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The Farmhouse Desk: Starting Over

Scott and I are a little bit all over the place with house progress. With the workroom being completed (packing Shop orders was life changing last week!), I’ve got my sights set on the main studio space, but we’ve also been working on the entryway baseboards during the weeknights, we’re really itching to find a rug to set under our soon-to-be navy sofa, and we’ve got a few plans to get started on the exterior this coming weekend (hello, spring! Kind of!). Nothing is terribly overwhelming (ha!), and we’re taking it one step at a time (well, one step here, then one step there), but isn’t that the general feeling during the changing seasons? Wanting to do All the Things?

But back to the main studio! It’s completely functional and fine – but remember how excited I was to pick up this farmhouse table? And then we both spent hours and hours reconstructing, sanding and refinishing it? I loved all of the little imperfections – after all, it’s from the 1800s! – but one day, I noticed that a teeny little split on the front edge started to grow. It grew some more, until eventually, it forced the center leaf to have a 1/2″ gap. And then another one of the – ahem – ‘adorable’ imperfections split, too! It split across the width of the entire table.


Of course I was super bummed (Scott too!), and we thought, did we over sand it? Is that even possible? Was the wood too dry? I wasn’t ready to just let it go that easily, as my visions of a big, hunky farmhouse table was still very much alive. But as the cracks not only grew in length but also in width, well, it became clear that it just wasn’t working.


Two other issues came up along this table journey, which I tried to fight at first (Kim = stubborn):

  • ONE. The aprons are too tall! When we lengthened the table overall, we mimicked the original 6″h aprons, but I’m kicking myself for not going a smidge shorter. Crossing my legs while I work is near impossible, and the arms of my chair just barely won’t fit underneath. If only I had given myself an extra inch of breathing room – that’s all!
  • TWO. I imagined that with such a large table, I could have a pen cup or fill a small tray with my stapler, tape and scissors – but what about my painting supplies? Originally, I thought they were going to live in the workroom, but as the plans for that space unfolded, it made more sense to have them on hand at my desk. Right now, my paints and desk supplies are living on a rolling cart nearby, which works – for now.


I’ve finally admitted that I need to switch gears completely, and I need to take this as a lesson learned. (Boo.) What I’m imagining is something just as wide as the 6′ table space I currently have, as one half is perfect for my computer, and I can still roll out my drop cloth on painting days without disrupting the laptop, hard drives and random camera accessories – but with two large front drawers. There have also been days when Scott will work from home in the afternoon, and I love being able to have enough room for us to sprawl out in the same room. This Ikea desk sort of fit the bill (at least it met my drawer requirements) – until I realized it’s only 15″ deep. What?


I do think this table could still be saved as a dining table for someone else someday (go figure, it’s intended use!), and the turned legs still make my heart happy – but I’m slowly realizing that I’m making too many concessions and I’ve reached a point where starting new beats more modifications. I need clean. I need sleek. Maybe stained wood, maybe not. And if we can make our actual dining room table, I told Scott, well, we can make a desk too! Right?

Does anyone know where we went wrong? Or was it really a fluke? We’d love to learn from this! And if anyone has made their own large desk, can you recommend plans?

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  • Sarge in Charge4.10.14 - 7:34 AM

    Ooooh NO. Not being a woodworking expert of any kind, I really have no idea, but this same thing is going on with some of the beautiful, 100 year old built-ins in my apartment! I can only imagine it is a combination of improperly treated wood and really dry air after a harsh winter?ReplyCancel

  • Hannah K.4.10.14 - 7:45 AM

    Bummer!! We’re on the hunt for an office desk too, something long enough to work for two people — we’re thinking facing the opposite direction — but not too large for our small office. No luck anywhere, and I’m not sure we have the ability to make one. We’ve been thinking about doing one with small bookcase “legs” which could be in our skills capability.ReplyCancel

