Wraparound Desk Made From One Sheet of Plywood, 2 Filing Cabinets




Five years ago I wanted a desk. When I was a kid my mother made a desk out of an interior door and two filing cabinets. I already had one filing cabinet about 29 inches tall, so I bought another the same height and tried the desk out.

It blew.

It was ugly, tended to slide by itself, I hit my hip on the corners occasionally, and I heard disconcerting cracks and creaks when I put my 20" CRT in the middle where I wanted it. So I thought again.

My specifications were, in order of importance:
1) Elegant - I liked desks that wrapped around you
2) Easy to Make - Minimize tools and time
3) Cheap - Ideally made out of one piece of plywood.
4) Movable - I 've moved too many times to set myself up with a cumbersome desk.

I like corner desks as a rule, so I drew up a design with 6' legs from a corner, with a couple of curves. 6' on a side was a good size not just aesthetically, but because with judicious cutting I could cut all the structural pieces out of one piece of good, double-sided plywood. In my book, elegance of design is something you enjoy long after you've forgotten the monetary cost.

This project took an morning for the woodwork, plus the rest of the weekend for staining and poly coats.

Caveat maker: I have no in-progress photos of this project as I made it 5 years ago. I've done my best to provide as clear instructions and drawings as I can. If you are unclear about any step, leave me a comment and I'll try to explain better.

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Step 1: Gather Materials and Tools


Two (2) short filing cabinets of equal height

One (1) 4'x8' piece of 3/4" double-faced plywood. Just make sure both sides are pleasing to the eye, since you will have to flip one half over to marry it with the other.

One or two (1-2) table/trunk/whateveryoucallem-latches. You know the kind---two pieces, one with a loop and a level thing to grab onto the other side. (see picture below)

Four pieces of 1/2" radius quarter round trim, 18" long.

Metal strapping or corner brace for extra support in the center. I used a corner brace because I had one handy, but a straight bracket would make more sense.

Paint or stain plus polyurethane for finishing

~12 feet of real wood edging with heat-sensitive glue on back.

Optional: circular saw and long straightedge
Optional: Clothes Iron or possibly curling iron
Sandpaper of varied grits
Paint brush/drop cloth

Step 2: Cutting the Plywood

Again, sorry I don't have step-by-step pictures from when I made it, but refer to the drawing of the plywood layout during these instructions. Keep in mind one thing---everything is symmetric about the center of the sheet.

1) Make the long diagonal cut all the way through the sheet from a point 2 feet from the corner along one long side to a point 2 feet from the opposite corner along the other long side. (it's the long straight cut diagonally side-to-side in the drawing) Use a circular saw with a long straightedge clamped into place, if you have such. The straighter, the better.

2) If you have a long enough cutting blade for your jigsaw, clamp the two pieces together, lining up all the sides (rotate the top cut piece 180 degrees to line up with bottom piece)

3) Using a pencil on a non-stretchy 12" string and anchoring the string at point "A" in the diagram, draw an arc from the short edge of the sheet around through about 120 degrees. Point "A" is 18" from the (previously) long side of the sheet, 12" from the end. (see drawing)

4) Lengthening the string to 18", draw an arc centered at point "B" in the diagram from the edge you just cut around until it meets the other arc centered on point "A". Point B is 6" from the shortest edge of the quadrilateral you're left with after the diagonal cut, and on the cut diagonal edge (actually 30" from the end of the sheet). (see drawing)

5) Cut along the long curved line you just drew.

6) Take the pieces left over and cut a 12"x30" shape and a 12"x12" right triangle shape from them, in the manner shown on the diagram, outlined in orange and blue respectively . These will form the corner support stand.

Step 3: Corner Support Assembly

Trim the long leftover rectangular pieces to the height of your filing cabinets, in my case, 29" tall. You want the final height of the stand to be the same as your filing cabinets.

Use glue and screws to assemble the corner support like the picture shown. I used 1.25" drywall screws, just because I had them around. Since you're screwing into the edge of plywood, pilot holes are a good idea. These are all just lap joints, nothing fancy. It's not very visible anyway.

Step 4: Surface Prep and Finish

Clamp the two halves of the top together again and sand the edges to try to make them as symmetrical as you can. I used a mini-drum sander bit for my electric drill, but sandpaper on a curved surface should work well, if slower.

Orient the top pieces in the way they will be assembled (one top piece has to flip over and join with the other at the diagonal cut). Mark or somehow assign which is the top side and sand with progressively finer grits of sandpaper until it's as smooth as you like it. You may wish to sand the bottom to a medium fineness---the stain applies easier to a smoother surface.

I didn't do this to mine before I stained it, but if you want the edges to match the top, apply the wood edging to the exposed edges with a heat source, either a clothes iron or (possibly---I didn't try this) a curling iron. The curved surface of the curling iron may work better on the concave curves.

