Monday, October 17, 2011

Project - Build a Desk

First off, I have to say that none of this would have been possible without the help of, a site and blog about an Alaskan mother who builds furniture on her own time.  Please visit her site for helpful how-to's and project plans.

Before we even moved in, I began thinking about DIY projects that I'd like to accomplish.  We knew the house would be lacking in furniture, as we were coming from a one bedroom apartment and now had several bedrooms.  Our apartment also had a kitchen island, so we didn't have a dining table or chairs.

I originally intended on building a dining table, but the scale of the project and the daily usage the table would receive guided me to try something a bit smaller first.

In our kitchen, there's a corner space where the seller used to have a desk with a TV on top.  We thought that'd be a great place for a laptop and some stationary outside of the office.  The space available is 40" x 24"

Pamela and I found a plan online that we really liked and thought we could adapt to the space.  See the Simple Modern Desk plan here.

Our version would have slightly smaller dimensions, one large drawer instead of two, and wood boards as a top rather than a single sheet of MDF.

Supplies and Materials
On one of our first trips to Home Depot I got to buy power tools.  I bought a drill and a circular saw, along with nails, screws, and an array of screwdrivers and other hand tools.

If you are in the market for power tools, I suggest buying corded tools if you can.  If you are like me and will be working around the house where you have access to electric outlets and/or extension cords, spending the extra money on cordless tools might be a waste.  Cordless tools also need to be charged and often aren't as powerful (for the same price point).

One of the key enabling tools for me has been a Kreg Jig.  When joining pieces of wood together for furniture, you have several options.  The Kreg Jig, in my opinion, is the simplest and may also be the most attractive visually.  Just peruse a clip on their site and you'll see what I mean.

I purchased poplar boards from Home Depot for this project.  This was a rookie move - I walked up and down the lumber aisles and thought these boards looked best.  They were also labeled as good for furniture.  I didn't realize they were priced per foot, as opposed to many other boards that were priced per piece.  For a 1" x 3" board that was 8 feet long, I probably spent $15 to $20 per board.  With other types of wood I could have spent less than $10 or even less than $5 per board.

Below is my garage / workshop / man-cave:
Man Cave-y
In the forefront on top of two stools you can see my saw jig.  I use this to make perfectly straight cuts with my circular saw.  The perpendicular board in the center of the photo is used as a guide, I press the circular saw's foot along that board as I am making the cut.  I slide a piece of wood below that board but on top of the jig's base.  You can see the channel that is cut in the jig to the left of the perpendicular board.

Before I had the saw jig setup, each cut was nerve wracking.  Being new to a circular saw, I was concerned I'd make a lop-sided cut or remove several fingers.

Non-Step By Step
For a good step by step, please download the project plans from

Since the dimensions of our desk were going to differ, I had to sketch out each section including all the new measurements.  This really saved me a lot of heartache as I realized making a board 1/4" shorter would affect both the length AND the width of the project in several instances.

I also didn't follow the advice on in allowing Home Depot to cut a few pieces of wood to help them fit in my car.  The guy at HD doing the cutting was probably 17 and had been off on a lunch break.  He came back to a long line of customers waiting to have their wood cut.  I only had him cut a few boards, but he managed to screw one up (I made the mistake of not measuring before I left).  Now that I had one important board that was short, I needed to adapt all the dimensions to fit this board (the alternative was to buy another board and have it cut right, but I was home and ready to get working!).

Here are most of my boards cut down to size (some still waiting to be cut):

Here are the legs mostly assembled:

 Here's the frame:

Fully assembled!:


Primed and ready for some paint:

A Few Notes on Finishing
Wood filler is s savior.  It's primarily used to fill cracks and cover nail heads - it can then be sanded and painted.  For my first project, since some boards didn't fit together perfectly, I filled the gaps with wood filler so that they wouldn't be noticeable.

Adding to my rookie mistake on choosing poplar boards, I later found that poplar is very difficult to stain.  My original plan was to stain the desk into a deeper brown / wood color.  I found sites on the internet that said I could use a sealer first, then apply stain although the sites cautioned that the outcome might not be desireable.  I tried this on some scrap and really didn't like the look.  Poplar does paint well though, so that's what we'll do.

We primed the desk and will paint it in the next few days.  We are leaning towards painting it white, but red is also under consideration.  Anyone want to post a comment with their vote?

The project has taken me two weeks or so.  If I were to do it again, I could probably do it all in one weekend (minus painting).  I'll post again in a few days after it has been painted and moved into the house.  Pamela is very impressed and has given me a free pass to build other things.  There are a lot of other projects around the house that I could maybe build, but the dining table (and chairs) is probably next.

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