How to Build a Desk
With all the desks available for purchase today, it can be surprisingly difficult to find a stylish option that fits your space. Once you finally find the new desk you've been dreaming of, the price tag will likely add even more shock. So why not build your own?
This DIY desk features an aesthetically pleasing waterfall design that can easily be modified to better fit your space, can be customized to allow each side to function as a workspace for the power couples or work-from-home besties, and it costs less than $200 to build. Does it get any better?
Before You Begin
Modifying the width or depth of the desk will require you to modify the materials you buy. Our design and the materials list we've included will result in a desk that is 60 inches wide and 27 inches deep. So, if you measure your space and decide you'd like the desk to be longer, you will need to buy longer boards. If you simply would like a deeper desk, just tack on an additional board of the same length. Whatever you decide, make sure you choose boards that are as straight as possible. This will result in better joints and save you from a huge headache during the building process.
Additionally, this desk is constructed out of pine, which is very stain-friendly. It can take light or dark stains very well, making it easy to customize the shade to fit your home's aesthetic. Take this into account when purchasing a stain and consider staining a scrap piece of pine with a few stain samples to get a feel for how each shade will look on the wood.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Dowel hole jig kit
- Measuring tape
- Miter saw or circular saw
- Speed square
- Orbital sander
- Pocket hole jig
- Table saw (optional)
- Router bits
- 3 2 x 10 x 12-foot pine boards
- 1/2-inch dowel pins
- 2 x 6 x 8-foot pine board
- Pocket hole screws
- Wood glue
- Protective furniture feet
- Pre-stain wood conditioner
- Clear wood sealer
- Staining rags
- 120, 220, and 320-grit sandpaper
Follow along to learn how to build a desk. Be sure to adjust any instructions necessary to customize the dimensions of the desk to suit your needs, should you choose to do so.
Cut Boards to Length
Using a miter saw or a circular saw, cut the boards to length. The desk's top will require three boards cut to 60 inches, while the sides will each call for three boards cut to 30 inches. Before cutting to length, cut a small sliver off of one end of each board to remove the factory edge and ensure the end is perfectly straight.
Rip Edges of Boards (Optional)
This step is optional but preferable and will result in much tighter glue joints. However, if you don't have access to a table saw, this step is better left undone.
The true width of a 2x10 is 9 1/4 inches. To clean up the edges, we're removing 1/8 inch from each long side of the board. To do this, start by setting a table saw to 9 1/8 inches and making one pass. Turn the board so that the uncut edge now faces the blade, set the table saw to 9 inches, and make another pass. Repeat with all nine boards.
If you find that ripping 1/8 inch from each edge doesn't quite remove the rounded edges, you can rip a full 1/4 inch from each side. However, this will change the dimensions of the desk and, if you fail to repeat this on all nine boards, it will compromise the assembly process later on.
Sand Edges of Boards
To clean up the table saw cuts, sand the edges of each board using 120-grit sandpaper, followed by 220-grit. Don't stay in one spot too long or apply too much force, or you risk compromising the evenness of the edges. The goal is to sand the edges smooth but not round off the corners, keeping them at perfect 90-degree angles.
Measure and Mark Lines for Dowels
The top and sides will be joined using glue and dowels. The best way to drill accurate holes for dowels is by using a dowel jig kit. First, lay all three boards for the top down on the table and press them together in the layout in which you intend to glue.
Using a tape measure and a pencil, mark equidistant lines across each joint so they're visible on the edge of each board. We recommend one line around 2 inches from each end as well as one every 6 to 8 inches. Repeat this process on each joint for the top and sides.
Transfer Dowel Marks to Edge
The easiest way to accurately transfer the marks from the top of each board to the edge is by using a speed square. Line the square up with each line on the top and use a pencil to mark a straight line down the edge. Repeat with each mark.
Drill Dowel Holes
Using the 1/2-inch dowel hole jig and the included 1/2-inch bit, line the jig up with each mark and drill a hole into the edge of the board. Tighten the included collar onto the drill bit to stop the bit from going too far into the wood, aiming to stop just after half the length of the dowel. If you don't have a collar with your dowel hole jig, simply use a strip of painter's tape to mark the bit at the point you wish to stop. Repeat the drilling process on each dowel mark.
Mockup Before Gluing
Mockup the top and sides by placing the dowels into their holes and squeezing the boards together using clamps. Once you've ensured tight fitment, undo the clamps and separate the boards.
Glue Top and Sides
Starting with the top, apply a layer of wood glue to each side of each joint. Be sure to get ample glue spread across the entirety of the edge, as well as in the dowel holes and on the dowels. Once the glue is applied to each side of the joints, slide the boards together and clamp. Leave the clamps in place for the manufacturer's specified time on the wood glue you are using.
