Mar 072012

What started as a simple DIY woodworking project turned into a full blown piece of furniture.  I use the term DIY but be warned this project may require some of the skills your learned in high school shop class.

Before I dig in here, I want to share a link from Pinterest.  My fly tying desks board was a great source of inspiration for this project.  Keep an eye on my Pinterest page, it’s a great research tool and should give away some of my future blog posts.

laying out a fly tying desk

It started so simple…

It started so simple…  A thin piece of junk board.  It was sitting in my garage collecting dust and I thought, “Why not turn it into a fancy fly tying desk?”

measuring holes for a fly tying desk

Just a quick Saturday project

Just a quick Saturday project…  A few pill caps to trace some 1 1/2″ and 2″ holes for supplies.  Maybe a few 2x4s for sides and tool holders…

What started as a quick sketch on a junk board suddenly got more complex.  I pulled out a notebook and a ruler…  Suddenly a small door opened in my brain, a door to the past…  It was like I was back in Mr. Moyer’s 7th grade shop class.

For the first time in my life I realized all of the designs I had drawn inspiration from were within my abilities.  I could do this!  (or at least hack my way through it)

After what seemed like hours of planning and layout, I made a trip to the local Lowes to purchase some supplies.  Plans were on paper…  This project was too real for scrap wood.

While the selection of wood at Lowes leaves MUCH to be desired, I was able to pick up some usable supplies on the cheap.  My project would be born from a pre-glued panel and some 1×3.  Throw in a little trim and suddenly…  you have furniture potential…

Laying out the parts of a fly tying desk

Dry fitting parts

Skipping a few steps here.  I will tell you that I made the cutout on this piece with a hand saw.  Yea…  I said I would be hacking my way through this.  The picture above shows the profiled panel as well as the modular 1×3″ bases that will become the tool and material holders of the fly tying desk.

The nice thing about using “modular” blocks is that if you screw one up you can easily throw it away and cut a new piece.  Lucky for me I got these right on the first try (there is a first for everything).

Forming the side rails of the fly tying desk

Ghetto forming holes

Here’s where you seasoned woodworkers will have a good laugh.  To cut the cubby holes in the side rails of this fly tying desk a seasoned woodworker would use a tool called a Forstner bit.  This special drill bit drills a round hole but also cleans out the bottom of the hole to make it flat.

I didn’t have a Forstner bit…

But that didn’t stop me.  Using a combination of hole saws, a small chisel, and (lots of) elbow grease, I drilled the holes and hand carved out the bottoms.  This part took FOREVER.  Lesson:  Buy the right tools!

Drilling holes for the tool caddy for a fly tying desk

Tool caddy

For my tool caddy I decided a block with a bank of drill holes would fit the bill.  To determine the proper hole diameter I drilled a few holes of various sizes and tested them with my fly tying tools.  After a little trial and error I found one size that would work well for all of my tools.  (No I didn’t bother to write it down)

Dowels hold thread on the fly tying desk

Dowels for the back

My design idea called for dowels in the back to hold thread, wire, and anything else that comes on a spool.  I decided that I wanted shorter dowels up front and longer ones in the back.  I cut the dowels you see above and rounded the tips to make placing the spools easier.

Cut and drilled fly desk parts

Cut and drilled

I staggered the dowel holes in the back so that when you are looking straight on at the thread you will be able to see all of the colors at once.  While purely functional, it also adds a nice design touch.  (note: measuring for these holes was the hardest part of the project)

Fly desk with dowels assembled

With dowels

After what seemed like 30 years of sanding, the parts were done.  Using the sandpaper I also softened all of the corners of the blocks.  Cleaning up the corners makes the project look better and should keep me from getting bruises while using the desk.

I glued and screwed the blocks to the desktop from below, making sure to countersink the screws so that they would not scratch whatever surface this fly tying desk would be used on.

A piece of decorative trim was fixed to the front and side using miter joints.  This was my first time cutting trim with miter angles but after a little trial and error I had it perfectly laid out.

adding a finish to the fly tying desk

Finishing time

At this point I decided to add a little finish to the project.  Again, seasoned woodworkers may laugh but I used Thompson’s water seal to stain and seal my fly tying desk.  Given the choice again, I most likely would not use a product for finishing decks on an indoor piece of furniture.

After the first coat I gave the piece a light sanding to knock down the wood grain that was raised from absorbing the sealer.  I attempted a light 2nd coat but Thompsons is designed to be a one coat finish and my attempt at a 2nd coat was futile.

