Introduction: Office Desk

About: Mechanical engineer by day, guy with some tools and spare time by night.

Time: Est. 60-80 hours (mostly finishing work)

Cost: $250-$300 for all materials

Tools: Table and/or circular saw, hammer, drill (a small drill or right-angle model helps for tight spaces), driver, level, clamps, pocket hole jig, miter saw, sanding tools, pin or finish nailer, measuring tape (calipers help), wood glue, paint brushes

Background: We've been working from home more with the ongoing COVID stuff and needed a desk for the home office. This particular design is modeled off of the Ballard Bourdonnais Desk, which costs 6 or 7 times as much as what it cost to build this one. The drawers are fairly skinny but should be big enough for pens, small notebooks, and computer peripherals. The keyboard and mouse are on a slide-out tray with full-extension slides. The desk depth (28") was chosen so that it would fit through most doorways without disassembly or door removal.

Drawing Print: The attached drawing print was put together after the fact, so I apologize if there are any missing dimensions. Just leave a comment and I will try to update it. Also, I apologize to all the non-engineering folks out there for the shorthand on the drawing print.


4x4 Pine: 2pc of 6ft length minimum

1/2", 5/8", or 3/4" MDF for desktop, tray, drawers, and footers: 1pc 4'x8' sheet (I used 1/2" for everything)

1x2 Pine: 1pc 8', 1pc 6'

2x4 Stud: 1pc 8'

1x4 Pine: 5pc 6' (there is probably a way to build this using fewer pieces of 8' lengths, but I used 6 footers)

1x3 Pine: 3pc 6'

1x6 Pine: 3pc 6'

Drawer Slides: 1 pair of 12" full extension, 2 pair of 14" Euro style

Drawer Pulls: I used the Liberty Unity Bronze w/ Copper Highlights Pulls from HD

Paint and Polyurethane

Step 1: Cut Leg Materials

The first step was cutting the legs out of the 4x4s, the horizontal 2x4 braces in between the legs, and then bottom pad out of MDF (I used 1/2" thk).

The 4x4 legs are each 29 1/4" long. Nothing special required here.

The 2x4s were ripped on a table saw to remove the eased edges which makes finish work substantially easier. I ripped each to final width of 3" such that a piece of 1/2" MDF could be added underneath on install to create a final height of 3 1/2".

The bottom pad was cut to final height/width on a table saw and the side notches were added on a band saw. A jig saw will work just fine for this step if you do not have a bandsaw.

Step 2: Leg Construction Part 1

To start the actual build, cut one of your 1x4s to the same length as the 2x4 supports with the edges beveled to 45 degrees. After cutting, glue and/or finish nail the 2x4 sandwiched between two of the 1x4 pieces such that the top surface is as flat as possible (see picture).

I cut a long piece of 1/2 MDF to make the ripped 2x4 the same height as the adjacent 1x4. The MDF was glued to the bottom (see second photo)

Add some glue to the bottom and place the horizontal support (2x4 and 1x4 sandwich) on the MDF pad. Add the two 4x4 legs on either end with glue on the sides and bottoms. Clamp and center the entire assembly on the pad as much as possible.

Once the glue has set for a few minutes, flip the assembly over, drill some holes and add screws through the pad to hold the legs tightly in place (see picture). Countersink the screw heads to prevent them from scratching the floor after install.

After you complete one set of legs, repeat the above processes to build the other.

Step 3: Leg Construction 2 - X Cross Braces

Now it's time to cut and install the X cross-braces. See the drawing print for all of the angles necessary. Cut the long piece first, and then use this to cut the segmented piece. See the first two photos for an easy way of getting the lengths right. Once all three pieces for one X have been finished and fit checked, cut the other leg's X using the first set as templates.

Center the X inside of the two legs and then attach. I used glue at all butt joints and then pin nailed the tops of each X to the legs for added security

Step 4: Leg Construction 3 - Trimwork

To finish out the legs, it's time to add the beveled trimwork. Start from the inside and work your way to the outside edges of the legs. The 1x4s are cut to length with 45 degree bevels on either end. Don't worry about small gaps if you are painting as you can always use wood filler or caulk.

All of the trim pieces are held in place by glue and a few pin nails. I recommend keeping the nails low on the 1x4's so that they will be covered by the subsequent 1x3s. I forgot to do this on my first set so ignore the upper set of nails on my picture. This required more wood filler and sanding later on....

