Introduction: Great Looking, Inexpensive Computer Desk

Picture of Great Looking, Inexpensive Computer Desk

When looking for a computer desk for my home office, I couldn't find anything that was reasonably priced and met my needs. All of the nicer desks I was looking at were at least $1200 or more and weren't exactly what I was looking for. I also didn't see a lot of instructables for desks, so I decided to build one and set myself a budget of $300.

The desk consists of four pieces.
- table top
- 3 drawer cabinet (writing supplies, computer cables, etc)
- 2 drawer file cabinet (drawers are sized for hanging file folders)
- printer cabinet

I chose to build it this way because it is easy to transport, and it can easily be shifted around to a new room if I chose to move at a later time. I also chose a fairly simple construction, no crazy joinery, and tools that every basic wood shop would have.

- 3 (4'x8') sheets of 5/8" mdf (I would have liked to use maple veneer plywood, but its about 3 times the price)
- 2 (4'x8') sheets of 1/8" mdf or hardboard
- 1" brad nails
- 5/8" brad nails
- wood glue
- wood filler (for nail holes)
- 5 pairs of roller tracks for the drawers
- 7 drawer handles
- 1 pair of cabinet door hinges
- 1 gallon of primer
- 1 gallon of paint
- brushes and rollers

Feel free to build as many or as few cabinets as you need to suit your application. And if you build one post some pictures!

Step 1: Necessary Tools

Picture of Necessary Tools

I wanted to post this instructable using common tools. These tools are very common and for the most part inexpensive. Chances are if you don't have all of these tools, your neighbour will be able to help you out.

The tools I used were:
-table saw
-miter saw
-tape measure
-adjustable square
-paint brush and roller
-brad nailer
-cutting pliers
-drill bit and driver
-palm sander

Step 2: Cut the Pieces

Picture of Cut the Pieces

Using a table saw, cut all of the pieces to size.

Laying out your cuts effectively will save you a huge amount of time in the end. I would recommend that you make all your table saw cuts first, then trim the pieces to size on a miter saw. On top of making it easier and faster, it will also save a lot of material.

Programs like cutmaster2D allow you to type in the dimensions of the pieces, and it will figure out the best way to lay out your sheets.

The pdfs show the pieces and dimensions.

Step 3: Assemble the First Cabinet

Picture of Assemble the First Cabinet

Here is an exploded view of how the pieces go together.

The pdf also has dimensions.

Step 4: Assembly Continued

Picture of Assembly Continued

With glue and a brad nailer assemble the cabinet.

Build the box first, then attach the middle braces, and the top and bottom trim.

The two drawer, and three drawer cabinets are almost identical, other than the spacing of the drawers.

Step 5: Printer Cabinet

Picture of Printer Cabinet

The printer cabinet is almost the same as the two and three drawer cabinets, with some minor differences.

- there is no bracing for drawers,
- there is a bottom piece for the printer to sit on (which is braced from the bottom)

Step 6: Build the Work Surface

Picture of Build the Work Surface

The table top I built is 8' x 2' which fits my office nicely. 2' is plenty room for a keyboard and flat screen monitor to fit.

Use the table saw to cut strips of mdf to build the interior of the table top.

Glue and brad nail the structure together for a thick and strong, but light table top.

Step 7: Build the Drawers

Picture of Build the Drawers

Here is an exploded view of the drawer, along with the dimensioned drawing.

Step 8: Build the Drawers (continued)

Picture of Build the Drawers (continued)

The drawer construction is fairly simple.

Assemble the four walls of the drawer by gluing and brad nailing a simple butt joint.

Mark the overhang of the drawer front to ensure that it is centred before gluing and nailing. Nail from the back, so you don't have to spend time covering the nail holes later on.

The final step is to glue and nail the bottom of the drawer (1/8" mdf).

Step 9: Printer Door

Picture of Printer Door

I built the printer door to look like two regular file drawers.

