Built-in Desk: Finishing the Slab

Decor & Furnishings, DIY Projects, Home Improvement No Comment

Step one in our plan to fill a space of our living room with a built-in desk!

We’ve wanted to use a live-edge slab in something for a long time, and when we moved out to Portland we found a great local place called Goby Walnut. Perusing their stock several times, we had tons of ideas and we coveted many of the beautiful pieces. But we didn’t really have the money for it (it can get expensive), and we also didn’t have a real plan.

Then the desk idea came along, and it seemed like a good time to use a slab (we will see if that ends up being true or not). A big challenge, though, was size – we have plans to use at least one bottom cabinet beneath the desk for storage, the standard depth of which is 24″. And even without a cabinet, I can’t imagine having a desk that is shallower than 24″ – I like space to work (maybe I got spoiled from using a table as a desk for several years, in our old office). But finding a slab that was at least 24″ wide that was in our price range (<$500)? That took a bit.

Eventually we found a piece that Jack approved of:


It’s live-edge maple, almost 8′ long, and varies from 24-28″ in width. It also was a little over 2″ in thickness, so to maximize our surface area, we wanted to get it planed into two “boards”, which we could use to form the L shape of the desk we envisioned. We don’t have the ability to do that ourselves (bummer), but the nice people at Goby Walnut recommended a local sawmill / planing mill called Creative Woodworking. They mostly do custom trim work for houses, but they have all of the equipment needed to do our job, and don’t charge too much. We knew we were going to like them when, while making the appointment to get our slab planed, they suggested that we come help them do it, to learn and get the experience (they suggested it as putting in some “sweat equity”). Um, YES PLEASE! It’s always nice to be involved in the process.

I’m going to jump right to the bad news: after showing up at the mill & discussing our project, it became clear that we weren’t going to get 2 thinner slabs out of the piece we purchased. We were definitely disappointed, but by the time we got both faces leveled out and planed the piece, we would have been left with wood that was too thin to make an effective desktop – as the mill worker said “you’d basically be left with a veneer”, which was not what we were looking for. So – plan b. No L shaped desk after all, we’re just going to use the one slab for a long desk.

Still, it was cool to be around the big saws while they cleaned up our slab! I was glad that they let us get in on the action, and didn’t make us stand far away for liability reasons. I also felt smug & satisfied when the fellow helping us out remarked “This is a nice piece of maple. See these stripes here? This is instrument-grade maple. I’m surprised they didn’t chop it up and sell it in smaller pieces”. As if somehow this was a reflection of me? I don’t know. It’s not like I did anything except pick it out, and truth be told I couldn’t have told you whether it was quality or not. But I liked to feel like I’m smart enough to pick the good one on purpose. Anyway…

We picked out the side we wanted to be the top, and had that rough sanded in addition to the leveling / planing.

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We gave the wood some resting time in the house for a week, then broke out the polymerized tung oil to finish it (the same one we used on the bathroom vanity – so far I really like this finish). We did the bottom side, but the top got a few rounds of sanding first to make it extra-smooth.

The maple is beautiful to begin with, but one coat of the oil really made the grain pop!



Most of it has the tiger stripe pattern above, which is really cool. When I googled “maple grain patterns”, I discovered that this type of maple is called “flame maple“, and it’s  more accurately a figure of the wood, not a grain pattern (news to me). Also, it’s commonly used for musical instruments, hence (I suppose), why the mill worker referred to our slab as “instrument-grade maple”. Huh. You learn something new everyday.

Whatever it’s called – a figure or a grain pattern – there’ s a lot of beautiful stuff going on with this slab. I can’t wait to get our base cabinet & legs and put the whole thing together!



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