Simple Desk

Introduction: Simple Desk

This is a very basic and relatively plain desk that I made myself because I strongly dislike desks made out of mdf or anything not solid wood, because of their inability to be reformed, added onto and their knack of falling apart so easily. Most of what I found on craigslist or in stores was made this way. If it was solid wood, it was most often overly ornamental and decorative or simply too large or not in a finish I liked, or the worst of them all: expensive.

This desk's final price came to just under $100 I believe. The work that went into it is not beyond the reach of most people, and it can easily be modified with extra components to fit personal needs and/or wants.

It's design had 3 requirements to meet my wants: 1) A solid wood surface with plenty of room to do homework on 2) with a curve cut out of the front so one can situate themselves "in" the desk while working at it. 3) a raised shelf for an external monitor. 4) be easy to disassemble for transport. 5) be under $100.

Step 1: Tools

Here is a list of tools and stuff that I used. If you have a band saw, by all means use that if you want. If you want/have other legs or shelf risers, those will work just fine.

Orbital sander
     60, 120, 220, 400 grit sand papers
0000 Steel Wool
Table saw - with ripping blade if you have it. If not a circular saw will do
Jig saw - with a SHARP blade...mine was terribly dull
     3/8" or ½" roundover edge bit
     ¼" cove bit (optional, I didn't use because it was $16 more)
     5/8" bit

*First, mark the line you want to cut. Then measure the distance from the blade of your saw to the edge of the shoe. Clamp the guide rail/wood that distance from the line to cut. Then keep the shoe butted up against the rail while you make the cut. Provided your guide rail is perfectly strait, your cut should be too.


3 cans Minwax Satin(or whatever gloss you want) Finish spray Polyurethane ($6 at Walmart)
4 legs
2 shelf risers

Step 2: Starting Surface

After realizing I was going to build my desk I stopped looking at craigslist desks as desks and started looking at them as reclaimable lumber. The downside was that they all had so much extra baggage - drawers and shelves - and that they were already cut down to size. So a brilliant idea popped into my head: Start with a table and cut down to what you need.

After only 5 minutes of searching I found 2 different butcher block tables for $50 and $40. 

I did not buy either of them. Instead, I checked Goodwill and Salvation Army. SA had the exact same table for $40, after a 30-day sitting discount, the table came to $18+change.

Thats a solid 1" thick, 3' deep by I think 5' long solid maple slab of wood to work with.

You can try your luck searching elsewhere for similar starting surfaces, just be sure that it will be at least as large as you want your desk to be when finished.

Step 3: Prep

My table, being from Salvation Army, was terribly beat up. It had all kinds of crayon marks, some burn marks, and a couple deep gashes. But here's where the glory of sandpaper comes in. Take some 60 grit to it and you can clean off just about anything.

With an electric orbital sander this took me about 2 hours to strip off nearly everything from the surface.

If your table is in better condition, you can surely skip this step.

Step 4: Cutting Rectangles

The table I had, had a nice rounded edge along it. The downside to this was that it was going to mess up my design(the curve to be cut out). To fix this I used a table saw to remove a 1½" strip along all 4 edges. This left me with a perfectly squared slab with 5 raw edges.

The next step was to get it down to proper final sizes.

Main desk area.
I knew I wanted a desk that was 2" deep, so that's what I cut. The remained really didn't really matter, as long as it was greater than 8". When looking for your starting piece, be sure to think about this and measure twice, buy once.

So now you(I) have(had) two large chunks of wood -  2' deep, by 50ish" long and remainder" deep by 50ish" long.

Things brings me to design requirement 2: A raised shelf slightly shorter(in width) than the desk itself. Sso I(you) cut the remainder piece down to 3½' in length, giving that extra third piece in the image.

Step 5: Design Requirement 2

And now, my favorite part of the whole desk - the little curve cut out. In all honesty, I don't believe this little cutout actually helps in any way, it does however make it's shape unique and helps it look far less standard. That said, it's completely optional, but if you omit it, why are you even bothering reading this particular instructable?

