If you missed Part 1, with many more lovely pictures of the desk, view it here.
Here as promised! A detailed description of how we built this awesome plank top double desk with copper accents and DIY copper pulls!
Housekeeping: This post may contain affiliate links. Shop from your sofa and support The Gathered Home: win-win!
As I mentioned in my first post, I had hoped to find used base cabinets on Craigslist or at the Habitat for Humanity Restore, but wasn’t having much luck on that front. This led to our miraculously efficient trip to Ikea (in and out in under an hour with no extraneous purchases!) to pick up three 18” Akurum base cabinets with Harlig white doors for $54 a piece.
Total so far: $162 + tax.
It only took me about an hour to assemble the cabinets, and just a little bloodshed…
Next up, a trip to Home Depot with my awesome dad and brother for supplies for the plank top:
(10) 2×6 – 8 ft. boards: $46.70
(1) 2×4 – 8 ft. boards: $2.72 (we bought 2, but only ended up using 1)
(1) 1×3 – 10 ft. primed MDF trim: $5
2 1/2” construction screws (although 2” would be have been fine)
Now, here is where I remind you that I am terrible at taking in-process shots… But I’ll do my very best to walk you through step by step!
Note: Most of the actual construction was done by my dad and brother. They are just plain better/bolder with power tools than I am. I provided the plan, aesthetic input, and a helping hand. So when I say “we” down below, I’m being generous with myself.
The first thing we did was cut the MDF trim into six 18” sections and attach two pieces to the bottom of each base cabinet as risers. This is necessary since the cabinet doors are flush with the top, bottom and sides of the cabinet frame – we needed to raise the cabinets off the floor just a bit so the doors have clearance to open. We used liquid nails on the bottom of each piece, and then a few small nails to hold them in place.
The primed MDF didn’t even need to be painted since you don’t really see it nestled down in the carpet. This picture shows the cabinet upside down after we attached the MDF risers:
Once the cabinets were flipped back over, we built a stretcher piece across the top of the center cabinet, so that we would have a place to anchor the top pieces. This short piece was cut from the 2×4, and then notched on either end so we could attach it.
For each outside end of the desk, we cut a similar length of 2×4 for the outside edges for the plank top to screw into.
The wall is 12’2”, so we cut each of the 2×6 boards down to 6’1”. This way there would be one seam down the middle of the desk – which is why we needed that fixed center piece.
We placed the base cabinets precisely where we wanted them. The cabinets are are 24” deep and the plank top is around 28” deep, so it has an overhang of 2” on the front and the back. Besides that, we wanted a 1.5” gap between the back of the desk top and the wall for electrical cords. From this picture, you can also see that we cut off some of the back pieces of the cabinets, again with electrical cords in mind.
We decided to screw the top planks from beneath to avoid visible screws on the top. I helped out by using this OSHA-approved technique to hold the planks down while my dad attached them. You can also spy a little bit of orange from a ratcheting strap we used to hold the planks tightly together while they were being attached.
It was almost midnight by the time we wrapped up construction on the plank top (thank you, family, for staying so late to finish it!), so I took this picture the following morning – the desk is all built, sturdy as all get out, and ready to be sanded and stained:
Ah yes… sanding. If do this before you build the desk, you are wise indeed. Otherwise, you’ll be covering everything in the room with plastic sheets and pulling out your power sander. And then cursing yourself because you have dark textured walls and it’s almost impossible to clean the streaky fine sanding dust off of them. (Hint: use Swiffer pads followed by a tack cloth). So, preferably sand the boards first in your garage/carport/outdoor-area, then construct the desk.
I used 120 grit sandpaper – it cleaned up any rough or splintery areas just fine. I didn’t want to sand too much and lose the top’s rustic appearance, so there are still dings, divots, and uneven areas. In other words, if you want this to be a smooth writing surface, you probably want to take a different approach. We are using this as a computer desk, so a little unevenness is fine.
After sanding, I thoroughly vacuumed the desk top and wiped it down with a tack cloth.
Then it was time for the stain. I already had some on hand – Dark Walnut by Varathane…
I taped off the edges where the plank top meets the walls and around the tops of the cabinets and applied the stain with a rag. (Now, normally you would want to use gloves so this oil-based stain doesn’t get all over your skin. But I was out of gloves. So I used a Ziploc bag.)
This is what the wood looked like after one coat of stain:
It was a really gorgeous color and I was tempted to leave it, but I knew I wanted something a little darker, so I applied a second coat of stain:
Once the stain dried, I used a hand sanding block to go over the plank top once more to smooth it out. Instead of a poly top coat, I used Feed-N-Wax, hoping it would give me exactly the antique-wood feel I was going for. The Feed-N-Wax soaked into the top, leaving me with a matte but smooth “hand-rubbed” finish.
