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Pie Safe Desk front, 1
Copyright 2008

Computer Pie Safe Desk

A Pie Safe is a piece of early American furniture that kept food free from insects yet let it breath. For example, it let pies cool and loose excess moisture but kept them safe from flies, hence the name.

The desk pictured above was built Amy Skvarka and Boyd Welker, a farther/daughter team living in Pennsylvania. It features pineapple punch patterns.

The conventional Pie Safe featured panels of tin with many small holes punched into them. In the original design these panels were installed with the ragged edges of the holes pointing out. This would let moisture and small insects like fruit flies out but kept all insects from getting in.

Pie Safe 2
Pie Safe Computer Desk by Amy Skvarka and Boyd Welker, a father/daughter team living in Pennsylvania.

The Woodware Computer Pie Safe Desk extends this tradition by adding color.

It is intended as project involving both the home crafts-person and a child. It is often made as a gift. The crafts-person first builds a simple hardwood frame. They then work together to choose the patterns for the metal panels, to punch them, and to add the color. The designs can come from a child's simple block drawings, from quilt patterns, from coloring books, from crafts store tin-punch patterns, or even from Pennsylvania Dutch barn panels. The patterns in the illustrations are simple flower folded-paper cut-outs.

The Computer Pie Safe hides the computer away providing both a personal study space and a neat room. It includes a low keyboard pullout tray to reduce stress and shelves for the monitor and printer. You can add disk storage and a light, if you like.

This desk can be built with the tools found in most home workshops and uses easy-to-find moderately priced materials.

If you build this desk with your child or grandchild, the memories will last as long as the desk, that is, a lifetime. All the materials can be bought at your local home improvement store for about $450.00. It is 41 inches wide, 26.5 inches deep, and 70 inches tall on the outside. It requires 40 additional inches of wall space to open the doors and has an inside depth of 24.5 inches.

Pie Safe Desk open, 2

Pictures of this and most of our other projects can be seen in our Picture Gallery.

This design includes twelve 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. Assembling all the panels.
  6. Building back, base, and top.
  7. Assembling the desk.
  8. Finishing all pieces.
  9. Punching the metal inserts.
  10. Installing the computer.
  1. Discussion of Sketches

    After you obtain the sketches, these notes will help you understand them. The Pie Safe Desk is a large cabinet that can be separated into two pieces.

    1. Pie Safe Computer Desk

      The front view shows the doors closed. Note that the cabinet is deep enough for even a large monitor but will pass through an interior door way. Also the computer sits in the base in the tower configuration but set an angle, small computers can sit straight.

      This design uses simple hardware or you can even antique common steel hardware if you like. The knobs can be nice porcelain ones.

      A single punch pattern is shown. It is a flower design made by folding and cutting out paper. You may get your patters from crafts shops, from coloring books, hand draw them, make paper cut outs, or generate them on you computer. The metal must be primed before it can be painted.

    2. Pie Safe Computer Desk, Sketch #2, Open

      This sketch is very like Sketch #1 except that the doors are open and the keyboard tray is extended.

      Notice the unusual treatment of the hinges. The doors need to swing through 270 degrees. The hinge edge of the doors and the side panels are beveled at 45 degrees. This lets the door swing all the way open where they are held by hooks. This is an English cabinet making trick. We have a construction note on our Web page under 'Freebies' showing three different ways to do this.

      The shelves in the top section may be adjusted up or down to suit your equipment. The legs leave an open space in the center for your shoe toes.

      The Pie Safe come apart just above the keyboard shelf. Removing a few screws allows you to take the unit apart for moving.

    3. Pie Safe Computer Desk, Sketch #3, Top Views

      This sketch shows three top views. The fine dotted lines represent the edges of pieces that are hidden behind solid parts.

      The 'Upper Section, Top Removed' is the upper section without the top or lower section. Note the space between the back of the shelves and the back. This allows the easy run of connectors and cables.

      The 'Lower Section, Upper Section Removed' looks down on the keyboard shelf with is heavy duty drawer slide hardware. The keyboard shelf has two small strips screwed to it to prevent the keyboard from sliding off.

      The 'Base Only' shows the 3/4-inch plywood base with its hardwood trim. The legs are attached below and the two large holes are for cables.

    4. Pie Safe Computer Desk, Sketch #4, Top

      The top is a piece of 3/4-inch plywood with hardwood trim just like the base.

    5. Pie Safe Computer Desk, Sketch #5, Panels

      This Pie Safe is made from eight classic stile and rail panels. Each panel has a frame of hardwood and a insert of thin sheet metal. This sketch shows the four types of panels.

