Saturday, August 1, 2015

Nova Scotia Country primitive writing desk

During our mini working vacation, I spied an interesting writing desk cabinet.
Ralph of the Accidental woodworker asked me for dimensions as he expressed an interest in building one.

So spend some time measuring and taking more pics.
Being termed primitive, means that it was built by a country farmer most likely, instead of a proper cabinetmaker. I do not know how old it is, but it has survived rather well. It is probably 100+ years old.

3/4 view of the desk.

Front view. There are two drawers at the bottom.

and 8 drawers inside.

Writing surface is resting on two pulled out stretchers.

Detail on end of stretcher. 

The stretchers rides inside a closed cavity and have some sort 
of stop to prevent coming all the way out.

As for construction details, the inside drawers dividers are dadoes in place.
The four legs are secured to the desk side pieces by mortise and tenons, and the whole upper desk look like it is inset inside the base frame structure (2 pieces construction?), hence why the small bevel moulding separating both. The bottom cabinet has a bottom board to closed off the two bottom drawers space, and there is a batten running across front to back where the vertical divider is for the drawers.

It was all made with wide boards, I see no glue joints. There are also lots of cut nails used in its construction. 
Not a single dovetail in the whole construction, including the drawers.

All in all, not a bad construction design, and think what you may, the proof is in the "longevity" of the piece...

So if anyone is interested, here are the major dimensions I recorded.
Nominal board thickness, 3/4 in. Varies slightly, hand planed.
Inside bank of drawers frame is 1/2 in thick boards.

Side elevation.

Front elevation.

Inside details.

I realized while making this post that I missed some details and dimensions, but there should be enough in there to duplicate this cabinet if so desired.
If you want more information's, just let me know, and I'll endeavor to get it.

Bob, who should be planing his saw till's drawers stock today??


  1. Great piece. I've been planning to make some kind of campaign style desk but this has me thinking otherwise now.

    Your mention of the retainers for the stretchers made me think about this post from Pegs and Tails blog. The second photo shows a tapered peg driven into a hole in the stretcher to hold it.

  2. Thanks Paul, glad you enjoyed. That link to Pegs & Tails article was pretty nest. This one is a much simpler interpretation, but no doubt had some British, Loyalists influences. It is,you could say, a bare interpretation of a classic style without all the ornamentation. Simple lines and functional piece, is what characterize our native Primitive style.


  3. Thanx Bob,
    it is an interesting piece and whoever made it had some talent. This will definitely be a build gift for someone in the future.
    The 'stretchers' are called loafers' according to my DVD on a winchester desk that has the same detail.

  4. Interesting tid bit of info, I did not knew that word loafers's connotation before.
    I know, strangely simple looking, but no doubt awaiting to kick our butts on some simple thing I missed :-) That should be a fun build, even more fun if done all by hand tools, only the ones that would have been available at the time. One hand behind our back and blindfolded, so not to make it too easy :-)

    Maybe a winter project, we could do simultaneously and compare methods, pit falls etc, should be fun and educative (for me anyway ...)

    Bob, the heckler

  5. Jack Plane call the stretchers "lopers".
    On the pictures of previous blogs, it was not clear that the papers were in a cavity.
    I guess there was originally a board to close the cavity. this would justify the batten on the vertical divider. the batten above the lopers have a double duty (keeping the lopers horizontal and supporting a possible board. That's why I have been asking about a "secret compartment".


  6. Hi Sylvain
    OK, I wasnt sure where you meant, but now it make sense. I did noticed that the side boards closing those stretcher/loafer/looper/etc.are held together by a few screw. I just assumed that was for possible maintenance access if those looper get broken, but just maybe, it does reveal more...Now you really got my curiosity hype up :-)
    I want to look at the back of the cabinet to try to figured out if its two piece sitting on top of each other (like I think) or one solid construction made to look like that?

    Bob, who always find furniture detectives work fascinating.
    PS Added building that piece to my ever growing to do list :-)

  7. PPS the more I look at that piece, I think that I'll forget about the arm behind my back and blindfold idea...while making my own interpretation :-)

    Bob, Just thinking out loud...

  8. Wow Bob, that was really nice of you to post those dimensions and extra pictures. When I saw that piece in you post a few days ago, I also bookmarked it as a piece I'd love to try to build someday. (Yeah, someday ...) Thanks again.

  9. You are very welcome Matt.
    Yes, I like also to try to built it sometimes soon :-)
    Stay tuned...