Introduction: How to Make a Standing Desk and Music Workstation
Finalist in the
Craftsman Tools Contest
This build was inspired by my desire to get all my music gear organized and accessible. I designed this desk to have lots of surface area, and lots of space underneath to house a digital piano, amp, and other floor-bound musical gear. The desktop is spacious to accommodate a midi controller, computer peripherals, and plenty of additional space for papers and additional work space. It features a raised platform on the back of the desktop to ergonomically position my iMac and hold up my speakers.
I've also added a few custom bits to it. There's actually a hole offset from the middle of the desk, which I feed my microphone stand through. This way the mic comes up through the middle of the desk and can be centered between you, the computer monitor, and a piano. I added some hooks to the inside sides of the desk to hold various cables, wires, headphones, and other hangable accessories.
The desk is taller than most normal desks to accomodate my initial measurements of my piano and its stand. It turns out this desk could be lowered to a normal desk height (between 28 and 32"), and still fit my requirements. As it is now, the desk is best used at standing height. I use an adjustable stool to be able to sit at an appropriate height.
The following is a list of all the pieces involved in the build. As far as wood cuts go, you can make them yourself, or you can get the guys at Home Depot and/or Lowes to make the cuts for you. I prefer to do them myself, because even though I'm an amateur, my cuts always seem to be more accurate than theirs... plus, this leaves you more room for on-the-fly adjustments. All measurements are in inches.
- Back Supports (2x4x48) x2
- Inner Cross Supports (2x4x50) x4
- Legs (2x4x35.25) x4
- Sides (32x35.5x.5) x2
- Inner Sides (32x6x.5) x2
- Back Sides (6x70x.5) x2 (could be .75 thick too)
- Side Tops (4.5x32x.5) x2
- Table Top (32x70x.75)
- Upper Level (12x70x.75)
- Mini Legs (1x1x6) x 8
- Desktop Supports (2x4x60) x2
- 4 Angle Brackets with Screws
- 4 Bolts (3/8 x 16") with washers
- 3/4" Veneer Banding/Edging
As I mentioned earlier, you don't necessarily need a table saw, but you will need something to make the dado joints for the side pieces. The iron and exacto knife are for edging, and the jigsaw or router will be used to make the curved portion of the desktop.
- Table Saw (or you can trust Home Depot/Lowes to make your cuts)
- Power Drill with assortment of bits
- Jigsaw or Router
- Xacto Knife
These are the raw materials you will need to get all the pieces listed above.
.5 in plywood 96" x 48" - Two Sides, back sides, inner sides
.75 in plywood 96" x 48" - Table Top, Upper Level
8ft 1x1 - for the tiny legs
Step 1: Building the Sides
Secure the Sides
Take your 32x35.25" piece of .5" plywood, and glue two 35.25" 2x4s to the long edge as pictured. The 2" side of the 2x4 will be flush against your plywood, and the 4" side will be sticking out, creating a leg for the desk. This will form the basic shape for one of the two side pieces that will support the desktop.
Use wood glue, and clamp dry. I like to use heavy duty clamps, as they are the most flexible and tend to fit any job. When the glue dries, you will want to further secure the 2x4s with screws. Use size 10, 2" wood screws and put two through each leg: one on top and one on bottom. Screw them about an inch from the ends.
Step 2: Construct the Cross Supports
A Few Notes
In this step, we'll be cutting and fitting the cross supports for these side pieces. I found this part to be the hardest, as it required some precise angle cuts. If you have access to a miter saw, this would be best. My table saw has a miter on it, but it's not very accurate. You could also measure the angles by hand and make the cuts manually. My strategy for this part was to align the pieces as I cut them, and incrementally cut the pieces until they fit as necessary. This will help correct any inaccuracies in your cuts so far (I know I had to make lots of adjustments, and wound up eye-balling a few things).
Make The Cuts
Each of the two 2x4s that make the cross support are 42" long on each side, and they are cut at a 42 degree angle. When you make the 42 degree cuts, make sure you cut both ends of each 2x4 in the same direction! Your goal here is to secure the 2x4s diagonally across the entire piece of plywood, as pictured. Where the two boards intersect, you'll want to make a dado joint.
Step 3: Make the Dado Joints
To get the cross supports on the edges to lie flat, you'll need to use a dado joint at the point where they intersect. A typical dado joint is pictured below. You're going to cut one inch into the 2 inch thick part of each 2x4. YOUR CUT WILL NEED TO BE AT AN ANGLE!
Theoretically, the angle you cut this dado at will be the same as the angle on the ends of your 2x4s and the width of the dado will be 3.5 inches, to just fit the width of the 2x4. At this point, I personally had to do some eyeballing because my measurements had not been exact. I used the measurements as a starting point, and then set the cross support and traced the cuts I needed to make for the dado. This helped me fit the dado to my actual setup so far.
To cut the dado, I used my table saw and lowered it so that 1" of the blade was protruding from the table. I then meticulously ran the plank across the blade, cutting out small sections of the wood until I had a 4" thick, 1" deep cut in my planks. Note that you will be fitting the cross supports like a puzzle in the middle, so make sure you make your dado joints on the proper sides of the 2x4s.
