This is a guest post from none other than my better half, Brian.
I am not a finish carpenter – I’m not even a rough carpenter. So things had to be pretty desperate for me to decide I was going to make a desk for my home office. What I found was that it was a DIY project that I could accomplish fairly easily with reclaimed, inexpensive materials, and basic tools. The best part of the whole project, though, was the finished product: a cool, rustic-wood-meets-industrial-metal desk with simple styling.
Jami and I had looked on Craig’s List and in thrift stores for any kind of desk/table that would work for me after she stole my desk for her office. All I needed was enough room to set my laptop and a few piles of papers. But everything was either too ugly, too rickety, too expensive, or pick any two of the above.
Then we happened to be making our annual 250-mile round trip to Ikea. It’s like Disneyland for us rural types. We park our old Jeep and 1955 utility trailer way out in the country bumpkin section with all the other older trucks and junky trailers. Then we go in, eat some meatballs, and just let the arrows on the floor lead us around.
This time they led us right past a bunch of make-your-own furniture parts. And we found a set of cool looking Ikea desk metal trestle legs, which were only $20 for a set of two. I knew we had reclaimed old wood flooring out in the scrap wood shed as well as plywood pieces left over from other remodeling projects. I told Jami, “I’m going to make my own desk.”
Here’s how I made a simple desk from Ikea trestle legs and old wood flooring:
1. The first thing to do is assemble the two trestle legs according to IKEA’s instructions. I only put one of them together backwards and had to reassemble. It’s not their fault. The instructions are written at the chimpanzee level–you don’t even have to know how to read.
2. Next find a “subfloor” (piece of plywood) to hold the desktop together in your desired size. Out in the scrap shed I found an old piece of 3/4″ plywood that was a little larger than my hoped-for finished size of 40″ x 24″. (I don’t like big desks because I tend to fill up the extra space with piles of paper.) It doesn’t matter how ugly the plywood is because nobody sees it, though I gave the bottom a good sanding to prevent slivers.
3. Gather old wood flooring pieces that are longer than your desired size, have a nice grain, and aren’t damaged from being reclaimed. I wanted them all to be longer than 40″ because I planned to just cut off the ends in a straight line once they were in place. I found 11 pieces of 3″ oak flooring to be the right amount for the size of my desk.
4. Use nail nippers to cut the staples off the back side of the wood flooring pieces as near to the wood as possible. All our wood had long flooring staples in them and I found that it’s impossible to back these out by pounding with a hammer and you can damage the wood by trying to gouge them from the front with a screwdriver. Nipping the nails was the best solution since the bottom of the flooring would be covered by the plywood base.
5. Arrange wood flooring. Set the plywood “subfloor” on sawhorses and determine which corner is the most square. Then lay out the de-stapled wood flooring pieces in the order that looks best. I numbered them on top in pencil because I knew they’d get mixed up later.
6. Attach plywood top to the Ikea trestle legs:
- Measure: Set up the trestle legs and put the plywood piece on top. Measure how far in the trestle legs will be positioned, making sure you won’t be banging your knees on the center struts while sitting at the desk. Then lay the plywood on its back and set the trestle legs on it so they are sticking up in the air. Using a ruler, positioned them exactly according to your measurements and draw an outline around them with a sharpie to refer to later.
- Drill: Using a regular drill and drill bit, drill two holes in the top crossbar of each trestle for bolting to the plywood. Lay the trestles back on the upside-down plywood and use a pencil to mark through the freshly drilled holes onto the plywood. Set the plywood on blocks and drill through those marks. Theoretically, all four should line up with the holes on the trestle. (I breathed a sigh of relief when they did for me.)
- Attach: Now bolt the plywood “subfloor” onto the trestle legs and set everything right side up.
7. Check for square: start from a square corner of the plywood and position the first wood floor piece so that the grooved side and top align with the plywood. Don’t worry if the bottom of the wood floor piece is too long – it’ll be cut off later.
8. Attach flooring to plywood. For the first piece, nail down through the groove in a few places. And then nail from the tongue side. Do this at an angle on the tongue to hold it down – you want to nail as close in on the tongue as possible so the nail doesn’t stop the next piece of flooring from sliding into place. I used a cheapo Harbor Freight air nail gun with 2″ brads, which worked surprisingly well.
9. Tap in next board and repeat. Once the first piece is solidly on, put wood wood glue in the groove of the next piece of flooring, slide it into place so that the top is even with the plywood, and then bang it into place with a hammer and a long block of wood. (You hold the block against the tongue and bang on the block, or you’ll crush the tongue.) Once it is tightly in place, nail it only on the tongue side, again tightly angling the nails so they won’t block the next piece from sliding in.
- Repeat the process until the flooring covers the whole piece of plywood and the last piece is hanging over the edge (yours might fit perfectly, mine didn’t). Secure the last piece by nailing it from underneath–but put the nails in at least an inch from the edge of the plywood to allow for trimming without running into a nail.
10. Clamp finished top and cut off ends.
- Clamp: Use three long wood clamps (see photo) to hold it all together until the wood glue dries. I waited 24 hours.
- Cut: To cut the excess wood that’s overhanging on two sides, unbolt the table top from the trestle legs and cut with a circular saw using the method I’ve detailed in this You Tube video on how to create a perfectly straight line with a circular saw (I cut it with the back side up as shown in the video.) You can also view the video on the blog on this page.
11. Prepare a finished edge out of more pieces of wood flooring. To do this, use four pieces of oak flooring that are more than long enough for the four sides. Using a table saw, rip them to be 1 5/8″ wide (cut from the side that has the tongue, because the groove will be pointing down to the floor and won’t be seen – unless someone wants to lay under the desk with a flashlight).
12. Edge desk top with prepared wood pieces. Very carefully measure the molding pieces, miter cut (i.e. cut them at an angle) to frame the four sides, and nail them around the edge of the table top.
Construction is done – the rest is just the cosmetics now.
13. Thoroughly sand the top and side surfaces with coarse and then fine sandpaper. It didn’t erase the character (i.e. flaws) but made it all very smooth. Carefully dust the entire surface and attach the top back onto the legs.
14. Stain the top in your choice of color according to package directions. Jami was nice enough to do this part and she used Special Walnut by Minwax. Sand only if needed (if the stain raises the grain) according to manufacturer’s directions.
15. Apply polyurethane coating (or sealer of choice). Jami used water-based polyurethane for a surface that would stand up to heavy desk use. She applied 4 coats, letting each coat dry in between and only needed to lightly sand after the first coat to create a smooth surface.
I’ve been using the desk for a couple of months, first with a laptop (as pictured) and now with a new iMac. It’s sturdy enough that it doesn’t shake when I type (success!), though the slightly unevenness of the reclaimed old wood flooring doesn’t make for a smooth writing surface. However, I hardly ever write on any desk surface – I usually have a notebook if I’m writing, so I’ve been very happy with it.
It’s exactly the simple modern-rustic desk I was looking for. And doesn’t it look nice with my $17 IKEA task chair?
I’m sharing at: Fabulously Creative Friday, Weekend Wrap-Up, Saturday Nite Special, Best DIY Projects, August Before and After