The desk in my home office is an absolute wreck! It is amazing that anything gets done in there, and an upgrade is way overdue.
Presented with a large supply of reclaimed wood, I set out to solve my workspace woes. The result is this simple to build and super functional corner desk. Follow along to see how I did it!
Also, don't miss the build video here! >>> [Project Video]
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Step 1: Gather It Up
You will need a few tools:
- Miter Saw - recommend 12" for cutting 2x6s.
- Circular Saw
- Impact Driver
- Router - w/ cove and roundover bits
- Orbital Sander
- Measuring tape, stick, etc.
- Square - speed squares work great
- Pocket Screw Jig + Bit
And some supplies:
- Wood Filler (optional)
- Wood screws - about 1-1/2" & 3" long
- Pocket hole screws
- Sandpaper - 80, 150, 220 grit
- Stain/Sealer/Paint - your choice, I used Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane
Step 2: Reclaim It
The first and most obvious step in any reclaimed wood project is to find some old wood! Your source will likely vary, but here's how I came across mine.
My family lost part of an old barn during some rough weather this past spring. As part of the cleanup crew, I was tasked with cleaning up this messy situation. Rather than just trash the whole thing I decided that a portion of this barn would live on as a part of my home.
Despite the large amount of abuse they suffered, many of the 2x6 rafters from the barn were still in good shape, and they had a nice, deep color that I really took a liking to. I also found some old 2x4s in the same rubble that I figured could be useful as well.
By far the best part was that all of this wood was 100% FREE!!!
It kind of goes without saying, but you can look in the strangest of places for reclaimed wood. Ask around and you'll be surprised what you can find. Once you have gathered up your wood, be sure to clean it off as much as possible, remove any old nails, and cut into transportable lengths.
Step 3: Sketch It Up
To be entirely truthful, a lot of this project was built on the fly. So, it would be a bit hypocritical to say that you need a fully defined and detailed plan before you begin. However, it is important to define the primary design goals of your desk before you make that first cut.
Key items to consider are:
- The available area in your space - This design easily scales up/down based on your needs. I took some measurements in my office area and came up with a desired overall dimension of 4 ft x 6 ft.
- Area required to store certain items - I've some music equipment that needs to fit on this desk, so I set the depth to accommodate it.
- Cable management - a big problem with my current desk is a bird's nest of cables! I wanted a built-in solution to help corral some of this. More on this later.
- Storage - I chose to keep my desk low-profile, but you could add shelving or other storage for other items.
- Amount of wood you have available - maybe you only found half of a barn, so you need to consider the best use of your reclaimed wood. Perhaps, use it for the top only and buy new wood for the subframe.
With all of this said, my design goal was to build a 4 ft x 6 ft L-shaped desk with the short end on the right side, at least 22" deep, and with an integrated cable management system. The top would make use of large 2x6s and most of the bottom framing would be 2x4s. Most importantly, it would need to be built entirely out of my reclaimed barn wood.
Now that we have a plan, let's get to work.
Step 4: Saw It Off
Adjust your miter saw to 45-degrees and start cutting miters! We need to cut a pair of miters at the end of each board, forming a perfect right angle. A speed square is very useful in ensuring that this happens.
We also need to cut a 45-degree isosceles triangle to fill the gaps where the mitered board ends meet in our desktop. These triangles will be used to create removable inserts that will allow for access to a cable tray storing wires, cables, etc. As far as dimensions, the short legs of the triangle need to match the width of the boards. The easiest way to cut these is to trim them straight off the end of a board.
A word of warning, ensure that the desktop boards you cut are at least as long as the max overall dimensions you chose earlier. Much longer than needed is recommended. While cutting your boards to the exact overall length may seem like a good idea at this point, wait. There's a better, easier way that we'll cover later.
Step 5: Line It Up
Check the fit of each of your mitered boards with their neighbors. Any imprecise angles, warped boards, or poor matches should be apparent here. If you find them, correct them now.
And don't forget to check the triangular inserts!
Step 6: Join It Together
Going through every single one of the joints in this project would be a bit overwhelming, so I have greatly simplified here. There are two main types of joins that I used: countersunk and pocket screws.
