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Building a Desk for your child

Child's Desk Plans

desk complete

While looking for Christmas presents for our grandchildren, we happened upon a desk that I thought would be ideal for our 4 year old granddaughter. We bought the chair, since I didn't think I'd have time to make that and the desk before Christmas, and set about making the desk. These plans I put put together are based generally on the one that was for sale.

You can build it out of any wood, I chose what I had on hand, so it is primarily made of pine, with an oak desk top.

The pegboard in the pictures, have holes 1" apart, for reference.

Leg Assembly

We'll start with the leg assembly. The two sides are identical, and are attached to the side of the desk. There is a stretcher in the back for additional stability. I used mortise and tenons for the joinery, but you can use pocket screws if that is your typical approach (adjust the sizes to account for this)

  1. Cut the four (4) legs 3 x 24.
  2. Cut the two (2) top stretchers 3 x 9 1/2
  3. Cut the two (2) bottom stretchers 2 x 9 1/2 (note the finished (showing) length of the stretchers will be 7 inches long, due to the 3/4 inch tenons on each end)
  4. Cut the back stretcher 2 x 25 1/2. (there are 1/2 inch tenons cut on the ends of this stretcher) I actually cut and added the tenons on this piece afterI had finished gluing and sanding up the desk frame to be sure its finished length was identical to the desk frame's width.
Leg Parts

Cut the tenons on the ends of the stretchers and the matching mortises on the legs.

Legs before assembly

The front and back top corners of the legs have a 1 inch radius curve cut on them.

I assembled and glued the leg assembly, minus the back stretcher, sanded and set them aside for finishing.


Here is what they look like all assembled ready for the desk:

Legs assembled

Desk Top

The desk top I glued up 3/4 inch oak, for a nice hard surface. I glued up a little extra, and then cut the angle between the pencil rest area and the angled desk surface after the desk frame was made so I could match the angle perfectly.

Desk top is 25 x 16 1/2.

desk top

The pencil rest area is 3 inches wide.

The pencil groove is cut with a router with a 1/2 rounding bit. It is centered, at 1 1/2 inched in from the back edge and is 15 inches long.

We'll talk about attaching it to the desk frame below.

Desk Frame

The desk frame is made up of the 4 sides dovetailed together. I like the dovetails for their strength as well as their nice looks. If you choose to use butt joints, I would screw them together, countersink the screws and cover the screws with wood plugs to hide them. You will also need to adjust the length of the frame sides, they will need to be 1 1/2 inches less in length.

desk frame parts

Cut the frames:

Cut the 3/4 inch dovetails on the ends of all pieces.

desk parts with dovetails

Cut the finger opening along the front and the angled edge of the sides.

  • This is 1/2 deep, and runs 2 inches in from each edge along the front.
  • For the sides, measure up 3 inches from the front edge, and 3 inches from the beginning of the angle.

    Cut a groove for your desk frame bottom. In my case, it was a 3/16 inch groove because that was the thickness of the plywood I had on hand. I cut the groove 1/4 inch deep. Be sure you stop the cuts before reaching the ends of the side pieces. (or the front and back pieces for butt joints)

    Cut the plywood to fit. Make the size 3/8 more than the finished exposed length and width. This will ensure it will fit with room for glue.

  • size: 23 3/8 x 14 7/8 (Check yours dry first before glueing)

    Fit and glue the 4 sides together with the plywood captured in the sides.

    desk frame assembly

    Once the glue dries, plane/file/sand the front edges on each side to match the angle of the sides, taking off the front edge.

    Attach the top to the frame

    The top should be cut at this point to fit the frame. With the back of the top flush with the back of the frame, mark and cut the top to match the point at which the angle begins on the sides.

    This cut should be made at an angle make the two parts meet flush. I used some scraps to to get the angle perfect. It was roughly 3 degrees. (or 87 degrees depending on your saw's setting).

    I cut the mortises for the hinges at this point. They will fit so the two parts will meet with relatively no gap.

    The top/back section is then screwed into the frame, the screws are countersunk, and the holes are plugged with oak to match the tops. The plugs are sanded flush. I used 4 screws along the back and 1 on each side.

    desk finished

    Drill the holes to attach the leg assemblies now. Set the frame in the leg assembly. Clamp the desk frame to the legs such that it is roughly 19 inches high and drill the four (4) holes for the connector bolts. The holes go through the vertical leg parts (avoiding the tenons). I used connector bolts, which are a through bolt with the threads inside. (see below) These can be removed if necessary, and do a good job of holding the pieces tight. Alternately the frame can be screwed to the leg assembly from the inside.

    Disassemble the desk and finish sanding all the parts.

    At this point I stained and finished with polyurethane all the parts. I will attach the top with the hinges, screw the sides to the frame and glue the back stretcher in when all the pieces have been finished. I used a stain to match the chair I bought (the color: gunstock) and oil based fast drying poly, 3 coats the top, 2 on everything else.

    desk front

    connector bolts

    Final Assembly

    Attach the top with the hinges.

    Glue and attach the back stretcher between the leg assemblies.

    Attach the frame to the leg assemblies.

    Your desk is ready to use.

    I did not use a spring loaded closer to keep the lid from slamming down. These are made for toy chest lids, etc., and you may wish to consider using one depending on how your lid operates and how heavy it is. A good point on this desk is the finger groove on the front and sides that will limit any chance of dropping it on a little one's finger. Enjoy...

    If you like our plans, and want to send a picture of the desk you built using our plans, email them to me, and I will post them here.

    Shopping List

    1.   1 - 11 ft 1x4 (or equivelant) - Oak - Top
    2.   2 - 8ft 1x4 Pine - Legs
    3.   1 - 8ft 1x8 Pine - Frame
    4.   1 - 1/4" or 3/16" Plywood (roughly 24"x24")
    5.   4 - Connector Bolts
    6.   2 - 3" x 1/2" hinges
    7.   6 - 1 1/2" #8 screws

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