Get wedged, or die trying


Kerfing the leg tenons ready to be back wedged

With the leg mortises drilled, the next milestone on the staked desk build was to glue the two leg assemblies. The tenons are back wedged to ensure a strong mechanical joint, and so glue-up involved a couple of simple stages, the first of which was to prepare the wedges. Previously I’ve sawn wedges out of scrap, but this time round I decided to follow the example of chair makers I know, and rive the wedges. The advantage of riving stock for wedges is that splitting out the wedge blank severs the blank along the grain, and ensures that the wedge will be strong with grain flowing from tip to blunt end. I had plenty of maple scrap left over from the table top, so using a 2″ chisel and mallet I split off four sections, each 2″ wide and 1/4″ thick. Then using the same chisel I pared the wedge down from each side until it was at a 4 degree included angle. Working the wedge on a bench hook, paring into the hook, provides a safe way to remove the waste while keeping your fingers behind the business end of the chisel. Once I had pared the wedge to the desired angle, it was then a case of continuing to pare from each side until the wedge had a sharp point and consistent taper.


Paring a wedge using a 2″ chisel and bench hook

The wedge needs something to drive into, and the next step was to kerf the tenons for the full depth of the mortise. For the staked saw benches I used my dovetail saw, but as these tenons are much larger (2″ thick compared to 5/8″), and the wedges much larger, I reached for the Roubo Beast Master saw instead. This established a precise kerf for the wedges to expand the tenons against the mortise walls. After deciding which leg would go in each mortise, and which facets I wanted facing forwards, I painted the tenons with hide glue and fitted them to the mortises. The wedges were then driven in with a 1lb lump hammer, and the assemblies left to cure.


The wedge is at the right angle, and just needs to be pared down to a sharp point

Once the glue had cured, the tenons and wedges needed to be trimmed flush to the top of the batten. Again, the Roubo Beast Master was my saw of choice for this operation – although it is a rip saw and this was a cross-cut task, the deep saw plate and hang of the tote meant that I was able to cut the tenons flush without fouling on the side of the battens. A few swipes with a block plane cleaned up the surface of the tenon.


One leg assembly glued up and wedged

The final task before the leg assemblies were ready to be fitted to the table top was to sign one of them with my maker’s mark stamp. This project offers plenty of end grain suitable to be marked with my OtW stamp, and I decided that the front end of one of the battens would be the perfect location. Several gentle taps on the stamp with my trusty lump hammer and the batten was signed and ready to be fitted.


Trimming the excess tenon and wedge

Some projects barely change from the first cut of a rough board to the final application of finish, while I find that some evolve as I work on them. As the end of this project comes into view, I’ve decided not to install the drawer that Chris included in the original design, at least not initially. While the drawer looks attractive, I want to live with the desk for a while before I start screwing drawer runners to the underside of the table top. Also, I have in mind that rather than a single drawer, I might build a small freestanding chest of drawers to sit on the floor under the table top, which would offer more storage space and possibly give somewhere to sit a scanner/ printer on top of. The stock I cut for the drawer and runners will not be wasted, as these can be used for the drawer unit when I come to build that. This, I think, goes to the real versatility of the designs in the Anarchist’s Design Book – they provide a set of building blocks and solid techniques which can then be easily adapted to suit a particular user’s needs.


3 thoughts on “Get wedged, or die trying

  1. Hello there. I am building a coffe table with a solid 3cm oak top (around a meter in dia). I am planning to do this staked design. The difference is that I am planning to mortise on the table top itself without using any blocks for extra thickness.
    Is there a reason that you are not mortising your top directly or simply a matter of design? Do you think there will be any wood movement issues between the leg tenon and the table top mortise during summer?

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