Modular Desk System
make a desk that
fits your needs.
By Bruce Kieffer
This computer-desk system
has more going for it than
great looks. The system is
based on modular components that
can be assembled in a variety of ways to
make the “perfect” desk, whether small,
giant-size, or somewhere in between.
Making the components is as easy as it
gets—no complex joinery, just screws and
I designed two different drawer configurations.
The two-drawer unit has one drawer
sized to accept hanging files and the other
sized for CDs (see photo below).
You'll Love These Drawers!
The slides have
pull out all the
an inch more.
CDs and to
make a hangingfile
The four-drawer unit features two pencil drawers, a
letter drawer and a CD drawer. The drawers are
built around a European undermount slide system
that greatly simplifies drawer construction.
An easy-access wire track neatly takes care of
wire management. The channel also supports the
top and provides an attachment point for the modesty
Plan Your Desk
Decide which configuration you want to build. Every
configuration requires a different amount of material,
so you’ll need to figure the sizes and quantities of wood,
sheet stock and laminate needed to build your desk.
Custom Lacewood Panels
I used lacewood-veneer panels trimmed with mahogany
and dark laminate accents to build the components. If
you’re wondering how I made the lacewood panels, well, I
didn’t! I ordered them custom-made (see Sources, below). Buying custom panels is expensive, but much simpler
than veneering your own. To order custom panels, list the
panel sizes you need and whether they are one-sided or
two-sided; then call for a quote, including shipping costs.
For desks that get placed against walls, there’s no need to
use expensive veneer on the back of the drawer/door units
and modesty panels, unless you think that someday the
desk may be placed in the middle of a room.
Build End Panels
1. Cut the pieces A1 through A11 to
size. Be precise when you cut these pieces.
They all have to fit together well when the
end panel is assembled (Fig. A, below).
2. Drill the screw holes in the panel top
and bottom edging (A3, A6) and the base
cap (A5, Fig. L, below).
3. Cut biscuit slots for attaching the
front and back edging (A7, Photo 1). Cut
biscuit slots in the feet (A2) and rail (A4).
Use a 5/8-in.-thick spacer to center the
rail on the feet.
4. Glue and screw the bottom edging
(A6) to the panel (A1, Photo 2). Glue
and biscuit the front and back edging
(A7) to the panel. Center the top edging
on the panel; then glue and screw it in
5. Glue and biscuit the feet to the rail and
screw on the base cap to create the base
6. Glue the laminate edging (A11) to the
spacer (A10) using contact cement. Apply two coats of Danish
oil finish to the panel and base assembly.
7. Use a nail gun to tack the laminateedged
spacer to the base cap. Then drill
holes through the spacer using the
predrilled holes in the base cap as guides.
Screw the base assembly to the panel. Add
the panel trim (A8, A9) to any end panels
that face out on the assembled desk.
Build Mid Panels
Mid panels are built just like end panels.
Attach the brace (B3) after the top edging
(B4). Drill a 2-3/8-in.-dia. hole at the upper
back end of the panel for passing wires (Fig.
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Align the panel’s front and back edging
with biscuits. To center the edging, place
a 3/4-in. spacer on top of the panel and
adjust your biscuit jointer’s fence to center
the grooves on the panel. Then cut the biscuit
slots in the edging without using the
2. Fasten the top edging with screws. Support
the panel on top of two 3/4-in.
spacers. That centers the bottom edging
with the panel. Use a small amount of glue
so squeeze-out is minimal. Predrill countersunk
pilot holes before you insert the
screws (Fig. L, below).
3. Angled glue-ups can be tricky. Use a wide piece of 3/4-in. plywood
to create an edge parallel to the front. Crank the clamps
that hold the plywood to the top, and use moderate pressure on
the clamps that hold the edging. Otherwise, the plywood may slip.
4. Sand the
flush with the
using a long
and an 8- to
10-in. block of
great. The long
block is guided
by the side edging
to ensure a
unit is a twoperson
unit is large
and heavy. The
wire track and
the corner unit
wire track is
screwed to the
Build a Drawer Unit
8. To make a drawer unit, glue and screw
the sides (C2), top and bottom (C3) together.
Screw the back (C1) to the box to square
it up (Fig. C, below).
9. Glue on the stiles flush with the outside
edges (C5); then cut the rails (C6) to fit and
glue them in place.
