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How to Build Furniture

How to Build a Desk

One side of this desk is supported by the desk top resting on a standard two-drawer file cabinet.

A desk can be a big help in organizing and managing household paperwork, and it need not be elaborate to do a good job. This model is easy to build and can be used even where space is limited.


  • measuring rule
  • pencil
  • square
  • straightedge
  • power saw
  • hammer
  • miter box
  • handsaw
  • nail set
  • paintbrushes


  • 1 × 4 and 2 × 4 stock
  • carpenters' glue
  • 6-penny finishing nails
  • 3/4-inch grade A-B plywood
  • 8-penny finishing nails
  • shelf-edge molding
  • 3/4-inch brads
  • wood filler
  • sandpaper
  • primer
  • paint
  • two-drawer file cabinet

Time: about 3 to 4 hours, plus time for painting


This desk is designed to accommodate a standard two-drawer file cabinet, measuring 29 inches high, 15 1/4 inches wide, and 22 inches deep, which is set at one end as one of the desk's supports. If the file cabinet you use is a different size, you'll have to alter the following desk dimensions accordingly. The overall dimensions of the desk in this project are 48 inches in length, 24 inches in depth, and 29 3/4 inches in height. This desck can be used with any chair of standard height, including a stenographer's chair.

To begin the project, cut two pieces of 1 × 4 to 30 3/4 inches long, one piece of 1 × 4 to 20 1/2 inches long, and one piece of 2 × 4 to 20 1/2 inches long.

Set the 1 × 4 and 2 × 4 pieces on edge on a flat working surface in the form of a rectangle. Position the 2 × 4 side piece with its outside face back exactly 3/4 inch from the ends of the front and back 1 × 4s. Apply carpenters' glue to the joints and, after aligning them carefully, nail them together with two 6-penny finishing nails each.

Cut a 20 1/2 × 29-inch piece of 3/4-inch plywood for the desk's end panel.

Position the panel against the 2 × 4 side piece on the outside face, between the front and back pieces, with the top edge flush with the top of the desk frame. Apply glue to the butt joints and a generous coating of glue to one face of the end-panel/side-piece joint. Secure the panel by driving a pair of 8-penny finishing nails through the faces of the front and back pieces of the framework and into the edges of the plywood panel. Also drive six 6-penny finishing nails -- staggered and spaced -- through the face of the end panel and into the 2 × 4 side piece.

The desk frame is 1 × 4s, with a 2 × 4 reinforcement along the end panel. The top overhangs the frame.

Cut a 24 × 48-inch piece of 3/4-inch plywood for the top of the desk, with the plywood face grain running lengthwise. Apply glue to the top edge of the desk-frame/end-panel assembly, and position the top so that it overhangs at the rear by 3/4 inch, at the front by 11/4 inches, and at the right side by 1 inch. Nail the desk top to the framework with 6-penny finishing nails, which should be driven through the top and into the edges of the frame members and end panel. Secure the desk top with nails at each corner, spaced about 2 inches from the corners in each direction, and space the remaining nails about 11 to 12 inches apart. Drive three more 8-penny finishing nails down into the 2 × 4 side member.

Cut strips of shelf-edge molding to fit along the front and side edges of the desk top and to cover the front edge of the end panel. Work carefully and fit each piece of molding individually. If you use square-edge molding, butt joints can be employed, but rounded-edge molding is best mitered to 45 degrees to form perfect right-angle corners on the top piece.

Apply glue to the molding and position the strips. Once in place, secure the strips with 3/4-inch brads.

With a hammer and nail set, sink all nailheads slightly below the surface of the wood. Fill the nailhead holes, as well as any imperfections in the wood surface or joints, with wood filler. Then sand the entire desk to a smooth finish.

Apply a coat of primer, followed by two coats of semigloss interior latex (or other) paint. Let the paint dry completely; then set the desk into position over a two-drawer file cabinet.

Ta-da! Let the organization begin.

If a smaller organization area might also be handy, check out the next page for details on how to build a telephone stand.

For more ideas related to creating your own furniture, see:

  • How to Repair Wooden Furniture: You don't have to start from scratch and make new furniture. Learn how to repair the wooden pieces you already have.
  • How to Stain Wooden Furniture: Staining wooden furniture adds protection as well as beautiful color, and when you do it yourself, you can get just the shade you want. Follow this link for instructions on staining pieces you've purchased or handmade.
  • A Guide to Decorating Wooden Furniture: Wooden furniture can be decorated to fit any design scheme or color palette. Use this guide to transform simple items into elegant, finished pieces that will accent your home.