Birch is a wood that gets little respect. Plain, straight grained birch is a nice hardwood for general woodworking. Occasionally, birch gets a "flame" figure and this is really marvelous stuff. From the saw mill, the boards usually don't look like much. (I paid $7.00 a board foot for this?!?). Usually there's only a hint of the beauty underneath. After surfacing things are a little better, but the real magic occurs when the first coat of finish is applied. The flames suddenly leap out and the wood sparkles. By the time this lapdesk was almost finished, I was having a hard time turning out the shop lights and quitting for the night. I kept being drawn back to the piece. As I moved around the bench, the figure in the wood shifted and shimmered like .... well flames.
As usual, a mix of power and handtool techniques was used on this piece. The dovetails were cut by hand and the little feet on the desk were made by first roughly them out with a bandsaw and then finishing them up with the usual cast of handtools (spokeshave, rasps, files, and scrapers). The top is made from four separate pieces of birch, three of which were glued up to made the moveable lid. I spent a fair amount of time selecting and arranging the individual pieces to get the best match of figure.
The handle on the top, which also functions as a stop for papers if you are using it as a desk, is made from walnut. I first rough shaped it with an electric router and then finished it off with handtools.
The finish is orange shellac applied by French polishing. I rubbed the finish down with fine steel wool and rottenstone to get a final lustre somewhere between glossy and satin. The desk measures about 19" long by 15" deep and 6" high (at the rear).
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