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I'm making my son a rather modified version of Gustav Stickley's No. 616 Library Table as a desk, using maple for most of it and walnut for the side/back panels and lower stretchers. I'll be using either birds-eye or curly maple for the top, depending on what I can find.

original desk

Original version, from here, by Sean Headrick.

My son doesn't want the drawers or the lower shelf, so I removed them and for stability added a matching lower stretcher in the back.

modified version

Modified version

I'm wondering whether or not this design will be stable enough. I would prefer to add a small rail at the top in the front:

desk with rail at top

My preferred design

He's a little resistant to this, because he wants to be able to sit in his chair cross-legged, and his current desk (an entirely different design) doesn't have a top rail there. I want to add the rail not only to prevent wracking of the desk from side to side, but also as an additional area to attach the top - I'll be using Z-clips to allow for wood movement. I think it'll add to the aesthetics as well.

So, the question is, will the rail provide a significant-enough amount of strength and stability to override his desire for as much under-desk room as possible?

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    Kudos on such a well-asked Question.
    – Graphus
    May 5, 2022 at 22:52
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    It should work without the small front rail but, providing it will help keep the leg frame rigid and rectangular, especially when moving the table. Otherwise, the front legs will pretty much rely on the mortice and tenon joint to maintain square corners.
    – Ashlar
    May 6, 2022 at 2:10
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    If the joinery is done well, it should be fine. It will be better (structurally and aesthetically) with the added rail.
    – gnicko
    May 6, 2022 at 2:36
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    Can't blame him for not wanting the lower shelf. I'd end up with severely bruised shins from kicking it non-stop!
    – FreeMan
    May 6, 2022 at 13:51
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    In terms of helping to add rigidity without any compromise in looks (although the corbels would look good IMO), the front legs can be screwed directly to the top. Fixing one edge rigidly to whatever understructure is present is something that's done occasionally, where the goal is to have expansion go in one direction only rather than outwards from the centre. In demilune tables for example, the flat back edge you want to stay put in relation to the wall, so you allow it to expand and contract at the front only as much as needed.
    – Graphus
    May 6, 2022 at 15:57

1 Answer 1

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I'm wondering whether or not this design will be stable enough.

The design without any front rail should be fine.

Most of the forces exerted during use are transferred directly down to the floor through the legs, and there's more than enough meat in all the rest of the joinery to take care of most concerns about racking.

As highlighted (very much!) in a recent Answer, thick hardwood is very stiff, so there's no absolute need for the front stretcher1 as support for the top, although of course that isn't their only function.

He's a little resistant to this, because he wants to be able to sit in his chair cross-legged, and his current desk (an entirely different design) doesn't have a top rail there.

The customer is always right. Well they aren't but you get what I mean ^_^

but also as an additional area to attach the top - I'll be using Z-clips to allow for wood movement.

Worth highlighting that these clips, like figure-8 fasteners, should primarily or exclusively be used on the sides of a table with a solid-wood top because they minimally allow for movement when oriented in line with seasonal movement as they are front or back, i.e. on the rails and not the stiles2.

From the discussion in Comments:
Adding corbels back into the front is an option that will add support (not needed) but potentially a lot of rigidity to the overall piece. Although the corbels would look good IMO, they are a feature of the original after all, you can add rigidity without any compromise to the clean, open front of the middle design by directly screwing the front legs to the top.

Fixing one edge rigidly to whatever understructure is present isn't normally done in competent work, but is occasionally — where the goal is to have expansion go in one direction only3, rather than inwards and outwards from the centre as is usual.


1 Or either stretcher in fact, as can be seen fairly well from a lot of MCM and later stuff which often eliminated them entirely, and sometimes the rails as well!

2 This is one reason why both types, although neat and unobtrusive, would not be my choice of tabletop fasteners. These are fundamentally a better design as they are agnostic as to orientation, as well as being far easier and faster to install. Tend to be cheaper too (when you can find them).

3 In demilune tables for example, the flat back edge you want to stay put in relation to the wall, so you fix that in place and the front edge then moves back and forth as much as needed.

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  • (Re #2) Those look like good fasteners. For whatever reason(s) they seem to be unavailable in the States... I've made "homemade" versions of them and have been pleased with the results.
    – gnicko
    May 6, 2022 at 2:40
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    Agree with this answer re: stability, but if the OP was still nervous, brackets (borrowed from the original design) in the front corners would help. May 6, 2022 at 12:26
  • Agree with @AloysiusDefenestrate 100%. Two additional brackets, either identical to the ones on the sides but mounted higher, or longer, with the curve continuing until it hits the top and mounted at the same height, will add a fair bit of rigidity. Maybe not necessary but certainly wouldn't hurt and would be in keeping with the style.
    – FreeMan
    May 6, 2022 at 13:53
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    @AloysiusDefenestrate that's a good idea. I wasn't quite sure what do do with the front brackets (corbels) when I removed the drawers. I thought it might look a little goofy to just slide them up to meet the underside of the table, keeping the same proportions, but OTOH I'm not sure I have a good enough eye to make the curve larger, but I could give it a try...
    – MattDMo
    May 6, 2022 at 15:00
  • @Graphus Just to be clear on your last paragraph, you're saying the Z-clips should mostly or entirely be placed on the left and right sides, as seasonal movement will mostly be front to back, right?
    – MattDMo
    May 6, 2022 at 15:06

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