Repeat the gluing and clamping process on the desk's sides. Wipe away as much excess glue as possible.
After the allotted time has passed, remove the clamps from your pieces.
Sand Top and Sides
Before attaching the side to the top, sand the entirety of each piece, removing all glue drips. It will be much easier to do this now rather than once the desk is fully assembled. Start with 120-grit and move to 220-grit once you've achieved a smooth surface.
Mark Dowel Positions for Final Assembly
The final major joints will be attaching the sides to the top. To mark the positions for the dowels, lay the top upside down on a large work surface (if you don't have a large workbench, the floor will likely work best) and lay the sides upside down, with the top edges pressed against each end of the desk's top.
Working on one side at a time, repeat the measuring and marking procedure that was used before to mark dowel marks on the bottom of the desk's top and the sides of the side pieces. Use a speed square to transfer the lines on the side to the edge.
Drill Dowel Holes Into Top Piece
Using the dowel hole jig, drill dowel holes into the underside of the top piece. Be careful not to drill too far.
Drill Dowel Holes Into Side Pieces
The process for drilling the dowel holes into the tops of the side pieces will look similar to the previous ones. However, you must be sure to position the jig on the outside edge of each side piece to ensure the dowel holes align with those in the desk's top.
Mockup Final Assembly
With the desk's top upside down on the work surface, slide the dowels into place and attach the sides to the desk. Use clamps to fully seat the joints, but don't disassemble and glue it yet.
Prep the Brace
Even after the final glue-up, a lot of the desk's structural strength will come from a brace beneath the desk. To help the desk maintain square while the glue dries, we recommend attaching the base immediately after the legs are attached. This means the brace must be fully prepped and ready before the gluing process.
There are two options for the brace, depending on whether or not you chose to make the desk usable from both sides. Regardless of which option you take, the length will be determined by the full length of the top minus 3 inches (1 1/2 inches for each side). Cut the 2-by-6 board to length using a miter saw or circular saw.
Brace Position Options:
- If the desk will only be used on one side, the brace will be positioned on the side opposite the user, inset 1 inch from the edge. Because of the position relative to the edge, the pocket hole screws should only be drilled on the side facing the user. This will keep them out of sight.
- If the desk will be used by an individual seated on either side, the brace will be positioned in the center of the desk. Because of this, pocket hole screws should be positioned on each side of the brace to ensure strength.
Determine your brace's positioning, stand it on its long edge in place, mark, and pre-drill pocket hole screws accordingly using a pocket hole jig. Screws should be positioned every 6 to 8 inches on the brace's long edge and two or three screws on each end going into the desk's side boards.
Glue Sides to Top
Undo the mockup of the top and sides and glue the joints. Slide the side pieces into place and clamp together. Elevate the entire desk slightly with scrap wood blocks for clamp clearance. Check for square using a speed square and adjust as necessary. Wipe away all excess glue.
Place the brace according to your desired position and screw in place with the wood screws specified by your pocket hole jig's manufacturer's instructions. Check the sides and top for square once more and adjust as necessary.
Remove Clamps and Sand
Remove clamps after the glue has dried for the allotted time. Sand any excess glue with 220-grit sandpaper.
While the desk is still upside down, hammer the feet into each end of the bottom of the sides.
Sand Entire Desk
Carefully flip the desk upright and sand using 320-grit sandpaper.
Using your desired router bit, route all edges of the desk. A rounded edge will make the desk more kid-friendly as well as easier on your forearms when typing. Follow up the routing with a quick sanding with 320-grit.
Apply Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner
Pre-stain is incredibly important when staining soft woods like pine, as it allows the soft surface to soak up the stain more evenly. Apply the pre-stain and wipe off according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Apply your choice of stain color, following the manufacturer's instructions. We recommend staining each surface individually rather than tackling all surfaces at once.
Apply Protective Sealer
While it makes the wood more beautiful, wood stain alone is not enough to protect the desk. For that, a sealer is needed. We recommend a wipe-on polyurethane or a product like polycrylic for easy application and great results. Whatever you choose, simply follow the manufacturer's instructions for application.
Ways to Customize Your Desk
This desk can easily be modified and accessorized to better suit your needs. You can add under-desk drawer kits, pop-up power supplies, or simply drill a hole to allow cords to pass through out of sight. For charging devices, consider adding an under-desk wireless charger that allows you to charge your device by placing it directly on the desk's top.
How to Maintain Your Desk
Because you finished up your desk with a clear protective sealer, there is little to be done to protect the desk going forward other than regularly dusting the surface. When you do so, be sure to choose a wood polish or dusting product that will not damage your sealer. Consult the sealer's manufacturer's instructions for upkeep.