Introduction: Wraparound Desk Made From One Sheet of Plywood, 2 Filing Cabinets

Picture of Wraparound Desk Made From One Sheet of Plywood, 2 Filing Cabinets

Five years ago I wanted a desk. When I was a kid my mother made a desk out of an interior door and two filing cabinets. I already had one filing cabinet about 29 inches tall, so I bought another the same height and tried the desk out.

It blew.

It was ugly, tended to slide by itself, I hit my hip on the corners occasionally, and I heard disconcerting cracks and creaks when I put my 20" CRT in the middle where I wanted it. So I thought again.

My specifications were, in order of importance:
1) Elegant - I liked desks that wrapped around you
2) Easy to Make - Minimize tools and time
3) Cheap - Ideally made out of one piece of plywood.
4) Movable - I 've moved too many times to set myself up with a cumbersome desk.

I like corner desks as a rule, so I drew up a design with 6' legs from a corner, with a couple of curves. 6' on a side was a good size not just aesthetically, but because with judicious cutting I could cut all the structural pieces out of one piece of good, double-sided plywood. In my book, elegance of design is something you enjoy long after you've forgotten the monetary cost.

This project took an morning for the woodwork, plus the rest of the weekend for staining and poly coats.

Caveat maker: I have no in-progress photos of this project as I made it 5 years ago. I've done my best to provide as clear instructions and drawings as I can. If you are unclear about any step, leave me a comment and I'll try to explain better.

(Please rate this project by hitting the (+) or (-) buttons near the upper right of the page)

Step 1: Gather Materials and Tools

Picture of Gather Materials and Tools


Two (2) short filing cabinets of equal height

One (1) 4'x8' piece of 3/4" double-faced plywood. Just make sure both sides are pleasing to the eye, since you will have to flip one half over to marry it with the other.

One or two (1-2) table/trunk/whateveryoucallem-latches. You know the kind---two pieces, one with a loop and a level thing to grab onto the other side. (see picture below)

Four pieces of 1/2" radius quarter round trim, 18" long.

Metal strapping or corner brace for extra support in the center. I used a corner brace because I had one handy, but a straight bracket would make more sense.

Paint or stain plus polyurethane for finishing

~12 feet of real wood edging with heat-sensitive glue on back.

Optional: circular saw and long straightedge
Optional: Clothes Iron or possibly curling iron
Sandpaper of varied grits
Paint brush/drop cloth

Step 2: Cutting the Plywood

Picture of Cutting the Plywood

Again, sorry I don't have step-by-step pictures from when I made it, but refer to the drawing of the plywood layout during these instructions. Keep in mind one thing---everything is symmetric about the center of the sheet.

1) Make the long diagonal cut all the way through the sheet from a point 2 feet from the corner along one long side to a point 2 feet from the opposite corner along the other long side. (it's the long straight cut diagonally side-to-side in the drawing) Use a circular saw with a long straightedge clamped into place, if you have such. The straighter, the better.

2) If you have a long enough cutting blade for your jigsaw, clamp the two pieces together, lining up all the sides (rotate the top cut piece 180 degrees to line up with bottom piece)

3) Using a pencil on a non-stretchy 12" string and anchoring the string at point "A" in the diagram, draw an arc from the short edge of the sheet around through about 120 degrees. Point "A" is 18" from the (previously) long side of the sheet, 12" from the end. (see drawing)

4) Lengthening the string to 18", draw an arc centered at point "B" in the diagram from the edge you just cut around until it meets the other arc centered on point "A". Point B is 6" from the shortest edge of the quadrilateral you're left with after the diagonal cut, and on the cut diagonal edge (actually 30" from the end of the sheet). (see drawing)

5) Cut along the long curved line you just drew.

6) Take the pieces left over and cut a 12"x30" shape and a 12"x12" right triangle shape from them, in the manner shown on the diagram, outlined in orange and blue respectively . These will form the corner support stand.

Step 3: Corner Support Assembly

Picture of Corner Support Assembly

Trim the long leftover rectangular pieces to the height of your filing cabinets, in my case, 29" tall. You want the final height of the stand to be the same as your filing cabinets.

