I would suggest if you do not want to do too much subtraction from
the desk, your first step is to make it at the very least bench pin,
or bench mate ready. Any step towards silversmithing requires a bench
pin type tool.
If you want to preserve the desk, I would also not suggest the holes
in the top. but rather affix an alternate top onto the desk that over
hangs with a nice u cut. Utilizing this second top both protects the
integrity of the desk later down the road and allows you to do just
about anything to it. Some smiths use an apron technique to catch
their filings instead of a drawer, this may be more useful than holes
in the top of your desk if you are trying to maintain the desk as a
desk. For the apron, you could buy a general leather apron and create
a way to hook the bottom to the bench to form a catch all. There is
an example of it in the Jewelers Bench book that orchid has helped
organize. I purchased it recently and found myself reorganizing
It’s easier to say in the beginning that you are only doing a "few"
tasks at this bench, but the idea of a jewelers bench is to be a
station for your work. Down the road into smithing you might decide
you want more out of your bench and decide that the integrity of the
desk isn’t as important as the usefulness of your space. I’m sure
your father-in-law would understand practicality over sentimentality.
I’ve been a metal smith for almost 4 years and would not do any type
of metal work on a sentimental piece of furniture. Aside from that,
suggestions might include storage and orginization, think vertically
the space above your bench allows for shelving, hooks for hanging,
and lighting. inside your drawers small trays and dividers will be
best for optimizing the 6-7 spaces you have.
Hope this helps a bit
Rochester Institute of Technology