Newbie desk modification questions... (advice pls!!)

1 Aug 2011
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United Kingdom
Hello, I have joined this forum because I am planning to modify a desk, and I was hoping for some advice with joining parts together. I am definitely not a carpentry inclined person, and before joining here I was contemplating paying a local handyman to give me some advice... so hopefully someone can save me a little money there!!

Here is a *very* basic/embarrassing picture I've knocked together...


I already have the pine desk, and the box units (in blue).
Everything in Orange, is wood that I need to get and attach.

My questions here are:

1. As the box units are MDF, is Pine an okay choice of wood for the shelf across the top/between the 2 MDF boxes? i.e. can I attach pine to MDF with no problems? ( I chose pine because the desk is pine, and I read that MDF may start to bend/sag)

2. What thickness is best for the Pine shelves? would they be best if they matched the thickness of the MDF (18mm), or would thinner be okay?

3. How would one go about securing the top shelf, across the two box units? Bearing in mind I am not good with making joints. I am thinking of using lots of wood glue beneath the shelves/on top of the box units, and maybe combining this with screws (although I read that Screws arent great in MDF). Would prefer not to use glue, as I would like the option to remove the top shelf in future without too much damage to the Box units, but if I have to I have to!

For the smaller shelf in the middle, I'm thinking of just using L shaped brackets or something, (although again that requires screwing into MDF..?)

So... in summary .. with sticking MDF to planks of pine, are there any problems and what sort of connections would you recommend?

Any advice here is REALLY appreciated ... thanks in advance for any replies!!!

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It may be worth a look down at your local DIY store, for either lengths of sanded pine or ready made MDF may be surprised at the cost of 18mm sanded pine boards! Have a look at what Wickes or Homebase have to offer.
For your small horizontal shelf, put screws in from the sides of your two 'box' cabinets - screws will hold in MDF so long as they are deep enough. Obviously screwing into the ends of the shelf means that depth isn't a problem.
To secure the top shelf, consider putting screws downwards (you'll only need a few) into the ends of the 'box' cabinets. You can buy plastic caps that cover the heads reasonably tidily.
For shelves, don't use thinner material than 18mm, and keep all thicknesses the same if you can.
Your 4x2 blocks of pine will look a little crude unless the end grain is well sanded - are they necessary?
John :)
Thanks, that's answered most of my questions, thank you! I found a local timber place that said they will cut me a sheet of Pine to size, for just a few pounds, and "plain" the edges to make it look presentable, (I didnt know if the 2x4 ends would look good planed...)

Would you recommend MDF or pine for this? (I am looking for long lasting stability), also depending on how the pine looks, i may varnish it to match the table, or paint it black (to match the box cabinets)... would this decision effect whether I should use MDF or Pine? (or something else?)

As for the 2x4, I am building this desk for audio gear, and as there will be equipment sitting on the desk in front of the box units, I needed a space for the wires to pass from the back of the equipment to behind the table. So I figured the only good way would be to raise the box units. Can you think of any better ideas... might it look better if I just use small strips of 1x1" wood or something?

Thanks again for your time!
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On 2x4" pine, its probably not the best idea to see the end grain - rather the planed edge, I makes for an easier finish. I do think that 2x4 is a wee bit on the heavy side, material wise - thinner stuff would look better but there again it may not provide enough space to pass plugs etc through the gap.
Anyway - a natural pine timber may warp with time - MDF won't so long as its dry. Pine boards are several pieces stuck together which minimises warping.
So - MDF takes an excellent paint finish if the correct primer is used, and time is taken rubbing it down. Spray paints adhere well and look professional.
Unlike pine, MDF doesn't take varnish so I'll leave the final decision to you!
PVA wood glue will help on any areas where screws aren't possible. You can also wipe any excess away.
Good luck with your project! Just for info, the drawing style you have used is a form of 'oblique' projection - much loved by old school duffers like me :p
John :)
Not sure why the strange design, lifting it on pieces of timber looks strange and just allow pens and other small items to dissapear off you desk.
I have something similar in oak ply, I would throw the boxes and just make up one long box with verticals all in pine , if thats your choice of timber.
just added a quick pic of mine to explain, excuse the mess.
Thanks again for all the advice! Are pine boards a seperate thing to natural pine timber? Would pine boards be the strongest of the three? And John - I bet you're not so used to the funky colours and dodgy angles!

Foxhole - the box units have to stay because they are specially built for 19" rack equipment, so they will be full from top to bottom with equipment. anything sitting in front of it, i.e. a keyboard, will have wires coming out the back and I needed a solution for passing those to the back of the desk.

Heres an example from Google images of someone else's DIY desk, acommodating for the 19" racks (as you'll see, mine is a VERY basic design...)

I see any reason why you cannot make the shelf 19" to accommodate the rack?
I am wireless so don't need cable access, though a single grommet hole thru the desk would look neater.
If you look carefully at pre sanded pine boards, you'll see they are actually formed from several bits glued together, then heavily machine sanded. This has the advantage that it minimises warping if prepared in this way.
Planks of pine - i.e flooring etc - are one solid piece that will warp readily and it needs to be chosen and secured immediately.
Enjoy your project!
John :)
Thanks for the great advice here! I'm gonna go to the timber yard, and have a look at some MDF and pine boards etc, also do a quick price comparison. Once I have my bits I may end up back on here asking for paint or screwing tips, if that's ok :)

Foxhole - I already have the 2 ready made 19" units, (which include metal rackmounting strips for screwing into), and I already have the desk, so all my task is, is to combine these things together with shelves etc. I'm not woodwork inclined as mentioned, so making 19" racks with solid corner joints, when I have bought the exact same thing and can save a lot of time, doesn't make much sense...

.. saying that I'm reconsidering the bits of wood and gap at the bottom too, and going through some design changes in my head..

Thanks again for all the help!

(I'd also like to say its a breath of fresh air to be here - I am also part of an audio forum, where it seems that because everyone is in a similar boat, of trying to be involved in the Audio industry, that decent information is very rarely shared, arguements start quickly, and actually people are really reluctant to be helpful, almost like it is a threat to them if they are! My point is it feels great to come to a forum where you can get straight, honest and friendly information without being patronised or condescended to. Thanks!!!)

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