How to Build an Office Desk

John Vivian explains how to build an office desk from hollow doors for under $100, and how to build an accompanying cabinet, includes step-by-step instructions and tools and materials list.

| December 1995/January 1996

Make a modem desk and typing/computer console from hollow doors for under $100. (See the homemade desk illustrations in the image gallery.)

How to Build an Office Desk

One of the very few things I liked about working in a city was office desks arranged in an "L" shape with room for papers, a typewriter (now a computer), a drafting table, and plenty of storage all around. I wanted one for my home office, but a country-compatible wooden desk costs $1,500 new, half that used. Even a well-used, ugly, institutional-gray metal desk was beyond my meager means. So, recalling my student days, I designed my own using hollow doors hung to close off rooms in almost every house built since the '50s. Made from sandwiches of 3/32 inch plywood glued on a 1-3/8 inch-square wood frame, they are light and strong. New (without hinge-insets or latch-set holes cut in them), they are flat and smooth and cost $20 to $30 from any lumberyard. You can support them on customized, simple supports, and have a sizable office desk for under $100, with a few handy drawers and extra shelves in the bargain.

The Plan 

The key to build an office desk with a quick, easy, and sturdy assembly is to arrange two doors at a right angle in the corner of a room so you can fasten their back edges to the wall rather than try to build the rigid framework and rock-solid leg supports needed by freestanding furniture. Best is to arrange at least one desk—the one you will sit at most of the time—facing a window. Most ergonomic is to locate the right angle where the two desks meet to the right of your chair if you are right handed. That way you have a full-length work surface to your best side.

Fastening a desk to the wall is unconventional—making it a semibuilt-in—and requires you to put a few holes into the walls. For some reason, people who will "cheesehole" the walls to put up curtain rods or pictures recoil at the idea of fastening a desk to the selfsame wall a few feet lower.

So, you might be tempted to try to support the desks on legs made for door-desks. Of turned wood in several heights, they are sold in most building supply outlets. Legs fasten to the underside of doors with steel plates that screw onto the bottom. The plates have threaded holes in them and the legs have threaded metal studs pressed into the ends that screw up into the holes. I've tried these legs several times, and find that they invariably unscrew on their own and become wobbly, and you contend with a shaky desk for ages.

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