Use glue and screws to assemble the corner support like the picture shown. I used 1.25" drywall screws, just because I had them around. Since you're screwing into the edge of plywood, pilot holes are a good idea. These are all just lap joints, nothing fancy. It's not very visible anyway.

Step 4: Surface Prep and Finish

Picture of Surface Prep and Finish

Clamp the two halves of the top together again and sand the edges to try to make them as symmetrical as you can. I used a mini-drum sander bit for my electric drill, but sandpaper on a curved surface should work well, if slower.

Orient the top pieces in the way they will be assembled (one top piece has to flip over and join with the other at the diagonal cut). Mark or somehow assign which is the top side and sand with progressively finer grits of sandpaper until it's as smooth as you like it. You may wish to sand the bottom to a medium fineness---the stain applies easier to a smoother surface.

I didn't do this to mine before I stained it, but if you want the edges to match the top, apply the wood edging to the exposed edges with a heat source, either a clothes iron or (possibly---I didn't try this) a curling iron. The curved surface of the curling iron may work better on the concave curves.

I really liked the look of colored stain for this, so I chose a blue-tinted Minwax stain. I stained the bottom sides first, the the tops, and repeated for a total of 2 coats each side.

I then applied 3-4 coats of water-based polyurethane, sanding between each step. I poly'd each of the surfaces which would be seen, including the "front" of the corner support stand.

Step 5: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

Note:I did not then nor have I yet attached the desk tops to the corner support. I had planned to do it, but when I place my monitor on the desk in the corner, with the file cabinets in place, nothing seemed to move, so I didn't bother. Feel free to attach them if you wish - I'd use 1.25" screws from the bottom.

Turn the desktops face down on the floor, diagonal cuts together. Place the two-piece latches, closed, on the joint and mark and drill pilot holes for their screws. Be careful not to drill through the top side. Attach the latches. Unhook them and separate the pieces.

Place the corner support in the corner and the file cabinets to either side of the corner in their approximate positions. Place each desktop half, top side up, where it's supposed to go supported by the file cabinets and corner support. Latch the two halves together with the latches you just installed above. Hopefully both halves will move as one now.

Line up the file cabinets along each wall, maybe moving them 1-2 inches out from the wall to allow cords and such to go behind them. Put them under the fattest part of the outer curves and mark the undersides along the sides of the cabinets. Unlatch the desktop halves and turn them over. Align the pieces of quarter round along those marks, flat sides toward the underside of the desktops and toward the filing cabinets. Make sure they're short enough to not be seen when the desk is right-side-up. Pilot drill and screw them down with 1" screws.

Place the desktops back up on the cabinets where they belong and latch them together. You most likely need a little more support in the middle right under your arms since the latches are the only things holding the top together and they occasionally become uneven. I used a corner bracket screwed into each side. In elegant perhaps, but each half is level with the other and there is plenty of support for my hands, keyboard, forearms, yada yada yada.

Step 6: Done!

Picture of Done!

It's ready to use - enjoy. I have. Mine has been great, even with my honkin big desk chair (see picture). The center sitting area is about 32" wide - plenty of room in general, and there is a metric buttload of deskspace to fill up, as I am want to do.

Have fun.

Optional: If you want an easy cord pass-through the desktop, you can cut the tip of the corner off each desktop half prior to staining.


Malkaris (author)2017-06-30

does it have any trouble with bowing in the middle?

primedlt (author)2012-06-07

Thanks for this instructable. I have been wanting to make a desk top with this shape, but was worried about getting the curves right.

The ironman (author)2011-11-29

you could add chaulk paint to make to ultifunctial

tinker234 (author)2011-06-24

hey metal table top

mroca1 (author)2011-06-09

good work :D

tinker234 (author)2011-06-03

love the idea i might just use stronger legs in fear of my legs but for you it is perfect

jend5570 (author)2007-10-18

I love it!! but umm......where do you keep ur clothes?

ramroids55 (author)jend55702007-11-26

Most People Dont Keep Clothes In A File Cabinet

mcflyalright (author)ramroids552009-05-24

my clothes are actually in a file cabinet.