      The 'Upper Door' has the hinged edge beveled at 45 degrees, three hinges. The 'Lower Door' is identical with the upper door except for its height. The doors are slightly shorter than their matching side panels.

      The optional thin edge strips may be attached to the inside of one door to block the crack.

      The 'Upper Side' is basically the same as the door. It is slightly taller and significantly wider. It has two shelf support strips running up-and-down and screw blocks on three sides. The shelf supports have lines of screw pilot holes with 1-inch centers running down their middles.

      The 'Lower Side' is similar to the upper side except for height. At its top is a wooden plate to mount the shelf slide hardware for the keyboard shelf. This plate also ties the upper and lower sections of the Pie Safe together.

      Areas that will be glued in final assembly are shown. If you finish the panels first, do not paint these areas.

      The panel inserts are held in with simple trim or quarter round molding. These pieces may be simple strips cut from pine boards or bought as molding. Drill holes for the brads using a brad for a drill. This procedure is described under Construction Hints in the 'Freebie' section of our Web Page.

      The circles shown behind the shelf supports are pieces of felt or leather. The support pieces do not touch the inserts. Felt pads between the two pieces give the panels more a solid feel and deaden the sound when they are tapped. The cardboard from the back of a writing pad will do, if no felt is available.

    6. Pie Safe Computer Desk, Sketch #6, Joint Options

      The joints at the four corners of each panel are the keys to the entire construction. There are many ways to make a good stile-and-rail joint. Each takes its own tools and skills. This sketch shows four different joints that you could use. I am sure you can do a good job on at least one of them.

      1. The 'Matched Router Bits' joint requires a matched set of router bits and a router table. One bit cuts a fancy channel for the insert and the other cuts a matching shape in the rail end. These cuts match so well that nothing else is needed but a good glue. If you have this equipment, you will want to use this joint.
      2. The 'Mortise and Tenon' is a classic. The rest of the sketches show this joint. The rails have short extensions (tenon) that fit into holes in the stiles (mortise). Be sure that the mortise is a little deeper than the tenon is long.

        The tenons are easy to cut on a table or radial arm saw. Note the small step to fill in the outer part of the insert channel.

        The mortise holes are a little more difficult. You may be able to get access to a special drill stand that does just this one job. You will need a 1/4-inch square bit.

        You can cut the mortises with a special chisel. These are now available from woodworker's mail order houses for about $12.00. You will need the 1/4-inch size. Be sure to leave the stiles two or more inches long so that you can cut away from the weak end. You can trim them later. This is the type of joint you will want if you want to make a classic Pie Safe.

      3. The 'Half Lap' joint has both the rail and stile extended the full length of the frame. Each is then cut half away with a dado blade and the two halves overlapped. They can then be secured with small screws or brads. If the arm saw is your favorite tool, you may like this joint.
      4. The ''L' Bracket Let-In' is the simplest to make. It has a very short tenon cut with a radial or table saw and a metal bracket. This is a very simple joint and requires not special tools.

      The bracket looks like a patch job unless it is let-in to the wood. This is quite easy with a knife and a sharp chisel. During glue-up, place the brackets exactly where you want them but screwed to the surface. After the glue is set, carefully outline the bracket with a knife (utility knives work well). Remove the bracket. Run the knife over the first cuts again then slop the knife in from the waste side for a third cut. This will leave a 'V' shaped channel with a straight edge on the good wood side. Then simply remove the waste wood to the depth of the bracket and replace the bracket.

      (5) Shows how the metal inserts are secured. You may either buy quarter round molding or cut wood strips. Any type of clear wood will do. The molding is held in with brads in predrilled holes. Again there is a nice construction note under 'Freebies' on our Web page.

      (6) Shows a divider installed. It is simply cut to fit the molding and installed with glue and brads. Again predrill the brads. You can choose to mortise and tenon theses joints or let-in a metal 'T' bracket.

    7. Pie Safe Computer Desk, Sketch #7, Stiles

      This sketch shows all the stiles or up-and-down pieces. All the material is 2.25 x .75 inch hardwood. The door stiles are a bit shorter than the side stiles. All are shown cut for a mortise and tenon joint.

      The side stiles have 3/4 x 3/4 hardwood strips screwed and glued to them. These allow all the screws to be run from the inside so that none show from the outside. They should be made from the same wood as the stiles.

      The shelf support is drilled on one inch centers to take the shelf screws. It is dadoes so that it fits into the frame but does not quite touch the metal inserts.