Cut two drawer fronts as well as a strip for the middle, and attach them to make it look like a drawer front.

Step 10: Fill the Nail Holes and Sand the Corners

Picture of Fill the Nail Holes and Sand the Corners

Fill the nail holes with wood filler, and sand off the excess once dry.

It is also a good idea to take a sander to the hard edges to round them just a bit.

Step 11: Prime and Paint

Picture of Prime and Paint

The mdf is pretty porous so it will take a few coats to completely cover. I would recommend at least two coats of latex primer before two final coats of paint.

If you have access to a spray gun you will get a better finish, but using a roller and a brush works just fine.

Step 12: Attach the Handles

Picture of Attach the Handles

Take some time to choose the right hardware. The handles you choose will really set the look of the whole desk.

The handles I chose were the most expensive part of the desk, at about $80 for all of them, but to me they were worth it!

I used a cardboard template to mark the holes of the handle. I cut a notch in the centre of the template, measured the centre of the drawer front, and drilled through.

Step 13: Drawer Tracks

Picture of Drawer Tracks

Screw the rollers onto the drawer bottoms.

Then screw the matching pieces to the inside of the cabinet.

Step 14: Put Everything Together!

Picture of Put Everything Together!


HilaryH5 (author)2016-01-02

What nonsense. I don't want to install software to get the plans. Seems like a scam to get you to download unwanted software on your computer. Why can't I just download the pdf?

claudg1950 (author)2013-08-23

It is your fault! Due to your great looking desk, I felt compelled to try my own –for my wife-- but in hindsight I'm surprised that I managed to do it.
I copied the type of handles you used, the trimming for the drawers and the desktop, and the general idea.
Just for the record: The 60x175cm desktop (24x69 in), the 40x50cm (16"x 20") cabinet and drawer`s sides and back were all made with 15mm (5/8") white melamine. The trim for the cabinet and the table top is some inexpensive 5 cm (2") wide softwood door molding. The bottom and face of the drawers is 9mm (3/8") MDF.
Strip moldings and MDF were stained with a water-dissolved powdered pigment (in fact, brown pigment for fabrics, as I couldn't find true wood pigment). Notably, by brushing the pigment horizontally the illusion of wood grain appeared (just a fluke).
Thank you very much indeed for your inspiration and your instructable.

phish814 (author)2011-02-15

Using an old door would be convenient for a top. You could even use the old hole for the handle as a place to route the computer cables.

Drojen (author)2010-11-12

Thanks for the great plans! My wife and I built a variation of this desk this week and it turned out great with a few customizations.

We changed the dimensions a bit since we used 1/2" MDF instead of the 5/8". We also used a hollow core 24" x 80" interior door slab for the top and made two simple cabinets with hinged doors based on the printer cabinet plans you made. To those I drilled some holes on the inside for adjustable shelf brackets and cut some simple shelves for extra storage. I've attached some pics below.

Once again thanks!

charliejaime (author)Drojen2010-12-10

Great variation. Since I've NEVER built anything before, I am going to try your version (since it doesnt have drawers, which I find intimidating). Could you tell me how you mounted the doors and shelves (hardware). Also, the doors, are they mounted directly on the frame of the cabinet? There seems to be another piece of wood in the picture that the hinges are bolted to... Finally, could you give provide the measurments of the cabinet...

Thanks for any answers/help you can provide a newbie.


Drojen (author)charliejaime2010-12-18

Hey CJ. The doors are mounted with some of those European style hidden hinges 1/2" depth. They require a screw that is about an inch long to mount them to the cabinet box, so we had to install one more strip of 1/2" MDF which we cut to fit and glued to the sides. This allows the screw to go all the way in and anchor everything well.

On the door side, you have to use a forstner bit to drill out the hole to mount the hinge. The hinges come with handy little templates that make it easier. I got everything at Home Depot. They basically just sit inside the hole you just bored out and are anchored by a couple of screws. Just go slowly so you don't bore all the way through the door face.