Knuxz (author)mcflyalright2010-11-07

Lol. Could probably get rid of what doesn't fit me and do the same!

clark (author)jend55702008-01-31


BlackHatCracker (author)2009-03-28

I like it! Just in need of a switchable power strip, and a few holes with gromlets to run the wires through... and a cable organizer to keep all the cables together... Love it!!

Cable organizer? Three words... velcro strip ties.

lol.. ok that works too...

whisperonthewind (author)2010-09-04

Word of caution: Depending on your own height, the two filing cabinets could be just a little too high. I am currently using a slab of countertop and two filing cabinets as a computer desk, and I really like the countertop - no more mouse pad! But when my computer chair is high enough for the desktop, my toes are stretching to reach the floor. When my feet are on the floor, I find myself typing with my shoulders hunched up because of the height of the desktop. You may not have a problem - my height is 5' 3" - but you might want to measure the height of your current desk, then calculate the total height your new creation will be. You'd never know how important an inch or two will be until you're stretching your toes or hunching your shoulders. I'm currently designing a pvc pipe shelving base for under my countertop, with the filing cabinets being relegated to the sides of the desk again. In the meantime, I'm just stretching and hunching, depending on my mood.

n0klu (author)2007-07-14

Here is a top from 1 cut 4'x8' sheet 3/4" ply sitting atop 2 Wal-Mart wooden file cabs and a spare sheet of Ply for the power distribution / third leg.... (has my 20" monitor on top and slide out keyboard shelf under the mid section)

n0klu (author)n0klu2007-07-14

Some more views of it...

KellyCraig (author)n0klu2010-08-22

For any of these designs, you can add a 3/4" x 1-1/2" board around the back side. This has the effect of adding 1-1/2" of thickness, for support. They do this on high end shelving to stop them from bowing under weight. If you have to join two pieces and want their surfaces to remain flush with each, you can cut a 1/8" kerf down the center of the joining edges, then install a spline, which is just a piece of wood which just fits into the kerf and sticks out enough to go into the opposite kerf. You can cut the kerf with a router and bit, a biscuit machine, or a circular saw (after you clamp a couple pieces of wood to support and guide the saw. This could also be done with dowels with the one end rounded over (similar to what kitchen tables use). In either instance, careful marking and cutting is worth the effort.

GeekyAdam (author)n0klu2009-03-19

nice. i like the little extra shelf on the left as well.

themostbob (author)n0klu2007-08-05

An excellent solution, and the wood grain is a nice touch. Since I already had the one metal file cabinet, it was natural for me to go that route, but I quite like yours---especially the get-the-wires-out-of-the-way-board at the back. Nice job!

n0klu (author)n0klu2007-07-27

Here is the measurements and 1 sheet layout....

natharious (author)2009-06-19

Any idea where I could get cheap filing cabinets or an alternative? I'd love to create a similar desk.

jag217 (author)natharious2010-08-15

Milk Crates

themostbob (author)natharious2009-06-20

Thrift stores usually have a couple. The two drawer kind are usually just the right height. Maybe if there are business liquidators in your area, they would have some cheaper ones.

BlackHatCracker (author)2009-03-28

I have a question.. How much space is a metric buttload?? lol...

jolebitte (author)2008-01-31

Finally, I'm done with my desk!
The hardest parts were to get the halves to match (thick sheet, a bit shallow circle-saw) and the painting.

myohmy (author)jolebitte2009-03-08

Your colours look very sophisticated. Love the grey and white. Well done!

myohmy (author)2009-03-08

This is brilliant!! I'm thinking more filing cabinets could be added and the desk top extended if a person needed more cabinets too. Well done!! I've been thinking of converting s closet into s tiny work station. This would be perfect!! :0) !

ReCreate (author)2009-01-08

since computers are metal on the outside they can survive some fires probably some of the outer plastics may be ruined

Maffu (author)2008-01-31

That's a simple but brilliant idea.
At around the time you were building this I paid around £200 (in a sale, no less) for a flatpack . corner unit
Ok, so mine has a slidey keyboard shelf and a monitor riser on it, but I prefer yours and I'm thinking that I may have to do one just for the sheer joy of having made it.

