Modern Rolltop Desk




Introduction: Modern Rolltop Desk

About: I'm an inventor / maker / designer based in the Bay Area. My background is in residential architecture, film set design, animatronics, media arts, exhibit design, and electronics. I use digital design and fabr…

A modern take on the classic roll top desk. The design is compact with clean lines, and the roll top is handy for hiding a messy desktop or a keyboard. Using the dimensions I'm providing here it will hide a Casio CT-S1.



  • Table saw or circular saw
  • Chop saw is handy but not necessary
  • Furniture Paint - I used Mudpaint, which is really easy to work with. But be careful with sanding, it's got lead in it!
  • CNC router or hand router


  • Project Panels
  • 1/2" Plywood
  • 1/4" square trim, 2" (for slats)
  • Brass Countersunk Screws
  • Brass Finishing Washers
  • Wood Glue
  • Nail gun / finishing nails / screws (permanent fastening method)
  • Fabric- I used canvas
  • Multi-Material

Step 1: Design in Fusion 360

Like practically every project I've made since 2014, I designed this one in Fusion 360. I always find it helpful to see a design in 3D before I make it, even though I don't always use CNC machines or 3D printers. In this case it was very helpful in figuring out the geometry of the roll top- radius of curves, depth of groove, number of slats needed, etc.

The video above will walk you through the general ideas. Here's a link to the file you can download:

Adjust the parameters as needed for material thickness!

Step 2: Cut Layout

This drawing will show you where to make your cuts using 16" project panels and what all the pieces are.

Step 3: Groove Drawing / Cutting

The drawing attached in this step shows dimensions of the groove and hole locations. The video shows a time lapse of the cutting process.

Step 4: Making the Roll Top

After ripping down the 1/4"X2" trim stock to 3/4" strips on the table saw, I used a table router to round off the edges. This could be done with a corner plane or sanding, or you could skip this and just factor in a little extra space in the grooves.

I lined them up so the edges were flush on my work table, then used double-stick tape to keep them in place. I put a strip of tape along each edge to keep the glue out- this will be the part of the slats that run in the groove.

Using a putty knife I coated the surface of the slats with glue, then followed along pressing down the canvas. Once the glue cured I cut off the excess canvas with a utility knife.

I then added some beeswax to the grooves before inserting the roll top and assembling the table. This reduces friction which can prevent you from opening the roll top.

Step 5: Assembly

I assembled this desk in 4 pieces: left side (shelf), right side (blank panel), back / desktop, and roll-top. To assembled the sides and the back / desktop I used glue, a finishing nail gun, and ratchet straps. I find this is the quickest way to assembly boxy furniture, especially if you're going to paint it.

Step 6: Nuts and Bolts

The sides and desktop are connected to each other with threaded inserts and brass screws. I used brass flat head screws with flush type finishing washers where they were visible.

The handles are drawer pulls bolted onto an 1/8" plywood sandwich. There's a 3D printed part that catches the nuts, and the plywood pieces are laser cut. You could easily just drill a hole in the bottom slat and put the pull directly through it, but I Iiked the way this looked better.

I also made a 3D printed escutcheon to wrangle the cables from my keyboard.

Step 7: Finished Product, Lessons Learned

If I were to make this project again, I would have added an extra slat laminated to the slat with the hardware attached. The single thickness slat flexes a lot, which can make it a little difficult to open sometimes.

I also might make the radius of the roll top groove bigger. That would certainly make the motion smoother.

As it is, it works fine, and it looks great in our foyer. My wife put a moratorium on exposed edge plywood furniture a while back, and she likes this much better than the stuff I used to make. She is, of course, correct.

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    1 year ago

    " it's got lead in it! "
    Why did you say that? I went to their web site and could find nothing about lead in the product.
    Love the look of your desk!
    But it's not so much a desk as a keyboard hideaway.
    The radii did look tight to me. Were it 'looser' it might allow you to use a wider slat at the front edge - and a thicker slat, too (only the ends that ride the slot need to be thinner than the slot), That (making it thicker) might help with the flexing issue.
    If the radius was looser, the first slat could also be a bit wider. By laminating five pieces together - alternating the grain of the five 'strips' - you should be able to remove even more of the 'flex.'
    You mentioned rounding over the edges of the slats to make it ride easier in the groove. Did you round over the ends of each slat as well? The profile of the slat ends would seem to be key to a smooth operation,


    Reply 1 year ago

    They don't always list lead as an ingredient. When sanding always assume it does- or something worse. It's amazing how many people sand silica and other materials without mask- or glasses.


    Reply 1 year ago

    I never thought of that, but n doubt it's true. I always use a vacuum attachment when using an orbital sander. Thanks for the advice!


    Reply 1 year ago

    Yeah, there's a lead warning on the can so I can only assume. I look it up though, and it's really only dust you need to worry about. If you end up buying that paint just use gloves. I will say this though: it's AWESOME. I've never had such a great experience painting a piece of furniture. I HATE painting. Maybe this is why they used to put lead in all the paint.

    Yes, a looser radius would definitely help. The roll top desk examples I looked at had people using thicker slats and dado-ing the ends for the slot. I can see why- that would make for less flexing and therefore a smoother motion.

    Laminating pieces would also work for sure, just more time and effort.

    I rounded over the entire length of each slat on one side. I like the aesthetic effect and it moves smoother.

    Thanks for the comments


    Tip 1 year ago on Step 7

    Next time, add a strip of PTFE tape to the bottom horizontal slide surface of the slot to really improve the sliding motion. It's available on the Imternet in various widths with an adhesive on one side. You might want to make the slot wider to accommodate the added thickness of the tape but it will be a BIG help with a sticky top.


    Reply 1 year ago

    That's a great idea! I have no doubt that would make it move much smoother.


    1 year ago

    Beautiful. When I saw the pedal down there I thought that was used to open it.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Haha! Yeah, the time-lapse is kind of misleading too- makes it look like it's motorized. Maybe I'll do that in version 2.0