For the shelves I just drilled some holes in a line and put in some of those little adjustable shelf brackets like you find in store bought bookshelves. They just pop in and out so we can adjust accordingly. Eyeball your drill bit and the side of the cabinet box and then put some tape around the bit to mark the depth so you know when to stop drilling so you don't pierce through. I put the holes about 1.5" apart. Just make sure the front ones are level with the back ones, mark everything out, and go to town.

The cabinets are 20" on the inside, 21" on the outside, and 22" where the trim pieces go on the top and bottom. They are 28" tall. The construction is the same as the printer cabinets in this instructable. Since I used 1/2" MDF, I used rounded off measurements to make it easier.

I hope this helps, good luck.


charliejaime (author)Drojen2010-12-28

Thanks for your detailed response, I greatly appreciate it. I will let you know how I make out.

Happy New Year!


kyzla (author)2010-02-18

do you think i can adjust the printer cabinet size?

my printer is very differently shaped :( but has a scanner and fax and printer all built in :)

i think i could, and then adjust the size in the plans and all, and adjust the top and such... i don't think it'd be too hard, do you?

also: GREAT job. i grew up watching my grandfather see a problem and fix it by building some custom piece of furniture. they were works of art, and easily replicable with plans and everything. yours is just wonderful. 5 stars!

looker1995 (author)2010-02-06

I did roughly the same thing for my computer desk. However, for my top I chose a prefab Formica countertop from Home Depot. The 6 footers cost about $45-$60, but I got a chipped one for $30. I set things up so the chip is hidden behind some of my peripheral gear, so it's not a problem.

clintiepoo (author)2009-07-30

I'm thinking about doing this... my desk is really old and very modified and it would be nice to get a new, larger one. Could you post measurements of the overall dimensions of this desk? I know i could tweak it, but if I build it to print I need to know how big it will be.

porcupinemamma (author)2009-04-29

If I can't have a quick peek at Inst. before work, I am in withdrawal all day, so I clicked on and found your ible. Beautiful!!!! Just what I'm looking for. Tell me please, are those two filing cabinets side by side? I need four filing drawers desperately. Great looking desk!!! 5 stars :0)

silver912targa (author)2009-01-10

This is the kind of cabinets I make all the time. After restoring about 6 houses, I'm happy to see that there are other people using the same techniques as I do. Also the kind of style you use is similar and primering with latex is o so easy, much better then these expensive primers. I got this cheap and easy technique from stage builders. Michel Portugal

Nymph (author)2009-01-08

You've made a very professional looking desk. I think the handles give it a great look -well worth the money. Good job!

jmthomas (author)2008-12-23

I'm going to get my boyfriend to build me one.

Spokehedz (author)2008-12-19

You know, it might be cheaper to get pre-built cabinets from Home Depot or Lowes... Plus, save a lot of time and effort as well.

nickfarnell (author)Spokehedz2008-12-23

thats a great call! the only thing to take into consideration is height. generally computer desks are around 30.5" tall, while kitchen counters are around 36.5" tall.

Spokehedz (author)nickfarnell2008-12-23

That is true, but that usually includes about 4" on the top and bottom that you could shave off. Also, the chair I have has a raise and lower adjustment level. 'bout time I used it for something.

nickfarnell (author)Spokehedz2008-12-23

very true! definitely a time saver

choch (author)2008-12-18

I did this years ago and it works great. I used bathroom cabinets, they already have a drawer and a door. Put one on each end, more if you have room. Put a standard laminate counter top on the cabinets and a brace on the wall at the back of the chair hole. Holes for electricity and cables as you like. The countertop is prefinished. I slid it in a window and dropped it into place for a wall to wall desk. Prefab is really cheap. Choch...

nickfarnell (author)choch2008-12-23

thats a great idea!