    8. Pie Safe Computer Desk, Sketch #8, Rails

      This sketch shows the rails and all other cross pieces. There are only two types of rails, door and side. Only the critical inside dimension is given. Some extra length will be needed for the joints but the amount depends on the joint you choose.

      The side trim is 1 1/4-inch strips of nice wood with a short L at one end. A small biscuit would work well for this joint. This assembly is screwed to both the lower section rail and to the slide mount piece.

      The slide mount mounts the keyboard hardware and ties the two pieces of the Pie Safe together. It should be made of the same wood as the stiles.

      The cross pieces tie the two sides of the door opening together. One goes at the bottom, one just under the keyboard shelf, and one at the top. One edge should be well rounded. They are attached to the side stiles with screw blocks that are a little wider than the cross pieces. Their screws will not show.

    9. Pie Safe Computer Desk, Sketch #9, Inserts

      This sketch shows the panel inserts. They may be made from sheet metal. These can be made from tinned steel, galvanized steel, or embossed aluminum. Most of the inserts are sized to be easily cut from metal in even foot sizes.

      The metal for a classic pie save was obtained by flatting out very large tin cans. These are still used for bulk amounts of cooking oil in large restaurants. You may be able to get some for the asking. But they are usually very messy.

      You can also use the galvanized steel used for duct work. Some times scrap is thrown out at construction sites, either new or used. It can also be bought in home fix up stores.

      You can also use embossed aluminum bought at home fix ups stores. This material is very nice to use as it does not form sharp edges when cut.

      Also shown is a jig for punching the metal. It is a piece of plywood with strips of wood screwed to it. The strips clamp the edges of the metal being punched and prevent it from curling up.

    10. Pie Safe Computer Desk, Sketch #10, Back

      This sketch shows the 3/4-inch fur plywood back. The joint piece can also be made from plywood. The two screw blocks should be regular wood. Avoid painting the glue areas.

    11. Pie Safe Computer Desk, Sketch #11, Shelves

      Sketch #11 shows the two types of shelves. The two top shelves are made from 3/4-inch fur plywood with a hardwood strip on the front. The mounting board are screwed to the ends after the shelf is fit checked in the assembled cabinet. The small rail at the back keeps things from being pushed off, adds a lot of strength, and can be of any wood.

      You can adjust the width of the shelves to suit your equipment. Leave room at the back to pass the cables.

      The keyboard shelf is made from solid hardwood. The two small strips keep the keyboard from sliding off when the shelf is moved. The doors should rest against the front strip when everything is closed.

      The ends of the shelf are cut away for the slide hardware and a small block is added to the bottom. Do not cut this shelf to its final length until the cabinet is assembled and you can fit-check the shelf with its hardware. You may make this shelf wider if you want more work space.

    12. Pie Safe Computer Desk,Sketch #12, Feet

      This sketch shows the feet pieces and assembly. The exact shape of the foot is up to you. Make it look nice but keep the center clear for the user's feet.

      The back legs can be simple blocks. The front two leg pieces may be kicked by the user, so make them strong.

      If the desk is to be used by a tall person, you may want to increase the height of the legs by 1/2 or even 1-inch.

      Also shown are four corner braces. These braces add a lot of strength to the Pie Safe. This is particularly important when it has been taken apart for movement.

    Rockler order link to first page
  2. Materials

    The Pie Safe is made of hardwood panels made of rails and styles with panels of punched sheet metal. The rest of the exterior is made of the same hardwood.

    The back, interior liner, and shelves are made of 3/4-inch plywood with matching hardwood trim. The parts are assembled with glue, wood screws, and brads.

    A classical Pie Safe would be done in oak, ash, hickory, and even pine. A few small, tight knots add interest but you cannot cut the rails and stiles from knotty wood. This style should have steel or iron hardware preferably antiqued.