  • Lindsey4.10.14 - 8:31 AM

    So my question would be, how long did the table sit in your house before you put the top back on and screwed it together? I’ve had this happen before and usually it’s because the wood didn’t acclimate to your house and the pressure changes. I’ve used wood from our shed and noticed it warped or pulled apart when I didn’t let it acclimate inside for a few weeks before touching it. On the other hand, we renovated our bathroom last summer and then installed central heat and air six months later. All the trim in the new bathroom, and a door we stripped and sanded and polyed all warped a little. The pressure and humidity changes made the wood pull apart and crack in places. It seems to have settled back into place a little with the change of season from winter to spring, but it’s also mostly held by nails instead of screws, so I think it has some room to breathe. I don’t think the top of your table can be rescued in its current state, but you could cut your aprons down and attach a new piece from here. Honestly I’d just attach a solid top and let it do it’s thing from here as a dining table. Or harvest the legs and make some sweet half wall tables. Good luck!ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.10.14 - 9:33 AM

      Lindsey, you’re a rock star. Thank you for this feedback! We did consider that we likely eff-ed up with the weather conditions, and I forgot to mention that in the post itself. It was about 50 degrees when we were working on this in the garage, so there was definitely a temperature change when we brought it in. (In fact, when we made our salvaged wood shelves in the workroom, we brought in the studs we wanted to use a week prior to building for this very reason!)

      I like the idea of half wall tables AND putting one solid top (and them maybe trimming the sides with 1x2s?), but at this point, once we decide on our NEW desk, I’m thinking this might get re-listed on Craigs for someone else wanting to take on that challenge… (I say as I sit surrounded by 100 other projects…)

      Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Laura @ Rather Square4.10.14 - 9:10 AM

    I wouldn’t blame it on anything you did or didn’t do. The table is over 100 years old – maybe it’s just an age-related thing. Wood does its own thing – it’s organic, after all, and we can’t control the nature of nature (ooh! I just made that up all by myself there!). I think, like the too-tall apron, it’s a sign that the table just isn’t meant to be your desk. Above all, a desk has to be functional, so it’s good that you’re looking for something to really fit your needs long-term!ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.10.14 - 9:34 AM

      The hardest part is finally admitting it!ReplyCancel

  • Liz4.10.14 - 9:50 AM

    What Lindsey said is part of the issue, wood shrinks and swells with humidity and temperature. So, come (hot, humid) summer, those cracks will close up.

    Remembering back to my education on wood members and structures, looking at the end grain on your boards, those boards are cut from close to the middle of the tree. You can see the rings forming tight arcs, where if they were cut from further out in the tree, those arcs of the tree rings would look wider. Wood that cut from closer to the centre of the tree is more prone to cupping across the width of the board as it shrinks and swells. Generally wood cut from the centre is cheaper than cuts from the outer portions because of this.

    So, unfortunately, you have two things going against you on this tabletop! You wood is shrinking with the dry winter air, and the temperature changes, plus you have your top boards literally curving away from the straight plane.

    I bet you could use two of that Ikea desk back-to-back, even with a bigger desktop spread across them if you wanted. They look like a great table!

    I just picked up this desk ( for my sewing space and I love it! The trestles are height adjustable, which is great if you’re switching between sitting work and standing work (or you can even angle it like a drafting table!)ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.10.14 - 9:58 AM

      Thank you SO much! This is new information for me. So many things working against me for this table – blech.

      I also like your idea of the back to back table, just not sure I’m willing to spend that much for v.2. Hmmm…ReplyCancel

  • Life On Hill Street4.10.14 - 9:56 AM

    Ugh oh no! I’m sorry that your farm table is cracking! I’m with Lindsay though and think it’s temperature-related. We ran into the same thing with some barn doors we built in our basement. We ended up having to scrap them and re-do it, but yours doesn’t seem as bad. Maybe you can re-seal it? Or at least wait and see what happens? I understand the desire to move on though – it’s hard when there are SO MANY projects! Good luck and keep us posted!

