Introduction: DIY Custom Desk

About: Radio Amateur, programmer and (poor) craftsman

After losing my home office I really struggled to get work and projects done, but I had a small area on my upstairs landing that I could use, the only problem was it was a very small area and I had a very tight budget. Overall this desk cost me £30 in materials to build, is very customisable and comfortable to work at.

For my desk to work it had to be able to accommodate my hobbies as well as my job, this meant I had to have a large flat workable area, room for the computer and room for all my radio's.

Being on a tight budget I reused as much materials as I could get my hands on, fortunately I had broken as large wardrobe a few days prior and so was able to use it's laminated sides as a worktop for the desk.. along with the interior light. Many of the screws and nails also came from disassembled furniture and old projects.

Step 1: Design

I used SketchUp to design the desk on a 1:1 scale, I went through a few iterations to get a design I was happy with and was careful during the whole process to make sure everything designed was doable with the materials and tools (and skills) I had available.

In practically I ended up making some deviations from the plans due to problems I ran into making clean cuts with the jigsaw, these were mostly on the 'radio rack' portion of the desk.

As I designed everything on a 1:1 scale I was able to use the dimensions tool in the software to work out the dimensions of the various components and also where I needed to make the cuts.

Step 2: Materials & Tools


CLS Pine Timber (38x62x2400mm)
Various lengths Pine Timber (45mm) (Recycled standing Shelf)
12mm Laminated Chipboard (Recycled Wardrobe)

Assorted Screwdrivers
Assorted Drill bits
Power Drill
Wood Saw and Mitre block (Compound Mitre Saw)
Jigsaw or Circular Saw
PVA wood glue
Assorted Wood Screws
100mm M6 Wood Screws (framing)

Step 3: Frame

The desk frame is a very simple design, it consists of three 'box' style legs with horizontal struts lapped across them on both top ends and third along the rear bottom leaving the face open so a chair (and legs!) can fit.

The 'box' sections are formed by notching out the vertical struts to accommodate the width and height of the horizontal struts that run the length of the desk, it is important when building the box sections to keep note of where screws are placed as additional screws are used later to secure the horizontal struts. A good technique I found when building these sections is to place two screws, one in the top left and the other in the bottom right, then later when securing the struts use the opposing corners. The boxes are constructed using both wood glue and 50mm screws, the horizontal struts are secured using two 100mm screws into each box section avoiding the use of glue in case disassembly later to move the desk.

It is important to pilot and countersink for each screw to avoid splitting the wood.

Once the three boxes were built I placed the roughly where they would be connected to the horizontal struts, the first two are close together with the distance between being the lower shelving area. Mark off in pencil the location of the middle box on all three horizontal struts and then place then box in the middle as it will serve as a support to help secure the top horizontal struts to the two end boxes. This first assembly stage can be difficult to do by yourself so if have a friend use them to hold the pieces in place. I highly recommend piloting the screw holes before attempting to locate the pieces and place the screws a few turns in the horizontal struts so that once they have been located it's just a matter of screwing them in.

Step 4: Shelving and Topper

Once all three horizontal struts have been installed into the end boxes, rehome the middle box to its final location using the pencil lines as a reference. For my design it was internally offset to the left side by 300mm on the inside. After it has been installed cut a piece of timber to the inside width of the two boxes and use it form a strut for the bottom face side, this will prevent the sections from slipping apart.

I repeated this method to add two more internal struts place equally apart inside the top of the desk running front to back to help secure the topper and keep the frame sturdy.

The topper was made using a side piece of the wardrobe, as only two of the edges were laminated I made sure to orientate the topper so they were visible as the other two were hidden against the walls! To cut the topper to size I measured from the laminated edges so that my cuts were made on the un-laminated edges, and cut the piece down using a jigsaw uses a spare piece of CLS as a guide. Once cut I sanded the course edges thoughly and homed the topper onto the desk frame.

I decided against securing the topper directly to the frame and instead opted to just prevent it from sliding so I cut off 30mm blocks of scrap timber and secured them on the inside corners of the topper from the bottom so that they rested snuggly against the frame. More 30mm blocks were cut to make the mounts for the internal shelves.

The top shelving unit was constructed by securing two long pieces of CLS together by drilling three holes slightly larger than the screw heads 50% of the way through the timber and then placing the screws inside, this removed the need to use longer screws which may have split the timber. I used the same technique to make the short the legs and secured them to the shelving unit.

The radio rack was made using the same box-lap technique as the desks frame, however for the shelving I used longer lengths of material as opposed to the 30mm blocks to strengthen the unit.

Both the shelving units were thoughly sanded to avoid scratching the topper and were not secured to the desk, instead I rely on the weight of installed items to provide some mechanical retention.

Step 5: Final & Modifications

Overall I am quite happy with the desk, I ended up installing the interior lamp from the wardrobe onto the back of the shelf to provide some ambient lighting and also cut a 50mm hole in the topper so cables could pass between.

I also added a simple shelf to the bottom to hold the computer tower off the ground and installed a salvaged power strip along the inside to power all my devices.

I had considered painting the frame pieces to match the laminated toppers but I have grown to like the contrasting colours of the materials.

Trash to Treasure

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Trash to Treasure