How to Build Your Own Desk for Less

Table with laptop in a modern individual bistro
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There is something so satisfying about DIY projects—the idea that you can create what you need with your own hands. You have the freedom to create what you want, the way you want it, and the result is something that has your own unique stamp. Building your own desk can certainly provide that same level of satisfaction.

Planning Your Desk

If you are taking the time to build your own desk, you want to make sure that it's comfortable. Most desks are about 30 inches tall, suiting the average person just fine. However, if you are a little taller or a little shorter, it might not work.

When you sit at your desk, your arms should rest comfortably on its surface when they are bent at the elbows at a 90-degree angle. Your shoulders should not be hunched, and your arms should not be angled up.

When you are planning your desk, sit in the chair you will use and take measurements to determine how tall it should be in relation to your body. You’ll also want to measure your chair’s width to ensure the supports are wide enough that it fits under your desk easily. This may mean adding to or subtracting from any plans you are using.

Gather Tools & Supplies

These are the supplies you’ll need to make your own desk. Tip: If you get your wood at a home improvement store, they will cut it for you, whatever size you want.

  • 4 vertical support legs. Pick one of two options:
    • 2" x 4"
    • 2" x 6" (29" tall, or per your custom height measurements)
  • 4 horizontal supports for legs
    • 2" x 4" (2' long, or the depth of your desk)
  • 2 longer horizontal supports
    • 1" x 6" x 2.5'
  • 1 front upper support
    • 2" x 2" x 2.5'
  • 1 half-inch sheet of plywood
    • 2' x 3' (or custom measurement)
  • Drill and drill bits
  • Screwdriver
  • Multipurpose screws that are long enough to penetrate the wood
  • Wood glue
  • 220 grit sandpaper
  • Foam paintbrush
  • Primer
  • Latex paint

Once you have all your supplies, you can begin building your desk.

Build the Base

  1. Set your vertical supports side by side.
  2. Use one of the horizontal supports to secure the legs by placing one leg at each end of the support.
  3. Use screws to hold it together and reinforce with wood glue.
  4. Place your second horizontal support between the vertical supports, about 4 inches from the leg ends.
  5. Screw and glue it together. The support should resemble a flat-topped letter A.
  6. Place your two longer horizontal support boards at the back section of each support, one at the top of the support and one at the bottom, to hold the base in place.
  7. Secure the boards to the frame with screws and glue.
  8. Attach the front upper support in the upper front corners of the frame (the side closest to you when you sit at the desk) with the screws and glue.
  9. Allow glue to dry.

Assemble the Top and Base

  1. Lay your desktop bottom up.
  2. Center the base with the top by measuring and marking where the support will go.
  3. Secure the desk top to the frame using the screws and glue.

Finish and Paint

  1. Sand your desktop and the base so that all the wood is smooth.
  2. Remove all dust using a soft cloth or vacuum. Do not wet the wood or use any product on it.
  3. Apply the primer and allow to dry.
  4. Apply the paint.
  5. Allow to dry.
  6. Apply a second coat if necessary.

Tip: If you aren’t sure whether you want matte or gloss, start with matte. You can always cover with gloss later. It’s harder to go from gloss to matte.

Creative Variations

Found objects and reclaimed wood are a terrific way to create something new from something being tossed out. For instance, an old door set across two filing cabinets or night stands become a beautiful, functional desk once you paint it and add your own touch.

Take apart old desks and salvage what is good, then incorporate the parts into your DIY project. That’s the beauty of upcycling: When you start looking at old things with a new perspective, the possibilities are endless.