  • Whitney4.10.14 - 10:54 AM

    I’ve always loved that IKEA desk, until I went and looked at it and realized it’s super rickety (at least the floor model is). I’ve found a lot of sturdy gems at IKEA, and that desk isn’t one of them. Such a bummer. Maybe you could repurpose the beautiful turned legs on a new desk you guys build? You can definitely pull that off after building your dining room table! Maybe a wheeled drawer tower under the desk would suffice for paint brushes and other supplies? It would be a great way to add a pop of color, too! CB2 has some great ones, but I bet it’d be easy to find them elsewhere, as well. Or maybe even a vintage tool drawer tower?ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.10.14 - 10:58 AM

      Oh, good to know! Yeah, Ikea can be hit or miss. The Varde is built like a rock, but some of their other cabinets were RICKETY.ReplyCancel

  • Myra4.10.14 - 12:28 PM

    I’m not an expert, and I couldn’t see from your build post how you attached the top to the aprons, but my guess is that you overdid it on the attachments. This article gives some good recommendations about how wood expands/contracts and how to attach tops.

    • Kim4.10.14 - 1:13 PM

      Thanks for this link! Will definitely be reading it further.ReplyCancel

  • Cait4.10.14 - 12:52 PM

    That’s so sad about your farm table! I was just looking into DIYing something similar. We have a 90s farmhouse table in the dining room, but the legs are pretty petite so I was thinking of making something more along the lines of the PB Sutton table.

    I agree with everything Liz and Lindsey said about the wood acclimating. I’ve noticed our floors bounce and creak more in the low humidity winter, so the same thing may have happened to your table. The comment about cupping makes sense, too. I wonder if oiling or waxing the table top would help to replace the lost moisture?

    Since you already replaced the side aprons on the table, is there any way you could/would consider modifying your table to work for you? I know Pottery Barn has a similar “Printer’s Writing Desk” that has a drawer, and I’m trying to remember which desk of theirs I’ve seen where essentially the whole apron pulls out into a drawer. I feel like it was the Bedford Project Table (which I’ve always loved!) but maybe I’m going crazy. As for the leg crossing/chair arm dilemma, you added casters to your last table for similar reasons, maybe some cute cup casters would solve that issue? I’ve had this picture pinned on my kitchen board for the longest time.

    Another idea for paint storage… I’ve had my colored pencils and paint brushes stored in Ikea Asker containers, hung on a Grundtal rail for quite a while, and I’ve been thinking about storing my paints like this. Maybe something similar would work for you?ReplyCancel

    • Cait4.10.14 - 12:55 PM

      And I forgot to add- I had my eye on that same Ikea desk, but like Whitney I was disappointed when I saw it in person. :(ReplyCancel

      • Kim4.10.14 - 1:15 PM

        Not sure oiling/waxing would work now, since the whole table has 3 coats of poly, but MAN, what a lesson learned about the wood acclimating. I feel like I knew this in the back of my head – but the weather wasn’t THAT cold, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal.

        And I did dabble in the caster idea, but then my arms would be at am uncomfortable height. Great suggestion though! All great advice though. You guys are really, really awesome!ReplyCancel

        • Cait4.10.14 - 2:02 PM

          Ah, very true. I had forgotten about the 3 coats of poly.ReplyCancel

  • Staci @ My Friend Staci4.10.14 - 3:51 PM

    Oh bummer!! Its frustrating working on projects in the winter for reasons like this! We ran into some paint issues while working on projects in Kansas in the winter. Brr. Looking forward to seeing what you figure out. What about options from CB2?ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.10.14 - 4:19 PM

      Scott suggested CB2 as well, but when I took a long, the largest desk (which, by the way, seems to the biggest obstacle!) had a “top” drawer, where the whole top slides to reveal storage. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open there though!ReplyCancel

  • Jacqui Bee4.10.14 - 4:17 PM

    The problem stems for all the reasons metioned above, dry heat wood movement and the way that you allow for that is to secure the top pieces together (the butt joins) but use a fitting that allows the whole top to be attached to the frame but still allows it to shrink/expand. there are fittings that screw into the top and have a slot instead of a screw hole on one end to allow for movment.
    Google provides plenty of tutorials. Cheers

  • caroline [the diy nurse]4.10.14 - 7:21 PM

    What a bummer!