Countersunk screws are used in joints where both pieces are oriented horizontally. Attaching them this way allows me to get away with using shorter screws and helps to hide the screw heads from view. The countersink is drilled roughly midway through the top board with the pocket screw bit and collar. The main area these are used was in the bands that hold the desktop together.
Pocket screws are used in locations where boards are oriented perpendicular to one another, or where the end of one board meets another. The most common occurrence of these are in the bottom trim pieces They are easy to create using a Kreg pocket screw jig.
There are probably many improvements that could be made regarding joints in this project, but the above mentioned seems to hold it together well. Be generous when it comes to making connections and bulk up as you see fit.
Step 7: Lock It In, Part 1: Angled Bands
The first place we will band the desktop together is at the interior corner where all of the angled ends meet.
To do this we will need to cut two 2x4 pieces to serve as the bands. These pieces need to be offset approximately 1-1/2" from the edge of the boards, must overhang the front of the current desktop by around 3", and must be slightly clipped in the back to match the back corner of the desktop. Mine were about 32" long.
To achieve the correct alignment, a simple trick is to make a jig using some spare 2x4s. Attach the boards using a couple screws, line up one side of the angled ends, and then align the band on top. Once you have completed marking and cutting as described above then attach the band to the desktop using countersunk screws.
Step 8: Lock It In, Part 2: Intermediate Bands
We cannot install bands on the ends of the desktop until it is cut to length, but in the meantime we will need some extra support. To achieve this we will install two bands in the center of each side of the desk.These intermediate bands can be installed anywhere between the angled band you just installed and the max length of your desktop. I installed each of mine around 30" from the back edge.
Unlike the angled bands, these align perpendicularly to the boards on the desktop, so cutting and attaching is a breeze. They will need to be cut long enough to grab each board, but leave them short on one end to allow for the front face of the framing. Using 1-1/2" thick 2x4s this equates to about 3" shorter than the full depth of the desk. My bands were about 18" long.
Align perpendicular and flush with the back edge of the desktop. Attach with a generous amount of countersunk screws. I used a minimum of 2 per board.
Step 9: Trim It Down
Remember when I said it would get easier to cut the desktop to length later? Now is the time.
Begin by measuring the amount of offset between your circular saw's blade and its edge. Take this number and subtract it from the desired overall length of your desk. Subtract 1-1/2" from this number to account for some end caps we will install later. With a final calculated length, mark this distance from the back edge and mark using a pencil and square.Use the mark to align a straight edge (I used a piece of 3/4" angle) with the line and clamp it down. This edge will serve as a fence for your circular saw.
Finally, pick up the circular saw and guide its edge along the fence. You should be left with a perfectly straight edge at precisely the right overall dimension of your desk. I would also note that they do make some very nice tracks that accomplish this same goal if you have the resources.
Step 10: Lock It In, Part 3: End Bands
Now that our desktop is cut to length wen can go ahead and install those end bands to really lock things in tight. Cut these pieces the exact same size as the intermediate bands. Attach in the same manner, but this time align the outside edge with the freshly cut edge of the desktop. Secure with countersunk screws.
It will depend on the style of legs that you order but, if you are like me, now might be a good time to ensure these legs have a full base to mount to. The mounting plate for my legs was slightly wider than the 2x4 bands, so I cut some small blocks to fill in the gaps. Nothing fancy here, just make sure it makes a flat, even corner.
Step 11: Marry It Up
The front of the desktop will help round out the sharp corner, giving you a nice flat section to cozy up to in your chair or to put your keyboard on. Marking the piece is as simple taking the innermost triangular insert and using its edges to draw a trapezoid with 45-degree angled sides.
Once the piece is cut, test it for fit then connect using two countersunk screws at the end of the bands where they stick out past the desktop (see, there was a reason), and two pocket screws in the front board of the desktop. A good way to ensure that all is seated properly before attaching is to pull all the pieces together using clamps.
Once your front piece is all locked in, then cut a small, rectangular piece to fit between the angled bands and secure the back two boards together. Attach using countersunk screws. Now your desk is all one piece!
Step 12: Frame It Up
We could probably just pop some legs on right here and go on our merry way, but with just a little extra work we can significantly improve the strength and aesthetic of our desk. We will accomplish this by adding some framing on the bottom of the desktop.
