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Lift-Top Computer Desk

This sleek computer desk looks great in a home office, but it's also perfect for a teen's room. So why not spend the weekend with your son or daughter building a pair of them?

Teen at lift-top computer desk

Project Overview

Skill Level


Estimated Time

1 weekend

Estimated Cost



Legs and Aprons

Step 1

From a 1 × 6, cut the back apron A, side aprons B, and front apron C to length (Cutting List & Diagram). Drill pocket holes on the ends of the aprons and along the top edge of the left side and back aprons (Drawing 1, Project Diagram).

Step 2

Sand the legs D and aprons with 120- and then 220-grit sandpaper. Place painter's tape on the legs to mark the 1/4-in inset from the face of the leg to the aprons. This avoids marking directly on the wood. When the assembly is complete, remove the painter's tape.

Good to Know

Remember to sand turned legs with the grain, not around the shape. Use a sanding sponge that conforms to the shape for fast results.

Step 3

Lift-top computer desk photo 1

Apply glue to the ends of the aprons, position them against the legs, and secure with pocket-hole screws (Drawing 1, Project Diagram). Begin with the back apron and back legs, and then add the side aprons and the front legs (Photo 1).

Make the Tops

Step 1

Lift-top computer desk photo 2

Cut the hinge board E to length and sand to 220 grit. Place the hinge board and a couple of 3/4-in-thick scraps on your work surface, and place the table upside down on the parts with the legs inset from the edges of the hinge board by 1/4-in. Secure the table to the hinge board with glue and pocket screws (Photo 2).

Step 2

The top of the desk is made from three 1 × 6 boards glued together edge to edge. The boards for the fixed top F are 10-1/2-in long, and the boards for the lid G are 31-3/8-in long. Glue boards edge to edge with the ends flush.

Step 3

Lift-top computer desk photo 3

To help align the surface of the boards when making a wide panel, clamp scraps to the top and bottom faces of the panel. Apply painter's tape to the edges of the scraps -- this will prevent the glue that squeezes out from between the boards as you clamp them together from bonding the scraps to your panel (Photo 3).

Step 4

After the glue has set for 30 minutes, remove the clamps and peel excess glue using a putty knife. Set the panel aside to cure overnight, then sand the panels with 120- and 220-grit sandpaper. Enlarge the pilot holes from the pocket holes drilled in the left side apron where it attaches to the top.

Step 5

Lift-top computer desk photo 4

Wood expands and contracts across the width of a board with changes in humidity and temperature. If the lid expands and it's glued to the side apron, the wood will split. What to do? Drill a 3/16-in oversize pilot hole inside the pocket hole in the apron. This lets the head of the screw pivot and allows the top to move without causing cracks (Photo 4).

Step 6

Glue the fixed top to the hinge board (Drawing 2, Project Diagram) -- be sure to align the left end of the parts flush. Use scraps clamped across the joints to help keep the boards flush.

Step 7

Lift-top computer desk photo 5

Sand the fixed top/hinge board joint smooth and secure the left apron to the fixed top (Photo 5).

Step 8

Lift-top computer desk photo 6

Pocket screws are a great way to build a project, but how do you hide the holes? To hide the screws inside the desk, fill the pocket holes using glue and wood plugs. Glue premade plugs into the holes and sand them flush with a sander. Because they are made of wood, the plugs will accept paint or stain in preparation for a good finish (Photo 6).

Step 9

Add the front apron to the left leg -- inset the apron 1/4-in from the leg face. Secure with glue and pocket screws.

Add the Bottom

Step 1

Cut the plywood for the bottom H to size. Lay out and cut the notches on the corners of the bottom with a jigsaw (Drawing 3, Project Diagram) -- the notches fit around the legs. Drill a 1-1/2-in hole for cords and cables near the back edge of the bottom.

Step 2

Lift-top computer desk photo 7

Drill pocket holes around the perimeter of the bottom, sand the plywood, and insert into the table (Photo 7). Use four 3-1/2-in-tall spacers placed on the bench to position the bottom in the table base. The spacers ensure that the bottom is installed level inside the desk.

Step 3

Cut the trim I to fit between the front legs. Apply glue to the front edge of the bottom H and slip the trim into place. Align the top edges of the parts; secure with pocket screws through the holes in the bottom into the trim (Drawing 1, Project Diagram).

Complete the Desk

Step 1

Cut the stop block J to length, sand it, and glue it to the inside face of the front apron, 5-in from the leg (Drawing 2, Project Diagram). The block supports the left end of the lid.

Step 2

Cut the lid apron K to length, drill pocket holes for securing to the lid G, and sand the part. Secure to the bottom face of the lid, flush on each end, so the face of the apron is set back 1/2-in from the front edge of the lid. Install plugs in the pocket holes using glue; sand smooth when the glue has cured.

Step 3

Cut two lid cleats L to length, sand, and screw them to the bottom face of the lid. Inset the cleats 1-1/2-in in from the left end, and 3-in from the right end of the lid. This connection has wood movement potential similar to the side apron and fixed lid, so secure the cleats with screws only (Drawing 4, Project Diagram).

Step 4

Place the lid on the desk with a 1/8-in gap between the lid and the fixed top F. Install the hinges connecting the lid to the hinge board, locating the hinges 2-1/2-in in from each end of the lid. (For installation tips, see Hinge Steps to Success, below).

Step 5

Lift-top computer desk photo 8

To prevent the lid from closing too fast, make a lid support M (Photo 8), which can be easily swung out of the way for closing. Cut a 3/4-in square dowel to length for the lid support (Cutting List). Position the part against the left lid cleat and drill a 1/4-in hole (Drawing 5, Project Diagram); smooth the edges with sandpaper. Install using the hardware shown (Drawing 6, Project Diagram).

Hinge Steps to Success

Step 1

Lift-top computer desk photo 9

Mark out the location of the hinge on the lid and the frame. Place painter's tape on the wood to lay out the hinges. This prevents unnecessary marks that will have to be removed later (Photo 9).

Step 2

Lift-top computer desk photo 10

Align the hinge with the layout mark on the frame, holding it in place with double-face tape. A self-centering hinge bit with a spring-loaded sleeve perfectly centers the pilot holes (Photo 10).

Step 3

Lift-top computer desk photo 11

Remove the hinge from the frame and relocate it to the lid. Align the hinge with the layout mark on the lid and secure with double-face tape. Drill pilot holes in the edge of the lid (Photo 11).

Step 4

Lift-top computer desk photo 12

Remove the hinge, peel the tape from the hinge, and drive the screws. Use a slower speed setting on your drill/driver when installing the screws to avoid stripped heads and broken screws (Photo 12).

Finish It Up

Step 1

Remove the hinges and lightly sand the entire piece in preparation for the finish. Wipe with a tack cloth and decide what finish to apply.

Step 2

For a painted desk, apply primer, let dry, sand the primer, wipe with a tack cloth, and apply two coats of paint.

Step 3

For a more natural finish, apply a sanding sealer following the manufacturer's instructions. Lightly sand the piece, wipe with a tack cloth, and apply the stain of your choice. We chose a Kona stain. To get the deep finish, we applied two coats and allowed the stain to dry between coats.

Good to Know

Applying a stain to pine can result in blotchy, uneven color due to variations in the wood. To avoid this, use a sanding sealer, or pre-stain, conditioner. This partially seals the wood so stain is absorbed evenly. For an alternative to stain, a clear finish looks great on pine, too.

Step 4

Follow the stain with two coats of satin polyurethane, sanding between coats with 320-grit sandpaper. Reinstall the hardware. Now it's time to put your new desk to work!