Now, while my brother was helping us build the desk, he made an off-hand comment about using some sort of metal strip to “finish” the edges of the desk where it met the wall and disguise the center seam. Imagine his surprise when I immediately jumped on the idea, declaring him a genius and brainstorming what I would use!
I initially wanted to use these cool steel flat bars that Home Depot sells in the aisle with the garage door hardware, but I was a little daunted by the whole “drilling through steel” thing – totally doable, my dad assured me, but definitely intensive. I decided to keep strolling the aisles at Home Depot browsing for hardware inspiration, when I stopped in the plumbing aisle.
You guys, I spent a lot of time in the plumbing aisle when I was constructing my plumbing pipe light fixture, and I began to vaguely remember some thin copper material that came in rolls…
Copper coated pipe strapping. Perfect!
Meanwhile, Bryan and I were also brainstorming ideas for creative pulls for the cabinet doors. I wanted something industrial/rustic; bonus points if it wasn’t actually a drawer pull. That’s when Bryan pulled these off the shelf, and everything fell into place…
I purchased two 24” lengths of 1/2” copper pipe for around $10. The tube straps were super cheap for a pack of 10. I also picked up a copper pipe cutter, so I could cut each length of pipe in half for 12” pulls.
This was my method for ensuring the hardware was installed in the exact same spot on each door front:
Using my mad math skills and some Frog Tape, I made a template that I could reuse for each door front (you can’t see it, but the edges of the doors are marked on the tape for easy alignment). Then I simply drilled through the marked spots on the tape, peeled it off, and installed my copper pipe + tube strap construction with #8 1” pan head screws.
Note that the pipe pieces sit flush with the doors, not lifted away from them like traditional pulls, however, it’s easy to grasp the handle and swing the door open.
For my decorative copper strips on the top, I cut the copper hanger strap to length with wire cutters (it involved a bit of oomph – squeeze the cutters, bend the strip, squeeze, bend, repeat until separated). I used pliers to fold a small portion over the back of the desk top, and then to wrap the strip around the front and under the desktop. I predrilled the desktop through the holes in the copper strip every few inches (while making sure it was flat and taut) and used #8 1” pan head screws to attach it.
You’ll notice that I wasn’t able to get perfect spacing on the screws, because I wanted to secure the copper strip to each board three times… It only bothers me a lot a little bit.
Now, here’s where the story gets some more blood in it…
While ensuring that the copper strip was stretched taut, I quickly slid my thumb down the length of it. The strip is not “sharp” to the touch per se, but it is sharp enough that you don’t want to quickly and forcefully run your finger along it.
At first I had no idea what had happened until I noticed the red line, and quickly grabbed a paper towel before huge drops of blood started dripping from my thumb! It was a very deep cut, but such a “clean” cut that I was able to pinch the top of my thumb together until I ran to the bathroom, quickly rinsed it, and Bryan helped me apply Neosporin and bandage it up. It kind of put a damper on the DIY for the evening.
So, I would recommend wearing gloves while working with the copper strips because you may need to pull it tight and you don’t want your fingers to slip! Now that the strip is secured flush with the plank top, I’m not concerned about a sharp edge at all. It isn’t even as sharp as a butter knife – it was just an unfortunate combination of speed + pressure when my thumb slid down the edge.
Was I finished yet? Not quite. The screws were steel, and I wasn’t loving the contrast with the copper. So I picked up some Leafing Finish at the craft store. Note that I purchased it in “Bronze”, as I felt it was a better match for the copper pieces than the Precious Metals “Copper” finish. I applied three coats to each screw with a small craft brush – it sounds time consuming, but it’s quick-drying, so it only took me about 30 minutes for all the exposed screws. Bonus: I have almost the entire jar left… More projects!
And then, finally, the desk was done. It ended up costing around $270 to build (I didn’t save all receipts, but that’s a generous estimate for everything – cabinets, boards, all screws, copper pieces, etc.), but your cost might be different depending on the supplies you already have on hand. For example, for my next project, I now have several 3/4 full boxes of screws and a mostly full jar of bronze-leaf!
I will admit, as much as I love the French chairs with this desk, they are a little too short given that the desk is counter-height. An adjustable desk chair is just fine with it, but a regular dining chair is a little too low. Sad face. It sure looks pretty for pictures, but I wanted to fully disclose that the chairs shown aren’t practical for computer use.
But overall, I am ecstatic with how the desk turned out! I am freakishly excited with the amount of office supply storage we have now, and psyched to continue working on the rest of the office to turn it into the coolest, chillest, awesomest, moodiest office space us self-employed folks could desire!
I hope this tutorial was helpful! If you have any questions at all, leave them in the comments or send me an email and I’ll do my very best to help you out! Even if I have to phone-a-friend, aka my dad ;) And as always, pin it if you love it! I’ll be your BFF for life.