My wife and I were cleaning out one of our storage spaces, and she dragged out a very old treadle sewing machine. A decade in the heat and humidity had not been kind to its wooden parts, which hadn’t been in the best shape when we first acquired it. I think it once belonged to a great-aunt, and my wife had learned to sew on it.
I was focused on other things that day, and when I poked my head around the corner, I found my wife taking the whole thing apart.
“Do you want to try to repair the wooden parts?” she asked me.
I took a quick look. Even if I took the trouble to repair everything (which would be a LOT of work), what would we even do with this? With a sigh, I told her I would rather not try to fix it up.
“Then can you make me a new top so I can use it as a writing desk?” she asked.
“How do you feel about mahogany?” I asked in return.
I had been sorting through all my lumber and had just run across a few short mahogany boards that I had been given a long time ago. If I was saving them for “that special project,” this was definitely it.
I pulled out the dusty old boards and started laying them next to each other, moving them this way and that until I got what I thought was a reasonable orientation for each board. Then after giving them a good scrub with soap and water and letting them dry, I took them to the workbench and started planing.
Oh. My. Goodness. These boards were far prettier than I thought. I edge-jointed them and glued them up into a panel for the top of the writing desk.
I’ve never really worked with mahogany before. I knew it was a prized (and expensive) wood for furniture making, but I had always wondered why it was so popular with woodworkers.
Now I know why.
I have never encountered a hardwood that is so pleasing to work. Mahogany cuts smoothly and planes down very easily. With a sharp blade, I could plane it in any direction with minimal tear-out. And of course the color is beautiful. Even highly figured boards like these plane down with no problems. Mahogany really is the perfect furniture wood.
I’m not saying I’m going to start using it on a daily basis, though. For one thing, I don’t have that kind of money. For another, there are local wood species that I am keen to use whenever I can. But I sure didn’t mind using these pieces that I already had on hand.
Anyway, back to the writing desk.
Attaching the top was simple. I screwed it on from underneath using small, pan-head screws with oversize washers to allow for a bit of wood movement in the top. Mahogany doesn’t expand and contract drastically with the seasons, but I really don’t want the top cracking in dry weather, so I took every reasonable precaution I could.
I also made a small wooden “leg” that attaches to the lower hinged arch on the metal legs. The leg attaches underneath the top with an angle bracket, and it adds considerable stability.
I finished the top with several coats of clear lacquer, which shows off the figure pretty well.
Now my wife has a new writing desk. Because the sewing machine legs have wheels, she’s able to transport it around the house depending on where she wants to work. And you would think that the treadle and fly wheel would get in the way, but they actually function as a kind of fidget-spinner for your feet. (We have a few compulsive foot-tappers in our family.)
Not counting the time it took for glue and finishes to dry, the whole project probably took about 3 hours.
Great job! You are correct – mahogany is a great wood.
One question; why the odd angles on the back corners?
Ah, funny detail on that. I would have rounded over those corners anyway, as the table gets moved around the room a lot. But the board on the back had one of the corners cut off at an angle. So instead of making the board narrower, I just decided to cut off the other corner at the same angle to match.
I turned my grandma’s treadle sewing machine base into a lathe. Worked okay but more for fun than a tool.
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