Portable Staked Desk

The Campaign Worktable of Necessity

But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster – tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks.
— Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)

My job is somewhat transient; we set up for a few weeks, a few months, maybe even a couple years in sub par Class C office space using a motley assortment of cheap furniture.  I provide my own computer and other gear, and have mused for a while that perhaps I should make a desk to bring as well.

I researched portable desks and tables and found a variety of solutions; some dating back to antiquity, some new enough to require CNC machining.  Ultimately I blended ideas from two Christopher Schwarz books and their projects: Campaign Furniture and The Anarchist’s Design Book.

The campaign furniture book gleams with exotic hardwoods and brass hardware, the other features simple staked and boarded items harking back to medieval vernacular.  Campaign furniture was built by professional cabinetmakers, and many of their clients were relatively well-to-do officers.  Staked and boarded items were often built by amateurs for their own domestic use.  In terms of aesthetics and (at least perceived) social class, these two styles seem worlds apart.  Yet both books include pieces that break down for transport, or are otherwise more readily movable than, say, a Queen Anne highboy.

There is a collapsing officer’s field desk in Campaign Furniture, but I was drawn more to the staked worktable in The Anarchist’s Design Book.  I could leave the legs loose (in the original they are permanently glued and wedged) and thus flat-pack the desk in my car.

I chose red alder for the table top because, like yellow poplar, it is only about two-thirds the weight of most domestic hardwoods.  Unfortunately, it also shares poplar’s susceptibility to dents and scratches.  Therefore it seemed wise to install brass cornerguards, a standard campaign furniture detail.  I wanted the legs to stow under the top, so added leather straps inspired by the roorkee chair (another campaign piece).  And so I arrived at this portable pastiche of a staked worktable with campaign hardware.

Portable staked desk
Portable staked desk

The working title of The Anarchist’s Design Book was The Furniture of Necessity, hence the secondary title of this project: The Campaign Worktable of Necessity.