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DIY Plywood Desk with Drawers

I’m Zoe.
My mission is to teach you to  confidently build magazine-worthy DIYs. I used to be terrified of power tools, which is why I'm a firm believer that ANYONE can DIY.
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Gimme that

I’ve been putting off building this desk for 3 years now. Not because I didn’t need it or didn’t want to build it, but because I wanted it to be my dream desk. I wanted something that was both functional and beautiful.

DIY plywood desk with drawers in front of mountain watercolor wall

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When I started designing the desk, I knew I wanted it to have a few things:

  • a large top so I could have a double-monitor and have papers out and not feel cluttered
  • have plenty of storage + a place for file folders
  • some sort of cord management so I didn’t have a million cords hanging out/didn’t have to crawl beneath my desk to plug in my dying laptop
  • a beautiful oak finish

I would’ve loved for it to be sit/stand, but that proved to be a little too much of a stretch since I already had the general style in mind.

For without further ado, I present to you: a DIY Plywood Desk with Drawers! It has a bit of a mid-century design, but overall, I feel like it’s a pretty timeless look.

It’s complete with 4 drawers. Yes, I know it looks like 5, but it’s really just 4. The one on the right side is really just one drawer that’s just tall enough to be a file cabinet. And these drawers are nice. The middle one is 16″ deep and the side ones are 22″ are there is plenty of storage space.

Aside from the drawers, we made the desk mostly using oak plywood. This gives it that oak look and feel without the hefty price tag a piece of this size would require.

Finally, it also has a hidden cord management box that’s big enough for an extension cord. You can lift up part of the desk top to reveal the extension cord and plug in anything that you might need.

hidden extension cord in desk top

Alright, let’s start DIYing!

Tools

Cut List

The following cut list serves as a guide for one shelf. It’s always more accurate to cut as you go rather than cutting everything upfront. Your measurements might differ slightly than the provided measurements.

For What?Board SizeQuantityLength (inches)
Top3/4″ plywood265 x 29
Cabinet Sides3/4″ plywood411.75 x 25.75
Cabinet Bottoms3/4″ plywood215.25 x 25
Cabinet Back3/4″ plywood211.75 x 15.25
Top Support Boards – Cabinets3/4″ plywood415.25 x 3
Top Support Boards – Middle3/4″ plywood325 x 3
Middle3/4″ plywood125 x 10
Leg Stretcher3/4″ plywood222.75 x 3.5
Drawer Front – Middle3/4″ plywood124.75 x 3.5
Drawer Front – Large3/4″ plywood116.75 x 11.75
Drawer Front – Small3/4″ plywood116.75 x 4.5
Drawer Front – Medium3/4″ plywood116.75 x 7 3/16
Leg Stretcher – Top1×4225.75
Leg Stretcher – Bottom1×2225.75
Legs2×2429.5
Large Drawer Bottom1/2″ plywood113.25 x 22
Large Drawer Sides1/2″ plywood223 x 9.75
Large Drawer Front/Back1/2″ plywood213.25 x 9.75
Middle Drawer Bottom1/2″ plywood123 x 15.5
Middle Drawer Sides1/2″ plywood216.5 x 2.5
Middle Drawer Front/Back1/2″ plywood223 x 2.5
Small Drawer Bottom1/2″ plywood113.25 x 22
Small Drawer Sides1/2″ plywood223 x 3.5
Small Drawer Front/Back1/2″ plywood213.25 x 3.5
Medium Drawer Bottom1/2″ plywood113.25 x 22
Medium Drawer Sides1/2″ plywood223 x 5.75
Medium Drawer Front/Back1/2″ plywood213.25 x 5.75
Slats1/4 x 2210
Cord Storage Bottom3/4″ plywood114.5 x 3.75
Cord Storage Sides3/8″ square dowel23 3/8
Cord Storage Front3/8″ square dowel114.5

Prefer printable plans? Grab yours today! Complete with 3D renderings and a visual cut list.

