Introduction: Simple Kid’s Desk

About: Sustainability professional with too many tools.
Online search: kids desk... $150? $100 $75 for cheap white fiberboard? Heck no!

Time to grab the boys (7 & 9 years) to build a simple and solid desk that they can customize with their artwork.

A trip to Lowes got the supplies, the opportunity to explain paint vs stain, and show grains in different woods. I planned on the legs being a flat white, but let them choose the stain color. Honey, oak or walnut? Heck no! Red Barn, Dad! Nice choice, these kids might be onto something.


(2 desks) - purchased everything in one trip to Lowes
Two pre-made wood boards (desktop) , 16”x36”. $10 each
Three 1”x8”x8’ (side/rear panel), $10 each
Four 2”x4”x8’ (legs & front panel), $5 each
Box of 50 cabinet screws (8-20 2.5” long), $6
Minwax stain Red Barn, $12

Cordless circular saw, table-saw or similar
Cordless drill
Palm sander or similar
220, 500 and 1200 grit sandpaper

Step 1: Cut and Prep Lumber

The desk heights are age based. A reference table and dimensional layout is in Step 2. Only the leg length of the 2”x4” changes.

The 16”x36” premade wood boards only need a quick pass with 220 grit. No cutting necessary.

Trim the ends of all other lumber for clean edges with your preferred saw. Mark the lengths of the 2”x4” legs/front panel and 1”x8” panels. You may need to mix the lengths depending on the desired height to minimize lumber.

Cut the legs and panels. Sanding with 220 grit will smooth out any rough spots before painting. For a smooth finish, choose higher quality lumber and sand with 150 grit, then 220. I wanted some imperfections and texture.

Look at your pile of pieces, that didn’t take long. Brush off the sawdust and get ready to paint (Step3)

Step 2: Layout and Age/Desk Height Table

The pic lays out the various pieces and lengths. It is drawn to scale, then uploaded as a pic.

Instead of having them dangling their feet for years, I set the desk height for their age appropriate size.

Age/Desk Height Table
2-4 years 18”-20”
4-7 years 20”-22”
7-9 years 25”
9-12 years 27”

Step 3: Painting

The desk tops were stained with the chosen Red Barn (plain white, boring!). Important: do not stain the underside of the desktop (it will be glued). Some stain by the underside edges can be expected and will not be a problem. Two coats were applied with a cloth, left stain on for 30 seconds, then wiped off. The first coat was too light. The second coat darkened considerably; closer to a garnet than a barn red. Dried for 24 hours and sanded lightly with 500 grit sandpaper; prior to the protective coating.

A protective layer of Minwax Polycrylic was added, 2 coats. Lightly sanded with 500 grit sandpaper, between coats; then dried for 24 hours. Polycrylic can be tricky to apply smoothly with a brush (the spray cans shoot globs, fyi). A polyurethane or other protective coating appropriate for your stain brand/color choice should be considered. A final light sanding with 1200 or similar high grit sandpaper smoothed the desktop surface.

All other lumber is painted (by the boys!) with 2” bristle paintbrushes in a flat white latex indoor paint. Important: do not paint one end of each leg (glueing to desktop). Sand between coats, if you are a perfectionist; we didn’t. The occasional drip/edge mark adds character and wood imperfections are texture for their upcoming artwork. Dry for 24-48 hours to let the paint harden. Tacky boards can make alignment/assembly more difficult.

This is, by far, the most time consuming step. Tired of painting, waiting, and ready to build something? Yeah!

Step 4: Final Assembly

Thankfully latex cleans up easily, even from painted boys. After a day of drying, their gazes kept going to the pile of white and red boards. Get the clamps and drill; let’s build desks. Yeah!

Assemble the desk upside down. This ensures the desk doesn’t wobble (you did cut all the legs equal length and square, right?). An old towel will protect the desktop from scratches. Refer to the layout diagram. We will be starting with the front panel 2”x4”.

Align the front panel 2” back from the desk front edge and evenly on either side. Clamp it to the desktop and double check the alignment, afterwards.

Put a leg and a side support panel on one end of the front panel. The side panel forms a butt joint, an “L”, with the end of the front panel. You will have to shift the boards around until they line up squarely; then clamp. The picture shows how the two clamps hold the corner together.

With the corner clamped, mark the pilot holes for the four screws. Put the marks. 1” from the edges on the front panel (2”x4”) and 2.5” from the edges for the support; centered on the respective face of the leg. Pilot holes (tiny drill bit) prevents splitting and helps the cabinet screws pull the joined pieces together tightly. Drill the four pilot holes and install the four cabinet screws.

Repeat the alignment, clamping, drilling and screwing at the other end of front panel. Then repeat with each corner of the rear panel. You are almost done and that didn’t take long.

Take your (upside down) base off, flip it, and stand it on the floor. Strong and no wobble (right?). We are ready for the last thing, glueing the desktop. The desktop has 1/4” overhang on the two sides and the back. Get those correct and the front is automatically set. You can do this easily by feel; even if you have never done it before. Your fingers will feel if one of the edges is bigger than the other. Now that you have amazed yourself, take off the desktop, grab some wood glue and those clamps.

Put wood glue on top of the unpainted legs. I used Gorilla Wood glue, but any wood specific glue works. A 1/8” layer is good. Any excess will squeeze out, once clamped. Put on the desktop and align the overhang of the two sides and rear. Clamp down the the desktop to the base. Leave the clamps on for at least an hour or until your glue is set. Unclamp, enjoy your beverage of choice and admire your work before the little monsters arrive to lay claim.

Step 5: Final Thoughts and Pics

Hopefully a few people find this article useful and get a laugh along the way. Woodworking gurus will look at the layout, know what do instantly and have improvements. The details should make this project very achievable for my acolyte comrades. My boys had a blast painting and assembling. Now they are customizing with their artwork and asking, “What is next?”

On a personal note, this sustainability guru with over 15 years of experience is looking for new employment. I make sustainability as accessible and profitable as desk building. Consider a chat or a referral and we can see if our interests align beyond Instructables.

Thanks for reading, trying and succeeding.