How to Build a Computer Desk

This isn’t necessarily an article about how to build a computer desk – it’s more about how I design and build a desk from the ground up. This is a completely bespoke build for a customer all to meet their exact specifications. You can watch the 2-part timelapse videos of the build and I’ll explain it a bit more in this article.

Part 1 – How to build a computer desk – making the wooden panels

Watch part 1 here:

How I Make a Computer Desk - Wood Panel Glue-up & Build (Part 1 - Timelapse)

Initial SketchUp Design

In this project the customer gave me a rough sketch of what they were after along with dimensions for the various sections of the desk. Here’s the brief I had from the customer:

  • Sliding laptop shelf
  • Sliding keyboard shelf
  • Integral cable management
  • Vinyl record storage
  • Printer shelf
  • All sizes specified by customer
  • Inset lower sides

The bottom section includes spaces for vinyl record storage. There’s also a slide-out keyboard and laptop shelf.To complicate matters slightly the bottom sections needed to be inset to allow for it to be installed over an angled section of floor where the stairs run up underneath. I went through several designs with the customer to make sure they were happy with everything before starting with the build.

Wood panel glue-up

This project is made from Scandinavian Redwood so I started off by selecting lengths of good quality timber that were nice and flat and mostly knot-free. I cut all of these to rough lengths and then glued everything together using biscuit joints to help with alignment. I glued two boards at a time to ensure they dried perfectly flat. I then glued these sections together in to the full board taking extra care to ensure the whole assembly dried flat. I repeated this process for the glue up of every panel needed for the desk – there were a lot of panels!

Making the desk panel sections

Once the panels were all dry I could cut everything to the correct lengths using the circular saw, ensuring all of the cuts were perfectly square. This is quite an old project and these days I’d use the track saw for such cuts. Once all of the panels were cut to the correct sizes including the cut-outs of the lower sections, I then started the mammoth sanding job! Everything was sanded smooth with the random orbital sander to remove any glue marks and unevenness between the glued up boards. I progressed through the grits to ensure no ‘swirls’ were left from circular action of the sander.

Part 2 – Final assembly and finishing the desk

Watch part 2 here:

How I Make a Computer Desk - Assembly & Wax Finish (Part 2)

Making the desk modules

This desk is essentially made out of a number of modules glued or screwed together. I had to make it that way so that it could be assembled on-site as it would be big to get up the customer’s staircase fully assembled. The computer desk essentially consists of:

  • 2 x main underside modules (left and right)
  • 1 x main desk section with upper modules attached
  • Plus shelves, cable management etc.

Everything is biscuit jointed and glued together with the exception of a couple of small sections on the top that use pocket screws since it would have been difficult to biscuit joint these at this part of the assembly process. Once the underside modules were complete and the glue had all dried I turned the main desk top-panel upside down and lifted the modules on top. I then used my palm router to route out a rebate on the back sides of all these to take the back panels.

The back panels were made from 6mm hardwood plywood. These were all cut to size and dry fitted. It would be easier to assemble these parts after finishing them so once I was sure everything would fit together nicely I took it all apart again.

The finishing process

Everything was given a coat of a mahogany wood dye. This included all of the shelf sections, back panels, underside modules, main desk top etc. The dye was applied by brush, allowed to sit for a couple of minutes and then any excess wiped off with some blue roll. Everything was given 24 hours to thoroughly dry out.

I then applied the dark wax finish to everything. I used an old cut-off paintbrush to apply the wax and then buffed it carefully using a buffing wheel on my drill. The waxing along took about half a day. Once the wax was dry I used my nail gun to brad nail the back panels in place.

Assembly of the computer desk

The final part was on-site assembly. The left and right underside modules were put in place and the top desk section attached using screws. I then attached the drawer sliders for the keyboard and laptop shelves and also fitted the printer shelf. I fitted the cable management wire tray to the inset back section and then gave everything a final coat of wax. That was it all done! The customer was very happy to have a bespoke desk built around their individual requirements and it should last for many, many years.


Andy Mac
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