Creating a Better Workspace: Building the DIY Desk/Work Cart

Two months ago I posted an article on designing your own standing desk/work cart. It is finally completed and that means this is your guide to build one for yourself!

First thing is first, let’s start with the plans. The plans I hand drew below(a recreation of the original as I lost them) are what I designed for my standing desk work cart. This is a rugged design and something more akin to a shop or art cart than a desk. I decided to go this route as I plan to do not only computer work but actual physical work too(ex: Building/Maintaining PC’s, art projects, whatever my heart desires).


As this is a standing desk, it is recommended that you make the desk top level with your elbows when your arms are bent at 90 degree angles. So for me this was about 43″ (finished cart is 42.5″ tall to be precise). If you are shorter or taller, adjust your desk accordingly. Also, if you are unsure of what height is best, stack up some items and use that for a while. All else, add in the extra length to the legs as you can always remove them and cut them down to a better height.

Measurement Note: Sorry to those around the world who use Metric. Being U.S. based, I used traditional measuring techniques without thinking. I will try to remember to do both Metric and English systems for future articles! (I sure wish our standard was Metric, base 10 is so much easier.)

Hardware you will need:
  • 2 – 4′ x 8′ 3/4 inch plywood.
  • 6 – 2″x4″x10′
  • 81- No. 8, 2.5″ Screws (+2 screws for cat scratcher)
  • 16 – 1/4″ x 2.5″ lag bolts
  • 4 – 3″ spinning casters (total height is 4″) (Each of mine are rated for 175lbs, to hold a maximum total distributed weight of 700lbs. This is far more than I would ever plan to expose it to.)
  • For Paint:
    • 1 to 2 quarts primer. (I used a single quart, however if your desk is larger or wood is absorbent you will need 2.
    • 1 to 2 quarts paint of choice. (I left the underside of the desk unpainted and may have needed more than 1 quart to cover that if I wished to paint it)
    • Standard paint brushes.
      • I used a 3″ and 1″ brush for all painting.
  • For Stain:
    • Unknown as I created this with paint in mind. If you have done something similar and know the coverage for stain, let everyone know in the comments below and I will update this section!

Wood prices will vary by region. I was able to purchase all of the above for my desk for about $180 (USD).

Tools you will need:
  • Circular Hand Saw or Reciprocating Saw
  • Power Drill

So once, you have gathered your supplies, it’s time to start!

BEFORE YOU START! Be sure to recalculate any lengths of wood needed! This plan was designed to use as few boards as possible and created the desired height/size. Please be sure to measure twice!

First thing is you need to get all of your wood cut.

Lumber Cutting Note:

Many of the initial lumber cuts I had performed for free at my local Home Depot where I purchased them. My understanding is that they can charge for cut’s but usually don’t if it’s only a few(I wasn’t charged). Also, the charge per cut is relatively low, so if you can’t fit all the lumber in your car(these materials wont fit in a small/mid-size SUV without cutting) it’s great to have some of the work done in advance.

  • Plywood – Finished you should have 2 – 32″ x 5.5′ rectangles
  • 2″x4″x12′
    • 4 – 5.5′ pieces
    • 8 – 29″ pieces
    • 4 – 38″ pieces

Painting Note:

If you would like to ensure a professional grade paint job, I would suggest painting each piece before you assemble it. This will ensure there are no spots that cannot be reached and that everything is coated evenly. Learn from my mistake/poor planning in this regard. I did not paint each item and wish I had for a better quality finish.

Also, be aware of others and pets when painting. You never know when one of them will decide to help out without your permission.Desk_Cart_Cat_Paws_Painted

The Instructions

Create The Basic Desk Frames

  1. Using the 4 of the 2″x4″x12′,  cut them to create 4 – 5.5′ long pieces. You will have about 1′ total excess from cutting that is scrap. These will be used as the long side boards that span the length of the desk.
  2. Using the remaining 2 of the 2″x4″x12′ cut these into equal 3 foot strips or 29 inch long pieces if you wish to remove some extra cutting. These eight 29″ boards will be the short sides and desk surface support to prevent bowing.
  3. Using 2 of the 5.5′ pieces and 2 of the 29″ boards frame out a rectangle and secure them together using 2 screws per corner. Be sure to have the shorter side boards on the inside of the frame. The total rectangle will be 5.5′ x 32″.Desk_Cart_Supports
  4. Once the rectangle is complete, measure out on the long edge 22″ from both sides and add the inner braces to prevent bowing. Attach each support with 2 screws per side(totalling 8 screws used for supports).Desk_Cart_Support_Measurement
  5. You can now repeat steps 3 and 4 to create the bottom/top of the cart.

