a number of points to consider. It is your desk and you can build it to suit your likes.

    1. Options

      Look over the desk drawing as decide what you are going to do:

      1. Quarter Sawn Oak -- Classically Mission furniture was made from quarter sawn oak. This means the log was cut into four quarters first and then each quarter was cut into planks. This requires more time to do at the saw mill put produces a very beautiful grain in oak. Can you afford to pay the extra for quarter sawn lumber?
      2. Monitor Well -- You could build this desk without the monitor well, Flat Desk version.
      3. Legs -- It is possible to make the legs with the quarter sawn grain on the outside of all four sides. This requires a router table and extra work. You make four identical pieces with mating router shapes along each edge. You can also add false tenon ends on the sides just for decoration.
    2. The Frame

      The following components constitute the frame:

      1. The Legs

        Sketch #5 shows the legs. Glue the legs together from three pieces of .75-inch thick stock. After the glue sets, plane all sides and radius all corners. Also, round bottoms and relieve the sharp edges around the tops. The legs are not tapered.

      2. Mortise and Tenon

        You mortise the rails into the heavy legs. Figure #5 shows the mortise holes in the legs, Figure #7 shows the tenons on the back pieces, and Figure #6 shows the tenons on the side pieces.

        The side tenon goes all the way through the legs and becomes an ornament on the other side. This is easily done with a mortgaging drill, but these are usually available only in larger shops. The mortises can be cut with a special hand chisel. These chisels are available from:

        • William Alden Company
        • 27 Stuart Street
        • Boston, MA 02116

        Stanley 3/8-inch Mortise Wood Chisel $10.39

        The mortise must be cut from both sides, if cut by hand. The tenons are easily cut with a radial-arm or table saw. You can add false tenon ends on the sides just for decoration.

      3. The Slats

        The slats (see Sketch #5) are made from 3/8-inch stock. Obtaining stock of this thickness or resawing 1-inch stock is a lot cheaper than simply planing down 3/4-inch stock.

        Put the best looking slats in the locations that are most easily seen in your application. The four slats in the back strengthen the interrupted back rail and should be strong, straight, and tightly fitted. The side slats are ornamental only, so they may float in their mortises.

      4. Assembly

        Assemble the frame and top pieces separately. Glue and clamp all mortises and tenons.

        Screw and glue the monitor sideboards and keyboard tray with #8 1-1/4 flat head screws. The ones for the keyboard tray come up from underneath. The visible screws heads must countersunk and covered with oak plugs.

    3. The Top

      The top of any table or desk made of boards should be independent of the supporting frame. The top will expand and contract with temperature and humidity and will crack if too firmly restrained. In this design the desk frame will stand on its own and the two main top pieces are held in place by hardware that allows them to move ever-so-slightly. Other ideas for attaching desk tops are covered in: Attaching Table Tops

      The third top piece, the keyboard shelf, is narrow enough not to be in serious danger of cracking. It is built into the desk frame and is a major strength element.

      1. The Keyboard Shelf

        The keyboard shelf (see Sketch #3) is made by edge-gluing 3/4 inch boards. A single wide board might warp, so use at least two boards edge-glued together.

        The keyboard shelf is a structural member and provides significant strength for the interrupted frame.

      2. The Two Main Top Pieces

        Edge glue the three tops pieces from hardwood planks. Either tung and grove the plank edges or use biscuits. Biscuits reduce the waste of good hardwood and align the planks very well.

        Make both top sections as one piece 45 inches long and then cut them apart (See Sketch #3). Build the keyboard shelf separately.

        Take care in gluing that moisture from the glue does not touch the iron clamps it will stain the oak badly.

        Radius all the corners to about 0.5-inch. (Cheap Formica and chip board furniture cannot have this feature). The radiusing also reduces pain if you bump into the corners.

        Round all edges until they are comfortable to lean against or grab with your hand.

      3. Cable Holes

        The cable holes are shown as rounded rectangles to match the lines of the desk. Round holes would be easier, but would look out of place on this desk.

        You can purchase cable grommets to dress for the holes in the desk top or make simple filler blocks of wood. The mail-order grommets are nice but expensive.

        To make your own, you will have to cut and fit the fill pieces from matching stock. The fill pieces are supported from below with pieces of plywood tabs (paint dark). With the fill pieces in place you have enough room for nicely dressed cables. With them removed, you have room to pass connectors through the holes.

        The small cable holes at the back of the keyboard shelf (see Sketch #7) need only be large enough for a keyboard connector. They do not need fill pieces.

        The monitor sideboards and drawer slide boards also have cable holes, but they are not filled.

    4. Special Components

      This desk features a recess for the monitor and a small drawer.