    1. Wood
      • Rails and styles ---- 16 board Feet
      • Keyboard tray ------- 4 board feet
      • Top and bottom ------ 3 board feet
      • Exterior trim ------- 6 board feet
      • Interior trim ------- 3 board feet
      Example @ 5.50 /bf Red Oak ------- Subtotal: $180.00

      Other Wood:

      • 3/4-inch plywood, fur, B/C --- 2 ---------------- $44.00
      • 1/4 round molding, .25 in. --- 90 feet----------- $12.00
      Wood Subtotal: $236.00
    2. Hardware
      • Sheet Metal -- 6 - 24 by 36 sheets ---- $30.00
      • Pulls --- -------------- 4 ------------ $10.00
      • Cabin hooks ------------ 4 ------------ 6.00
      • Catches ---------------- 4 ------------ 12.00
      • Hinges -------------- 5 pair ---------- 15.00
      • Heavy duty drawer guide ----- 1 pair --- 18.00
      • Fasteners:

      • #8 x 1.25 flat head ---- Box of 100 ---- 3.00
      • #8 x 1.5 round head ----- 16 ----------- 1.00
      • 5/8 inch Grads ---------- 1 box -------- 1.00
      • Feet -------------------- 4 ------------ 4.00
      • Felt -------------------- 3 sq. ft. ---- 4.00
      • Glue -------------------- 1 pint ------- 4.00

      • ----- Hardware Subtotal: --- $110.00
    3. Finish:
      • Stain -------------------- 1 Quart ----- $ 9.00
      • Shellac ------------------ 1 pint ------ 6.00
      • Shellac thinner ---------- 1 pint ------ 4.00
      • Tong Oil ----------------- 2 16 oz. ---- 14.00
      • Enamel Paint, oil based -- 1 Quart ----- $ 14.00
      Finish Subtotal: $47.00
    4. Omissions and Contingencies (~14%)----------- ( Tax, sand paper, etc.) ------- $57.00
    5. Estimate Total Cost $450.00

    This is only an estimate (made in January 1997). The price may vary in your area. Getting a good price on the hardwood and sheet metal is critical to keeping the price down. Adding a pair of lamps for the top would be a really nice touch.

  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.

    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. Hinges -- You may use the 45 degree beveled door edges and standard hinges shown or order special 270 degree hinges from a mail-order house. If the hinges you choose do not work exactly like the ones in the drawing, the width of the front with the doors closed may be effected. This is easily corrected by adjusting the width of the back. You should obtain your hinges before building the back, top, and bottom. E-mail us if you need farther discussion on this.
      2. Type of Panel Joint -- You may want to make up examples of several of the panel joints to decide the one you like best.
      3. Punched Metal Panels -- You will want to try to obtain the metal for the panels by recycling. You can either buy punch patterns at a large crafts store or make your own with a computer graphics program.
      4. Punch in or out -- To work as an actual pie safe, the sharp punched side of the panels must be out. This lets the flies out but not back in. You probably want them turned in.
    2. Rails and Styles

      The rails and stiles are the keys to this project. You can make them as simple boards with a channel cut with a table saw or make you can make fancy ones, if you have the tools.

      Stile and rail panels have been a mainstay of cabinet making for many years. There is a large selection of tools specifically for this purpose. You can use (1) a table or radial arm saw with a dado cutter, (2) a special pair of router blades and a router table, or (3) antique speciality planes. Use what you have.

      Sketch #6 shows four possible joints. Choose the one that suits your tools and skills. Some of the joint styles require extra length for the rail pieces.

      The sketches show a simple ornamental arch for the top of the doors. As shown, it is a simple add-on and is not part of the structure. If you have the proper tools you may want to expand the top rail and cut a curved grove. This approach would be far superior to the tacked on piece.

      The channel should be a loose fit to your insert material and have a little extra depth. In the finished panel the insert should be able to move slightly as the frame expands and contracts. This saves the joints.

      One side of the hinge-side stiles is beveled at 45 degrees. This allows the hinges to swing through 270 degrees so the door can fold flat back to the side. Note that the bevel does not continue all the way to the edge but stops at least 1/8-inch short. This distance should be 1/2 the thickness of the hinge on its pin side.

    3. Panel Assembly

      You may want to make the rails and stiles up with sharp edges, assemble the frames dry without the inserts, and round off the inside edges. The round off can be done with a router or by hand. This produces a dressed edge and tight, closed joints.

      On assembly be sure that the joints are tight, the frame is square, and that the insert is not glued in place. The screw blocks and stiffeners are best added to the panels during the trial assembly later.

    4. Base and Top

      The base and top are pieces of 3/4-inch plywood with 1 1/4-inch strips of hardwood around three sides. The hardwood strips are best attached with biscuits but use a wooden spline or just nails and glue. If you use nails, be sure to predrill the holes. The base gets the feet on its underside.

    5. Keyboard shelf

      The keyboard shelf should be made of several boards edged together rather than one board. You should wait to trim it to length until the cabinet is assembled and the drawer guide hardware is installed.

      The guide hardware will require notches in the end of the shelf and end blocks for the hardware. The exact measurements will depend on your drawer guide.