Begin by cutting two 45-degree bevels in the front frame that is located in the corner. I recommend cutting it so that it fits snugly between the closest two perpendicular bands.
Next, cut the framing for either ends at a 45-degree bevel to fit flush against the front frame and cut perpendicular to sit flush with the edge of the desktop.
The caps on the ends are the only frame pieces made of 2x6s and they will cover the endgrain of all the top planks as well as provide a smooth transition to the front frame. Measure and cut to match the width of the desktop. Cut an angle in the front to create a smooth transition from the desktop to the bottom of the frame. For me this was about 30-degrees.
Attach all of the above pieces using pocket screws.
Step 13: Box It In
You may have already noticed, but those two angled bands we installed earlier have formed a nifty little trench underneath the desktop. To create the cable tray, all we need to do is close in this area. Cut down several pieces (can be any width, but should be uniform thickenss) to span the space between the bands and attach using countersunk screws.
Leave a small hole in the back to allow the wires to exit the tray. I think about a 3" x 3" area should suffice.
Optionally, you can bevel the ends of the boards as I did. These pieces are not visible, so it's not necessarily required.
Step 14: Round It Off
A nice touch is to use a roundover bit to smooth out all the edges of our desktop. I used a 1/4" bit, but you could step this up if you wanted something more noticeable. This will just smooth out some of those sharp edges and burrs that inevitably form on these old board.
Route all the way around on any edge that you will be able to touch once the desk is assembled. Again, don't forget about those triangular inserts.
Step 15: Route It Out
Now swap out that roundover bit for a cove bit to cover this nifty little trick on the triangular inserts. Mark the top of the triangles such that they form a trapezoid with about a 1"- 1-1/2" top face.
Using your miter saw, cut the point off of the triangle along this line and then use your square to draw a perpendicular line to the new face, extending down to the base and intersecting the newly formed vertices. This clipped end will form the small openings in the desktop by which the cables will pass into the cable tray.
Finally, using the cove bit, route out the area between the lines on both the top and bottom faces. This will form two small "handles" by which you can pick the insert in/out of the desk. Cool!
Step 16: Sand It Down
Chances are your reclaimed wood is in pretty rough shape. It may even have some unwanted material (read: cow turd) on it! A good sanding is key to ensure you get the smooth, clean surface that you need.
I followed a typical sanding progression: Rough pass with 80-grit on all surfaces, secondary pass with 150-grit on top and bottom, and a final sanding with 220-grit on the exposed faces of the top only.
Inevitably, you will encounter some tight spots along the way. Use a sanding block or hold one of your pads against a scrap piece of 2x4 to get to them. And don't sweat it if you can't reach every corner. Doing a bang-up job on the top is the main goal anyway.
Once you are satisfied with the feel of your piece, wipe off or vacuum out any dust and go grab a paintbrush. Time to finish this baby out!
Step 17: Finish It Off
I am always very hesitant to give detailed finishing instructions, since we all have different tastes as far as color, stains, brands, methods, etc. So finish as you see fit, however I have briefly detailed the process that I used and you are welcome to use or modify as needed.
In my opinion, the real beauty of reclaimed wood is in the rich colors, the scars, and the general character that it has. It seems a little sacrilegious to me to do anything other than stain it. To take it a step further, I think that if your wood has any character at all, then a clear finish is all you should ever want to use.
For this project I decided to give Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane in clear satin a shot. This product is billed as indoor/outdoor, although some quick research tells me that spar is primarily used for marine applications. So, it may be a bit aggressive for a furniture project like this... would love to hear your thoughts on this.
My application technique consisted of heavy base coats on the top and bottom, followed by a light sanding with 220-grit sandpaper, and a second coat on the top only. I stopped at one rough coat on the bottom since it doesn't necessarily require any finish for anything other than uniformity. If you follow this guide, I think you will find that the first coat really brings out the final color, while the second really contributes to the feel of the surface.
I was happy with how that the spar urethane performed other than the fact that it takes a long time to outgas, which is kind of inconvenient. Granted, the week I painted was cold and humid, so maybe you will fare better than I.
Once the surface is finished, we are on the home stretch of bringing this project together!