blackturtle (author)2008-12-18

Gorgeous! And it can be custom size to any space. Love it!

nickfarnell (author)blackturtle2008-12-23

thanks! being modular was the starting point for me. i know im not going to be living in the same spot forever, so i wanted to build a work station that could move with me. if i move, ill just build a new top - longer, shorter, or even an 'L' shape.

jessandstavro (author)2008-12-18

My computer desk is two two-drawer filing cabinets topped with a French door and a piece of glass on top. It looks almost identical to yours! Nicer and with more character than anything you'd find in a store. Great illustrations too. :)

thanks for your comments! id love to see your desk

adamvan2000 (author)2008-12-18

I've never built any of the projects on here, but this one, I will do. My wife's going to love her new sewing desk. :O) ~adamvan2000

nickfarnell (author)adamvan20002008-12-23

great to hear! post pictures when you do build it.

uncle frogy (author)2008-12-20

very nice work would fit in to any house or apt. nice project. I have an unused bedroom that I converted to a lab workshop I added a second desk using 2 used two drawer Steelcase filling cabinets from a local office supply store and a piece of 3/4 plywood that I cut down to fit the space not very elegant but quick. I would have used a cheap hollow core slab door but did not have the length. still not very elegant.

nickfarnell (author)uncle frogy2008-12-23

thanks! im glad you liked it

nickfarnell (author)2008-12-20

i just had a CAD (computer aided design) question... for this instructable i used SolidWorks - absolutely amazing software, but it is expensive (upwards of $6000 US) and takes a lot of practice before you really understand the program. i would recommend Google SketchUp as a great starter CAD system. easy to learn, pretty intuitive, and best of all - FREE!

west boyo (author)2008-12-14

I like the plan, it looks very professional. one thing I don't know about though is the material. MDF is not the strongest choice. you can get maple veneer particle board for bearably cheap, and it is much stronger and infinitely more waterproof. it can also be stained, if you like the natural wood look. great plan, otherwise.

nickfarnell (author)west boyo2008-12-14

maple veneer was definitely my first choice but unfortunately couldnt make it happen for less than the $300 budget i set myself. maple veneer is a much nicer material, stronger, and gives a better finish in the end!

aeray (author)nickfarnell2008-12-15

And you'd have to edge-band it too.

facadeparade (author)2008-12-13

It's gorgeous. A lot better than the ones I've seen in the store.

nickfarnell (author)facadeparade2008-12-14

thanks! enjoy!

dung0beetle (author)facadeparade2008-12-13

You make it look easy. Shame on you!

fwjs28 (author)2008-12-14

pretty cool....5*

nickfarnell (author)fwjs282008-12-14


aeray (author)2008-12-14

Excellent 'ible. Good instructions and illustrations, and good use of material. One tip-- If you drill two oversized holes in the drawer sub-front and then use two panhead screws with fender washers to attach the actual drawer front, the front can be easily adjusted for an even reveal once the assembly and installation is complete.

nickfarnell (author)aeray2008-12-14

thats a good call! i havnt come across that trick before

jdege (author)2008-12-14

I've never seen anyone nail and glue a drawer bottom on. They're usually set in a dado., and left free-floating. You're method has the advantage of simplicity. There are a number of ways of cutting dadoes, but all require tools and practice. The problem is that wood expands with changes in temperature and humidity, With a free-floating drawer bottom, that's not an issue. With the glued and nailed method you've used, your drawers will warp. It may be that with well-sealed MDF, you'll not see the problem. But if someone were to follow using these instructions using a different finish, or decided not to bother painting the drawer bottoms, they could have a problem.

nickfarnell (author)jdege2008-12-14

i thought about running dadoes, but i wanted to keep it simple. also after choosing a drawer slide that supports the sides of the drawers, i thought they would be strong enough once assembled. more than likely i would have run dadoes if i was building with plywood, but was afraid of the mdf chipping.

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