October 01, 2020

A Modern DIY Desk: My Latest Woodworking Project

I finally was able to make Noah a desk! Months ago, when I was still working on the garage, he asked me if he could buy a corner-shaped desk from IKEA. I asked him exactly what he wanted in a desk, and he told me that he wants it to be very modern and simple--no drawers or shelves. Just a corner desktop with legs!

After looking at prices, I thought that I could definitely make one with better materials and for much cheaper. The problem was, my garage was completely torn apart at the time, so I didn't have access to my tools to make one. I promised Noah that the first thing I'd do when the garage was put back together was to work on a desk.

We looked at pictures online and got a good idea of what he wanted. I thought it looked very simple to make. Then, I finished working on the garage.

Right after that, we had the stupid issue with the front porch. (When I say "porch", I actually mean "stoop"--I just grew up saying "porch" for the front of the house and "deck" for the back of the house.) The porch was literally falling apart and I knew we couldn't go another season with it. And it was horribly embarrassing to look at! We had several people come out to give us quotes for concrete, but none of those panned out. Then I decided to try to build one myself. 

However, treated lumber was totally out of stock--and the prices had tripled! (I learned this is partly from the Canadian border being shut down as well as from the fires out in Oregon.) I was super bummed. I eventually decided to make a very generic porch stoop.

I bought the bare minimum of lumber I would need to get us through until next spring or summer, when I can add onto it. For now, it'll get us through the winter. (I'll post about that later)

But! I wanted to follow through with my promise and make Noah his desk. I'd never used wood other than pine before (and some scraps of cedar) but I knew I didn't want to do a pine desktop. I wanted something nicer for this.

After measuring his wall space, I ended up buying a large piece of oak--2 ft x 6ft x 0.75 inches. The right side would be slightly longer than the left, so I just cut a 45-degree angle across the board and flipped one side over to align the cut, forming an L shape. 

I had so many problems with this, however. I couldn't get a straight cut for the life of me! I clamped down a straightedge to guide my circular saw, but it was still off just a touch, leaving a gap. I measured and measured and measured until I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't think of a more accurate way to do it. I got so frustrated with this part because I felt like I was doing everything right.

I later realized that my "straight" edge wasn't exactly straight. Gah!

I didn't want to keep hacking off parts of the wood, so I did the very best I could and lined up the pieces to form the angle. Then I used pocket holes to screw the two sides together on the underside of the desktop. I filled in the little gaps with wood filler, knowing it wasn't going to be perfect, but it would still work out.

I used a router around the edges of the table so that they wouldn't be so harsh looking. Then I used stain for the first time in my life--I was so nervous! I picked out a gray-colored stain and carefully followed the directions. At first, I was horrified that I'd ruined it. The stain was so difficult to work with! (It was a "gel" stain, if that means anything?) I had to brush it on "liberally", let it sit for a few minutes, and then wipe off the excess. Simple, right?

Holy mother of God, my arm just doesn't have the strength to wipe off the excess--it was SO sticky. I also didn't realize I was supposed to literally wipe it ALL off--the color would stay. With it still having a tacky feel to it, I decided to just try to wipe everything off and start over, which is when I realized that that is what I was supposed to do in the first place--wipe it all off, leaving just the color behind.

My arm was SO achy after that. I did a second coat of stain once I understood how it worked. It's still not perfect, but it's as good as it was going to get! (This is after I stained it, but before using the polyeurethane). My arm felt like Jello for two days.

I used three coats of polyeurethane (sanding between each) to make sure it's durable enough not to get damaged. 

For the legs, I used simple 2x4's. (They used to be $2.08 each, and now they are $7.88!). To make them look less 2x4-ish, I cut them down on the table saw to be 3"x1.25". Then I used a router on all edges just to make the edges a little softer. I sanded them smooth, and finally, primed and painted them.

I used the primer and paint that I already had at home. It's oil-based paint in the color "Spare White" by Sherwin Williams. I set up the desk in the garage before making sure it was ready to screw together, and I loved it.

I let it all dry for 48 hours, and FINALLY was able to bring it into Noah's room today! I brought it in pieces and then attached the legs once it was in his bedroom so it would be less awkward to carry.

Thankfully, he loves it! :) He said it looks so much better than he thought it would. (Um, thanks? haha)

While I need to touch up the paint on his wall (I wanted to do this before the picture, but I had just put all of my painting stuff away!) I absolutely love the way it looks in his room (and thankfully, so does he).


  1. That desk is do cool!

  2. That desk looks amazing...you are so creative and talented!

  3. It looks absolutely perfect!
    Someday I would love to try a woodworking project.

  4. The desk looks nice. You need a chop saw (miter saw) to cut accurate angles for finish work. Fun fact, my husband cut his pointer finger off on his left hand right above the second knuckle with a chop saw doing finish work when he first got in the trades at 21.

    1. That's terrible about your husband's finger! I'm always afraid of cutting my fingers off with the table saw. I saw a shirt on Amazon that I thought was hilarious--It said Rock Paper Scissors Table Saw and had a picture of the hand motions for "Rock Paper Scissors". For the table saw, it showed a hand held up missing four fingers at the second knuckle, hahaha.

      I have a miter saw, but it only cuts 10". Since this was 24", do you know of an accurate way to cut that? I had clamped down my straight-edge tightly to the board, and then I ran the circular saw with the edge pressed to the straight edge. I couldn't understand why it wouldn't be a perfect cut! I can't picture a way to do it on a table saw. There has to be a better way to do it...?

    2. That's because there is no way to get accurate 45 degree angles with a skilsaw. Nor is this machine designed to do this. There is just too much potential for slop when you're relying on your hand as a gauge.

      In your case, you have a table saw and can use that. To make these cuts, make sure the blade, the table and fence are at 90 degrees to each other according to the markings. But even these can be off sometimes. So, to double check, set your table saw up to cut a 90 degree angle. Using a scrap piece of wood, cut a 90 degree angle. Now flip the cut piece upside down horizontally and place it on the opposite side of the blade, cut side toward the blade. With the blade STOPPED, slide the cut piece toward the blade till it barely touches and check for gaps. If it fits snugly along the blade, you have the right angle. But if there is a gap between the work piece and the blade, you'll need to adjust the angle of the blade one half the width of the gap. Also, keep in consideration that carbide tipped blades will affect these dimensions.

      Repeat this procedure until you get a perfect fit. You can also check your angles using a good framing square for the 90's and a speed square for the 45's. A good rule of thumb here is NEVER try to cut an accurate angle freehand.

  5. The desk looks fantastic! Great job!!

  6. Once again you amaze us. Just wow!

  7. Awesome job Katie! Noah will probably have this desk the rest of his life. He'll always be able to look at it and feel the love that went into your making it.

  8. I'm completely blown away! What a great job! Can you provide the prices of materials and how much cheaper it was than getting an Ikea?

    1. Thank you! There weren't many materials to buy, because the desk is so simple--I bought a large piece of sanded oak at Menard's (I believe it was ~$55), four 2x4's (~$8 each--they used to be $3, but the cost of lumber has gone up so much since COVID!), stain (~$7). I already had oil-based white paint for the legs, wood glue, screws, sandpaper, and wood filler, so the cost for me was about $95. I would guess if you had to buy everything it'd be roughly $110? The ones that we looked at online were everywhere from $150 (made with cheap particle board) to $400. I loved making this for him and it made me feel so good that he loves how it turned out!


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