How to do a wood top for a desk

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Forum topic by rlrobinhood posted 01-30-2013 04:09 AM 23080 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View rlrobinhood's profile


80 posts in 2881 days

01-30-2013 04:09 AM

Hi all,

I’m going to make a desk for my wife’s office and we were thinking about doing a black walnut plywood top. Probably band the edges with solid stock. If not black walnut, then probably some other hardwood plywood. But, I do have a couple questions:

1) What do you think about using a hardwood plywood for a desk top?
2) What type of finish would you use to minimize ink pen indentions? (She doesn’t really want to work off of a desk top calendar or put glass down on the top).

Thanks all for your great advice.

19 replies so far

View dahenley's profile


136 posts in 2329 days

#1 posted 01-30-2013 06:43 AM

Ooh, good questions….
im building a desk now for myself… (mine is cherry)

i didnt even think of the pen indentions…...
i cant wait to see what others have to say.

-- David Henley

View RogerInColorado's profile


321 posts in 2190 days

#2 posted 01-30-2013 07:37 AM

I used plywood with a solid wood band (3” wide). I’m happy with it. Mine is cherry and the veneer was rotary cut. If I had it to do over I would search out some slip match veneer. When you go to the lumber yard, take some cardboard strips to sort of “border” the plywood so you can see what the desktop grain will look like before you decide.

For the finish, smooth the top with a scraper (not sandpaper) so you aren’t fighting the grain when she writes. The veneer is very thin, so take care not to cut through. Finish with Endovar from General Finishes. Lots of coats. Let it cure fully before rubbing it out (see Charles Neal’s video on this at his website (google it) if you need some “how to” he does a good job of making it easy.

View REO's profile


929 posts in 2310 days

#3 posted 01-30-2013 07:56 AM

I made an Lshaped desk for my wife at work I used baltic birch for the plywood and bordered that with 2 1/2”wide X 2 thick Beech. I used polyurethans for the finish and it has held up. my wife does not have a heavy hand though. For me it probly would not have held up. I have finnished a shop bench with boith left over polyester resin and epoxy resin. both held up for years.

View wiwildcat's profile


58 posts in 2198 days

#4 posted 01-30-2013 08:29 AM

Most finishes will dent with hard pen pressure. Many coats of Laquer or Poly may help. Not sure how it would look on your project, but have you considered that two part epoxy bar top finish?

Maybe recess a piece of granite or some other stone into the desk in the area where most of the writing will be done. Something like a 1/2” thick slab about 18” x 24” recessed flush into the plywood. Then you could finish the rest of the desk with your finish of choice.

I agree with roger, card scrape the top, not sand.

Good Luck. (Great question by the way)


-- Wisconsin Wildcat

View rlrobinhood's profile


80 posts in 2881 days

#5 posted 01-31-2013 03:30 AM

All good advice. Thanks guys. Couple follow-up questions:

ROGERINCOLORADO, Can you tell me more about this Endovar by General Finishes? I searched their webpage, but couldn’t find a product with that name.

WIWILDCAT, would a 2-part epoxy bar finish not dent under the pressure of a ink pin? If not, that may be what I try. Do you think you could sand buff it out like the Charles Neil video?

Thanks a million all.

View wiwildcat's profile


58 posts in 2198 days

#6 posted 01-31-2013 05:07 AM

@rlrobinhood, never tried puffing it out. Epocy is poured on and is a thick finish that is high high gloss. Check out the following from a fellow LI, There is some good advice like damping the edges to prevent runs on the edges. This finish is hard to refining as it is thick. It would give the appearance as if glass was on the desk. I have never had problems with intents from pens on it based to the bar tops I have done, but then there isn’t much writing on it either. Hope this helps

-- Wisconsin Wildcat

View hornhunter's profile


21 posts in 3289 days

#7 posted 01-31-2013 03:20 PM

I used two part epoxy on a desk top, but don’t use it as a writing surface. I believe it would get damaged since writing would be isolated to one small area. I bought a piece of leather called a “sole bend”. It is a very thick, hard piece of leather used for shoe soles or floor tiles. I cut a nice size piece and attached two wood sides with pen holder grooves cut with a core box bit. The bottom of the leather has a softer suede finish that hasn’t scratched the surface.

