Build a Modern Back to School Desk with DIY Hairpin Legs
Everyone's going back to school these days. Whether you are in college and need that epic modern desk that can survive a few moves (on the cheap) or need the all purpose homework, lego, play-dough table for the kids, this build is simple, durable and looks amazing.
Materials, Tools and Cost
- $100 - $125 depending on what you may already have.
- 4' x 8' x 3/4" Birch Plywood ($30 -$50)
- Hairpin Legs (Adult desk - 28", Kids Desk 22") ($40 - $60)
- 1-1/4" Wood Screws ($5)
- Wood Glue ($8)
- Polyurethane ($7)
- Foam Applicator Brush (in pic below)
- Screwdriver (For the tool-less out there, you could actually do this whole build with just a regular screw driver, but I cheated and used a powered screw driver :)
- Sand Paper (150, 200, 400 Grits) ($10)
Step 1 - Size Your Desk Height
Determine the size DIY Hairpin Legs you need and order those first, so we can make them and get them in the mail to you.
Most work surfaces are a standard 28" to 30" for adults. Our table top will be 1.5" thick so a set of four 28" legs will be perfect for this desk.
For the kids table I made, I used 22" legs and it seems to work well for our boys who range from 2-7 years old. The cool thing is, as they grow, we can just swap out the legs for some taller ones!
Step 2 - Size Your Desk Top
Measure your space and determine the size of your desk top.
Our table needed to be 6’ wide and 24” deep to match the peg board we have been using to hang up supplies in the playroom.
Step 3 - Pick and Cut Your Plywood
Go to your local hardware store to get your supplies and plywood cut up. Home Depot and Lowes offer a cutting service so all you need to do is tell them the size you want. (Also makes it way easier to handle and transport.)
(DIY Tip: Have the "bad side" of the plywood face out like this on the saw. Most of the time these saws have tear out and this will make the tear out on the side to be unseen on this project!)
(Way cheaper and safer than your own table saw.)
Our table top uses 2 identical pieces of 3/4” birch plywood glued and screwed together to make a super strong 1.5” thick top. So, you want to tell the “saw man” two cut both pieces the same size.
Our desk top dimensions were 72” Long x 24” Deep.
After cutting, put the two pieces on the floor and stack them up and make sure they are identical. (This will save you time later.)
Step 4 - Look for a Bow
We want a flat desk! Most plywood will have a bow in it from sitting in the rack at the store. In this picture they are bowing together. I flipped them around so they bowed away from each other. I know that's confusing, but set them up so that they flatten out when you stand on them.
I flipped mine so that they looked like to "cupping hands" ( ) when I laid them together, before I screwed them. But the desk is super flat after gluing and screwing.
Step 5 - Glue and Screw
Lay your plywood “face down” on a flat surface so that the desired surface you want as your actual desk top is on the floor or work table.
Cover the bottom of the first piece with wood glue. You don’t have to cover every inch, but be generous with the glue.
Now lay your second piece on top of the first piece.
Now we are going to take the bow out and screw the boards together.
Once you have this board lined up with each other simply kneel or stand on the plywood to compress the glue and flatten the boards.
As you are standing on the plywood, start putting your 1-1/4” screws into the wood. Don’t screw them in too deep or your screw will come out the other side.
(I put them in just deep enough to where the hairpin leg bracket wouldn't touch the screw head.)
You want to make sure you screw down the edges and corners about 1” away from the edge. This is so that you don’t get a gap between the boards.
The screws are really a form of clamping the boards together, as wood glue creates a bond so strong after it dries, that screws wouldn’t be needed to hold it together.
Step 6 - Sanding
Turn the desk top over and get to work sanding.
I gradually moved from 150 grit to 200 grit to 400 grit. I knocked the edges of the desk top off so they were slightly rounded to save the kids forearms. I also sanded the corners to make it more kid friendly.
You want the top really smooth before you seal it.
Step 7 - Seal The Top
I used some leftover floor polyurethane we had from making our DIY plywood hardwood floors. It worked just fine. Clear satin is what I recommend.
Be sure to wipe off all the sanding dust with a dry paper towel before you start sealing.
You won’t need much, 2-3 coats will be just fine. I sanded between the first 2 coats with 400 grit to make it extra smooth.
I let the first coat dry 3 hours in 95F Degree Florida humidity in my shed before the second coat and then let the second coat dry over night before I attached the legs.
Step 8 - Attach Your Hairpin Legs
Our sets of DIY Hairpin Legs come with a kit containing the screws you need and the wax to seal your legs from moisture to prevent rust over time. Be sure to do that!
I like to bring my legs right up to the edge of my tables, but some people prefer to put them inside a bit to exaggerate the angled look of hairpin legs. It's your call here!
Step 9 - DONE!
Flip it over and set up your modern desk!
(Within 2 minutes of putting it inside! :)
Modern, plywood, hairpin legs...simple, what’s not to love?