DIY Plywood Strip Desk

When Sarah found herself with a heap of unused plywood piling up in her basement, she hatched an extraordinary idea. What resulted was a desk we can't help but admire.

Bob Vila Thumbs Up Plywood

DIY Plywood Strip Desk

Can you believe this stunner only cost $53 to make? We couldn’t either. Using scrap wood, a set of spare hairpin legs and a lot of ingenuity, Sarah—of Sarah’s Big Idea—made this incredibly sophisticated and modern desk. Find out how she did it by reading her how to.

 

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Plywood scraps
- Hairpin legs
- Wood glue
- Whitewash stain
- Sealer
- Drawer handles
- Spray paint

 

STEP 1

DIY plywood desk - plan

Photo: sarahsbigidea.com

Plan. This all started a couple of weeks ago, when I took my design into the American Workshop to ask, “Is this possible?” I had my doubts. Would glued-up plywood strips be strong enough to make into furniture? If so, was it possible to get the “infinity” look I wanted on the corners? Jim assured me it was, and helped me solidify my plan. I came back a few days later with my final measurements, and got down to business.

 

STEP 2

DIY plywood desk - cutting

Photo: sarahsbigidea.com

Cut. I started by cutting all my scraps into 1-inch-wide strips. I figured that once everything was glued together and sanded smooth, I’d still have 3/4-inch of material left.

 

STEP 3

DIY Plywood Desk - lay out

Photo: sarahsbigidea.com

Lay it out. This was putzy. Being the obsessive-compulsive perfectionist that I am, I wanted each row to be made up of the same type of plywood, so that the stripes would match all the way across. Then I cut each joint at a 45-degree angle, to make the joints tight and minimize interruptions in the pattern.

I kept going until I had just over 6 feet x 3 feet of material, when all compressed together.

 

STEP 4

DIY plywood desk - clamps

Photo: sarahsbigidea.com

Glue and clamp. This went super fast. It was a 2-person job. Actually 3, because there was one good Samaritan standing by with clamps at the ready.  (I’m sorry, good Samaritan, I don’t know who you are, but thanks for your help!)

Jim used a 3-inch paint roller and a tray full of glue to roll the glue on, while I brought all the pieces over to the gluing table and kept them in order, and helped slap the pieces into place after they were rolled with glue. Once every single piece was in place, we clamped. The whole process took about 15 minutes.

 

STEP 5
Sand. After 24 hours, I took the clamps off and went about making a desk-worthy surface out of my plywood slab. The surface was totally uneven, since the strips were not all level with each other, and the glue had stuck to the waxed paper that we had used to protect the table underneath.

Luckily, American Workshop has a 36-inch belt sander. It took a lot of passes, but within 30 minutes we had a smooth surface. Before the final sanding, I used wood filler to fill in all the little holes that you’ll find inside plywood.

 

STEP 6

DIY Plywood Desk - cut pieces

Photo: sarahsbigidea.com

Cut all your pieces. Remember, I was going for an infinity look on the desk—I wanted the lines to be as uninterrupted as possible. I figured the best way to do that was to make one single slab, and cut the individual pieces out of it. I don’t know anything about joinery, so… let’s just say, I’m glad I had help.

 

STEP 7
Assemble. This was pretty straightforward, because in the process of cutting the pieces, I had finally started to understand the plan. But it was another 2-person job—a fact that I discovered after I managed to drop one of the side pieces. Twice. And it broke. Twice.

Work of art destroyed? No big deal. Put some more glue on it.

 

STEP 8

DIY Plywood Desk - Drawer Construction

Photo: sarahsbigidea.com

Drawers. I learned how to build drawer boxes with rabbets instead of butt-joints! Now there’s a sentence that only makes sense in context. The drawers just sit on wooden slides. Super simple design. Underneath the desk, there are a couple of blocks of plywood that add stability, but also provide a place to attach the drawer slides.

 

STEP 9

DIY Plywood Desk - Drawer Fronts

Photo: sarahsbigidea.com

Drawer fronts. This was the hardest part of the entire desk-building process. The drawer fronts were cut directly out of the front piece, so that the pattern would line up. Getting them placed perfectly on the drawer boxes so that the lines looked continuous, and so that the gaps around the drawers were as small as possible, took some trial and error… and a little double-stick tape. But in the end, it turned out just about perfect.

 

STEP 10
Finish and screw up. I started with a good sanding and a coat of clear satin polyurethane. And the poly did exactly what I expected it to: it brought out all the gorgeous details. Unfortunately, it also added waaaay more of a yellow tint than I wanted. So I sanded the whole thing down and started over.

Take Two: Minwax White Wash, and its recommended top coat, Polycrylic (instead of the regular oil-based poly I used for my first attempt). I brushed the stain on and wiped it off almost immediately; I didn’t want to end up with a white desk.  And I didn’t want to take the chance of obscuring the wood grain.

And in between coats, I spray painted a pair of cheap IKEA handles.

DIY plywood desk - finished work

Photo: sarahsbigidea.com

Wonderful—thanks for sharing, Sarah! For even more incredible DIYs, visit Sarah’s Big Idea.


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