10. Screw the drawer-slide spacers (C7)
in the box (Fig. M, below). Mount the
drawer slides flush with the top of the
11. Drill holes through the box sides for
attaching the box to the end panels.
Build a Door Unit
A door unit is made the same as a drawer
unit without the slide spacers (C7). Drill
holes in the sides for the adjustable shelf
pins before you assemble the box. Make a
shelf (C4) and apply iron-on mahogany
edge banding to the front edge. Note: The hinge-mounting plates
are attached to the stile, centered 3 in. up
from the bottom of the unit and 3-3/8 in.
down from the top.
Build Drawers and Doors
12. Cut the drawer parts (D1 through
D15) and rabbet the ends of the drawer
sides (D7, D9, D11, D13) (Fig. D, below). Glue
and nail the drawer box together.
13. Use mahogany edge banding to cover
the edges of the drawer faces.
14. Drill holes for the drawer handles in
the drawer faces (D1 through D5). Drill
oversize holes through the drawer fronts
(D8, D10, D12, D14) to fine-tune the drawer
faces’ position and attach them.
15. To make a door (D6), cover the edges
of the door with mahogany edge banding.
Drill holes for the door handles and the
hinge cup holes (Fig. E, below).
Make the Desk Tops
Building the straight desk tops is fairly easy
(Fig. F, below), but the corner unit
offers some challenges, so, that’s the focus
16. Cut the shape of the corner unit top
(E10, Fig. G, below). Drill the wire grommet
hole, or holes, using a 2-3/8-in.-dia. hole saw.
You want to drill these holes now, because the
laminate would ruin a hole saw.
17. Adhere the decorative laminate and
cabinet liner (E15, E20) with contact
cement. Trim away the overhanging laminate
edges using a flush-trim bit.
18. Locate the center of the wire grommet
hole under the laminate by tapping the
surface until you hear a hollow sound. Drill a
hole through the laminate that is large
enough to fit your flush-trim bit, and trim
19. Cut and fit the corner unit side edging
pieces (E3, Fig. H, below). One end of each
edging piece is 45 degrees and the other is
90 degrees. Make sure their lengths are perfect. You don’t want to have to trim them
anymore after they’re glued on.
20. Cut biscuit slots to join the
top and edging pieces.
Glue and clamp the side edging pieces
(E3) to the top.
21. Attach the corner unit’s front
edging piece (E2, Photo 3) and the
back two edging pieces (E1). Note: The
rear corner edging joint is mitered.
22. When the glue is dry, sand the
edging joints flush (Photo 4).
Build Modesty Panels, Wire Tracks
23. Cut the modesty panels to size
(F1, F2) and drill three holes (no countersink)
on each side (Fig. H, below) for
the pan-head screws that attach the
panel to a component.
24. To make wire tracks, drill countersunk
holes in the channel pieces
(G1, G3) for the screws that attach the
wire tracks to the modesty panels and
the tops. Assembly the wire tracks as
shown in Fig. J, below.
25. Don’t glue the fill strips (G5, G6)
onto the wire tracks yet. You may need
to tweak their thicknesses slightly during
the desk assembly so the tops of the
wire tracks are flush with the tops of the
end panels and corner post.
26. If you want a wire grommet hole
closer to the front of the corner unit
desk top, then make a short section of
wire track to carry wires from that hole
to the wire tracks in back.
Build a Corner Post
27. Miter one edge of each leg blank
(H3, Fig. K, below). Glue the mitered
edges together. Wrap masking tape
tightly around the pieces to hold them
together as the glue dries.
28. Glue and clamp the foot and corner
block (H1, H4) in place.
29. Use a tablesaw with a dado blade
to cut 1/8-in.-deep grooves in the legs
and foot for the laminate (H5).
30. Attach the cap (H2), glue the
dado laminate pieces in the grooves
and finish the corner post with
Assemble a Standard Corner Desk
31. Apply Danish oil to any unfinished
parts. Screw the drawer units to the end
panels. They rest on the end-panel lower
lips and are set tight to the rear lips. A
slight gap between the front-panel edging
and the front of the drawer box is
32. Attach handles to the drawer
faces, and then the drawer faces to the
drawers. The oversize holes allow you to
fine-tune the drawer front position for
33. Attach the drawer module tops.
Align the tops so they’re tight to the
front of the panel top edging pieces.