    Have you thought of using two Ikea tables back to back so you have four drawers? You could even create a wooden top to make it more natural looking and for a workspace you can muck up. Just a thought!ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.11.14 - 9:17 AM

      I’m realizing that whatever we buy (if we don’t make) will likely need modifications! Oh, to be happy with products right out of the box… ;)ReplyCancel

  • Beth4.11.14 - 10:18 PM

    I own that exact Ikea desk you were looking at, and have had it for about 3 years and several moves. It did get wobbly a few months ago, but 5 minutes with a hex key tightened it back up and it’s solid like a rock. The only recurrent problem I’ve found is that the partition between the two drawers must have been slightly off center, so one drawer occasionally goes off its rails. Other than that, it looks like new.

    It is indeed very narrow, so I don’t know if it will meet your needs. I have found that its narrowness makes it a very versatile furniture piece. In my last house it was behind my sofa, like a console table, desk combo. Now it’s at the foot of my bed, being a desk, footboard combo. It may go into my dining room at some point. It’s not super fine high quality furniture, but I’ve been happy with it.ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.12.14 - 5:40 PM

      Beth, thank you! It’s good to hear a positive review. I actually see it working really as a console (with storage!) behind a couch or in a long but narrow hall/entry – great point.ReplyCancel

  • MJ4.12.14 - 1:28 AM

    I bought an oak library table at an antiques fair from the 1920s, and kept my laptop on it everyday running 24 hours a day, I know, bad habit for the laptop as well. But I started getting a hairline crack right where the laptop fan blows. I now keep it elevated on some books. Just a thought that the laptop may also be a factor.ReplyCancel

  • Kylie4.15.14 - 12:55 PM

    I read your post and then ran smack into this in Craigslist and it reminded me of the large work surface you have now, but with drawers. Minus beautiful turned legs though.

  • Erica4.24.14 - 3:09 PM

    I am positive that everyone else above has handled the cracking issue much better than I ever could, but I wanted to commiserate with you about the desk thing. I’ve spent a VERY long time looking for a large desk that I could spread out on that wouldn’t break the bank. I have a smaller table, and I love many things about it, but I’m always left hankering for more space.

    I will say that I got around the drawers thing (and this may/may not help you) by using one of CB2’s small filing cabinets as my desk drawers. This, of course, means that my dream desk now needs to have an apron (or lack thereof) to accommodate the top drawer (right now the filing cabinet sits beside my desk because I couldn’t fit both it and me under the desk), but the dream would be to have one big, long table with the CB2 filing cabinet underneath. I’m in love with a Room & Board parsons table, but I want the marble top (AHEM, a girl can dream) and it’s way too expensive, and I just don’t think any of the others would work in the room.

    I could write a novel here about desks, but I won’t. The bottom line is that I think I’m going to have to wait until I can afford, or build something myself, and neither option seems perfect right now, so I’m alternately not thinking about it and obsessing over it. Hooray! Best of luck to you in doing better. ;)ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.24.14 - 3:39 PM

      So, you totally get my pain! ;) I do love those little CB2 filing cabinets (I’ve been checking out the pink one), and if they were a little taller, I would love to actually just make a desk top for them and use them as the base! And can I please join in on your marble top dream? Yes, please!ReplyCancel

      • Erica4.25.14 - 10:42 AM

        Yes, I hear you about the height. I don’t know quite how to make them work that way, but that would be an excellent desk for sure! If you decide to get one, I can attest to the quality.

        And yes, marble-topped desks for all! Except the idea does make me a little nervous–I’d be afraid of scratching it, kitty traffic, etc. Sigh.ReplyCancel

  • Jessica Dee9.9.15 - 3:52 PM

    OMGee! You are a girl after my own heart. I spent forever searching craigslist for a large farmhouse table or library table to be the centerpiece of our home office and couldn’t find something the right size that was sturdy and had a smooth writing surface. We ended up getting a huge cherry parson table (second hand for $400.) and 2 second hand Ikea rolling file cabinets which fit underneath. One side of the table is my desk and the other side is my husband’s. We love it!ReplyCancel

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