Create The Rectangular Box Frame

Now that you have your two frames created for the top and bottom it’s time to assemble them into the finished rectangular box frame.

  1. Cut your remaining 2″x4″x12′ (two of them) to create 4 – 38″ long pieces. These will be used as the legs.
  2. Attach the legs to the inside of the bottom frame using a level floor as your guide. The leg should be flush against both sides and attached with 2 screws in the thin side, and 3 screws in the wider side. The orientation as to having the wider portion of the 2″x4″ facing the longer or shorter side of your desk is a personal preference. I choose to have the wider side match the shorter end of the cart to enable more accessible storage under the desk.Desk_Cart_Attach_Legs
  3. Once each of the 4 legs are attached you will want to place the other frame flat on the floor. Now you can flip the frame with legs into the frame on the floor and then attach the same way as previously. Once complete you should have a nice rectangular box.Desk_Cart_Frame

Adding The Desk Surfaces

Now that the frame is built you are ready to attach the desk surfaces. One is a direct attachment and the other will require a few cuts.

  1. Cut both 3/4″ plywood panels into 2 – 5.5′ x 32″ panels. Be sure to cut out any unsightly knots or imperfections.
  2. Pick which side of the finished rectangular box will be the top and attached one of the panel using 3 screws per long side and 2 screws on the shorter sides. I tried to avoid too many screws directly in the corners and placed mine out a few inches to avoid the ends from splitting from the number of screws.
  3. Once you have the top, now using one of your scrap 2″x4″ pieces measure out where the legs will fall in the bottom panel. It should be a square on each corner about 3″x5″. Mark out the squares and ensure they match the orientation of the legs.
  4. Cut out the marked squares and slide the panel into the lower halve of the rectangular box at about a 45 degree angle. Line up the corners to the legs and slide the panel down to meet the frame. If it’s a tight fit, you can cut some excess off or nudge gently with a hammer or mallet :). Just don’t damage your surface or legs in the process.
  5. Once the board is flush on the bottom, secure the edges using the same pattern as the top. That is 3 screws per long side and 2 per short avoiding corners to protect against splitting.Desk_Cart_Frame_and_Surfaces
  6. (Optional) Secure the bottom surface to the two support rails by adding 2 screws per rail. You can find the rails by looking at the screw locations on the long side of the frame.

Attach The Castors

  1. Flip over the cart, and place it upside down on a flat surface. Be sure not to damage the top face. Clean the area before flipping!
  2. Using the lag bolts, attach each of the castors to the corners. If assembled properly, the legs and frame should provide an ample surface for them to attach.
    1. TO AVOID SPLITTING: I recommend drilling a pilot hole before securing the bolts. This will reduce the internal wood pressure which should save you from having split ends. I managed to assemble this without any splits.Desk_Cart_Castor
  3. Flip your cart upright and ensure the new wheels work.
  4. If you rectangular box is square, everything should be level. However, if things are not once upright, flip over and add some shims to adjust for the height difference.Desk_Cart_Unpainted

Cat Scratcher (Optional)

Once the cart is built and on wheels it wouldn’t be complete without a place for our cat to scratch. He would probably scratch one of the legs anyway, so this keeps us both happy!Desk_Cart_Cat_Scratcher_1

Items Needed:
  • ~60′ Sisal Rope(purchased 100′ roll) – Ensure it’s oil free and safe for pets!
  • 2 Screws
  1. Using a screw, attach the sisal rope to the bottom of the leg that you wish to be a cat scratcher. You should be able to simply drill through without any issues. If there are any issues, cut off the section and try again. The further from the very end of the rope, the easier it will be.Desk_Cart_Cat_Scratcher
  2. After the bottom is attached, tightly wrap the leg with the rope until reaching the top. Ensure to pull tightly with each layer and push the entire rope down from time to time. This will create a stronger surface less prone to sagging and wear.
  3. Once at the top, secure the rope again with a screw.

With that, the cat scratcher is finished. Be sure to have your feline friend test it out as soon as possible!


 Assembly Complete!

DIY_Desk_Complete_1That’s it! Your desk is now assembled and looking good.If you did not paint the pieces before building it, now you can prime and paint (I suggest at least two coats of each). Once done you can then add anything extra such as cable management cords, power strips or other add ons. I have completed some of these myself and I will leave them for another article. This one is plenty long enough.

If you complete this desk plan or have built your own desk, we would love to hear about it! Share your stories/creations in the comments below!

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