I really liked the look of colored stain for this, so I chose a blue-tinted Minwax stain. I stained the bottom sides first, the the tops, and repeated for a total of 2 coats each side.

I then applied 3-4 coats of water-based polyurethane, sanding between each step. I poly'd each of the surfaces which would be seen, including the "front" of the corner support stand.

Step 5: Assembly

Note:I did not then nor have I yet attached the desk tops to the corner support. I had planned to do it, but when I place my monitor on the desk in the corner, with the file cabinets in place, nothing seemed to move, so I didn't bother. Feel free to attach them if you wish - I'd use 1.25" screws from the bottom.

Turn the desktops face down on the floor, diagonal cuts together. Place the two-piece latches, closed, on the joint and mark and drill pilot holes for their screws. Be careful not to drill through the top side. Attach the latches. Unhook them and separate the pieces.

Place the corner support in the corner and the file cabinets to either side of the corner in their approximate positions. Place each desktop half, top side up, where it's supposed to go supported by the file cabinets and corner support. Latch the two halves together with the latches you just installed above. Hopefully both halves will move as one now.

Line up the file cabinets along each wall, maybe moving them 1-2 inches out from the wall to allow cords and such to go behind them. Put them under the fattest part of the outer curves and mark the undersides along the sides of the cabinets. Unlatch the desktop halves and turn them over. Align the pieces of quarter round along those marks, flat sides toward the underside of the desktops and toward the filing cabinets. Make sure they're short enough to not be seen when the desk is right-side-up. Pilot drill and screw them down with 1" screws.

Place the desktops back up on the cabinets where they belong and latch them together. You most likely need a little more support in the middle right under your arms since the latches are the only things holding the top together and they occasionally become uneven. I used a corner bracket screwed into each side. In elegant perhaps, but each half is level with the other and there is plenty of support for my hands, keyboard, forearms, yada yada yada.

Step 6: Done!

It's ready to use - enjoy. I have. Mine has been great, even with my honkin big desk chair (see picture). The center sitting area is about 32" wide - plenty of room in general, and there is a metric buttload of deskspace to fill up, as I am want to do.

Have fun.

Optional: If you want an easy cord pass-through the desktop, you can cut the tip of the corner off each desktop half prior to staining.

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    52 Discussions


    1 year ago

    does it have any trouble with bowing in the middle?


    7 years ago on Step 6

    Thanks for this instructable. I have been wanting to make a desk top with this shape, but was worried about getting the curves right.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    love the idea i might just use stronger legs in fear of my legs but for you it is perfect


    10 years ago on Step 6

    I like it! Just in need of a switchable power strip, and a few holes with gromlets to run the wires through... and a cable organizer to keep all the cables together... Love it!!

    2 replies

    Word of caution: Depending on your own height, the two filing cabinets could be just a little too high. I am currently using a slab of countertop and two filing cabinets as a computer desk, and I really like the countertop - no more mouse pad! But when my computer chair is high enough for the desktop, my toes are stretching to reach the floor. When my feet are on the floor, I find myself typing with my shoulders hunched up because of the height of the desktop. You may not have a problem - my height is 5' 3" - but you might want to measure the height of your current desk, then calculate the total height your new creation will be. You'd never know how important an inch or two will be until you're stretching your toes or hunching your shoulders. I'm currently designing a pvc pipe shelving base for under my countertop, with the filing cabinets being relegated to the sides of the desk again. In the meantime, I'm just stretching and hunching, depending on my mood.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Here is a top from 1 cut 4'x8' sheet 3/4" ply sitting atop 2 Wal-Mart wooden file cabs and a spare sheet of Ply for the power distribution / third leg.... (has my 20" monitor on top and slide out keyboard shelf under the mid section)

    4 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    For any of these designs, you can add a 3/4" x 1-1/2" board around the back side. This has the effect of adding 1-1/2" of thickness, for support. They do this on high end shelving to stop them from bowing under weight. If you have to join two pieces and want their surfaces to remain flush with each, you can cut a 1/8" kerf down the center of the joining edges, then install a spline, which is just a piece of wood which just fits into the kerf and sticks out enough to go into the opposite kerf. You can cut the kerf with a router and bit, a biscuit machine, or a circular saw (after you clamp a couple pieces of wood to support and guide the saw. This could also be done with dowels with the one end rounded over (similar to what kitchen tables use). In either instance, careful marking and cutting is worth the effort.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    An excellent solution, and the wood grain is a nice touch. Since I already had the one metal file cabinet, it was natural for me to go that route, but I quite like yours---especially the get-the-wires-out-of-the-way-board at the back. Nice job!