The Fire Watch desk

Like many folks here in the Pacific Northwest I am fond of the  Forest Service buildings and Park Service facilities built by the CCC (civilian conservation corps)  in the 1930's. Among some of the most interesting are the fire lookouts that were built on high mountain tops and ridges. These lookouts were staffed by Forest Service personnel during the fire season who's job it was to find and then locate fires within their immense field of view. Because the lookouts were in such remote locations the materials were often brought to the site by mule train. The folks who staffed these lookouts lived in them the entire fire season so they were outfitted like small apartments. 

After looking through quite a few pictures of these little structures I couldn't help but notice the desk that seemed to be present in almost all photos of the interior.

I began to wonder if there might be some sort of standardized plan out there for this great example of primitive Pacific Northwest furniture. After a lengthy google search I struck gold.

The image above was taken from a set of blueprints for one of the most common lookout designs known as the L-4. I was pleased to find that as I suspected, the furnishings for these lookouts were called out right in the construction plans. Although I plan to build a replica, I decided to first take inspiration from this utilitarian table and design a small desk that would bring a bit of the CCC into the home or office.

The result is the Fire Watch desk. Like the original, this desk features tapered legs and a Douglas fir plywood top. To give the top a 1940's look I radiused the corners and added aluminum edging with trim nails. To scale this piece down a bit from the original it has one drawer instead of two. A vintage cup pull finishes the pre-war look. Here is how it went together.

The legs and skirts of the original piece are joined with a bolt and brace system like much of the mass produced furniture today. This surprised me at first but these tables were built in the 1930's and 1940's when this type of joinery started to become prevalent. I decided to use more traditional joinery, the dowel pinned mortise and tenon joint. The image above is from my sketchup model of the Federal study desk  and shows the inner workings of the mortise and tenon joint.

Here is the frame before paint. I used fine grain Lodgepole pine for the legs and CVG Douglas fir for the skirt and drawer guides. The mortises in the legs were cut with a jig, a plunge router with a collar and a 1/2" high-speed steel end mill. The tenons were cut at the table saw with a stacked dado head cutter. The drawer guides fit into shallow mortises in the front and back skirts.

Here is another view of the finished piece. I found a nice piece of 3/4" Douglas fir plywood for the top. The radiused corners and aluminium edging really dress it up. The drawer is a flush front type, half lapped and dowel pinned. I picked the green paint from a federal color book and found the cup pull at the local salvage store. The table measures 30" tall x 40" wide x 22" deep.