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I am working on building my first piece of furniture. I decided to go a bit big and went with a height adjustable desk. I have the linear actuators and the electronics figured out. Today I purchased maple for the inner and outer legs.

What I am trying to figure out is what joining method/implement would work best in constructing these legs. In the linked design (above) for the desk they use butt joints and they use screws to construct the legs. But I was wondering if it would be better if I used wood glue.

To fit the actuators, I am using 1x4's for the inner legs and 1x4's plus 1x6's for the outer legs. I want them to be strong and sturdy.

The guy at Home Depot suggested I use deck screws and counter-sink them. If I go with screws, will the deck screws work just fine or should I use a different type?

  • The exposed screws shown in the link are simply for utility and do not enhance its appearance. Considering you sprung for maple, you may want to consider ways to enhance the legs by making the connections contribute to the design. – Ashlar Mar 10 '16 at 15:27
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In the linked design (above) for the desk they use butt joints and they use screws to construct the legs. But I was wondering if it would be better if I used wood glue.

For some joints screws can be stronger than glue, but where face grain meets face grain a properly done glued joint is stronger than the wood itself, so not much need to reinforce that :-) In some cases it would be better to use both, a glued and screwed joint can be much more secure than either used alone.

So for the columns the legs rise in I'd go with glue only.

Where I would probably retain screws is on the angled braces. They would very likely be more than strong enough if simply glued in place, but no harm in reinforcing. If you want those braces to be removable though screws only of course.

The guy at Home Depot suggested I use deck screws and counter-sink them. If I go with screws, will the deck screws work just fine or should I use a different type?

Deck screws should be fine. They may be overkill in terms of size (gauge) and/or length, you could very likely use basic wood screws without the result being weakened enough to worry about, but it's rare to regret going too strong instead of the opposite!

Because you're using a fine-grained hardwood it's advisable to pre-drill for the screws.

counter-sink them

Although some woodworkers seem to be pathologically opposed to using screws in 'proper' woodworking jobs I have no issue with them myself, but, with few exceptions I don't like seeing screw heads on the finished job and they'd remain plainly visible if you just countersink them. So I'd do counterbores myself.

Counterbore vs. countersink

The small hole that the screw head hides at the bottom of could be filled with fillers of various kinds, a long-grain wooden plug or dowel (showing end grain), either to try to blend in or in a contrasting colour or grain if you want to make them more decorative. To make most of a feature of them use a turned wooden cap, AKA "mushroom buttons":

Mushroom button counterbore cap

[Source: Craftparts.com, which also sells other plug types]

In addition to their decorative value these have a practical advantage if you haven't glued the respective joints. They can easily but levered from the hole, giving access to the screws should you need to do any adjustments or break the table down into its constituent parts for moving.

Counterbore fill options

  • Yeah. You covered the points I was going to say. The only other thing I wanted to mention is in that link for the op the legs appear independently connected to the table surface. There are no stretchers or aprons. I would think one should make a more sturdy surface but that might be on purpose given the function of the individual legs. – Matt Mar 10 '16 at 12:58
  • Wow, I really appreciate all the info. Very helpful. Thanks! – Patrick Mar 10 '16 at 16:15
  • Do I need a special bit to do the counterbore? – Patrick Mar 10 '16 at 16:15
  • @pthurmond I've used Forstner bits that were just barely bigger than the screw head to counterbore. Drill with that first, and then drill your pilot in the depression made by the point of the Forstner bit. I do this with lag bolts when using 3/4" washers - a 3/4" Forstner works perfectly for it. – Doresoom Mar 10 '16 at 17:00
  • @pthurmond, no you don't need a special bit. Particularly if you're only doing a few you can do the drilling using any combo of bits that suit the job, e.g. a brad-point bit or flat/spade bit for the counterbore and afterwards a twist bit for the clearance hole. But where you're doing a lot they do make combination bits that can do the pilot, the clearance hole, the counterbore (with a countersink at its bottom) all in one go. They look like this. – Graphus Mar 11 '16 at 13:40

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