How to Make a Desk with Drawers Using Plywood

New to DIY? Download our free 5 Steps to Getting Start with DIY guide!

how to build a plywood desk text overlay

STEP 1: CUT THE PIECES FOR THE MAIN STRUCTURE

To assemble the main structure, you can cut the following pieces according to the cut list:

  • Cabinet sides
  • Cabinet bottoms
  • Cabinet backs
  • Top support boards (both for the cabinets and middle)
  • Middle

STEP 2: ADD EDGE BANDING

Apply edge banding to the ends of the following boards:

  • Cabinet Sides: front, back, and bottom
  • Cabinet Bottoms: front
  • Cabinet Backs: bottom
  • (2 of the 4) top support boards – cabinets: front
  • (1 of the 3) top support boards – middle: front
  • Middle: bottom

Check out this post for more information on how to apply edge banding and best practices.

ironing on edge banding to plywood

Note: no edge banding is needed on any boards that will be facing up towards the top of the desk. These will be covered by the top of the desk.

STEP 3: DRILL POCKET HOLES

Using the 3/4″ setting, drill the following pocket holes:

  • Top support boards: 2 pocket holes on either end
  • Middle: 3 pocket holes on either short end
  • Bottom: 4 pocket holes on either long end and 3 pocket holes on one of the short ends (these 3 pocket holes will be used to attach the bottom board to the back board)
  • Back: 3 pocket holes on either short end
drilling pocket holes into oak plywood

Note: since we are drilling into plywood, adjust your drill bit collar to be slightly below the 3/4″ setting. Since plywood isn’t a full 3/4″ deep, this will help prevent the drill bit from drilling all the way through the plywood when making a pocket hole.

STEP 4: ASSEMBLE THE SIDES

To assemble the sides, we’ll use glue and 1.25″ Kreg screws. We’ll be building two identical boxes.

To start, attach the bottom to the first side. The pocket holes on the bottom should be facing in towards what will be the inside of the cabinet box. The front of the bottom (as indicated by the lack of pocket holes and edge banding) will be flush with the front of the side.

attach plywood bottom to side using pocket holes

Next, attach the back to the bottom and first side. Again, the pocket holes should be facing the inside of the cabinet box. These pocket holes will be hidden by the drawers.

attaching back to bottom and side of desk cabinet

Then, attach the structure to the second side.

Finally, attach the top support boards. The pocket holes on the top support boards can be facing up. The support board that has the edge banding will be installed flush with the front of the sides. The other support board will be installed near the back of the box. We’ll drill through these support boards to attach the top later on.

attaching top support boards through pocket holes to make cabinet box

STEP 5: ADD LEG STRETCHERS

This is where this desk gets unique! Instead of the legs being attached directly to the side of the desk, we’re adding some additional pieces to bump them out a little bit. Along the top of the side will be a 1×4 and along the bottom of the side will be a 1×2. They are labeled as “leg stretchers” in the cut list.

If you wanted to save a little money, you can cut these out of plywood and use edge banding, but we decided to use solid oak pieces for this part of the desk so that we had a natural end grain. End grains stain darker and have a slightly different appearance than edge banding, so we wanted the extra contrast that the natural end grain provides.

To attach the side pieces, use glue and 1.25″ nails. We added 8 nails to each board (4 along the top and 4 along the bottom). As you’re nailing, make sure you don’t nail in the same spot where you will be screwing in the legs.

nailing oak 1x4 to side of desk

STEP 6: ATTACH THE SIDES

Now that we have two identical boxes and the side pieces are attached, we can attach them using the middle board. The back of the middle board will be placed 3.5″ in from the back of the cabinet boxes. The pocket holes will face towards the front of the cabinet.

Once you install, the middle board, you can install the top support boards. The top support with the edge banding will be flush with the front of the cabinet boxes. The top support that is the furthest back should be placed 4″ in from the middle board. Since we will be adding hidden cord storage, we don’t want a support board blocking the cord storage box.

The final support board can be centered between the two other boards. No need to precisely measure. You can just eyeball this location. The final support board can be centered between the two other boards. No need to precisely measure. You can just eyeball this location.

attaching desk sides using pocket holes

Note: in our photo we had already attached the cord storage box, which is what you see on the middle board. We will be adding this in a later step.

Now we can cut and install the slats that will be used to cover the pocket holes. You can leave your pocket holes exposed or fill them, but we prefer this look. It adds a little extra detail.

Once you have the slats cut, glue, and clamp them to your middle board. No need to measure, just make sure it’s straight and covers the pocket holes. If you want to unclamp the slats quickly, you can pop a few nails in to keep them in place. We just glued them and left them clamped for about 4 hours.

gluing and clamping slat to cover pocket holes

STEP 7: CUT THE LEGS

To cut the legs, we used our homemade taper leg jig. We set the saw to 3-degrees and cut approximately 7″ up on two sides of each leg.