Once everything is attached, you can start wood filling and sanding. Start with the high grit stuff like 60-80 and work your way down to 220 or finer before you paint.

Step 5: Cut and Assemble Desktop and Apron

Cut all of the pieces per the drawing print using a table saw to rip down the 1" pieces for the front of the apron. The notches on the lateral 1x6 braces were made using a bandsaw but a jigsaw would be sufficient.

Add pocket holes as shown in the second picture to the two apron side pieces, the lateral 1x6 braces, and the small pieces on the ends of the apron front. The only holes that need to be somewhat precise are the ones near the notches on the lateral 1x6 braces and one set of holes on the apron side pieces (see second photo).

NOTE IF USING HARDWOOD: If you plan on using hardwood like oak to build this table, you may want to omit the pocket holes on the front of the lateral 1x6 braces (near the notches on the second photo). These will be screwed into 1" thick wood, and since pocket holes are typically not pre-drilled, the chance of wood splitting is high. Titebond II or similar high strength glue should be adequate.

Start to assemble the apron using glue, corner clamps, and the pocket hole screws (make sure your pocket holes are on the interior). Pocket holes should be the correct length and coarse threaded if using softwoods like pine. Attach the side pieces to the back piece first, then attach the lower 1" front piece using glue and pocket screws. Then assemble the front working your way from bottom to top. Use clamps to keep things flush while glueing and screwing together.

Once assembled, add the smaller interior 1x4 lateral braces by cutting to length, drilling pocket holes (2 on each end), and attaching. See last picture for how everything should look when finished.

Step 6: Drawer and Tray Assembly

For this desk, I went with what could be considered the antithesis of woodworking high design. Just some pieces of 1/2 MDF with pocket hole screws for the boxes and then leftover pieces of pine ripped to size and beveled on a table saw with the blade at 45 degrees.

Before building your drawers, measure the openings in the apron and then remeasure to be sure. Subtract the width of your chosen drawer slides, then cut and assemble. I recommend sanding before attaching the slides to make that process easier (you can also paint them at this point if you want). If using Euro style slides like I did, install the box faces flush with the apron front. Then attach the drawer fronts by clamping in place over the apron and adding screws in from the backside.

For the tray, measure your opening, subtract the width of your chosen drawer slides (I used full extension slides) and cut all the pieces.

NOTE: Make sure you double check the tray bottom dimensions before cutting. You need to leave extra width and depth to fit into the slots.

Add a dado cut to the sides/back using a table saw or router. My table saw doesn't have a dado set, so I ran it through the table saw over and over, shifting the fence slightly inward each time. Once you get a snug fit with the tray bottom, you are good to go.

NOTE: Before gluing, make sure you final width is equal to the table apron opening minus the width of your drawer slides. If too wide, trim some material off. If you are not wide enough, leave small gaps in the slots and wood fill afterwards.

No need for nails or screws on the tray as glue should be more than sufficient. After the tray is finished, you can install it to the desk using your drawer slides. I inset my tray about 3/4" in so that it is somewhat hidden when fully closed.

I had to buy my wood in two separate trips so I went ahead and painted the apron and legs before building the drawers. There is no real advantage or disadvantage to doing it this way, but it explains the weirdness in the last photo.

Step 7: Final Assembly

To finish assembly, I clamped pieces of plywood to the apron on both ends, placed this assembly on the legs (with plywood sitting on tops of legs), and then attached the legs using 3 screws per leg through the 1x3 lateral braces. See the first photo for an example of the screws.

I attached the desktop last to make it easier to get everything screwed together and to make painting easier. If you want, you can install the desktop to the apron first using desktop brackets, L brackets, or pocket holes, and then install that assembly to the legs. It's entirely personal preference.

Once everything is done, you can paint and poly. The color I chose is Sherwin Williams Dovetail with 3 coats of semi-gloss polyurethane.

The drawer handles are fairly cheap ones from HD. I would also recommend adding felt pads or something similar to the bottoms of the legs. This will reduce the chances of the pads chipping and will eliminate potential floor scratches. As you can see, I still have a cord management issue so my plan is to add a wire passthrough grommet at a later date.

You are all finished at this point so once the poly sets, enjoy your new desk. Feel free to post any questions in the comments and I will try to answer.