After waiting a few days I decided to add a few coats of Polycrylic finish to further waterproof the piece.  This finish also gives the fly tying desk a nice bar top shine.  I had to lightly sand inbetween these coats.  Placing this finish on top of the Thompsons water seal was fairly difficult.

finished wooden fly tying desk

Finished and stocked

Finished and stocked with materials and tools this desk is almost a work of art.  From design, to construction, to finishing this was the first woodworking project I’ve done where I felt like I had my act together.  Sure, there are things I’ll do differently next time, but I’m actually proud of the  final result.  A piece of furniture.  I’m hoping the sturdy construction lasts through the years and I can eventually pass this down along with fly tying lessons through future generations of my family.

Until then I’m going to use it to sling some sick bugs together…


What do  you think?  Would you tie on one of these?  Do you have your own fly tying desk design you’d like to share?  Let us know in the comments below!


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  • Dang….

    MAYBE if I had a mack daddy fly tying desk like that I’d somehow discover my ‘inner’ fly tyer that has still eluded me all this time. 

    I have to admit, I am impressed. 

    • Thanks!  I haven’t logged many tying hours yet but I can’t help staring at this thing.  Might have to build another to sell!  Wink wink…  (:

  • Todd Forsyth

    Pretty sweet set up!  Everything is at your finger tips and is super organized.  Only thing I would change is a spot for the vise to go.  I have the same Cabella’s fly tying kit as you but I don’t use the base with the vise.  I like using the adjustable counter top mount so I can get a more comfortable height for tying.  Looks great though!

    • I’m going to stick with a pedestal when I eventually buy a “big boy vice”.  If I wanted to use a clamp I’d probably build out a flat board from one of the sides so that I could attach the clamp.  I’ve also seen where they drill a hole in a block of wood and mount the vice that way.

      I was looking at our kit and if you take the base out of the wooden box it looks like it has 4 holes in the base for mounting it to a surface.  It could easily be screwed to this setup but I like being able to move the vice around.

  • Greg Feder

    Nice job!  I’ve been thinking about building something that will allow me to work on the coffee table so I’m in the same room as my wife in the evening.  I’ll need some sort of pedestal to raise the desk to a usable height.  Another feature I want to incorporate is a series of cupped bowl-shaped holes that I can line with some magnetic material for hooks and bead/cone heads.  Hopefully that will keep them from winding up on the floor and lost in the pile of the rug.  Thanks for the inspiration!

  • I have but a single word to describe my feelings about this desk, all the hard work  you put into it, and the way it turned out – and that word is: Dude! Ok, I lied. I have more words. My fly tying desk is also my writing desk, my home office desk, my internet media desk, sometimes my radio broadcasting desk and occasionally my dinner desk. A dedicated place to tie flies that looks like that? That is a dream! Despite not having the right tools you got the job done and in my book that makes it even more of a job well done. 

    Now build one for everyone else, so it’s fair. 😉

    • Thanks Owl!  The nice thing about this “desk” is you can move it wherever you want to tie.  Which means I’ll be tying from the deck this summer!
      I wish I could build one for all my buddies!  This thing took like 36 hours to build!  Could probably do it in 1/2 the time though…null

  • Pingback: I have to show you this…()

  • d nash

    awesome. My setup is shady. I like the dowel rod bit a lot. great work!

    • I can fit 3 spools of thread in back 2 in front.  

  • Sweet looking setup! I’ve been planning on making one for myself for a little while, but a smaller version that will set on my lap on the couch. I will definitely steal some of these ideas!

    • Hey make sure to take a look at the ideas I have on that Pinterest page too.  Another thought I had was making one out of a wooden TV tray table that way it would have legs too.

  • Julia Bell

    I really like your desk.  I don’t know about up close, but I like your water sealant.  We tie some bugs that require alcohol burners, and with that sealant, I bet it withstands the crazy materials, solvents, epoxy, and who knows what else we fly tyers use.  Congratulations on a job done well!

  • Fairman2

    Great tying desk!!! LOVE the DIY factor! I have found inspiration. Now I just need to get off my ass and start cutting wood! Great job!

    • Thanks!  Don’t forget to check out that link for my Pinterest board.  Lots of other good design ideas on there.null

  • I can do this!!!! Awesome!

  • Mike in WV

    Man you cracked me up!  It’s like every project i have ever done, lol! Looks great and good functionality too.
    I’ll probably use your design or very close too, my wife is about to kill me cause I’m tying on her cherry dining room table!
    But, now do yourself a favor. I have the same travel tying kit in your picture. Go get you a good vise, just bought a Renzetti traveler for $195 and it’s awesome. My buddy has had one for years.  Honest, best two hundred bucks you will spend if you love tying like I do.

    • You are right about the vice!  Got an old renzetti from the son of a fly tyer that is no longer with us.  Makes a huge difference.
      Now go make a desk before your wife kills you!

      ——– Original message ——–
      Subject: [funcfish] Re: DIY Fly Tying Desk

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