After assembling the desk and living with it for a few days, I wish I would’ve only tapered one side of each legs. I like the subtle detail it adds to the front of the desk, but from the sides, I wish it was just a clean, straight line for the legs. You can decide if you want to taper one or two sides.

STEP 8: ATTACH THE LEGS

To attach the legs, we’ll be using the same method that we used when we made our outdoor chairs.

First, apply wood glue to the 1×4 and 1×2 where the leg will be located. Clamp the leg in place so that it doesn’t move. It should be flush with the top of the desk and the front/back respectively.

Then mark .75″ in from the top and the side of the leg. This will be the location of your first screw. Then mark .75″ in from the side and 2.75″ down from the top for your second screw. Finally, mark .75″ in from the side and bottom of the cabinet for the final screw. Each leg will have a total of 3 screws.

Using a 1/8″ drill bit, drill all the way through the leg and into the leg stretchers. Then use a 3/8″ countersink bit to drill a hole that’s 1/2″ deep.

drilling countersink hole in desk leg

Next, drive a 2.5″ screw through the leg and into the leg stretcher. Put a dap of glue over the screw head and insert a wood plug over it. You might need to hit it in with a rubber mallet.

Repeat with the remaining 11 holes.

To finish up the legs/sides of the desk, we’ll add one additional leg stretch up top. This leg stretcher is cut from plywood since you won’t see the end grain. Since you will see the bottom edge of the stretcher if you squat down, you’ll want to add some edge banding to it.

Once you have the stretcher cut and edge banded, install with glue and 1.25″ nails. Fill any visible nails with wood filler.

nailing board between desk legs

Note: you will be breaking out the circular saw and edge banding again in a later step, so you can wait to cut and install your final leg stretcher until then for simplicities sake.

STEP 9: MAKE AND INSTALL THE CORD STORAGE

The cord storage box is simple to make. Once you cut down your pieces, add three pocket holes to the bottom of the cord storage bottom. Then, use glue and 1″ nails to secure the dowels to the top of the cord storage bottom.

To install the cord storage box, it will be centered on the middle board (5.25″ from both sides) and the top of the box will be 3″ down from the top of the middle board.

extension cord sitting in DIY cord storage box

Install using glue and 1.25″ Kreg screws.

cord storage box installed to back of desk

STEP 10: MAKE THE TOP OF THE DESK

Now that we’ve added the cord storage box, we can make the top of the desk. First, we’ll add trim to each side of the top using glue and 1″ nails. You’ll cut each piece of trim at a 45-degree angle.

nailing trim to oak plywood desk top

As you’re installing the trim, make sure the top is flush with the top of the desk. There will be a really slight overhang along the bottom. Fill any nail holes or gaps with wood filler.

Next up is the scariest part of the whole project. Not because it’s hard, but because you only have one shot at it. We’re going to cut a hole in the perfectly beautiful top to be able to access the cord storage.

I’ll share the measurements we used, but please place the top of the desk on top of the base and center it up to confirm the measurements before you begin.

Before we cut a hole, we’ll drill two holes using a 3/4″ Forstner bit. You want to use a Forstner bit over a traditional drill bit to get a nice clean hole.

To get the location of these holes, measure 6″ in from the back of the desk, then mark the center of the desk (approximately 33″). From the center mark, measure .75″ to the right and to the left. These will be where you place the center of your drill bit.

drilling hole in oak plywood using drill press
Note: we used our drill press to get a super straight hole

Drill both of the holes. Then, connect the two holes will a pencil and use your jigsaw to cut it out.

Remember, before drilling the holes and marking where you’re going to cut, double-check your measurements. The removable piece needs to be able to rest on top of the middle and top support boards in order to not just follow through the desk. Your hole needs to be cut so that those boards are visible. But, since the top is not installed yet, there is some flexibility with the measurements. If you cut your hole in a slightly off location, you can make up for it by adjusting where you place the top of the desk. The overhang just might be different.

