Build a Low-Cost Desk

Anyone can make this sturdy, low-cost desk space using basic tools and an ordinary door.

| June/July 2005

You’d be surprised how easy it is to build this simple desk. For about $75 (even less if you use recycled materials), you get more than 15 square feet of desktop space plus an optional shelf underneath for computer equipment or extra books. And building a desk like this won’t take more than a weekend, even if you don’t have much carpentry experience.

There are three keys to building any kind of simple, inexpensive furniture, and this desk incorporates them all: a design that uses standard lumber sizes; joinery details that are easy to build, yet strong; and a finishing strategy that’s fast, fume-free and durable.

Start With the Top

Most lengths for the desk parts on the materials list are related to the size of the desktop you choose, and that’s why your first step is to acquire a hollow-core interior door. These inexpensive doors are large, flat, rigid and lightweight — perfect for use as a desktop. Our plan assumes a standard size of 80 by 32 inches.

If you want to use a different-sized desktop, follow these simple guidelines for adjusting the other parts’ lengths:

Long skirts: 6 inches shorter than the desktop’s length
Short skirts: 5 1/2 inches shorter than the desktop’s width
Side braces: same length as short skirts
Desktop backboard: 3 1/2 inches shorter than desktop’s length
Desktop sideboards: 12 inches shorter than desktop’s width

Most interior doors are reasonably smooth, but the finished desktop will look better if you spend a little time sanding it anyway. This is especially true around the corners and edges. A few quarter sheets of 120-grit sandpaper folded into thirds work best for sanding by hand. The same kind of sandpaper in a palm sander speeds up the process and yields better results.

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