This is perhaps the first time I have ever used High School math in a real life application: (h-0)²+(k+9)²=144.

I will not bore you with any more math, but simply give you this tip: get(or draw and cut out) a large circle,  2' diameter. Find the center of the nicer long edge of the desk, and measure 9" out in either direction. Mark those points. Put the circle on the desk to make the arc connecting those points. Trace. Here is the circle on a graph with (0,0) being the center of the edge of your desk.

Okay, now you have a line, time to cut. Pay attention to those boxes in the image. If you were to try to start your cut at either of the sides of the arc, your blade will just bounce around scratching up your wood. You have to start in the middle and work your way out to the edges. Try to never pull the blade back and re-cut an area as it will leave marks that will take forever to sand out.

Step 6: Routing

Now we(I) give the edges of the desk a nice curved edge. The rounded edge serves 2 purposes: helps mask any imperfections in the curve and reduces/eliminates pain from resting your wrists on the edge of the desk.

I used a bit the same shape as this one however it was only 7/8" instead of 1¼". You could of course use any other decorative shaped edge.

With this standard roundover style, you need to make sure that your routers depth is set to be less than the amount that would leave the bead(the flat part on the left of the bit pictured) so that it makes a smooth transition from desk top to round edge.

Start your cut from the left of the left side(A) of the desk and work your way to the right*(B) side at about an inch a second. If you move too fast you risk making a choppy(bad) cut, too slow you can burn the wood. When you reach the right edge, go past, then resituate your body and continue on down the front side(From B to C). Repeat when you get to the next corner(C). When you get to the end here(D), DO NOT do the same. Continue strait off this edge and pull away. We want to leave the back edge of the desk flat.

A                                      D
|                                          |
|                                          |
B                                    C

*Going the other direction is bad, simple as that. Here, read this:

Step 7: Drilling

If you chose the same shelf risers that I did, you are going to have to drill some holes on the surface of the desk top. Depending on how you mount them - pointing the same direction or opposite - your holes will be in different positions. 

I started by mounting the solid side to the shelf equal distances from the front and back and sides.

x= short side of shelf minus width of mounting plate of shelf riser ÷ two
|       __                                   __        |
|  x  | : : |                                 | : : |  x   | 
|       ¯¯                                   ¯¯        |
|__  x_________________x____|
I apologize for having to resort to ASCII imaging. I forgot to take pictures while working.

After the brackets are mounted onto the shelf, measure the length of the shelf and subtract it from the length of the desk top. Divide that by two and subtract X from above and subtract 3(the run of the shelf risers). This number is the distance from the edge of the desk(on both sides) that you should have to drill a hole(size is in the directions of the brackets and I forget what it is).

Provided you are mounting the brackets the same way I did, to keep the back side of the shelf in plane with the back side of the desk, measure in from the back side of the desk half of the width of the desk(X+X+X ÷ 2)

Of course don't rely solely on math, hold the shelf up against your marks before drilling the holes to make sure they are where they should be. If they aren't, double check the math. Or you can just hold the shelf there and have someone else mark the points.

Step 8: More Sanding!

Okay, so you've cut out your pieces, and you've routed the edges, now what? Make all those cuts smooth. I have no doubt in my mind that all your cutting will have left you with some fairly rough wood. If you have some exceptionally rough spots, you can use some 60 grit, but I think for the most part you'll be fine with the 120. When you think you're done, wipe everything down with a soft cotton cloth, preferably a moistened microfiber cloth. The moister helps grab stuck sawdust and it will make any loose grains of wood stick out. Those need more sanding. 

When you're done the second time around, whip it down again and hope the weather is fair.

Step 9: Optional: Stain/paint

I like the color of natural wood, some people do not. You may not have a pretty wood or you want it to match your other furniture, that's fine.