Maffu (author)Maffu2008-04-19

Opps - fixed the link now.

Mak5 (author)2008-01-31

Props... I like the idea of nomadic furniture, I'm about to move AGAIN. I'm thinking desk, bed and shelves using this method. Again, props.

chalky (author)2007-10-07

nice shape i like it brilliant.

Jouda Mann (author)2007-09-17

Truly an elegant and easy alternative to the "disposable" furniture found at mega stores. Bravo!

copycatfilms (author)2007-07-31

this is a perfect way to make a corner desk! love it!! I just wish I had a truck to carry big pieces home now! :) Thanks!

themostbob (author)copycatfilms2007-08-05

Always befriend people with trucks. :) I want to get rid of mine, but I just can't---too much stuff to haul around!

blakelock (author)2007-06-06

much better than my blockity-block version. nice design.

MD_Willington (author)2007-05-09

Awesome, and the materials are way better than anything you'll find at the big box stores... real wood as opposed to sawdust + glue...

Office Viking (author)2007-05-01

Nice project! I love custom-building things around the house. It makes way more sense than paying a ton of money for a store-bought piece that's locked into a certain size. I'm diggin' your jigsaw cutting work. Smooth. I've had good experiences with applying an acrylic finish to wooden top surfaces. It makes it completely waterproof and provides a shiny appearance.

Chris Tucker (author)2007-04-30

Excellent design! VERY reminescent of the classic "Nomadic Furniture" DIY books. And such economy. Almost no wasted plywood. For myself, I think I'd build shelving in place of the file cabinets. If for no other reason than to have the LaserWriter right at hand and yet out of the way. Hmmm. Mounting the scanner on a sliding platform in the shelves on the other side would also work to keep it handy and yet not in the way. Off to SketchUp! I have some designing to do! Thanks for the inspiration!

themostbob (author)Chris Tucker2007-05-01

I can't say I've heard of those, but I'm not surprised. Once you constrain a design to fitting within a sheet of plywood, certain patterns are sure to emerge. I actually started thinking about a desk 8' on a side with curves like this, then made it smaller when I saw I could shoehorn it into a single sheet. The remainders of the cutting found life in other things around the house---pretty much nothing of that sheet went to waste.

Chris Tucker (author)2007-04-30

Add a PowerSquid and a shelf for all the wall wart adaptors. (I'm currently at 6 adaptors and likely there'll one or two more in the future.

lebowski (author)2007-04-30

Very nice Instructable. Now show me the best way to pimp out my closet. Whenever I tackle my closets, my design is always too bulky for my taste. Maybe a redo of your old project?

themostbob (author)lebowski2007-04-30

You saw that pic at the end, huh? :) Well, at least i was able to find the drawings I made back then for the shelves. Never did find my desk drawing as I was writing it up. I'll look into it. It's an ok project: no fasteners holding it together, all the pieces can be moved out if necessary, and lots of shelf space.

lebowski (author)themostbob2007-04-30

Sounds like a perfect project.

Taotaoba (author)2007-04-30

I love this idea. Great instructable! Thank you for sharing. How much is the total cost?

themostbob (author)Taotaoba2007-04-30

Most of the cost is in the file cabinets...and these days, in the 3/4" plywood. Filing cabinets are often available at thrift stores - disregarding their price, you could probably make it for < $50, most of that being the plywood.

Joe Lombardo (author)2007-04-30

Looks nice! I did something similar but hung it on the wall like a shelf. You can buy industrial shelf brackets real cheap at the local hardware store. Some day, I'll prime the brackets and paint them to match the wall.

HamO (author)2007-04-30

Excellent instructable, nice idea, great pix. Thanks for sharing.

ironsmiter (author)2007-04-30

nicely done... Looks like it's held up nicely over the years. Only thing I'd change is the center attachment... I'd go with a "piano hinge" It would lend extra support across the entire joint (porbable cut just short of where the top intersects the back support box). Plus it's allow the entire structure to fold for moving (one piece instead of 2) The hinges are only a buck or two at the local store... and a bow of small screws not much more :-)

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