I'm building a built-in office unit which is L shape. The computer
workstation will be in the corner (I'll have to build a corner piece).
I would like to know first what kinds of materials make good
computer/office desktops/kid homework surfaces?
Any suggestions out there are most welcome.
Also...How would a professional attach a desktop to the wall and
cabinets below to really make it look nice?
Hard maple or similar wood - take a piece of whatever you ar thinking
about using and put a single piece of paper on it then write on the
paper with a ball pont pen - press hard you're making three copies...
Use plywood with a hard maple face. Easy to find at any decent wood
supply. Rip it to the desired width. Several ways to handle the
1. Miter. The hardest to do but cleanest looking.
2. Butt joint one side into the other. See the banding idea for more
If you do a miter you need to be careful it fits into the corner. Walls
are never square.
I prefer the butt joint.
My suggestion is take the two rectangles of ply and use 3/4" solid
maple or other accent color wood and run a 1 1/4" deep band around all
sides of both. Mitered or butted at the corners. Actually run the
banding deeper by a few inches across the back where it hits the wall.
Run it about an extra inch deep where the two pieces meet, except for
the front few inches.
Put screws through the banding to the wall at the studs. Put bolts
through where the pieces join. Now all you need is legs at the outer
corners or build cabinets to fit underneath.
Hear is a trick for easy hard woood banding on ply.
Use biscuits. Cut the biscuit slots (using a biscuit slot cutter) in
the hardwood band first. Then add a 2 layers of masking tape top the
top of the ply. Now cut the ply slots. Now the hard wood will sit just
barely above the ply when you glue it up. Use a scraper to pull down
the hardwood until you get to the face of the ply, then some light hand
sanding to finish the job.
Finally hit the whole thing with some poly and you done.
I had the opportunity of helping a guy make an L-shaped desk like the
one you're describing a while back, and the method seemed fine to me-
it looked great and it sold for an outrageous sum of money.
What we did was use butt-jointed raw 3/4" mdf to make the basic shape,
minus about 1.5 inches all the way around. This was the "core" of the
desk. The top was 3/4" furniture-grade cherry ply, mitered in the
corner. Instead of banding, we attached 1.5" thick solid cherry
around the perimeter of the top, with wider boards on the corners to
allow for the curves (about a 5 inch radius on each of the inside
corners). Sanded the top, and then glued the MDF core into the
bottom. The result was a giant mitered half-lap joint that was very
strong, and the top was finished with two coats of sanding sealer
followed by two coats of acryllic conversion finish (from Sherwin
Williams) all applied with a heated HVLP sprayer. Nearly bullet-proof
result, and the whole project took less than a single day start to
That particular desk ended up with simple metal legs, but it could
easily have been attached to a cabinet by removing the drawers from
the cabinets and attaching it with pocket hole screws or L-brackets on
the inside where they wouldn't be seen. With the MDF core, and the
plywood top, wood movement isn't as much of an issue, and you don't
need special fasteners. If you go with a solid-wood top, just make
sure the fasteners are slotted to allow the wood to expand and
contract across the width. And if it's sitting on cabinets, there's
no need to attach it to the wall, is there?
That's the current professional method as I understand it. If you
want to flip back a several decades, it used to be fairly common for
desks to have a section that was covered in leather for a writing
surface (presumably because it was easy to replace when it got worn
out), though I would imagine there is a reason that is no longer done
much. A modernized equivilent might be inlaying something like
formica or tabletop glass as a writing surface.
Regular polyurethane is bound to be disappointing on a desktop. If
you can't find the conversion finish, it's probably worthwhile to get
flooring polyurethane with a high abrasion resistance or clear epoxy.
Far as the kids' homework space goes, I'd make a separate desk for
them and laminate plywood with formica, no question. They probably
won't care, and it'll be cheap, tough and easy to clean. If they do
care, tell them they can make thier own however they like when they
get older. :)
The two basic requirements are that it be smooth enough to not catch the
pencil point and stiff enough to not flex in use.
The big question is whether you're looking for something minimal or trying
to make a nice piece of furniture. If you're looking for minimal a piece of
3/4" Baltic Birch plywood or Appleply with a few coats of polyurethane (sand
smooth between coats) should do fine. For less effort and a bit more money
phenolic-faced 3/4" ply would also do nicely (Woodcraft carries it 2' x 4').
If you're looking to make something nice, any of the fine-grained hardwoods
(maple, walnut, cherry, etc) should do nicely. I'd avoid oak--the open
grain structure means more work to get a suface that won't break pencils.
MDF or birch ply with a laminate top would also do well as would solid
Attaching to cabinets one generally screws through the cabinet frame or uses
proprietary clips of one kind or another. Attaching to the wall depends on
the location and what the purpose of the attachment is--if it's in a corner
and the desktop is to be supported entirely by the wall attachment a couple
of cleats screwed into the studs should do fine, if it's not in a corner and
is to be supported only by the wall then I'd use heavy-duty shelf brackets
screwed into the studs. If it sits on top of cabinets then it doesn't
really need to be attached to the wall.
You might want to read "Making Kitchen Cabinets" by Paul Levine and
"Building Traditional Kitchen Cabinets" by Jim Tolpin (look at both, they
cover alternative approaches). 20 bucks should get you both if your local
library doesn't have them. The techniques apply equally well to making a
desk for the kids.
I plan on having the desktop sit ontop of file cabinets that I built.
The L shape is going into a corner. The file cabinets will be anchored
to the subfloor and to the wall...I think.
There will be library bookshelves sitting ontop of the desk too...for
books and display items.
Part of my problem is I don't know what material to use for the
desktop. Everything else will be primed and painted white. I want the
desktop to be different. I was thinking of a light wood...maybe even a
butcher block material.
I'm trying to attach a rendering I did on my computer of the unit I'm
For something like that you might just consider using a good grade of
maple or birch plywood for the desk surface (maybe double-thickness
around the edges) with solid edging of the same (or maybe contrasting)
species glued on and then shaped with a router.
You could run the plywood grain the long way down your desk, then have
the short leg butted up against it. That way you get the simplicity of
a butt joint, and the grain pattern would be continuous on the surface.
Trouble with that approach is that you end up with a joint in the middle of
the corner work surface, another pencil-buster unless it's perfectly
Running that corner piece diagonally from a single sheet with the joins
under the uprights for the shelving will IMO be a more satisfactory
If you are going to have the apron and drawer in the front between the
cabinets just build a back side to it with some bracing going front to
back. This assembly would then be screwed to the wall and the cabinets
to provide plenty of support for the top. If the top is only going to
be 3/4" you will need a diagonal brace in the corner even though it
will probably only support a monitor. Someone is bound to lean on it
to reach back there and/or climb on it to change a light bulb.
Prometheus' double-thickness half lap method is what I would do since
the corner is basically unsupported and that is where the joint will
I don't see a reason to do anything with the cabinets other than screw
them into the studs, kitchen cabinets are rarely attached to the floor.
One other option that I will probably get flamed for is a Formica or
similar top. They can make a one piece counter up to 5' x 12' in just
about any shape. Formica is almost bulletproof and the colors &
patterns are limitless. You could probably have this custom made and
delivered for less than the cost of materials if you build it. The
desktop I'm typing on right now has a commercial finish applied to
veneered mdf. It is only about three years old and the finish is
scratched all to hell under the keyboard and the FBI could read what
I've written with my ball point pen from the depressions YMMV.
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