Step 4: Cap the Side Pieces
Each side piece has a cap. This will give us something to bolt the table-top to, in order to keep it in place. Take your 4.5"x32" .5" piece of plywood and glue it to one of the ends of your side piece. Again, use wood glue and clamp the piece on to apply pressure as the glue dries. Once it is dried, one screw on each end should do the trick (again, all screws are size 10 and 2" long. Be careful that you don't hit any other screws, and also be sure to leave some room for the screws in the next step.
Step 5: Attach the Inner Sides
The last part of your side piece is the inner side. This attaches to the top and provides a surface to attach supports for the desktop in later steps. Take your 32"x6" .5" piece of plywood, and glue it to the inside, top of your side piece. You know the drill: Glue, clamp, then screw it in. Two screws will do. Four if it makes you happier.
And there you have it! One complete side piece. This is one of 5 total pieces that make up the desk. Repeat the steps so far to complete your second side piece. Once you've got those, move on to the next step!
Step 6: The Back Side
In this step, you'll be creating the other primary structural piece of this desk: the back supports. This will support much of the weight of the desk, as well as secure the desk from latteral movement once it is attached.
Cut Your 2x4s
You'll want to cut two 2x4s to a length of 40.75" on each side at an angle of 30 degrees. I recommend making your angle cuts and leaving some additional length. Then, take your 2x4s and stand them on their end next to the side pieces. Make sure that your 2x4s are the exact height of your side pieces, once they are cut at an angle. Being consistent with the pieces you have is the most important part of making this project fit together properly.
Secure the A-Frame
Once you've got your 2x4s cut to the right length, you'll want to get your 70"x32" pieces of .5" plywood, and line them up with your 2x4s. You'll want to secure one plank to the bottom part of your two by fours, and one to the top, as pictured. Place the 2x4s four inches offset from the end of the bottom plank. This should be the width of your side piece (2x4s are really 1.5"x3.5"). It's important the the ends of your 2x4s are flush with the ends of the plywood. This will ensure sufficient contact area with the desktop and floor.
Step 7: The Monitor Platform
Shape the Platform
Take your 12"x70" piece of .75" plywood, and make a cut 17.5" into the length of the piece at an 8" width. The ends of this piece will be rectangular, 8" in width. Make the same 17.5" cut into the other end. Cut out the excess of this piece, so that you have a tetris-shaped piece: an 8" wide rectangle on either end that gives way to a 12" wide square, 35" long in the middle. This should essentially be the same shape as the rounded platform, just not rounded yet.
Starting from 17.5" in, cut a an arc from that point, up to the middle (35") of the board. Make a symmetrical cut on the other side to create a nice, smooth oval shape for the center of the platform.
I highly recommend tracing the arc before making your cut. The more accurately you can draw the arc, the better. I tried to use a compass initially, but found that this design wasn't a perfect circle, and also had a radius much larger than the compass I bought. Instead I drew it more or less free-hand a few times until I had a good shape. I actually practiced first on a similar sized piece of scrap wood. By first cutting this and shaping it to a particular size and symmetry I had a good template to trace onto the actual platform: kind of like a stencil.
To make the cut, I primarily used a jigsaw. I found that a router made much smoother cuts, but was harder to control at low speeds. Ultimately, choose the tool you are most comfortable with, and be sure to practice on some spare wood! If you're following this guide to the letter, you should have plenty of spare wood for experimentation.
Affix the Legs
I'm not sure of the precise dimensions of the board I used to cut the 8 6" legs from. It was roughly 1 or 1.5" square, and 8 ft long. I found a number of such boards near the fencing section at Home Depot. As long as they are mostly square and at least 1"x1", they should do just fine. Having 8 of them makes for a very solid stand.
Make the 6" cuts as uniform as possible. With 8 legs, there are 8 opportunities to have uneven legs. It's worth it to take your time and be as precise as possible. Glue one leg to each corner, as flush as possible. Glue the remaining four legs under the middle of the platform. I actually chose to put my legs a few inches in from the start of the curve (towards the center) to give the rounded platform more support. In either case, make the placement symmetrical and take your time aligning it. I further fastened these legs with one screw through the top for each leg. This could probably be skipped if you are concerned about the wood aesthetics of the platform.
Step 8: Edging and Staining
To give the desk a finished look, you'll want to apply a veneer banding to any exposed plywood edges. All the wood used is oak, so an oak variety of the banding will work well. Personally, I only applied it to the table top and platform: the two most visible pieces. You may also want to consider applying it to any other exposed plywood edges, to hide the ugly layers exposed from cutting plywood. The youtube video below is a good explanation of how to apply the banding. It's pretty simple: the banding has dried glue on one end, so just tape or otherwise set the banding in place and apply heat to the veneer portion, and the glue behind it will melt: adhering nicely to the edges. Cut the excess off with an exacto knife, or an edging tool.
