Updated: Jun 29, 2022
An office desk is a necessity, but sometimes it feels impossible to find the EXACT piece you want. Sometimes, instead of compromising, it's easier to design and build something from scratch that is 100% your dream desk - and chances are it will have a less expensive price tag as well. Win-win.
This post is intended to inspire and act as a guide. If you prefer a detailed, step-by-step set of instructions check out our downloadable PDF. You'll get 22 pages that includes the exact cut list, cut diagrams, pocket hole drilling locations, and sequential assembly photos and instructions.
NOTE: all the wood, materials and directions are for a desk that is 6’ wide, 3’-6” deep, stands 41 1/2” tall, and has 4 drawers (one on each side). This is a VERY LARGE desk which is exactly what I needed for my office. If you are planning to make this exact desk, check to make sure it will fit in your intended location. And make sure it will fit through the door, you'll probably at least have to take the legs off and it may be easier to assemble the entire thing (desktop to the frame, frame to the legs) in place instead of moving it after the fact.
If you want to adjust the size of the desk to make it smaller (I wouldn't recommend any larger!) you'll need to adjust the frame and drawer sizes as well. Overall height can easily be adjusted based on the size hairpin legs you choose.
What you need:
(1) 3/4" sheet of plywood, 4'x8' - for the desktop
(1) 1/2" sheet of plywood, 4'x8' - for the drawers
(5) 1x6x8 for the frame
(4) 40" metal hairpin legs (these legs come in different thicknesses, number of rods, and heights - you can adjust accordingly)
(4 sets) 16" drawer slides
(4) Drawer pulls
Table saw OR circular saw
Kreg pocket hole jig
Drill (with bits)
Sandpaper - 80, 220
Pocket hole screws - 1 1/2"
Wood screws - 1 1/4" and 1 1/2"
Paint (we used Behr high gloss pure white) or stain and topcoat of your choice
Head over to The Home Depot, Lowes, or wherever you buy your wood and tools and check off your shopping list. There are links in the material list for the exact desk legs, drawer slides, drawer hardware, and some of clamps but feel free to choose your favorites - those are just a starting point.
Step 1. Cut & sand desktop and frame pieces.
Cut the desktop piece (or have the nice people at the hardware/home improvement store do it for you) from 3/4" plywood to 6'-0" wide by 3'-6" deep. You will use the leftover 3/4" plywood to create the "x" cross pieces for the center until after the frame is assembled so you can make the most precise on-the-job cut that is specific to your frame.
See image below for overall dimensions and make cuts from 1x6x8 boards.
NOTE: The center frame support piece that attaches the left side of the desk to the right above the frame should be 4 3/4" high - it is the only 1x6 piece that requires a rip cut (taking material off width wise as opposed to length). This 3/4" is removed from the 1x6 (which is actually 3/4" x 5 1/2" when measured - remember nominal wood sizes are different from actual wood sizes) is done to ensure the x-support pieces (made from 3/4" plywood) are flush with the rest of the frame.
Sand all pieces with 80 and 220 grit sandpaper. Since the desktop will be painted, we filled the plywood edges with wood filler and let it sit overnight before sanding it smooth the next day to get a clean edge for painting.
If you prefer a detailed, step-by-step set of instructions check out our downloadable PDF. You'll get 22 pages that includes the exact cut list, cut diagrams, pocket hole drilling locations, and sequential assembly photos and instructions.
Step 2. Assemble the frame.
Lay the pieces out and dry fit them to make sure everything fits together properly, looks correct, and makes sense.
Set aside your 4 drawer front pieces since those will be attached to the physical drawers and installed later. You can also set aside the 4 leg supports since those will be attached last.
We joined pieces together using pocket holes (Kreg pocket hole jig makes this SO simple) and 1 1/2" pocket screws. Pre-drill your holes and attach the pieces that make the "C" shape on each side to one other.
Once you have both sides complete, you can attach them to one another. Mark the center of the inside piece and use that as a guide to attach the center piece. Line the center support up flush with one edge of the frame - it doesn't matter which side as long as it's the same on both sides. Remember, the center support is 4 3/4" tall (due to removing 3/4" of a inch off that one piece) and the rest of the frame is 5 1/2" tall which will allow for the x-support pieces to be flush with the rest of the frame. Pre-drill two pocket holes in the center of the support piece - these will be used to attach the center support to the "x" piece for extra stability.
Once you have the sides attached to one another, you're ready to attach the "x" supports. If you lift the frame in its current condition, you'll notice it's unstable with significant sway. The "x" support counteracts that, creating a stable frame for the desk.
Take the leftover piece of 3/4" plywood - it should measure 2' x 4'. These cuts are easiest to make by laying the piece of plywood down underneath the frame and marking the board directly on the board. Line the plywood up with the inside edge of the apron, where it meets the interior frame. Measure 6" down and mark the plywood. Make the same marks on the other side, remove the plywood and use a long yard stick, straight edge, or piece of (non-warped) wood, to make a continuous straight line from one side to the other. Do the same with the other marks and use a circular saw to cut the piece out. Drill pocket holes and attach.
Lay the piece of plywood back down and repeat the process on the other side, making sure the piece is lined up with where the apron and interior pieces meet. Cut the two pieces out, drill pocket holes and attach to the frame and the other half of the "x" piece.
Attach the center support to the long "x" piece via pocket screws.
