I live in a quaint one bedroom apartment. For the most part it suits my partner and I just fine, but it’s not ideal for a work space.You see, we both work from home so the living room has also become the “office”. Luckily it has two dormer windows that could accommodate a desk in each one. This allows us both to have our own work area tucked away in their respective nooks without taking up valuable floor space.
While my old desk did fit in the dormer, I wanted something larger with a more suitable height. I started drawing out plans for a standard desk when the light bulb went off. Why not a floating desk? It was a dormer after all with three walls to attach supports. So I switched gears and started making plans for a floating desk instead.
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- ½” sheet of plywood
- 1x4 maple boards (or species of choice)
- 1x2 maple board
- Wood glue
- Brad nails
- Tape measure
- Stud finder
- Table saw
- Drill or impact driver
- Kreg jig
- Track saw -or- circular saw
- Miter saw
- Bandsaw (optional)
- Brad nailer
- Orbit sander
- Paint brush or foam brush
First things first, take measurements. Find the length and depth of the cove. Then decide on the proper height of the desk. This will be tailored to the person using the desk. The standard desk height is 29 inches, but this can’t possibly be ergonomic for everyone. The good news is that there are plenty of websites that calculate your proper desk and chair height based on how tall you are.
After gathering your measurements it’s time to find those studs. Using a stud finder and pencil mark the studs across all three walls (they are usually 16” apart). Once you have found the studs, use a long level to draw a horizontal line on the walls. The height of this line will be the desired height of the desk minus the thickness of the desktop. For example, if you wanted the finished desk to be 29 inches tall and the top you made (including the support structure) was 3 inches thick, then your line height would be 26 inches from the ground.
Now it’s time to start making the support structure. Since this will be hidden by the desktop I opted to use 2x4s. I started by ripping all the 2x4s in half on the table saw. Using the miter saw I cut the boards to length, two the length of the back wall and four the length of the sidewalls minus the width of the front and back boards. Drill pocket holes in both ends of two of the shorter boards. Using a kreg jig makes it a lot easier. These will be used as center bracers for extra rigidity. Take one of the long boards and place it right under the line you marked earlier on the back wall. With screws attach the board into the studs. Repeat this step on the side walls with two of the shorter boards, making sure you butt the edge up to the back board. Space the center supports and attach them to the back board through the pocket holes. Attach the second long board to the front with screws. Clamps are helpful here. Just clamp the front board to the ends of the two side boards for support while you attach it.
Cutting plywood down on the table saw can be difficult and sometimes dangerous, especially if you don’t have help. I recommend setting up some saw horses and cutting it down with a track saw. If you don’t have a track saw, clamping a straight edge to the plywood and running a circular saw against it will work just fine. Cut the sheet of plywood to the dimensions of your support structure. Make sure you do a dry fit over the top of the support structure to ensure it fits.
I chose to layer maple over the plywood for a more finished look, plus I wanted to make a nifty pattern. Because the plywood base was already a pretty solid surface I decided to resaw the maple boards. This cut the amount of maple I had to use in half, which saved me a good chunk of change. I set the fence of my bandsaw and cut each board in half. I then ran them through the planer to ensure uniform thickness.
The pattern I decided on was a right triangle in the center with horizontal lines filling the gaps on the sides. This meant cutting a lot of 45 degree angles on the miter saw. I marked the center line on the sheet of plywood and started cutting the maple to length, making one end of each board a 45 degree angle. I lined the point of the triangle up to the top edge of the center line and proceeded to fill in the triangle until I reached the bottom edge. Continue this process for the boards filling in the sides as well. Cut a 1x2 board of maple to the length of your desktop and set it aside, you will use it later.
Once you have cut enough boards to fill the sheet of plywood it is time to start the glue up. Label the order of the boards on their face so they don’t get mixed up during the gluing process. It is easiest to start with the outer edge of the triangle as the rest of the pattern references this point. Spread a thin layer of glue across the back of the board then tack it in place with a brad nailer. Continue this for the remaining boards. After all of the boards have been attached flip the desktop over on a flat surface and weigh down the back, I used dumbbells. This will allow for better glue adhesion. To be safe, it is best to put down a sheet of plastic under the desktop, this could be as simple as garbage bags. Any glue squeeze out could result in your lovely new project adhering to the surface it is sitting on. Allow it to dry overnight.
Using a router with a flush trim bit installed, run the router along all four sides of the desktop to ensure the plywood and maple are flush. Check the surface of the desktop. If there are any high points between the maple boards use a hand plane to flatten them. If they are very minor you may be able to achieve this with a sander.
This step is optional, but If you plan to use the desk for a computer or anything with wires you might want to consider it. Mark a spot on the back edge of the desktop to cut a hole for wires to pass through. When choosing a spot take into consideration where your support structure below sits. You don’t want to cut a hole in the desktop only to find that it is blocked by the skeleton it sits on. The next thing to consider is the size of the hole. Think about the type of wires you wish to pass through the hole and the size of their plugs. Since I am using the desk for a computer I needed to cut a rectangular hole that could pass a DVI cable through it. Change your router bit to a plunge router bit. Clamp a straight edge and stop blocks to the desktop to act as a guild for the router and cut your hole. Then change the bit once more to the round over bit and run it over the interior of the hole for a smooth polished edge. Using the router, round over the two long edges of one face of the 1x2 board you cut earlier.
With an orbital sander, sand the desktop and 1x2 board starting at 80 grit and working through to 220 grit. Once the surface is smooth clean the dust from the surface and finish the desktop as you see fit. I chose to use polyurethane since the surface would see a lot of use. After the finish has set place the desktop on top of the support structure and screw it on from underneath. Apply a thin layer of glue on the back of the 1x2 maple board and clamp it to the front edge of the desktop. Screw it on through the front board of the support structure from the underside. This acts as a face plate to cover the structure underneath the desktop.
Now all that’s left to do is decide on how to style your new floating desk. If you're like me, you can include a place for a happy hound to sleep in the design. I hope you enjoyed building with me, till next time!