-- Dean, Kinderhook, New York

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3544 days

#8 posted 01-31-2013 03:26 PM

I built a oak desk for my wife and used a rub on poly finish. Neither of us wanted to hide the beauty of the she has a letter sized note tablet that she always puts under whatever she is writing on. the note pad can be used for other things also…like taking notes…! Simple solution.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3394 days

#9 posted 01-31-2013 03:37 PM

People have building great desks this way for decades now.

I’d use a desk pad, regardless of the finish. But, enough coats of the finish should be all you need..and more coats will fill the plywood to achieve a more even finish. I love the GF Endurovar for this.

I would NOT use a scraper. It’s way too easy to scrape away the veneer, IMO. Worse, you could gouge the plywood with a scraper corner. I would lightly sand the plywood with high grit just to assure there are no really rough areas and that any color goes on evenly. The smoothness ulimately comes from sanding the finish, not the wood.

If you color the wood with stain, you might have issues with blotching or disuniformity in color between the plywood top and the hard wood used on the rest of the project. This will be especially true if you use a scraper on the plywood. I always use a shellac Sealcoat on all surfaces for those types of projects prior to putting the color down…and then I use the same color in my first finish coat as well, which will even out any color disuniformity.

-- jay,

View Knothead62's profile


2600 posts in 3197 days

#10 posted 02-02-2013 12:13 AM

Glass top and desk pad.

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3521 days

#11 posted 02-02-2013 12:27 AM

Jonathan, is that a walnut band I see separating the plywood field from the solid wood band?

-- John @

View pintodeluxe's profile


5816 posts in 3049 days

#12 posted 02-02-2013 12:32 AM

I am more comfortable with a hardwood top. Once you shop for premium grade plywood you realize, the cost is almost a wash with real hardwood. Wood movement is no problem either, just attach it with figure 8 hardware. You don’t even need biscuits to get a good glueup, just a few hardwood planks and some Titebond glue.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Grandpa's profile


3261 posts in 2911 days

#13 posted 02-02-2013 12:46 AM

I used oak plywood with a 3 inch band aroundit. I cut the edge band on the top side. It tapers from 2 inches back to the front edge where it is 3/8 inches thick. I use this for a computer desk. I finished it with polyurethane brush on varnish. I an getting some surface scratching from the legs on the back of the keyboard. I have been using this for 8 years now. I never write on a wood surface so I couldn’t tell you about how that part will hold up.

View Francisco Luna's profile

Francisco Luna

943 posts in 3629 days

#14 posted 02-02-2013 01:12 AM

I just finished this desk at work today , I used 3/4 Ply Mahogany on a 3/4 MDF, for a total of 1.5”; because the shape, our CNC cutted the bullnose, so I only needed to lay out the parts on a mdf sheet.

Keep in mind that commercial hardwood ply only has a layer of 1/32nd of hrdwood on top and they can be a bit sensitive when hited with objects and daily use. A thicker layer could be much better for that matter. Oils like Tung or Linseed are a great option to “seal” the wood, because they penetrate the wood, something that do not happen with “membrane” finishes like laquer.

-- Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day's work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain" Frank Lloyd Wright

View REL's profile


76 posts in 3892 days

#15 posted 02-02-2013 01:15 AM

I’m with Pintodeluxe, you can’t beat solid wood for appearance. Let’s face it, a solid wood top just looks a lot better than plywood. I also think the cost differences would make sense for solid wood.

It so happens, I purchase a bunch of cheery 4” to 8”wide 6/4 rough boards to make a desk top for my wife. I also purchased some rough 4/4 which I will plan down for the apron. For the legs, I purchased some 8/4 which I wll glue up to make 2 1/2” tapered Hepplewhite legs. This table desk will have one central draw.

My finish will be simple, just oil for a natural look. I know your wife doesn’t want a glass protecter for the top, however I will put a piece of glass on top. I intend the desk to be a family heirloom!

By the way the desk will be about 66” to 72” long and at least 30” wide.

-- REL, North Jersey

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