Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

FE: Build a Standing Desk

Bring together joinery skills and planning skills to master building a complex piece of furniture. 10 day hand tool woodworking class designed by Jim Tolpin.


Build a Standing Desk

Furniture Essentials Series



Build a standing desk designed by Jim Tolpin in this 10 day hand tool woodworking class with Matthew Straughn-Morse. 

In Jim Tolpin's words:
"I designed this smallish stand-up desk to provide a dedicated area within my tiny workshop to work on scale drawings. It was also to provide me with a challenge: To create a project start to finish entirely within the realm of pre-industrial technology, ramping up my education in how traditional artisans got things done.  My goal was to design the desk entirely to harmonic ratios (as they did exclusively through the end of the 18th century); to use joinery that negated the need for glue or fasteners for structural longevity; and to built the project entirely with hand-powered tools. It also had to be perfectly comfortable to work at and it had to be, at the least, handsome."

Update: This Standing Desk project will be featured in the February 2016 edition of Popular Woodworking. You've read the article? Now build the Desk!

Class Description

"The design process begins with a single parameter; the height of the drawing surface at its front edge. For me this worked out to be about elbow height--which I marked on a stick from a cobbled-together mock-up.  From there, the slope is set by experimentation (mine was 1:5), then all other dimensions are developed as harmonic whole-number ratios to the floor-to-elbow height. The only tool involved here is the eye and a set of dividers.

Strong, durable joinery in a tall and relatively slender structure such as this is critical. I chose draw-bored mortise and tenons for the apron-to-leg connections; through-wedged tenons for the trestle’s side rails, and through-tusked tenons for the cross stretcher-to-rail connection. Each of these joints are adjustable over time (in fact the entire trestle system can be knocked down for repair or transport if necessary); and they provide opposing (locking) connective forces. The desk box is dovetailed at its corners and features a tongue-and-groove bottom and a pinned, frame-and-panel writing surface. None of these joints rely on glue or fasteners to resist bearing forces.  

In order to build this project in a two week time-frame at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, we jump-start the process by providing a set of plans (which students can tweak a bit to adjust leg height) and a full kit of pre-dimensioned components. All the joinery, however, is done with hand tools as is the final surfacing of “show” faces. No electrons (or sandpaper) will be harmed in the making of this product!"


If you have started to build your own set of hand tools we encourage you to bring them along to the class so that you can deepen your experience with them and work with the instructors to tune and fully understand your tools. Please see our What to Expect page if you plan to ship your tools to the school.

Otherwise you are welcome to use the high quality hand tools at our fully equipped workbenches.


We provide you with a complete kit of pre-dimensioned parts for the Standing Desk. We will source and mill the materials for the Standing Desk about a month prior to the class. We won't know the final price for the kit until we purchase the materials. We will collect a materials deposit for the approximate cost and refund students if the actual cost is lower than the deposit. 


This is our most advanced course for hand tool woodworkers in the Furniture Essentials program. It requires 

If you have not attended the School but you have the skills equivalent to those in Jim Tolpin's The New Traditional Woodworker and built some furniture by hand then this course is a great vehicle for you to further develop those skills.

 This class should not be the first time for you to cut dovetails or mortice and tenon joinery.

Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.
Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.
Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 10
Cost: $1400
Materials Charge: $500
Register by: 
July 2, 2016

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.