Minimalist Computer Desk General Woodworking
After getting the office in my house into usable shape, I naturally wanted to use it for my online activities. Those include extensive blocks of time sitting in front of the computer editing video, writing these articles, making plans and a multitude of other tasks that support them.
Since I would be spending a lot of time at it, I wanted the desk to be as comfortable as possible and also highly efficient. I would only be doing computer related work with it, so I optimized the design for that purpose alone. That meant not building in any storage for the usual office supplies (like pens, paper, etc.) and limiting the surface area to just the essentials. Of course, if I need to add a drawer or a shelf to the desk in the future, the design is open and flexible enough for that.
The first step was to come up with the design and I drew inspiration from many different sources. Also, my own existing setup has a sloping armrest for the mouse and I really like that, so I figured it would be a good feature to add. On problem was to make sure that these angles and other dimensions were correct, so I built a cardboard mock-up:
For material, I also wanted to keep it simple and economical. I use some of the lumber salvaged from renovating my house for the frame parts.
These are 2×4 stock that has been planed smooth and sanded. While I used thicker than normal stock to begin with and brought that down to exactly 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″, starting with regular framing lumber and planning it down slightly thinner will have no impact on the strength of the desk. Some small adjustment to position may need to be done if following the plans.
The first parts to make are the feet of the desk, which are beveled on the ends:
I then cut the stretcher to length that connects them, and used glue, biscuits and screws to join the parts together:
I used biscuits, but dowels or even just screws will work for this assembly. Or a combination of dowels and screws (or pocket screws from the bottom).
After the base was assembled, I plugged the screw holes using a square peg. More or less just for something different rather than a round dowel. If you’d like to see this in detail, I made a short video.
Since I used screws to join these parts, I could sand the joints flush immediately after assembly, without having to wait for the glue to dry.
The desk will be on casters, and since the wood I’m using is fairly soft, I thought it would be a good idea to glue a washer around the hole for extra support:
The washer will keep the caster from wearing into the wood and enlarging the hole:
The legs are easy to make – three are the same length, while the forth is slightly shorter and cut at an angle. The two back legs have notches cut at the top to receive the upper stretcher. I cut those on the table saw using my mini table saw sled:
I made the legs to the length that works best for me, and that puts the top of the desk 31″ above the floor (using the 2-1/2″ casters). The front edge of the keyboard tray is 27-1/2″ above the floor as well. To adjust these heights to better suit your needs if you are building this desk, you’ll need to make the legs longer or shorter by an equal amount. I recommend using an an adjustable office chair to fine tune the fit, rather than altering the deign.
The junction between the upper stretcher and the back legs needs to be strong, since it helps to brace the desk laterally. The joints need to be well made, well glued and assembled with screws. I used polyurethane construction adhesive since it was colder than ideal for regular wood glue:
To attach the legs to the base, I clamped it in place and drove in screws from the bottom to temporarily hold it together until the lag bolts were driven. It’s important to drill the right size pilot hole for the lag bolts (3/16″ for softwood or 7/32″ for hardwood) and make sure it’s deep enough, otherwise the legs may split:
The lag bolts make it possible to disassemble these two sections, but you can use glue if you want a more permanent connections. The lag bolts alone are more than strong enough, though.
I attached the front legs in the same way, using two lag bolts per leg. To clamp the shorter angled leg, I used the angled offcut with the clamp to apply even pressure:
Here’s a look at the lag bolts that hold the legs on:
After attaching the front legs, the bulk of the frame is assembled and I moved it into my house (where it was much warmer) for the glue to dry. Since all of the parts are already sanded and I’ll be doing the finishing in there, it doesn’t need to be in the shop anymore:
The final parts for the frame are the keyboard support brackets and I cut both of those from a piece of 2×6 starting with a cut in from each end on the table saw, then connecting the cuts with the band saw:
I could then use my mini sled again to make the vertical cut:
And draw a line for the angle (measurements in the plans) to cut on the band saw:
Here they are finished and ready to install. I made a short video showing a bit more detail on making these:
The remaining parts are all surfaces, and I used 1/2″ Baltic birch plywood. Of course, a lower cost material can be used (even MDF), but I think the desk is worth the better material. All of the corners were rounded over, even the inside corner on the top, and I used a sanding drum in my drill to smooth the rough cut left by the jigsaw:
Each of the surface parts were cut out and sanded smooth on the faces and edges, and the edges were slightly rounded over using a router with a 1/8″ radius bit:
The equipment tray and footrest can be made to any size to accommodate your needs. On mine, I only needed space for the computer itself, plus a power bar to plug into, so I sized it appropriately:
The keyboard tray as designed is 9-1/2″ wide, and will fit a standard size keyboard and a small to medium mouse pad (mine is 12″ wide and 8-1/2″ high). If needed, this can be made wider, but the front edge will be closer to the floor, so it may be necessary to adjust the length of the legs to make up for that:
With all of the parts made, I did the actual finishing inside my office with a drop cloth on the floor. I used water based polyurethane and gave each part at least two coats:
Clips are recommended for attaching the top to the frame, but you could also drive screws down through from above and then cap or plug the screws:
The plans give better details on how to attach the armrest, but basically you need to drive screws down into the front right leg as shown:
Then measure the thickness of the spacer. I used a scrap of plywood and put a mark on it that lines up with the support bracket:
With the spacer cut to the right size and screwed to the armrest, I glued the keyboard tray in place using polyurethane construction adhesive:
Clamps hold it tight until the glue sets:
The desk is now fully assembled. To disassemble, you would first remove the top, then the keyboard tray attached to the brackets, then the armrest, and then the legs:
After I had the equipment in place, I figured out the best place for a hole to route the wires and drilled that with a hole saw. I used a plywood template to keep it exactly in place to start:
Then used that same piece to back up the cut to prevent chip out:
Of course, it would have been better to drill this hole before the desk was assembled, but to be honest I simply forgot. Now, if you read this, what will your excuse be?
With the gear in place, there is just one thing left to do – the pad for the armrest:
Here’s a look at the equipment shelf with the power bar screwed down:
The pad for the armrest was easy to make (you can watch how I did it in this video):
Finished, and I’m totally loving it!:
I still have some work to do in my office, and there will be details on that in upcoming articles and videos on my home reno channel.
The build video: