Small Kids Desk
Finished Kids Desk
I decided to build my 5 year old son a desk so that he would have a place to work on drawings and legos in his room. It has a couple of small drawers for items like pencils and stencils, and a place to put blank paper or coloring books. The whole thing is made from birch plywood and pine boards, and is mostly assembled with pocket-screws. Most of the design is limited by keeping the desk proportioned for my son. I wanted something that would fit him well, but still have a couple inches of room for him to grow. This desk took me a couple weekends worth of free time to build, and another couple weeks to paint, stain, and finish.
Table of Contents
Adding Pocket Holes to Cabinet

Side Cabinet

I had two pieces of 3/4" plywood left over from a previous project that I used to make the cabinet. From these, I cut the two sides and ends 20 1/4" x 17 1/4" and 10 1/2" x 17 1/4" respectively. In the back of each piece, I cut a 3/8" rabbet using the table saw for a 1/4" back panel, and assembled the box with glue and pocket-hole joints.

Face Frame Glue-up

The face frame parts are 1 1/2" wide and were cut from a 40" long, pine 1 x 4. The pieces were joined together using glue and pocket-screws.

Before gluing the face-frame to the cabinet, I realized it would be easier to clamp if I added pocket-holes to the front of the top and bottom. I went back and cut those using my portable jig (as shown above). I then used some "cauls" made of plywood to provide more even pressure across the sides of the face-frame during the glue-up.

Face-Frame Dimensions

Leg Lamination

Legs and Bottom Assembly

To make the legs, I laminated 3, 1 x 8 inch pine boards together. A 1 x 6 is all you actually need for these pieces. I had intended to first cut a 2 inch strip off the 1 x 8 to use for the apron, but I forgot to make the strip before cutting the long board for the legs.

This is my first lamination and I made some rookie mistakes here.

  • I used way too much glue on the joints. I only needed to put glue on one face for each joint, but I had a healthy coating on both of the mating surfaces, creating a lot of wasted squeeze out. (Only 1 of the three glue puddles is visible in the photo shown.)
  • I should have used some form of cauls to clamped the boards. The clamps alone didn't really provide even clamping pressure and they left dents in the wood that I had to shave off using the table saw.
  • Next time, I'll raise the work up off the table using 2x4's or an i-beam support. Without them, it was a struggle to get all the clamps attached, and there wasn't an easy way to store the lamination while the glue set-up.

I pulled the clamps off after the glue up had dried for several hours. Using a chisel, I scrapped the glue off the most proud board edge so that I would have a straight edge to pass along my table saw fence. I then cut the board into 2, 2x2 inch blanks.

To cut the taper on the bottom, I marked 1" in on the end and 2" up the side, and then connected those two points with a line to mark the taper. Then I lined up my miter gauge on the table saw until the blade was in line with that angle. I cut the tapers on both sides of the blank stock and then cut a pair 23 1/4" long and a pair 3" long.
Desk Base Dimensions

I glued the short pair of legs to bottom of the cabinet using epoxy. The sides of the cabinet stuck past the bottom about 1/16th, and the epoxy provided some gap filling. After the epoxy dried, I ran a pocket-screw from inside the cabinet into the legs to help keep them tight and prevent them from pulling off if the desk is dragged across the floor.

The aprons were cut from 1 x 6 pine boards to 2" in width. Assembling the bottom of the desk was done upside down on the workbench with glue and pocket screws.

Desk Base Joints


Installed drawer guides
The guides for the top drawer are a standard design consisting of
  • a webbing built like a face frame using glue and pocket screw to support the drawer weight,
  • guide rails attached to the webbing with glue and brads to align the drawer in the opening, and
  • a drawer stop across the back, also attached with glue and brads.
A kicker was glued to the bottom of the paper tray to keep the drawer from tipping out. The entire drawer guides are constructed from 3/4" plywood, and attached to the cabinet (through the webbing) using pocket screws.
Lower Drawer Guide

The bottom drawer guide was made similarly without the webbing between the rails. I had to drill shallow 1/2" holes in one of the rails to fit over the screws used to attached the short legs. The support, guide rails, and stops were assembled using glue and brads.