      1. Drawer

        Drawing #9 give details for construction of a simple drawer. Build the drawer box first with the inside front piece and install it in the desk. Then carefully install the outside front piece with screws drilled through from the inside.

        The drawer shown uses high-quality drawer guides with steel ball bearings (not just plastic wheels). These are expensive but very durable. You can redimension this drawer for period wooden slides if you like. Paraffin wax is a good lubricant for sliding wood.

        A stronger joint between the front and sides of the drawer is a dovetail. A good dovetailed drawer adds considerably to the value of the piece. The dovetail can be cut by hand or with a router and jig. Either way, you will want to practice on scrap wood until you are completely satisfied.

      2. Monitor Recess

        The monitor recess is constructed of two side boards and a shelf (see Sketch #8). Construct the side boards from either 3/4-inch planks or 3/4-inch hardwood plywood. If plywood is used, the edges must be filled and stained black.

        The tray is also made from planks or plywood and oak strips. To allow for adjustment it is has four captured nuts built into the shelf and rows of holes in the side boards. These special nuts often come in sets with dark, hex hole, flat head bolts and are available by mail order. I have also seen them in the specialty hardware boxes at Home Depot.

        The bolt holes in the side boards are on 1-inch centers. The rear holes are slotted to 5/8 inch to allow the shelf to be installed tilted.

        The side boards have unfilled cable holes.

      3. Trim

        Drawings #6 and #7 show several small pieces of trim. These carry the line started by the edge of the key board shelf all the way around the desk. They are, of course, optional.

        They are best installed by drilling small holes for brads through the trim pieces before bradding and gluing them in place.

    Rockler order link to first page
  5. Finish

    You may finish your desk any way you like. The classical Mission finish is very dark with a slight golden tone to the quarter grain. It was achieved with processes and materials that are not used today as they require dangerous chemicals.

    If you do not want a dark finish, don't use one. This is your desk and the finish should suit your tastes.

    Trial fit the entire desk and then remove the top two sections and drawer for easy finishing.

    1. Staining

      Work with the stain color that you have chosen. Practice on a piece of scrap wood (quarter sawn and not). Do not start on the panels until you are completely satisfied. Do not hesitate to write off an $8 can of stain and go purchase another of a different color.

      To approach the classic Mission color, you will need at least three applications of oil-based stain (in two colors; one nearly black, the other golden). You will also need to use a spit coat of shellac to control the amount of color on areas like end grain.

      You may wish to stain the ends of the tenons almost black before they are assembled.

    2. Spit Coat

      A spit coat made of one part 3-pound shellac to five parts shellac thinner makes a good wood sealer.

      If the hardwood side and end grain take the stain differently, you can apply a spit coat to only the one that stains darkest (usually the end grain). This will limit the stain penetration to more closely match the finishes.

      A spit coat can also be used between applications of stain and as a general sealer after staining.

    3. Exterior Finish

      I like a modern tung oil finish such as:

      Formby's Tung Oil Finish

      It produces a thicker, tougher finish coat and is applied with a cloth pad rather than a brush. It takes longer for the coats to dry and has a opened bottle has a poor shelf life.

      This desk will take at least two 16 oz. bottles; three will be better. Follow the instructions on the bottle carefully and apply a liberal number of applications on all work areas. The toughest finish is needed on the keyboard shelf directly in front of the user.

    4. Black Wax

      The finish on mission furniture is darkened and preserved with black wax. This can be purchased mail-order or made from one pound bees wax, one pound paraffin, and a small jar of black powered pigment from an Arts and Crafts store.

  6. Completion

    All that is left is to reassemble the desk, and install the computer cables.

    1. Reassembly

      Do not glue the top to the frame.

    2. Cabling

      Detailed cabling instructions and plans for a remote power switch are given in our Web page under 'Freebies'. Make up several cable tie mounts and be ready with mounting screws and tie wraps. The remote power switch is optional but is really helps the desk user.

      Determine which leg will be closest to the wall outlet. Screw the remote switch box and surge suppressor to the inside back close to that leg cable hole. Route the switch cable up to the top.

      Install a generous number of cable tie mounts to the under side where cables will run. Dress the cables neatly base and table legs using tie wraps. Do not pull the tie wraps too tightly, the cable should be able to slide back-and-forth a little. Trim off all the tie wrap ends. Black tie wraps look best and last longest.

    Rockler order link to first page
  7. Conclusion

    Thanks again for using a Woodware Computer Furniture Plans. We very much want to know how you are getting along with your project and would be happy to answer any questions by email.

    If you send us a picture of your finished desk, we would be happy to put it on our web page. We need pictures of desk with real, proud people standing beside them!

Don't forget to order the sketches.

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