Next, we’ll mark out the shape we want to cut. This will be the piece of the desk top that is removable so that you can access the extension cord that lives under it.

drawing outline of what to cut out on painter's tape

The total size of this piece was 4×12″. To get the nice rounded edges around the corners, I took my Kreg Multi-Mark Tool and unscrewed the metal piece. I then used that to trace the rounded edges. Using your jigsaw, follow this line to cut out your piece.

tracing rounded corners using Kreg multi-mark tool

If you applied too much pressure to the jigsaw blade, it’s possible that your piece will not fit into the hole from the top. If this is the case, carefully sand the edges of the removable piece until it fits in.

Finally, you can square off the edges of the middle hole so that it’s a more visually-appealing and traditional-looking shape.

STEP 11: MAKE THE DRAWER BOXES

We made our drawer boxes using pocket holes, but you can use whatever method works best for you. Before you make them, be sure to double-check your measurements. If you’re using side ball-bearing slides, the final width of the drawer box needs to be 1″ less than the total width of the cabinet opening. You might need to adjust the measurements from the provided cut list by 1/16 or 1/8 or more.

making drawer box using pocket holes

If you’d like detailed instructions on how to get the measurements and assemble the drawer boxes, check out this post.

STEP 12: MAKE DRAWER FRONTS

Now that the structure is all made, we’re able to grab the precise measurements we need for the drawer fronts. Though it looks like the desk has 5 drawers, it really only has 4. The “drawers” on the right side of the desk are actually just one large drawer and a single drawer front. I’ll tell you how we got the faux drawer look in a minute.

But first, confirm your measurements and then cut your drawer fronts to size. Remember that each side will be getting edge banding, so the final size of the drawer fronts will be approximately 1/16″ larger than what you cut them to be.

Once you have your drawer fronts cut, apply edge banding to each side of the drawer fronts.

Next, take your small drawer front and line it up with the top of the large drawer front. Trace the bottom. This is where you are going to cut into the drawer front to give the look of it being two drawers instead of 1.

Using a circular saw or table saw, cut along the line (it should be 4.5″ down from the top), but make sure your blade is only going 1/8 – 1/4″ into the wood. We want to get a line, but don’t actually want to cut the drawer into two or compromise its structural integrity.

STEP 13: DRILL HOLES FOR DRAWER PULLS

We used our Kreg Hardware Jig to help make drilling the holes for the handles easier. We centered them on each of the drawers. In hindsight, we should’ve drilled the holes slightly lower than center since we used cup pulls, but that’s alright. It still looks great.

drilling holes into drawer fronts using Kreg hardware installation jig

Once we did the medium drawer, we stacked it on top of the large drawer front to get the placement. The large drawer front gets two handles so that the desk is visually symmetrical.

drilling holes through drawer front for drawer hardware

STEP 14: STAIN AND SEAL

Before we started staining, we first sanded everything down using 180 and 220 grit sandpaper. Then we applied pre-stain wood conditioner to help get the most even finish possible.

Next, we stained our entire desk using Minwax Rustic Beige stain. It’s currently my favorite stain color! We’ve used it on our DIY plywood shelves and DIY wine rack.

After letting the stain dry for 4 hours, we sealed the entire desk (drawer boxes included) with 3 coats of Polycrylic in the Ultra Flat sheen. Between each coat of Polycrylic, I sanded with 220 grit sandpaper to make sure my finish was nice and smooth.

STEP 15: INSTALL THE DRAWERS

To install the drawers, we used the process that we outline in this post. For the large drawer and the bottom drawer on the left side of the desk, we used a 1/2″ piece of plywood as the spacer. For the upper drawer on the left side, we used a piece cut to 6.75″ tall.

installing drawer slides to inside of cabinet

For the middle drawer, we measured from the bottom of the top support board to the top of the drawer slide. We used a 2.75″ spacer board as our guide.

This post also covers how to install the drawer fronts and drawer pulls.

STEP 16: INSTALL THE TOP

Finally, it’s time to install the top. You’ll need to remove the drawer boxes to access the top, but I still think it’s easier to install the top after you install the drawer slides.

Center up the top, making sure that the cutout aligns with the cord storage box you installed.

To install, screw through the top support boards and into the desk top using 1.25″ screws. We used a total of 12 screws to attach the top to the base.

oak plywood desk with gold cup pulls

There you have it! Now you have a beautiful DIY desk with drawers that was built primarily using plywood! I can’t wait to see how your desk turns out. Be sure to send me a picture once you’re done.

close-up of details of side of DIY desk
view of half of DIY desk showing gap between legs and side of desk

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