Making a Desk Featuring Old Wooden Crates




About: I like making things out of items that would have otherwise been discarded. Check out my other projects!

For years i have planned on building a desk to meet my needs and use old wooden boxes and crates for the drawers. I'm not a finish carpenter but was able to cobble this desk together over a few evenings with a little trial and error.

I wanted to use crates found at garage sales and thrift stores for the drawers, have a tidy cable and cord system, shelving integrated, not conceal too much of the wall, and to fit the space that i had evenly. I also wanted to spend as little money as possible on it and use salvaged materials.

I ended up only buying a few longer screws for the drawer handles - that was the only new purchase of anything i didn't have on hand.

Step 1: Materials

Your materials will vary depending on your requirements and what you have available.

The entire desk was made out of red cedar 1x12 boards that i reused from shelving that was in the house and boards that i found in the attic and 2x2 red cedar pieces that i salvaged from the front porch railing.

The top of the desk was made with two pieces of tempered glass that i salvaged from a construction site -- they were extras.

The crates i collected slowly over a period of years from local sales.

The handles on the drawers were salvaged from a desk and a filing cabinet that were at the landfill and partially crushed.

The cable management tracks were removed from an electrical panel that was at the landfill as well.

Drawer hardware. Two of the drawers i put on tracks because i had salvaged them from old desks and because i could spare the extra space due to a crate being paired with a larger one. Friction drawers seem to be working alright with the others.

I used finishing nails for all the wood attachments and short screws with a very wide head for attaching the cable chases and the drawer hardware.

Unfortunately, my good digital camera was in for service as I built the desk so a few photos were taken with my cameraphone. Sorry about the poorer quality of them.

Step 2: Making the Cuts

I made the following pieces.

2 1x12 boards at 6' 6" - these become the back "legs" of the desk and the sides of the book case.
5 1x12 boards at 29" - these served as the front "legs" and the inside of the drawer supports under the desk top.
3 1x12 boards at 5' for the back piece of the desktop and the lower two shelves.
2 1x12 boards at 61 and one half inches for the front portion of the desktop and the top shelf.
A number of shorter boards depending on the width of your crates and the drawer/shelf pattern you choose.

6 2x2s at 11 and a quarter inch (or whatever your 1x board width comes to.)
2 (minimum) at 23 inches (or whatever the depth of your desktop is)

Step 3: Assembly

Put together the shelves, outside legs and desktop. It may be a little wobbly so attaching a board on the back diagonally may be a wise idea at least temporarily.

I suggest stacking the crates you have in a few different arrangements to determine what will work best. Originally i did not plan on having the printer below the desktop but after having it on the desktop for a while i decided to move it below. Turning the crates wide side out may leave room for a desktop computer tower behind.

I had originally intended on integrating a paper/cardboard recycling and refuse station into the design but that didn't work out.

Step 4: Imperfection

I like the "Brass Fittings" scribbled over the prune box label and "Seamer" written on the salmon roe box. In fact, the "Chevron Blazo fuel" crate is too clean and kind of stands out to me. Obviously each crate will be pretty unique. I could probably have dirtied up the clean box a bit myself. Quite apparent in this picture is the differing widths and the gaps. I could have put a board on the very bottom that would have closed the gap at the top. A short 2x2 will close up the gap on the side of the top drawer too. But these imperfections are part of the charm for me.

Step 5: Show Off the Sides

The Bartlett Pear crate has great markings on all sides so i used hardware that would show it off well. I also used the hardware because it is the thinnest - the tracks help it glide out instead of dragging on the wood.

Step 6: Move In

I have a few more crates that i might add to a section of the top drawers but i want to use the desk for a while to figure out what i might need. I lucked out with the two pieces of glass that i had that fit the desk - an afterthought that i should have considered in the design.

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    25 Discussions


    7 years ago on Step 6

    LOVE THIS. The drawers are completely charming. :D


    9 years ago on Step 6

    Why don't you add a pin/ notice board to the back to hide the light cord.  That way when you find a new energy efficient light you wont have to be worried whether or not it has a cord.


    PS. I wish my wife would let me build a desk like yours.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Nice!  Reminds me of some furniture an older couple I knew had to use when they first got married and didn't have any money--great job!


    9 years ago on Step 6

    ohh man I love this desk, we have similar tastes when it comes to desks :P, love the old style drawers.

    thanks for sharing.


    9 years ago on Step 1

    Nice instructable, also I LOVE the fact that you used salvaged pieces for this project, because it saves money and also it helps the environment a little bit :)

    I am collecting scarp wood from the street so I can make my own customized desk like yours.

    thanks for this nice instructable.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Dude: finishing nails? Did you at least spread on some Titebond before you hammered the boards together?

    The finished project looks nice, but it's not likely to last very long with those joints. Not if it gets used regularly. Those finishing nails are going to work that cedar like nobody's business. The slightest racking will spread their holes, and what's now a slight wobble will soon turn into a cause for keeping small children out of the immediate vicinity. I'd look for the hutch to go first.

    Sorry. Don't mean to be a downer. I can completely relate to the spirit of your recycling efforts. I love the old boxes and the fact that you appreciate them like you do. And your "Imperfection" step speaks volumes about your aesthetic sensibilities. Delightful contrasts abound in this project.

    And really, the desk and the hutch do look nice. No, I can't see the details of the finish in these photos, but I can tell that you took your time to square things up.

    It's just those nails. They worry me. Holding those 1-inch boards with very little assistance from wood-on-wood support. Even if you only have a circular saw, you can at least cut dadoes (granted, that takes a little patience; OK, a lot).

    Or if it's too late now for that, maybe plunge-cut a few splines from the outside. You could use a light-colored contrasting wood for the spline keys and make them decorative, as well as functional. I dunno. It would get glue in the frame.

    That's really the key question: Did you glue it before you nailed it? Because if you did, and used some decent glue (e.g. plain old red-label Titebond), it might be fine.

    Anyway, pardon the ramble. Discarded wooden crates (ones with character!), tied together visually with a common pull, and used as drawers in a home-built desk and beans.

    3 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Glue alone isn't going to help this desk. It needs a back. Hardboard is like $5 a sheet


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Nothing is glued - yet. I did use the finishing nails knowing that they would be somewhat temporary. It might be better to consider the "completed" project here the template for the final design. I keep doing minor tweaking. For instance, the Blazo drawer ended up being too tight on the tracks so i pulled the crate out and disassembled it made some cute to trim the width about 1/4 of an inch and then put it back together and back on the tracks - it works great now. I'm starting to think that i need more drawers too. So i might add a couple more crates to the hutch part. I hadn't thought of dadoing the shelves but that's a good idea. I'll give it a go for the final version. Thank you for the very constructive comment!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hey no problem. Don't mind my ornery tone. Seems as if you're having fun with the project. Awesome.

    Regarding sticky "drawers," you might want to consider applying some paste wax to the crates. Maybe just rub on one good coat, don't let it sit too long (an hour?), and buff it out real good.

    That wouldn't likely change the color of the wood beyond a slight mellowing, but it would give you a smoother and more overall user-friendly finish on the boxes, without having to sand them or otherwise compromise they're integrity as fine antiques ;-). Plus, the paste wax would protect the crates somewhat from staining, smudging, and wide temperature swings.

    Johnson's. Big yellow can. It's like 6 bucks at the big stores. Good stuff. Easy.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice indeed ! It sure beats the price of my last press board desk (the old desk was completely unmodifiable: I broke drill bits trying to pierce that wood ;-)

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    And this configuration is what i wanted... but the price was definitely right!