Charles Rohlfs Swivel Desk


In addition to creating my own original works one of my woodworking objectives is to reproduce a number of Charles Rohlfs iconic pieces of furniture. So far I have reproduced the 1989 Desk Chair, Tall Back Chair, Oak Rocker and Coal Hod (as a coffee table).

Rohlfs Swivel desk is by far the most complex and difficult reproduction I have attempted. It would not have been possible without the generosity of a fellow woodworker, who contacted me and allowed me to visit his shop where an original Rohlfs Swivel desk was being refurbished. I was able to photograph the original piece and record all the dimensions needed to accurately reproduce the swivel desk.

I started the process in January 2014 by building a prototype out of plywood and MDF.

I built this desk from Khaya (African Mahogany) to match a Rohlfs Desk Chair that I have built. Although I tried to stay true to Rohlfs original I did make some changes.

Rohlfs used simple butt joints and screws to make the drawers. Since I mostly make chairs, I don’t get a chance to cut many dovetails so I decided to get some practice hand cutting dovetails and included full dovetails at the back and blind dovetails at the front of each drawer.

On the Rohlfs original a groove was cut into each end of the desk top and a ¼ inch spline was inserted. I choose to use a pinned breadboard edge instead. This did change the look of the desk. Rohlfs version is better looking.

On Rohlfs original the shelves simply sat on the drawer runners (which ran across the length on the desk) and they were open at the sides and back. I choose to build a box to enclose the shelves and drilled a series of holes for shelf pins for greater adjustability.

On Rohlfs original the desk writing surface slips underneath and is supported by the desk bottom and by the front bracket. This does not appear to provide good support for the desk surface. Later versions of the original desk included large gussets on the front to provide better support to the desk when opened. Instead of adding the large brackets I choose to use chains to support the desk.

I did order hand forged hinges and hasps. I had to modify the hasps to fit. The chains were painted flat black.
Similar to the Rohlfs original I installed burlap behind the fretwork on the front, back and door. I painted it with shellac to stiffen it.

I pulled out my go to colour (Miniwax English Chestnut stain) to darken the mahogany a bit. I recently purchased an Earlex HVLP sprayer and had a chance to try it out on this project. I used a water based sanding sealer and then water based urethane for the finish.

In addition to a desk, with some reconfiguring of the shelves and drawers this might make an interesting liquor or wine tasting cabinet.

The overall dimensions are 25” wide X 24” deep X 57” tall.

I’m impressed. Very nice work! Maybe some day I’ll get around to a reproduction but I have too many ideas. I always admire those who do build them however as they get to relive the creative process of a past master. I’d like to feel that.

The early bird gets the worm but its the second mouse that gets the cheese.


Losing fingers since 1969

Very very very well done! You nailed it!

CHRIS, Charlottetown PEI Canada. Anytime you can repurpose, reuse, or recycle, everyone wins!

Wow. Impressive piece. Very nice work indeed.

Another outstanding piece fantastic work.

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