How to Build a Double (or Single) Desk on the Cheap

Written by dad - 5 Comments

Given the size of our family, we sometimes have to think creatively when it comes to saving space. Don’t get me wrong — we have a fairly large house, but… When you’re doubling up with two kids in a bedroom, space can get tight, especially when it comes to furniture. And we’re doing that in two bedrooms.

Sons #1 and #3 (currently nine and five years old) share one room, whereas Sons #2 and #4 (currently seven and two years old) share another. Bunk beds have been a godsend, but Sons #1 and #2 in particular need some “personal space” for schoolwork, etc.

Being somewhat forward thinking, we weren’t interested in filling the available space in each room with a desk that would only accommodate one kid. Unfortunately, we soon realized that there’s not much in the way of double desks out there, especially not the sort that would accommodate our kids as they get older/bigger. Thus, I decided to build a custom solution.

Building a desk

Because this was a relatively large project, I’m going to publish it in installments. Today I’ll provide a project overview and a shopping list. If you’re curious, you can jump ahead to Part 2 and Part 3. Before we get started, here’s a sneak preview of the finished product:

The first step was to figure out exactly how to do it. The #1 need was a nice, flat workspace large enough to accommodate two kids. We also wanted desk drawers for storing their stuff, and it needed to be sturdy. Since I didn’t want this to turn into a major woodworking project, I decided to keep it simple.

I ordered four HON series 412 two-drawer file cabinets from Office Max. They cost $69.99/each, and were by far the most expensive components of our desk building project (2 cabinets x $69.99 = $139.98/desk). The plan was to use these as end supports, with the desktop riding on top. I also planned on attaching the desk to the wall to make it ultra-sturdy.

Once I had the file cabinets in hand, I turned my attention to the desktop. While I flirted with the idea of using a door as the desktop, I nixed this idea for several reasons. First of all, the end results isn’t all that nice looking – it’s a bit too utilitarian for our taste. Second, most of the smooth doors (i.e., without sunken, decorative panels) that I ran across were hollow core, and I was concerned that the boys would eventually puncture the veneer. It’s also impossible to cut hollow core doors down to size – you pretty much have to work with what you get. Finally, even these lower-end hollow core doors are relatively pricey.

My solution? Birch plywood. I considered an oak desktop, but the grain was heavier than we wanted. I picked up a nice 4′ x 8′ sheet of birch plywood in our local Home Depot, had them cut it down to 80 inches in length and then rip it in half lengthwise. The end result was to 24 x 80 desktops for a bit over $20 total ($10/desk). Not bad.

Since we wanted this to look nice, I also spent a bit of time in the trim department. I picked up some 1-1/8 inch wood corner trim to finish out the three edges that would be exposed, and I also picked up some wood quarter-round trim to finish the edge that would abut the wall. the corner trim has the added benefit of creating a small ledge around the edge of the desktop which helps to keep pencils, pens, etc. from rolling off.

I then moved on to the paint department and picked out a clear, semi-gloss, water-based (which doesn’t yellow) polycrylic finish. One quart turned out to be enough for both desks.

Here’s a list of stuff that you’ll need…

Major desk components

These are the components of a double desk. Reduce dimensions if you are building a single desk.

  • (2) File cabinets (not over 24 inches deep; I used HON Series 412)
  • (1) 24 x 80 inch piece of birch plywood (one 4′ x 8′ sheet makes two desktops)
  • (1) 80 inch piece of 1-1/8 inch corner trim (buy it long, cut it down)
  • (2) 24 inch pieces of 1-1/8 inch corner trim (again, buy them a bit long)
  • (1) 80 inch piece of quarter-round trim (will be cut down to size slightly)
  • (1) 4 foot length of 2 x 4 (buy an eight footer and cut it in half for two desks)

Note that 1-1/4 inch corner trim will also work.

Hardware for building a desk

  • 3 inch wood screws for attaching the 2 x 4 ‘cleat’ to the wall
  • L-brackets for securing desktop to cleat
  • 1-1/4 inch wood screws for attaching L-brackets to cleat
  • 3/4 inch wood screws for attaching desktop to L-brackets and file cabinets
  • Washers for 3/4 inch wood screws (so they won’t pull through cabinet)
  • Plastic desk grommet for power cords to pass through

Miscellaneous items for building a desk

  • Polyurethane or polycrylic finish
  • Brush(es)
  • Tack cloth (not required, but helpful)
  • Wood glue

Tools for building a desk

  • Mitre saw for trim*
  • Sander (can be done by hand, but it’s far easier with a palm sander)
  • Nail gun with 3/4 inch brads (not necessary, cleaner/easier than a hammer)
  • Power drill/driver with bits
  • Hole saw for drill (use for cutting hole for grommet, cords)
  • Saw horses to support desktop for finishing (not necessary, but helpful)

*Note that there’s no real need for a heavier saw, as they can do the major cuts at the home improvement store.

See also:
Building a Double Desk, Part 2: Finishing the Desktop
Building a Double Desk, Part 3: Installing the Finished Product

Published on September 10th, 2007 - 5 Comments
Filed under: How To
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Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. How are you laying the desk out? Will it be in the corner where the kids will work side by side, or will they sit on opposite sides of the desk where it will be a bit further out in the room?

    Comment by Blaine Moore — Sep 10th 2007 @ 10:11 am
  2. Side-by-side along a wall. We don’t have enough room for it to project out into the room, and we have windows in the best corners. I’ll post pics in my followup, but it’s a very simple (albeit effective) design.

    Edit: Picture of the finished product has been added, above.

    Comment by dad — Sep 10th 2007 @ 11:16 am
  3. I’d love to see pictures. I am working on a post about the sand box I just built. The plastic turtle was getting a bit cramped. 🙂

    Comment by Colleen (My Baby and More) — Sep 17th 2007 @ 9:25 pm
  4. It’s probably not as nice as your solution, but I bought a sturdy fold-up table and 4 plastic drawers from Lowes for about $50 and it has been an awesome desk for me. I’ve got a lot of room and plenty of storage… and I didn’t break the bank.

    Comment by James — Sep 18th 2007 @ 3:45 pm
  5. what a wonderful and beautiful result!! I love it!

    Comment by And Miles To Go.... — Sep 24th 2007 @ 12:47 pm

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