34. Screw the left modesty panel to
the corner post and the end panel of the
left drawer unit. Attach the right modesty
panel the same way.
35. Screw the cleats (E9) to the undersides
of the drawer unit tops (Fig. H)
and screw the wire tracks to the modesty
panels. Attach the corner module top
36. Screw the corner module top
edges to the drawer unit top edges (Fig.
H). Then screw the cleats to the underside
of the corner unit top edging and
the wire tracks to the top.
37. Add the file drawer hanging file
rails, the CD drawer storage tracks, computer
and peripherals. Now you’re ready
to get some real work done—right.
Fig. A: End Panel
Fig. B: Mid Panel
Fig. C: Drawer/Door Unit
Fig. D: Drawer Box
Undermount drawer slides
make drawer construction a
cakewalk, because they wrap
around the bottom edge of the
drawer box. This allows you to
apply the drawer bottom rather
than build it into grooves in the
drawer parts. The drawer slides
cover the 1/2-in. plywood edge
for a good-looking drawer that’s
as strong as it is easy to build.
Fig. E: Door
Fig. F: Laminate Top
Fig. G: Corner Unit Top Layout
Fig. H: Corner Module
Fig. J: Corner Module Wire Track
Fig. K: Corner Post
Fig. L: Screw-Hole Layouts
Fig. M: Drawer-Slide Spacer Heights
Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.
Wood River Veneer, woodriverveneer.com, 800-875-7084,
Lacewood-veneered MDF panels, custom-made, check current price.
Woodworker’s Hardware, wwhardware.com, 800-383-0130,
Blum cream-colored 22-in. full-extension drawer slides, #B430E 22CM; Blum 95-degree self-closing clip hinges, #B071T9580;
Blum 3-mm cam-adjust face-frame hinge-mounting plates, #B175H6030; Clear polyurethane bumpers, 1/16-in. x 5/16-in. dia., #3MSJ5302; Brass spoon shelf supports, 1/4-in. dia., #HB21C25; Fastbond green 30-NF water-based contact adhesive,
3M21185; Fine-thread square-drive pan-head screws, No. 6
x 1-1/4 in., #KTSPS F125; Deep-thread square-drive flat-head
screws, No. 8 x 1-1/4 in., #SCS8X114F; Deep-thread squaredrive
flat-head screws, No. 8 x 1-1/2 in., #SCS8X112F; Deepthread
square-drive flat-head screws, No. 8 x 1-3/4 in., #SCS8X134F; CD storage track, 11-5/16 in. x 2-9/16 in., T4238 LA; Black
cable grommet, 2-3/8 in. dia., #CPF 2600; Hole saw, 2-3/8 in. dia.,
P47227; Hole saw arbor for a 3/8-in. chuck, P45319; PVC hanging
file rail for 1/2 in. drawers, #CPF 32500 2-ft.; Keyboard arm and
mouse tray package (optional), 10-1/2 in. x 21-in., #WWK5930.
Valley and Veritas, leevalley.com, 800-871-8158, 96-mm stainlesssteel
bar handles, 01W76.10.
Woodworker’s Source, woodworkerssource.net, 800-423-
2450, Iron-on mahogany edge tape, 7/8-in.
x 25-ft., 20012030.
Nevamar, nevamar.com, 800-638-4380,
Plastic laminate, 4-ft. x 8-ft. sheet, #AL2004; Cabinet liner/backer
for top undersides, 4-ft. x 8-ft. sheet.
McFeely’s, McFeelys.com, 800-443-7937, Magzilla magnetic bit holder, #MH-9900; Squaredrive
bit, No. 2 x 6 in., #HX-0265.
Local lumberyard, Shop-grade
birch plywood, 3/4 in. x 4 ft. x 8 ft.; Baltic birch plywood,
1/2 in. x 5 ft. x 5 ft.; MDF, 3/4 in. x 49 in. x 97 in.;
MDF, 1/2 in. x 49 in. x 97 in.; Mahogany, 4/4;
Mahogany, 5/4; Mahogany, 8/4; Poplar, 4/4.
Local paint store, Natural-colored Danish oil finish.
Filed under: woodworking, woodworking projects, AWExtra, AWE, AWE Extra, woodworking plans, american woodworker, american woodworker magazine, americanwoodworker.com, woodworking magazines, woodworking magazine, woodworking project with free woodworking plans, desk, Modular Desk System