Posted by: andy idsinga | October 14, 2009

Mending a desk

When we first moved into our home, I needed to get a desk up a narrow staircase to our second floor. So, I did a totally boneheaded thing, broke out the sawzall (aka reciprocating saw) and took 6″ off the legs.
Excuses: I didn’t have another spot for this desk. We didn’t want to get rid of it or buy a new one (read: I’m cheap). I had to get it upstairs STAT!

Well its been a year and I finally got to re-attaching the legs so that we could tidy up our little office area and use the desk.

This was my solution.

I bought a 2ft long piece of angle aluminum from my local hardware store. Since I had 6 legs to mend, I cut it into 4in. pieces.

aluminum pieces

aluminum pieces

After cutting the pieces I used the file (a mill bastard) to remove the the sharp edges created by the sawzall.
This was my first of hopefully many opportunities to work with aluminum. For the past several years I’ve wanted to learn how to work metal and selecting aluminum for this project was no accident.
So, how was aluminum at this stage of the project? Great! It was very easy to cut with the sawzall (and even a hand hacksaw) and very easy to file smooth. I was very pleased.

Next, I used a step drill bit to drill holes at the desired locations. The idea was to to bolt the aluminum braces to the legs without the bolts interfering with each other and also provide strength to the legs in two dimensions. I decided on bolts (vs screws or nails) because I wanted a ton of strength and also wanted the ability to easily disassemble the legs in the future.



This next image shows the first brace being fit to one of the cut off legs. Looked good to me :)

alignment test

alignment test

All of the holes had to be filed down because of sharp burrs created by drilling. This was a little tedious with the hand file, so I found a mini grinding stone that I attached to hand drill to get things smooth real quick like ;). Later I realized that I could have also used one that came with my dremel tool.
I learned a couple things while drilling the aluminum: speed is very important and slower is better. The slower speed avoiding generating too much heat – which caused the aluminum to gum up the bit – it was almost as it it was melting on the bit! I’ll have to ask my neighbor about this – he’s a pro machinist.

After making each brace I started using them to re-attach the legs to the desk. Note the use of clamps – an invaluable group of tools for any work shop!

legs being re-attached

legs being re-attached

With the cut-off leg and aluminum brace held on with clamps, I drilled holes through the legs for the bolts. Then put the bolts in and we’re on!

together again at last!

together again at last!

Here’s a shot of the desk back on its legs.

back on its legs

back on its legs

One comment I have here about the nuts and bolts: generally it is better to use washers between the nut and the underlying surface. Check out the link for all the good reasons why.
I actually bought washers and intended to use them, but, you’ve probably guessed it, I bought bolts that were too short :)
Luckily, the wood was really hard, so the nut didn’t start collapsing into the wood when tightening. To avoid marring the wood, I tightened things by holding the nut stationary and turning the head of the bolt that was resting against the aluminum plate.

It’s a functional solution, but not very pretty. My wife has already nicknamed it “the terminator desk”. That is TOTALLY fine by me – I love the terminator movies!
Please feel free to comment and share your projects. Any suggestions on aesthetics would be especially cool.



  1. Your a nut!

  2. Yes, yes I am :).

  3. I think this post should have come with a “do not attempt this at home” disclaimer! :)

  4. Hey Stephanie – you’re so funny – you and your bungalow projects! [big grins]

  5. Something like this would never be allowed in my house. I’d be required to rip out the stairway walls to keep the desk intact and then rebuild them after getting the desk upstairs. And then I’d have to repeat when we moved ;)

  6. that’s funny. I’ve heard of similar solutions for getting things through doors – just widen the door it was small anyway :)

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