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Easy DIY Craft Desk

By The Ugly Duckling House on Jan 17, 2012
Last week, I showed you the start of my schmancy new desk for the study-o.  After a weekend of making the final few tweaks, the two tables are ready for a final reveal:

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I. Freaking. Made. That.  And here's how.

(by the way, materials I used are put in bold on this post to make your shopping list easier if you're thinking of building this yourself)

Before getting started on this project, I did a little research on desk heights.  Knowing how much time I'll spend at this spot blogging and pinning writing and studying, it was important to get the height at a level as comfortable as possible.  Most sites that I could find said that desks are usually 28 to 31 inches tall, and maybe even a little lower if you want it at a good keyboard height to save your arms and wrists from fatigue.

I'd already picked up two ANTONIUS desk tops from IKEA earlier last year, so I had a starting point of a one-inch thickness of desk surface to build from the top down.  This left me with a leg height range of 27 to 30 inches (I know, math is hard).  But after considering both my short stature and knowing that I'd be using my laptop regularly on the desk surface, 30 inches for table legs seemed like it would probably on the too-tall side.  In contrast, 27 inches seemed to be just the right fit (like Goldilocks, only cooler since we're discussing building furniture - porridge and sawdust taste about the same, though).

On a usual weekly run to Lowes about a month prior, I grabbed four 3x3 poplar posts having no real idea of what to do with them.  It wouldn't be enough for both desks, but it was perfect for a trial run.  That is, if I'd actually gone one step further and also grabbed the rest of what I'd need to create the frame for each side of the desk.  Oh well - it's kind of easy to pick up more when you know you're already headed back to the store in just a few days.  After picking up some poplar 1x3s, it was time to get started:

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1.  Because of the pre-bought desk tops, I knew that the end result needed to be no longer than 46 7/8" for the front and back, and no more than 23 5/8" on the sides.  Considering that the 3x3 posts were 2.5" wide each (remember, there is a nominal width and an actual width for lumber), I subtracted 5 inches from each measurement of the 1x3s.  Sort of like this:

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2.  I cut everything down using a Christmas gift - my new compound miter saw (before this, I was borrowing one from Dad):

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3.  With my pieces cut and pre-primed (to make it one less step after putting things together), I drilled pocket holes on each end using my new Kreg Jig.  Love this thing!  Here are a few of my tips for getting started:

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  • For learning how to use the tool itself (setting the drill bit to the right length, adjusting the jig height, etc), this is a great tutorial and really helped me gain confidence that I was doing things right.
  • Clamp, clamp, clamp:  The number of clamps I used to keep everything snug and still may have been excessive, but you can't be too careful when needing to drill these holes.  Clamp the jig down to the desk and clamp the wood to each other/to the table when screwing things together.  I bought a right angle clamp for attaching the 1x3s to the posts.
  • The sawdust builds up which can create drilling/splitting issues, so in my opinion it's best to take the jig apart every few boards and dust things out.  Also, the nut that is tightened around the drill bit (which makes sure the drill doesn't go through too much of the wood) needs to be checked to make sure it doesn't move further up the drill after a while.  It's just best to re-check things after you've been drilling for a while.
  • This tool definitely requires a fully charged battery for projects this size.
  • There is not a single thing in this post that won't be snickered about in a dirty way by some of my immature (but hilarious) friends.
4.  For this project, since I was using boards that were 3/4" thick, I needed 1 1/4" screws.  Just trust me on that one; you definitely do not need 1 1/2" screws.  But since I bought the incorrect ones initially, I used them when I had to join the 1x3 to the 3x3 and depended on the angle (if I was screwing the pieces to the outside of the table, I used the 1 1/4" so to not cause the screw to poke through).

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5.  With the pieces cut and primed, I put things together with the 3x3 posts as my starting point.  Then a 1x3 cut to 18 5/8" was wedged horizontally between the posts, and a vertical piece cut to the same length was used for the support along the top.  Here is a visual of each side to better illustrate:

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6.  As I mentioned before, I sort of messed up with the first desk and screwed in the leg support in the  wrong direction.  For desk #2, I made sure that didn't happen again by marking the top pieces.  So simple, and yet it took me two tries to get that right (and yes, I almost did it again, but the marking saved me)!

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7.  Obviously desk #2 came together a lot faster than the first one (it didn't have all of that pesky math).  Once everything was together, I screwed in the top, patched up any holes with wood filler, filled in cracks with caulk, and gave it two smooth coats of ultra white satin paint (for the smoothest finish, I used a sanding sponge with fine 220-grit between coats).  The table top isn't quite as bright as the ultra white paint, but it's not a noticeable enough difference to irk me (I guess I'm either getting better at the OCD stuff or am just too tired after building these to go back to the store to match the paint).  The Porter-Cable oscillating tool came in really handy on this project (speaking of, the winner of last week's giveaway can be found here).

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I'm still trying to decide if I want to install drawers (similar to these plans) but want to see it in the space before I make any decisions.  Even though I know the desk will be an L shape, determining which L shape to go with will determine where I can't put a drawer (or I suppose a secret one that no one knows is there).  See the diagram below for a better idea of what I mean.  If I decide against the drawers, I only need to add another 1x3 to the fronts to hide any imperfections on the inside.  Obviously as you saw in the pictures, I went with Option B for now and will give it a few days to see if I want to change it.

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So, there you have it:  how to built a simple, sturdy desk with function.  And just because I'm so proud of building my first piece of furniture, let's see it again:

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I'm really looking forward to finding the right paint color for the walls, but having these desks is miles ahead of where I was a few weeks ago, so I can wait on paint for a bit.  It's not like I'm short on other projects!  Who's up for a bathroom makeover?

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