This would be the point in time where you apply stain or paint as you wish. As there are plenty of other instructables out there to show you how, I'm not going to explain it, especially since I didn't even do it myself.

I will offer up this decorative tip: I considered painting my initials in a nice Calligraphic script on the desk top before applying the finish to personalize it even further. I also considered taping off the top just after the rounded edge to paint the edge so that it stands out a little more.

Step 10: Finishing

Again, there's a bit of personal preference here. I don't like high gloss furniture because you constantly have to polish it to keep dust off and to remove finger prints. As this is a desk, and it's my preference, I went with a satin finish, you may choose whatever you want.

Spray cans make this job much easier, but it can certainly be done with a can and brush. If using spray cans, I would recommend 3 for the size I have made. If your desk ends up being larger, you may have to get an extra can. I had about ½ of my 3rd left when I was done. If you decide to brush it on, 1 quart should be just fine. 

It may be hard to tell, but in the picture, the large desk top is actually resting on top of the smaller shelf. This is so that no edge of the desk top is touching the rails of the old table frame. This way any excess poly on the edges won't pool up and make a bump at the point of contact. 

Spray the top going in long strokes from left to right and back along with the grain, overlapping each stroke by about 15%. Start the spray off to the side and move onto the wood, and finish by continuing off. This helps to prevent a slightly thicker coat on the edges. After spraying the whole top it's time to do the edges. Most new spray cans of polyurethane have adjustable spray nozzles so you can spray a line either horizontal or vertical. At this point, turn it into the horizontal position. Spray the edges starting above the desk and moving downwards(towards the ground). You will probably end up making about 10 different strokes on a short side, and about 30 on a longer side. 

Step 11: SAND

Okay, you got a coat of poly on. Now wait at LEAST 15 minutes for it to dry. Since it was the first coat, almost all of it will have been absorbed into the wood. If you run your hand on it, it will feel kind of rough. So, put a second coat. Then wait for that to dry at LEAST 2 hours.

After it has dried and hardened, feel it with your hand. You will undoubtedly have some rough spots. Those can be fixed with the 400 grit sandpaper. This you will want to do by hand, an electric sander will be too fast and too rough and will take off too much. Feel around by hand and whenever you find a rough patch, sand. After you've gotten all your rough spots wipe it down with a rag to remove the dust then, layer on some more poly.

Repeat 1 more time.

After the final coat (4 for me) you might still feel some slightly rougher spots. Those can be buffed out with 0000 grade steel wool. 

Now that you are done applying your beautiful finish, leave it alone. Let it just sit there for a good 24 hours so that all those layers can get to their hardest and seal. If you are working outdoors in a cold climate I would suggest when you bring it in to not put anything on it for at least 6 hours so it can aclimate to the new temperature. Condensation might form on its surface from it being so much colder than the air temperature. Just wipe it off with a rag.

Step 12: Leggings

Requirement 4 said that it had to be easily transportable. And so it is. The legs I got from IKEA come in 2 parts: the mounting plate and the leg itself. This means the legs can easily be removed but are still firmly attached when needed. The plates take 5 screws in a circle. I set the legs in 4" from either side of each corner by measuring out a 4x4 square from the corners of the desk to the center of the mounting plate. Be sure to place your desk on a soft surface and after it has been allowed to cure for a day before trying to mount these or you can scratch or dent the finish.

Final assembly should be done in the room where the desk is to be to make things easier.

Final cost breakdown:
Table to be converted: $18
4 Legs 1 set of shelf risers, shipping from IKEA: $55
Sand paper: $6
3 cans of Polyurethane: about $20

If I had bought it at a store, probably around $350.

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    3 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    this has inspired me! I need a desk just (or almost) like this! The ikea link is broken - are those the galant legs, and do the legs come with that hardware to attach to the desktop?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I like how it has "3 requirements to meet my needs" and you list 5 things.