      You will need a heavy-duty drawer guide pair with steel ball bearings and very few plastic parts.

    6. Shelves

      The shelves are pieces of 3/4-inch plywood with wood strips on the front and a stop block at the rear. They are attached to the side panels with four screws on each end.

    7. Fitting Doors

      It is easiest to mount the doors before the cabinet is full assembled. You can clamp matched pairs of door and side panel together.

      Match up the point edge of the bevels and center the door long ways. The door should be shorter than the side panel. It helps if the two are held apart slightly with pieces of thin cardboard between them. This will insure that the doors will open fully later.

      Carefully mark and chisel out wood from the door and panel. It is easiest to fit the hinges first up-side-down with the hinge pin up. Later, you can unclamp the door and remove a small amount of additional wood for the hinge pin.

    8. Dry Assembly

      After you have made the panels and other parts, mounted the doors, and cut the back, it is time to assemble the entire Pie Safe without glue. You can make any fit adjustments at this time while still being able to back up.

      Start at the bottom and work up. Install the back and side panels (with doors) to the base. Use a 'Drill Mate' drill and wood screws through the screw blocks.

      Install the lower cross piece and the boards for the slide hardware. The second cross piece can now be installed. It must be just low enough for the slide hardware to clear.

      The blocks that go on the side panels near the hinges should be set back from the door about 1/16-inch. If you put them right up against the door, they may later bind.

      When you have the bottom section the way you want it, build the top unit right on it. Fit the shelves last.

    9. Mount Hardware

      Fit the latches, door pulls, and hooks. A wide selection this hardware is available from mail order houses. You can use common steel hardware and antique it yourself. The antiquing procedure is covered in our Campaign Desk construction notes.

      Fit the hardware. You will need to make small changes to the screw blocks around the openings to suit your hardware.

    10. Metal Inserts

      The inserts shown are made of thin sheet metal. Classically, they are tin plated steel. You may use galvanized steel, embossed aluminum, or even copper. Look around for recycled materials.

      1. Patterns

        Make paper copies of your designs and glue them to the panels with rubber cement. Quilt patterns and Pennsylvania Dutch barn ornaments are additional sources of patters.

      2. Punching

        Mount the metal in the jig shown in Sketch #9 so that the edges are held down. Punch the pattern lightly with a small awl with a very sharp point. This reduces deformation of the metal.

        You can then either go back over pattern with a larger awl for the true pie safe look or drill all the holes with a 1/8 inch bit. Punching the holes leaves sharp edges that are unconformable to rub against. Drilling makes much nicer holes but can mess up the jig.

      3. Painting

        You must prime the metal before it will take paint. White metal primer contain zinc chromate is best for all these metals. Wipe down the metal with denatured alcohol before priming. Prime only the areas you will later paint.

        Oil based paints works best for the color coat. Blocks of primary colors give a nice American look. This is an excellent joint task with the owner of the desk.

    11. Disassemble

      Remove the hardware and bag it. As you remove the wooden parts, mark the glue areas. These are shown on sketches #5 and #11. Mark all the parts in pencil on hidden areas. Give the location and the direction of the front. Sand all parts.

    Rockler order link to first page
  5. Finish

    You may finish your desk any way you like. I recommend: oil stain, a spit coat of shellac, and many coats of tung oil finish for the exterior. I would use a sealer and oil-based paint for the interior.

    You can finish the panels, inside and out, before final assembly if you like. Mask off the few areas that will be glued on reassembly.

    1. Staining

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

      The outside of the back plywood needs a simple stain and sealer treatment.

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

      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

      These are applied with a cloth pad rather than a brush. 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. Interior Paint

      The user needs to face a bright, but non-glare, color around the monitor. Painting the interior adds enormously to the enjoyment of this piece. The color can be off-white, or light gray, or even a robin's egg blue. Something restful to the eyes is best.

      The interior should be sealed and painted. You may need two color coats. The front edges of the upper shelves should be taped off and finished like the exterior. The entire keyboard shelf is easily removed and finished like

  6. Completion

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

    1. Reassembly

      Do not glue the top and bottom sections together. Install the sheet metal with wooden strips and brads. It helps a lot if you predrill the strips for the brads using a cut off brad for a bit. You can pre-paint the strips if you like but you will probably need to touch up the inside paint after reassembly.

    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 monitor shelf.

      Install a generous number of cable tie mounts to the back where cables will run. You may also need some at the back of the two upper shelves.

      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


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 people standing beside them.

Don't forget to order the sketches.

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