To build a desk or to buy a desk?

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Forum topic by Brandon Whelan posted 09-09-2012 12:04 AM 8109 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Brandon Whelan

13 posts in 3428 days

09-09-2012 12:04 AM

Topic tags/keywords: desk oak

I’m a 21 year old college student in Orlando fl. I’m currently renting a house that is unfurnished.
I would really like to have a desk but I can’t decide if I would like to build one or buy a simple one from office max/staples.
The one I was thinking of building is something similar to the one located here

One of the things I’m concerned about is the cost of building something like this versus getting a simpler desk which would probably not have the file storage or drawers that I would like. I would like to keep it under $200

Another concern is where do I buy the materials for an oak desk like this? There is a home depot by me but the quality of their oak plywood is very poor.

I’m just looking for some input from people that know about building desks or other things of the like.

12 replies so far

View DBoltz's profile


122 posts in 3661 days

#1 posted 09-09-2012 12:21 AM

Tough question, indeed. If money is an issue, you’ll probably be better off buying a desk until you can affor to build one. I built my current desk to fit the space I have. I would have never found a desk to fit the space so for me it was a no brainer to build. If you do choose to build, do a search for lumber yards in your area or check Craigs list. I’ve foun good lumber on CL. You may also be able to use a file cabinet on one side and then just make one drawe bank (or just a side piece) and a top. There are some things for you to think about. If you decide to go ahead and build, let us know and we’ll get you through it!

-- Dan, Virginia Beach

View Deycart's profile


444 posts in 3540 days

#2 posted 09-09-2012 12:50 AM

You need to also consider the cost of tools you may not have, consumables (sandpaper screws what ever finish) Your also going to need slides for the drawers. I agree with Dboltz. I would check CL for a desk. Plus being so young and in college. You will probably end up moving quite a bit. Moving takes a big toll on furniture. I know being in the military.

View Loren's profile (online now)


11307 posts in 4930 days

#3 posted 09-09-2012 12:55 AM

You can buy a used desk for next to nothing at auctions and
commercial furniture liquidators. Desks from schools, businesses
and institutions are common and well made generally. Liquidators
prefer to deal in copiers, chairs and things like cubicle partitions.
Bulky items like desks and credenzas are a thorn in their side.

As a side note, I acquired a $18,000 machine from such a liquidator
for about 25 cents to the pound, probably less than it was worth
in steel scrap. It wasn’t the sort of thing they knew how to sell,
it was bulky, unfamiliar, and they were contractually obligated to
sell it to close the account so they just wanted it gone.

Free and virtually free desks are common on Craigslist and
believe me, if you see one at a yard sale, you can just leave
them your number and they’ll probably call you and offer
it to you fro free if you’ll just take it away.

If there is a Habitat for Humanity Re-store near you, they
probably have desks coming out their ears. I was at one
recently and they had big desks for $5 each.

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 3769 days

#4 posted 09-09-2012 01:03 AM

For a college student who will be moving a lot in the next few years consider this:

1 sheet 3/4” plywood ripped 32” leaving a 16” off cut.

2-6 cinder blocks put on top of the desk top to hold the 16” piece as a shelf.

2 low metal filing cabinets to support the desk top.

2 Sterlite or Rubbermaid spacemaker drawer sets to add more storage.

Less than $100, you can finish and stain to your hearts content, or leave it bare to be able to write on.

When you are finished with it and more stable you can still use every piece for something else and have little or no waste.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Alexandre's profile


1417 posts in 3473 days

#5 posted 09-09-2012 01:06 AM

I agree with Dallas.
Also, (Well my HD), They sell oak plywood, and maple plywood, Also birch…
Digging in the pile of plywood, there are some REALLY NICE sheets (especially in the middle).
Its just hard finding moving it and that, but its sure worth it.

-- My terrible signature...

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Brandon Whelan

13 posts in 3428 days

#6 posted 09-09-2012 01:06 AM

Thank you for all the great suggestions.
I’ll have to look around on Craig’s list and I’ll have to find out if there is a re store anywhere around here.
If I could find a used office desk for cheap that would be perfect.
Dallas, your idea may also work well if I can’t find one for cheap.

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 3769 days

#7 posted 09-09-2012 01:24 AM

Brandon, I used that same method only expanded it a bit when I had my computer repair shop.
8 sheets of plywood, 40” tall filing cabinets, tall stools at every work station, (12 in all, so 6 techs would each have more than one station). underneath was a shelf to use for parts and pieces to big to put in a drawer and would double as a foot rest.

We moved 4 times in 3 years and within a day we were back up and running at full capacity.

We were contractor to Arco/Phillips, Shell and Conoco. Product had to work or be repaired on a JIT basis.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View PocketsFullOfSawdust's profile


8 posts in 3377 days

#8 posted 09-09-2012 01:51 AM

Brandon, stop by your local Woodcraft. I work there and we can help you out deciding materials. The materials may cost more than the desk. Plywood is a good way to go. There are a lot of options. PM me for directions. Good luck and see you in the shop.

-- "I think that if I did not work with wood, my life would be a hollow emptiness." Jonas Wainwright

View bench_dogg's profile


63 posts in 4419 days

#9 posted 09-09-2012 02:50 AM

Buy a used one. I picked up a rift/quartersawn white oak desk with hand cut dovetailed drawers for $60 off craigslist. I am not an antique expert, but given the wood and the drawer construction I would guess it was made in the 1920’s or so.

View RibsBrisket4me's profile


1554 posts in 3788 days

#10 posted 09-09-2012 02:51 AM

What Dallas said. I was thinking the same thing. Could use a cool door for a top too.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 4441 days

#11 posted 09-09-2012 03:01 AM

Attaboy, Dallas. When I was in college, I used an old door on a pair of two-drawer file cabinets. I used boards on cinder blocks for a book case. Definitely nothing wrong with that. I built, however, my coffee table out of plywood and 2×4s and covered completely in teal and rose colored Formica (it was the 80s). And I built my TV stand out of 2×2s, laminated together in panels and interlocked together using the natural box joint of leaving every other board 2” shorted on the end. My best friend, a doctor, took the TV stand and kept it for the next 15 years…it was hideous, but functional.

I paid next to nothing when building that stuff…and absolutely nothing on the desk and bookcases.

I will say this…if you buy a particle board, Walmart/Target/Ikea type of desk, it will probably fall apart or break after you move the first time.

The other option is garage sales…you can find decent stuff sometimes.

-- jay,

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 4441 days

#12 posted 09-09-2012 03:06 AM

Good point, Loren. Alongside Habitat for Humanity, there’s also Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. The SA store in Dallas has tons of great stuff at great prices…and they move things in and out so fast that you could go every week and still see something new.

-- jay,

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