Drawer Box Glue-up

The drawer boxes were built using locking rabbet joints in 1/2" plywood with a 1/4" plywood bottom captured in a groove cut in the 4 sides. I don't like doing this joint. Once cut, it is easy to glue up the drawer, but I haven't found a way to quickly cut the joint on the table saw without a lot of trial and error.

Next time I make plywood drawers, I think I'll try using pocket holes in the 1/2" plywood. I have had success in the past using pocket screws to construct drawers with 3/4" sides, but those would have been a little heavy for this small desk.

Assembled Desk Before Finish

Top, Shelf, and Drawer Fronts

At right is a picture of the completed desk before any stain or finish is applied. The drawer fronts, shelf, and top are all just loosely in place, and were assembled with screws once everything was finished.

The top, drawer fronts, and shelf were cut from a piece of 3/4" plywood. I picked up this plywood from one of the box stores specifically because I liked the dark grain pattern. The plywood for the top was sized to match the bottom, 18" x 31", and was banded with mitered pine strips a little under 3/4" thick.

The drawer fronts were cut to fit with a 1/8th inch gap around the faces. Iron-on edge banding around the drawer fronts roughly takes up this gap to give me a little more than 1/16th all the way around.

Paper Tray Dimensions
The paper tray is constructed of two pieces of 3/4" plywood: a shelf and a back to shorten the depth. I didn't want the shelf to be so deep that things got lost in the back.

The shelf was stained to match the top and drawer fronts, but the back was to be painted. After finishing, the shelf back was screwed to the shelf and cabinet top using pocket screws.

Finishing Operations

Painting and Finishing

The Top, drawer fronts, and paper tray were colored with Walnut stain. Before applying the stain, I sanded the surfaces up to 150-grit and wiped on a ~3/4-lb cut of shellac. I finished the drawers and the drawer guides with 3-4 coats of the same shellac waiting 10-15 minutes between coats.

My son was adamant that he wanted a yellow desk. Bright Yellow. Golden even. I went with "Dalen's Duckling" in a flat sheen from Olympic for the paint.

All painted surfaces were sanded up to 220-grit paper. I taped the top with yellow frog tape, squaring the edges with a utility knife and making sure to push the tape down well with a putty knife. Although I was worried about it, I had clean tape line with no bleed through when I was finished.

It took 4 coats of yellow, sanding with 320-grit paper between coats, to get a good color coverage. I applied 2 coats of water based, polycrylic over the paint. Up close, you can see some paint strokes, but the poly makes it feel glass smooth.

The tray and drawer fronts received 3 coats of the polycrylic, and I put 5 coats on the top. I made the last coat as thin as possible to try and make a clean, smooth writing surface.

Final Assembly

Attaching the Paper Tray
After everything was finished, the top, paper tray, back, and drawer fronts all needed to be attached.
  • The top was attached using pocket-screws through the apron and 4 additional screws through the inside top of the cabinet. This was actually done before the top was finished, while it was upside down on the workbench.
  • The paper tray was assembled, and then attached to the cabinet using pocket-screws. I had to use some creating clamping to hold the tray in place while I drove home the screws by hand.
  • The back was attached with brads. Two of the screws attaching the apron stuck through the rabbet for the back, and I had to remove and cut them down with a hacksaw before the back would fit flush.
  • To attach the drawer fronts, I first pre-drilled a hole in the center of the faces. After I had the fronts lined up in the cabinet, I then use that hole to attach the faces to the drawer boxes with a pocket screw . Once attached, I pulled them out and counter sunk two screws from the inside. I purchased the pulls from the craft store and installed them in the hole I pre-drilled to start.

Lessons Learned

Completed Desk with the Drawers Open
Other than what I've already mentioned, there are a couple things I'm going to try differently for the next build.
  • Next time I decide to paint a project, I'd like to try painting everything before assembly. I think the paint would lay down with fewer marks if all the surfaces were horizontal. The polycrylic was smooth even on the vertical surfaces, but the paint never completely levelled.
  • I'm really happy with the way the drawers and the drawer guides came out, but I think I could still make the drawers fit tighter. There is still a little bit of side-to-side play in the drawer action.

Overall, I'm very happy with how the desk came out, and my son is thrilled with it as well. Thanks for checking out the project details.

Feel free to send me any comments, suggestions, or questions through my
Contact Page.
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Copyright 2014 by Joseph Bobek, all rights reserved.