by George Taniwaki
Unlike many of the other blog posts regarding the home remodel, this one is rather short. In a few hours you can build a desk from a slab of wood and metal angle bars.
Make the desktop
Actually, I didn’t make the desktop. Sue bought a single slab piece of walnut 2″ x 23″ x 53″ with an interesting live edge and a large check (split) on one end. The desktop is already planed, sanded, stained and varnished. She purchased it from elpis&wood of Marysville, WA. The desktop is smooth but not flat on top. It even has one depression large enough to hold paper clips (Fig 1).
Figure 1. Smooth but uneven top can be used as a paper clip holder
Make the desk legs
Sue wanted an industrial look to the desk. Thus, I decided to make the legs from 1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″ x 36″ steel angle bar from Home Depot. Cut the angle bars to 25-1/2″ long. This will result in a desktop that is still a little high for a computer desk, so we will add a keyboard tray to this desk.
We don’t want metal legs to sit directly on the hardwood floor or on the rug, since it could cut or ruin them. Take 3/8″ PVC tubing, and cut four pieces, each about 3″ long. Cut each piece open lengthwise. Using clear silicone sealant, attach one piece to the bottom of each leg (Fig 2). After the sealant cures, trim off any excess tubing and clean off any excess sealant.
Figure 2. PVC tubing makes the pad on the desk leg
Make the brackets
Normally, when constructing a table, the table legs are attached to an apron and the apron attached to the table. However, a desk generally sits much lower than a table and you don’t want an apron since it will make it difficult for you to slide your legs under the desktop, especially if you also have a keyboard tray.
Also, since the tabletop is a single slab 23″ wide, it will experience a lot of seasonal movement. A metal apron in the cross grain direction could cause damage to the desktop.
Thus, instead of an apron, we will make two brackets for each leg of the desk using 2-1/4 x 1-1/2″ x 48″ steel angle bar, also from Home Depot. This wider bar has two sets of holes on one side which will allow more bolts in the connection, making it more rigid and ensuring the legs don’t wobble. Each bracket will be 4-1/2″ long, for a total of 8 pieces.
Assemble the desk
Using two 1/4″ x 1/2″ hex bolts and nuts, attach a bracket to the inside of one side of the leg. Repeat on the other side of the leg (Fig 3). Do this for the other three legs. There will be 16 bolts total.
Figure 3. Bracket attached to the inside of a leg
Flip the desktop so the bottom is facing up. Place the four legs upside down on the desktop so that the brackets are resting on the desktop. Arrange them in a nice pattern. Since the desktop is not square the legs may not line up on a rectangular grid. Using a pencil, mark the location of the end holes on each bracket on the desktop. You will end up with four marks per leg or 16 overall.
Using a hand-held drill with a 5/32″ bit, make pilot holes 1″ deep into the desktop at each pencil mark. Be careful to make the holes vertical. And be very careful to only go 1″ deep. You don’t want to go through the desktop and ruin it. Attach the brackets to the desktop using 1/4″ x 1″ lag screws.
Attach the keyboard tray to the desktop following the instructions that come with it. Flip the desktop over (Fig 4). And you are done!
Figure 4. The completed desk
Bonus: Make a set of small drawers
Sue also bought two desktop organizers and asked me to turn them into stand-alone drawers for her desk. Each organizer is 12″W x 9-1/2″H x 14″D and contains three drawers. We will make an industrial frame from metal bar stock to match the desk legs. The frame will hold the bottom organizer off the floor and hold the upper organizer above the bottom one.
To make the front legs of the frame, cut two pieces of 1-3/8″ steel flat bar from Home Depot to 15″ long. To make the back legs, cut two pieces of 1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″ steel angle bar to 15″ long. The angle bar will make the back of the frame. Use PVC tubing to make pads on the bottoms of the legs. Attach them using clear silicone sealant.
Cut eight pieces of flat bar 3″ long. Bend each piece 90° in the middle. Attach these brackets to the legs using 1/4″x1/2″ hex bolts and nuts. Four will be attached 1-1/2″ from the bottom of the legs and four will be attached 1-1/2″ from the top of the legs.
Cut two pieces of 1/8″ Masonite or hardboard to 12-1/2″ x 14″. These will form the bottoms of the frame. Drill 1/8″ holes in each corner and connect to the brackets using #8 bolts with washers and nuts. The frame is now complete. Slide a desktop organizer into the bottom opening of the frame and set the upper organizer on top of the frame (Figs 5 and 6). Another quick project completed.
Figure 5 and 6. Front view of desk drawers (left) and rear view (right)
For more ideas on home remodeling projects see the Home Remodeling Guide.
All photos and drawings by George Taniwaki
[Update: Added the name of the company that made the desktop and fixed a couple of typos.]