Step 18: Give It a Leg to Stand On
To greatly simplify the project, and to achieve the look I wanted, I opted to go for some hairpin legs. Hairpin legs should be selected such that:
- The desired height of your desk is achieved* - I wanted an overall desk height around 30" tall
- They can hold up your desk
- They look good doing 1 & 2
*Leg height = Desired height - desktop overall thickness at leg mounting locations (should be the thickness of two 2x4s, if you matched my plans = ~3")
Most things I do are overkill, so of course I opted for the biggest, baddest legs I could find. As expected, these have ZERO trouble accomplishing my 3 goals above. However, our needs, budgets, and tastes certainly differ, so choose as you see fit.
In sourcing my legs, I took the easy route and ordered some online. The shop I used was ModernUrbanMetals on Etsy. They have many options available and are very easy to work with on custom orders, etc.
To match my piece you will need: five 3-rod, 1/2" diameter, 26" long hairpin legs. This qualifies as a custom order, so you will need to talk to the seller or order them individually.
Step 19: Spray It On
The legs I ordered came unfinished and chances are yours will too. While they look OK right out of the box, I think a coat of paint is necessary for a long, rust-free life. Again, use something that suits your fancy, but to match me you can grab a single can of Rustoleum Metallic Oil-Rubbed Bronze. One can should do the trick.
To help with transportation I attached all five of my legs to a stand made of scrap boards. If you have a nice flat area you could easily avoid this step.
Once they are painted there is only one thing left to do...
Step 20: Stand It Up
The final step is to marry the legs and the desktop once and for all. To do this, turn the desk upside-down, position the legs, mark the holes, drill pilots holes, and secure with screws. Then acquire the services of a helpful friend to flip it over and enjoy!
PRO-TIP: A good idea is to transport the desk to its final home before attaching the legs. It is significantly more maneuverable!
Step 21: Put It to Work
And with that your desk is complete! Way to go! Give it a good test drive and then put it to use.
Now, if you are like me, you can spend hours figuring out how to fully optimize it with all of your junk (if that's even possible). In the pictures are some of my initial attempts at a layout. We'll see how it works out.
Update: the desk has been working well...I actually wrote most of this Instructable on it and have to say I like it a lot!
Step 22: Think About It
It's still early in its life, but already this desk has been a huge improvement to my office, and I'm really excited with how it turned out. However, there are a few important takeaways and thoughts on the project that I would like to share. Take these for what they are worth and use my suggestions as you tackle this on your own.
Things I would do differently:
- Not use wood filler at all, if possible. I used some to fill some nail holes and knots and I completely regret it because it sticks out really badly. Perhaps tinting it could help, but I much prefer the dark, scarred up look of the old wood. Lesson: reclaimed wood has character. Don't cover it up.
- Find a better way to join the two sides of the desktop. I think maybe some biscuit joints would work nicely. Don't think this will be a major structural problem but we'll see.
- Use a better "indoor" finish than spar urethane. Stuff looks great, but it stinks. For a long time.
- Consider a sixth hairpin leg in the back corner. Again, this may be overkill structurally, but I don't think it would hurt at all and I think it would look better.
- Consider adding some integrated storage. I've gained considerable real estate on the desktop itself, but a small shelf or drawer on the long side would be nice. The shelf could also serve as the structure on that side and eliminate the need for a couple legs.
Things I like about it:
- This is made nearly entirely from my family's old barn. Very cool that something that could easily have been trashed and forgotten will live on for years to come as my desk.
- Space is adequate for all of my current gear. For the first time in a long time I feel like it's not all in my way.
- I really like the way the color of the wood turned out. This was somewhat of a pilot project for this batch of wood and, with these results, I am really looking forward to using it again.
- Integrated track and removeable pieces are effective at hiding wires. I still have some work to do, but it is very good for a first attempt.
- Hairpin legs and spacing give the bottom a very open, and low profile feel. This lets me move around under the desk very freely and looks very modern to me.
Step 23: Build It Yourself
With that, all that is left is for you to go build this yourself. Thank you for taking the time to read through this Instructable, and for any comments/votes/shares/etc. you may have made. It is deeply appreciated.
I really, really enjoy seeing those "I made it!" flags in the comments, so I hope you will take the time to try this out. Please reach out if I can be of any assistance in making that happen.