Using plywood for an inexpensive wood desktop that is so beautiful stained!
I knew I wanted a wood desktop for my DIY Ikea desk. This is a standard feature in offices I love, plus I thought a big expanse of wood would make for some cohesion with the red oak craftsman trim in the rest of our house (even though the trim in the office has been painted - sad!)
And since wood desktops at custom dimensions are hard to come by, I knew I would need a DIY job. This one came together so well, and was fairly easy and inexpensive!
Yes! This desktop is actually two pieces of red oak plywood glued together for some extra thickness, stained, polyurethaned, and waxed.
Following these steps, you'll get a solid wood, high-end looking desktop at a fraction of the cost of a similarly sized piece of butcher block. It will be strong enough to not sag, and durable enough to hold up to the regular wear and tear of dings and dents, spilled drinks, and other workplace mishaps of say, your toddler using his markers on it.
Things to consider before making a plywood desktop:
There are three big picture items to think about before deciding on a desktop. Everything else is small details that you can figure out as you go!
- The finish: Whether you want a countertop that's stained or painted will have a big impact on materials. Staining is generally more expensive because the products need to be higher quality.
- The thickness: I love the look of a weightier 1 1/2-inch thick countertop, and also wanted a little bit more height for the overall size of the desk. To get 1 1/2-inches with plywood, I glued (2) 3/4-inch thick pieces together. If you want a thinner counter, you can use just 1 sheet!
- The sag: You don't want a sagging desktop! Initially I planned to use a laminate countertop, until my Dad pointed out that laminate is meant to be supported by base cabinets and would sag if unsupported. I found this website where you can input the type of wood you're using, the thickness, the unsupported span, and the anticipated load, and it calculates how much it will sag. Highly recommend using it before purchasing material!
To make this DIY desktop, you'll need:
- (1) 4x8 sheet of 3/4-inch thick plywood (I used red oak)
- Wood glue
- Clamps or weights
- Stainable wood filler (if needed)
- (1) 1 1/2-inch thick iron on edge banding (be sure to get it in the same wood as your plywood)
- Sandpaper (80/120/150/220 grits)
- Stain (I used Varathane Provincial)
- Polyurethane (I used semi-gloss, but there's probably not much difference between semi and gloss if you're waxing)
- Paint brush
- Paste wax
- 0000 Steel wool
- Tack cloths
Step By Step
Determine size - Figure out how much overhang you want your desktop to have (I went with 1/4-inch), then add that to the size of your desk (both width and depth). I recommend having 1-2 inches of wiggle room on either side for the initial cut.
Cut plywood - Once you have your final measurements, you're ready to cut. I had this done at our Home Depot since a 4x8 wouldn't fit in our car. I know this isn't always the case, but their cuts were pretty precise! For a 1 1/2-inch thick desktop, you'll need two cuts of the same size.
Glue plywood together - Before you start gluing, you'll want to look closely at each side to decide which you want to be the outside. If there are imperfections (which there usually are!) this is a good chance to hide them!
Give your plywood pieces a quick wipe down (If they're particularly rough, you may want to do a quick sand) and apply LOTS of wood glue to one side of each piece. Spread evenly with a paint brush, and lay one glue-side on top of the other, being careful to match up the corners.
Clamp your desktop together. If you don't have clamps (and a desktop would require lots of them!), you can use sandbags, or a combination of your husband's home gym equipment and some paint cans. Leave to dry for 12 hours.
Trim up edges (if needed) - For the best adhesion of the edging strip, you want straight edges. Clean them up if needed after gluing.
Fix any tears - Crosscutting plywood will usually result in some tears in the veneer. If you have any showing, use wood filler to repair.
Apply the edge banding - Finishing plywood edges for staining is so easy with this iron on banding! You can get it in the same wood as your plywood for even staining. I got the red oak option since that's what I used for my desktop.
Cut four strips, 1-2 inches longer than each end of your desktop. I found it easiest to fold the banding to snap the wood, then tear through the fabric adhesive. No sharp tools needed!
Set your iron on the highest setting and iron the banding straight on one edge of the desk. Once it's cool to the touch, cut off the excess on the ends with the same folding and tearing process used above, folding the excess over the corner and tearing. Rough edges will be sanded down later. Do the same for the three remaining edges.
Use 120 grit sandpaper in long, sweeping motions to remove the excess banding from the top and bottom of the desktop.
Sand - Sand the top and bottom increasing from 120, to 150, to 220 grit sandpaper. Be especially careful not to sand through the veneer here! You're going for a quick, gentle sand (which I realize is kind of a contradiction), but if you sand through the veneer, you'll end up with some bald spots. Sand the edges with 220 just to clean them up. Pay special attention that your corners are free of sharp edges!
Apply stain - Use a tack cloth or paintbrush to apply stain, and wipe off excess. Reapply if a darker color is desired.
Apply polyurethane - For a really durable surface, I highly recommend using polyurethane! I used a water-based one for this project since I was doing it inside and really liked it! It goes on looking almost milky, but dries perfectly clear.
Do at least three coats, sanding with 220 grit sandpaper between each. I find a paint brush is easier to use on large surfaces than a foam brush. For more detailed instructions on how to apply, see this post.
Let the poly cure for at least three days.
Hand wax - Waxing will give you the smoothest surface! To me this is the step that makes the difference between a piece of woodwork that just looks nice, and one you think "I have to touch that" about.
Apply a generous layer of paste wax with 0000 steel wool in the direction of the grain. I waited until my desktop was installed on my desk to do this step, and only waxed what would be noticeable (everything but the underside and back). If you feel any resistance, load up with more wax.
Once your piece is coated, go back in with the steel wool and really work it in, still going in the direction of the grain.
Next, take a clean tack cloth and buff out the excess wax. You can go in any and all directions for this step. It will take some elbow grease!
Now sit at your new desk and admire your beautiful handiwork! Oh and feel it too, because it's all hand waxed and so slick.
This room is so close to being done! Here's a round up of what's been done, and what's coming next for the One Room Challenge. (You can head here to see what other participants are working on!).
Week 1: Plans for the Bonus Room Week 2: Contrast Trim Week 3:Wrapping Closet Week 4: DIY Hanging Wrapping Paper Storage Solution Week 5: IKEA Desk Hack Week 6: Countertop for Desk (you are here!)
- Week 7: Desk Organization
- Week 8: Reveal!
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