Building the perfect computer desk — again

Published August 8, 2008

Yesterday I finally finished the latest incarnation of the perfect computer desk. (Perfect for me, anyway.) I still have a few final touches to add — a hole for the monitor and speaker cables, for example — but that’s it.

Computer tables are tough. By that I mean that every time I think I have the right one, I realize that there’s something not quite right. When I got a flat panel, suddenly my old desk was too deep. When I shrunk it, I realized that I missed having the extra space.

Anyway, my latest, best desk:

I knew from experience that a height of about 26 to 27 inches works best for me. Adding a keyboard drawer is expensive — a good one goes for $300. So I might as well have the whole desk at a convenient height and simply put the monitor on a riser. It works great.

(In contrast, my hands get sore after typing in the office, because the desk is way too high and the chair doesn’t rise enough to compensate. I see a request for a keyboard drawer in my future.)

So I took four 2x4s for legs, put crosspieces for stability, and simply laid the top on it. It’s not a rectangle; I learned from work that I like a bit of an L shape to have some stuff right next to me.

The top is a single sheet of MDF (medium-density fiberboard), which is darned tough. It’s 60 inches wide (the biggest that could fit in my office at home) and 32 inches deep for the most part — the L part is 48 inches. Plenty of space.

I cut it to shape (no easy task — that sucker is heavy), routed the front edge with a nice curve, and painted it with a heavy-duty enamel.

In other words, it’s pretty simple: Four legs, horizontal braces, a solid top. But what’s important is that it’s the right height and size for me. Fancy computer desks never did it for me, and with the exception of wanting an L shape, this one was incredibly easy to make. (If I wanted a rectangle, Lowe’s would have cut the top to size for me right there, and all I’d need to do is assemble it.)

Now I just need to use it for a bit and figure out the missing things — that hole for the cables, for example. And then it’ll be perfect… until it’s not.

  1. lionemom says:


  2. Steve Prior says:

    Reminds me of the project you and I did together. For the desk project I’d go with a laminate top on the MDF with a wood edging. Doing laminate turns out to be pretty easy (you use a router to trim it exactly to the MDF) and is glued down with basically rubber cement. I recently replaced the tops on two 8′ cafeteria type tables for use as work tables and did it with MDF and laminate.

  3. Trae says:

    Yeah, a picture would be great. I’m thinking about ditching my current desk and building to suite also. My current one is way to high.

  4. tommy says:

    Photo please.

    I really want a deeper desk. I fantasize about a 4′ deep desktop so that I can have stuff behind the monitor and space to keep piles around while I can still sweep my entire arms across the desk. Like a dinner table, man… really big. But my little Ikea modular desk is really okay. I would love to have a drawer pedestal, but it would just fill up with junk.

    My biggest pet peeves:

    1) hitting my knees on any, ANY part of the desk with normal use and with consideration to restless legs – i.e. bouncing my legs on the balls of my feet. Cubicle live drove me batty when we were in badly designed cubes which had steep big braces under the desk sections.

    2) must have a keyboard tray, preferably articulated, but see #1

    3) must have an adjustable height chair

    I used to love to be able to roll on my chair all the way under the desk with the chair all the way down, and sitting way back (you know – the way I drive) with the keyboard on my lap. If it weren’t that you need the darned mouse I might still do that.

    Desktop space rules though.

    Bookshelves behind (I have a closet behind me, with sliding doors removed, whiteboard & corkboard to one or the other side. Also best to have the phone on the dominant side (i.e. right for most people).

    But I’ve only been working at a desk for 18 years…


  5. tommy says:

    The other thing is the damn printer/scanner. I love having it close to rip printouts off it, and to be able to pop stuff right into the scanner, but the darned things are so big at the same time. There is no best place for them.


  6. Vince says:

    I too like Andrew like L desks. My solution, we had an old desk and an old table in our offices. I took the desk (that was too small for me to push my chair under) and blocked off the left hand drawers and pushed the table next to it, making the L. My main work space is a 6 foot wide table, with nothing under it (I don’t like bumping my legs or knees or anything else), and I have the center drawer and right file drawers on the desk available. This is plenty of space for my MFP and second computer. My phone and dual monitors sit on my primary desk space. Works great.

  7. Trae says:

    Any luck on a photo? Instant gratification, Andrew, instant gratification! hehe.

  8. Andrew says:

    OK, OK — sorry!

    Here’s the desk (right-click and view image to enlarge):

    And here it is annotated:

  9. lionemom says:

    Your office is admirably clean! You just built the desk so of course, it would be free from clutter. But mine is “The Source Of All Clutter”. Seriously. I need to do something very soon.

    I have a great glass L-shaped desk with a corner unit for the computer screen. But I think when I clean it all off, I am going to move the screen to the leg rather than the corner because, a) the screen is too far away and my eyes are straining, and b) it comes with a keyboard drawer, which makes me type and sit facing forward, but turn my head 30-45 degrees to look at the screen and I hate that.

    I would like to compare and contrast by sending a photo of mine, but it’s really just too embarrassing the clutter that is on it. Heh, maybe in a few weeks.

    Nice desk though. But it needs to be covered in a nicer covering. The edge looks rough like it would be uncomfortable. Just me though….

  10. Wow !!!

    That is a great desk and setup… And I agree with the other poster, you obviously tidied up your workbench so it would photograph well…LOL

    In my case, I live in the greater downtown area of Los Angeles, now one the highest rent districts in the country, and my adequately sized, but modest, one bedroom apartment does need some creative thinking in order for me to conserve space, so my home doesn’t end up looking like a computer store, or, a commercial art gallery.

    Just an FYI, for other readers out there, who may be a tad space cramped, I find that the tower types of computer console desks work very, very well for me in my home. They are tall, they have a very small footprint, some look like fine pieces of furniture, with large doors on the front, that when you close them, VIOLA, all those ugly cables, stacks of printouts, three day old coffee cups, pens, pencils, what have you, are instantly out of sight, out of mind, and my living room looks very homey…

    Those tower desks come in a wide variety of styles, and price ranges, mine was about $150.00, and is one of those “kit” furniture items one can find at WalMart, K-Mart, Target, and many other places. The only drawback I had with it, is that the people that design these things tend to over design them, and it took me fully two whole days to assemble it….


    NICE POST, and a FUN ONE TOO !!!


  11. Andrew says:

    Just to be clear, I didn’t tidy it up all that much, although I did remove some of the junk that had been lurking underneath. So there. :-P

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