If at this point you have any rough spots from rough cuts or drill holes gone awry, you can also buy some wood filler/putty and spackle it on to the rough spots to smooth them out. Once this is dried and stained it will look just like new, probably even better.
As far as staining goes, you can choose from any number of finishes. I chose a lighter finish. Apply at least two coats of stain, and you'll be quite pleased with the transformation your plywood has undergone. For best results stain all surfaces. I was kind of lazy and only stained the outward facing surfaces, leaving the inside the original wood color. It's kind of a cool, workshop style, but might not be suitable if you are looking for a 100% shiny product -- so just stain it all. Again, two coats is sufficient. Three is also fine. More is probably excessive.
Step 9: Prep the Table Top
You'll need to drill four 1/2 inch diameter holes to fit your bolts through the table top. By design, the table top mostly rests on the frame created by the sides and back. The bolts are positioned to fix the top in place.
You will want to drill your holes such that they go through the middle (width-wise) of the top portion of your side pieces. This means they are 2.25" from the outer side of your table top (.5" for the plywood width and 1.75" is half-way across the 3.5" width of the 2x4). You'll also want to place them 6-7" from the front of the desk, and 4-5" from the back of the desk to position the bolts so that you can actually affix the washers on later.
I found the easiest way to line everything up was to put the sides up, and line the table top on top of them, as it will be in the final assembly. Once I got it perfectly aligned, I clamped it all in place with my heavy duty clamps, and some spare C-clamps. This holds the table in position while you drill your holes.
If you want an additional hole for a microphone stand (or music stand, or any other kind of stand), drill it now. I drilled a 1" diameter hole about 10.75" from the left side and about 11.25" from the back. There are two things to keep in mind when you drill this hole. 1) Make sure that whatever you are feeding through this hole can clear the features of your desk (consider the legs of the stand, the width of the stand, and of course the position of the portion that will be above the desktop), and 2) be sure to place the hole such that it doesn't get in the way of the supports that we add during assembly.
Step 10: Assembly
OK! Now we've got 5 pieces that can be transported to whatever room you plan to use the desk in: The desktop, the platform with its 6" legs, the two side pieces, and the back piece.
Attach the Back Piece
Stand your two side pieces up on their sides. That is, so the desktop would be perpendicular to the ground if it were attached. This will help you align the back piece. Place it over the overturned side pieces, so that it rests on top of the sides. Align the back such that the 2x4s just touch the side pieces. Verify that the back is flush with the top and bottom of the side panels. Drill four holes, one for each of the screws needed to affix the back piece. Screw in the size 10, 2" screws and voila, you have the frame of the desk!
Bolt on the Table Top
Stand your frame upright, and place the table top on your side pieces, just as you had set them earlier. Line up the holes you drilled in the previous steps, and slip the bolts through. Attach the washers on the other end... it helps to have someone with small hands around for this part.
Secure the Upper Platform
Now that the meat of the desk is secured, it's time to attach the upper platform. Line up the legs of the platform such that the outermost legs are flush with the edge of the table (or as close as you can get it to flush). Mark the position of the innermost four legs on the table top. This is where we are going to screw them in, from the underside of the table. Drill a small pilot hole through the table where each inner leg touches the table top. This will help you tell where to drill your hole for the screws. Reset the platform on your table top. Clamp it down so that it stays in place while you drill the hole.
Get under the table, and drill the holes for your screws, using the pilot holes you just drilled as a guide. Screw in one screw per hole to fasten the inner legs of the platform to the table top. Voila, desk!
Step 11: Desktop Reinforcements
Before placing any serious weight on this, you'll want to reinforce the desktop. There's a lot of area for the desktop to sag between the two side pieces, and the back piece, so we need to fix that. You'll need four angle brackets (1-2" wide with appropriate screws), and your 60" 2x4s. Fit the 2x4s such that they fit tightly across the length of the desk between the two sides. You'll want to make sure to set the top of the angle bracket 1.5" from the top of the side piece, such that the table top will lie flush against this 2x4 support.
Place one set of brackets at the front-most part of the side panels, such that the edge of the 2x4 will be laid flush against the rest of the side panel. Place another set of angle brackets about 2/3 of the way towards the back of the side panels. Make sure that the 2x4 you put on these brackets does not get in the way of any microphone hole you may have previously drilled.
I recommend doing this step before you bolt on the table top, but after you secure the back panel to the side panels.
Step 12: Finishing Touches
The beauty of this desk is that there is lots of room for modifications. A simple one is to buy some hooks to screw into the side panels. As pictured, they can be useful for holding/directing cords, wires, headphones, and other hangables. On the opposite side, I've screwed on a small wire inbox I bought from Target.
Step 13: Enjoy
Whether you are housing your music gear, or just using it as a solid desk, this baby should be solid as a rock and will give you a nice, large workspace to play with. It also is convenient because it gets the monitor/computer out of your way, so you can have plenty of room to work by hand, as well as digitally.
I have the Google Sketchup file that I used to design the desk, and I plan on posting it once I figure out how. In the mean time, if you are in dire need of it, message me and I'll hook you up. Enjoy!
We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.