Now it's time to add the supports for the legs. Turn the frame so the "x" is on the bottom and inset the 6 1/2" pieces against the inside of the frame where the legs will go, flush with the top. These pieces should be snug so you may need to tap them a little to get them to line up and be flush. Attach with pockets screws.
The frame is complete!
Step 3. Pre-drill holes for & test legs.
We chose to pre-drill the holes for the legs and attach them to test everything before moving it upstairs. Turn the frame upside down with the leg supports on the ground and "x" supports facing up. Place your legs on the leg support pieces and mark the holes. Pre-drill the holes, then attach the legs using 1 1/2" screws - they will poke through the top of the leg supports, that's intentional. When the entire desk is assembled, these screws will ensure the desktop is also secure. Repeat for all 4 legs. Flip the frame over and make sure the desk is stable. Once you're happy, remove the legs and move on to painting/staining.
Step 4. Paint.
Because this desk is so large, we decided to paint the desktop and frame before building the drawers. There's no right or wrong way to do this, if you want to build the entire thing first, go for it, we just prefered to clean up, paint, and get the desk set up in the office before tackling the drawers.
Since the pieces have already been sanded, they should only need a quick clean off from any residual sawdust or other workplace gunk and then wipe down with a tack cloth. Don't forget to grab and paint the drawer faces or you'll have to do it later. Since we used raw wood, we did two coats of primer, followed by two coats of ultra-high gloss white paint (with a light 220 sanding in-between coats). If you want to paint the entire frame you can but since the only parts you see are the desktop, apron, and drawer faces, those are the pieces we focused on.
Let the paint (or stain and topcoat if you go that route) dry according to the manufacturer before moving.
Step 5. Move into place & assemble.
Fair warning, this bad boy is HEAVY. Since the office is on the 2nd floor, I recruited help in moving the desktop from the garage up the stairs and into the office. No sense in putting a ding in your custom-made desk before you ever get to use it!
Lay the now-dry desktop finished side down and place the frame on top with the "x" supports facing up. Place the legs back in line with their pre-drilled holes and attach with screws - remember, these 1 1/2" screws will go through the leg supports and into the desktop so make sure everything is exactly where you want it before securing the legs.
Grab a friend and have them help you flip the desk right-side up (again it's heavy...and now it's REALLY heavy since it's put together). Step back and be impressed. Okay, that's enough. We aren't quite done - time for drawers!
Step 6. Build the drawers.
This desk has 4 drawers, one on each side, all the same dimensions to keep things simple(r). Each drawer is built from 1/2" plywood with a 1x6 drawer face. Now is a good time to make sure the drawer faces all fit - if they are a bit too snug (it's okay, it happens, we won't tell), shave off 1/8" at a time until they fit with 1/8" clearance from the aprons on either sides.
Cut the drawer pieces and sand the edges - see photo below for overall drawer dimensions.
Step 6b. Make dado cuts.
A dado is a slot or trench cut that joins one piece of wood to another - a groove of sorts if you will. Cut a dado that is 1/4" deep (so half the thickness of the boards) and 1/2" tall in front, back, and side pieces 1/2" from the bottom - the drawer bottom will slide into these grooves. There are a variety of ways to do this - a table saw with a dado throat, a router, a circular saw with the depth adjusted - choose whichever method you prefer.
NOTE: You can attach the drawer bottom directly to the front, back, and side pieces, however, this will make your drawer 1/2" taller and you'll have to take that into account from the beginning (or make your drawer side pieces shorter), otherwise the drawer will not fit in the frame opening due to the "x" supports.
Step 6c. Assemble the drawer.
Predrill pocket holes (careful not to get to close to your dado) in the front and back pieces (they will be hidden) and start assembling your drawers. Corner clamps are useful here! Join with glue and pocket hole screws. Once of you have three of the four drawer sides assembled, slide the bottom in - it should be a snug fit - and then add the last drawer side. Secure the last piece the same way and your drawer box is complete. Complete the same steps for the remaining three drawers.
Step 6d. Pre-drill drawer pulls.
Grab the painted drawer faces and the selected drawer pulls. Determine the location for the pulls, mark the holes and pre-drill. Test to make sure the included screws fit through the holes and everything is level. Remove the hardware (for now).
Step 7. Install the drawers.
Take the finished drawer boxes to wherever the desk is, along with the drawer slides (4 16" sets), drawer pulls, your drawer face installation clamps (if using), and drill (2 if you have them - one to pre-drill holes, the other to attach screws).
Start by attaching the drawer slides to the desk frame with the included screws. Slide the drawer box in and mark the location of the holes on the drawer box. Remove the drawer and drawer slide by lifting up/pushing down on the black tab (see photo). Attach the drawer slide to the drawer box with included screws. Align the two drawer slide pieces and slide the drawer box into the opening in the frame. Test the drawer to ensure it slides freely.
Use the drawer face installation clamps to position the drawer faces so that they are level and have equal space on all closed sides. Secure with screws from inside the drawer box. With the face secure, drill through the pre-drilled hardware holes to get through the drawer box. Add the hardware. Repeat for the other 3 drawers.
Step 8. Style and enjoy!
Your desk is complete! The crisp white desktop provides a blank canvas, big enough to spread out any project you might be working on or allow multiple people to use the same surface. The hairpin legs keep this massive piece of furniture from feeling heavy while the large drawers ensure that the surface can be kept tidy by tucking away items after they've been used. We love the quilted swivel barstools with matching black bases - a nice contrast that grounds the more whimsical tulle wall.
Great idea but don't have time right now? Save this pin for later!