Plywood Gets Sexy.

Legen- …wait for it…

plywood strip desk 2

plywood strip desk 3


plywood strip desk 1


plywood strip desk

Or should I say, bow-chicka-bow-wow!

plywood strip desk 5

Well, guys, what do you think?  Isn’t she a beaut?  If you’ve been following me on Facebook, you know that this desk started as this:

plywood for strip desk

I had a pile of leftover plywood in my basement, a set of hairpin legs from a broken table, and a big idea in my head.  Chris wanted a desk for the music room, so I thought, why not?

Update: I finally built a room worthy of such sexiness.  To see the desk in all its Boom Boom Room glory, click here.

Here are the supplies I ended up using:

Plywood scraps — free
Hairpin legs — free
1 gallon of wood glue — $15
1 pint of Minwax white wash stain — $10
1 pint of Minwax polycrylic — $13
1 pair of 17-inch LANSA handles from IKEA — $9
Rustoleum glossy black spray paint — $6

plywood strip desk 6

But I must give credit where credit is due.  The concept for this fabulous piece of furniture was all mine, but I wouldn’t have managed to build it without some expert help and time-saving tools.  I’m talking, of course, about American Workshop.  Here’s how we went about turning a big idea into an actual desk.

plywood strip desk tutorial

Step 1: Plan.  This all started a couple of weeks ago, when I took my design into the workshop to ask, “Is this possible?”  I drew this plan:

music room plan

which later turned into this:

music room makeover

The desk I used in my Photoshop drawing is this TV console, which inspired my idea in the first place.

Homemade Modern: plywood media console

I had my doubts.  Would glued-up plywood strips be strong enough to make into furniture?  If so, was it possible to get the “infinity” look I wanted on the corners?  Jim assured me it was, and helped me solidify my plan.  I came back a few days later with my final measurements, and got down to business.

Step 2:  Cut.  I started by cutting all my scraps into 1-inch-wide strips.  I figured that once everything was glued together and sanded smooth, I’d still have 3/4-inch of material left.

plywood strips for desk

Technically, I probably could have done this part at home.  I do have a table saw, but I don’t have an actual table around it, which makes it awkward to cut bigger panels.  At the workshop, it only took me about an hour to cut all those strips.  At home, it probably would have taken more like seventeen.

Step 3:  Lay it out.  This was putzy.  Being the obsessive-compulsive perfectionist that I am, I wanted each row to be made up of the same type of plywood, so that the stripes would match all the way across.  Then I cut each joint at a 45-degree angle, to make the joints tight and minimize interruptions in the pattern.

cutting plywood strips for desk

I kept going until I had just over 6 feet x 3 feet of material, when all compressed together.

Step 4:  Glue and clamp.  This went super fast.  It was a 2-person job.  Actually 3, because there was one good Samaritan standing by with clamps at the ready.  (I’m sorry, good Samaritan, I don’t know who you are, but thanks for your help!)  It probably looked quite chaotic.  Our antics even drew spectators.

Jim used a 3-inch paint roller and a tray full of glue to roll the glue on, while I brought all the pieces over to the gluing table and kept them in order, and helped slap the pieces into place after they were rolled with glue.  Once every single piece was in place, we clamped.

clamping plywood for desk

The whole process took about 15 minutes.  I could not have done this at home.  I don’t have a big enough work bench, I don’t have 4-6 hands, and I don’t have 15 (yes, 15!) 5-foot-long bar clamps (which probably cost upwards of $50 a piece).  Plus, I never get spectators at home.

I love this place.

Step 5:  Sand.  After 24 hours, I took the clamps off and went about making a desk-worthy surface out of my plywood slab.  The surface was totally uneven, since the strips were not all level with each other, and the glue had stuck to the waxed paper that we had used to protect the table underneath.

gluing up plywood furniture

Picture me in my basement with an orbital sander in each hand, a 50-pound carton of sandpaper discs, a handful of speed, and 48 hours to kill.  That’s probably what it would have taken, if I had done this as home.  And the surface would still be kind of wavy.

Luckily, American Workshop has the Timesaver — a 36-inch belt sander, which I first met during my wainscoting escapade.  It took a lot of passes, but within 30 minutes we had a smooth surface — without the aid of illegal substances.

Before the final sanding, I used wood filler to fill in all the little holes that you’ll find inside plywood.

filling in gaps in plywood furniture

Step 6:  Cut all your pieces.  Remember, I was going for an infinity look on the desk — I wanted the lines to be as uninterrupted as possible.  I figured the best way to do that was to make one single slab, and cut the individual pieces out of it.

plywood strip desk top

Most of the joints in this desk are mitered, to preserve the pattern.  When I was cutting the pieces, Steve helped me figure out where the miters needed to happen so that everything would line up correctly.  I don’t know anything about joinery, so working backwards from the final product (in my head) to the actual cutting and sizing of pieces…let’s just say, I’m glad I had help.

Step 7:  Assemble.

assembling a plywood strip desk

This was pretty straightforward, because in the process of cutting the pieces, I had finally started to understand the plan.  But it was another 2-person job — a fact that I discovered after I managed to drop one of the side pieces.  Twice.  And it broke.  Twice.  Both times elicited inappropriate language from me.  And both times, if they had occurred at home, would probably have resulted in me quitting.  But at the workshop, I had Steve to shrug his shoulders and hand me the glue.

Work of art destroyed?  No big deal.  Put some more glue on it.

Step 8:  Drawers.  I learned how to build drawer boxes with rabbets instead of butt-joints! Now there’s a sentence that only makes sense in context.

making drawers for a plywood desk

The drawers just sit on wooden slides.  Super simple design.  Underneath the desk, there are a couple of blocks of plywood that add stability, but also provide a place to attach the drawer slides.

Step 9:  Drawer fronts.  This was the hardest part of the entire desk-building process.  The drawer fronts were cut directly out of the front piece, so that the pattern would line up.  Getting them placed perfectly on the drawer boxes so that the lines looked continuous, and so that the gaps around the drawers were as small as possible, took some trial and error…and a little double-stick tape.  But in the end, it turned out just about perfect.

plywood strip desk

Step 10:  Take the desk home for finishing, and start screwing up.  Oh, did you think this was going too smoothly?  It wouldn’t be a Big Idea without at least one monkey.  I started with a good sanding and a coat of clear satin polyurethane.

finishing the plywood desk

And the poly did exactly what I expected it to: it brought out all the gorgeous details. Unfortunately, it also added waaaay more of a yellow tint than I wanted.

plywood strip desk

It wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t what I had imagined.  And I had a very specific picture in my head of what this desk was going to look like.  Perfectionist, remember?

So I sanded the whole thing down and started over.

Take Two: Minwax White Wash, and its recommended top coat, Polycrylic (instead of the regular oil-based poly I used for my first attempt).

Minwax white wash pickling

I brushed the stain on and wiped it off almost immediately; I didn’t want to end up with a white desk.  And I didn’t want to take the chance of obscuring the wood grain.

finishing a plywood strip desk

Ahh, much better.  I followed up the stain with Polycrylic.  And in between coats, I spray painted a pair of cheap IKEA handles.

spray painting IKEA handles

When it all finally came together, the end result was EXACTLY what I had imagined.

plywood strip desk 7

I hope Polycrylic protects against drool.

And…I can’t wait to make the matching shelves.


Update: If you’d like to see more gratuitous pictures of this sexy plywood desk, click here.  And if that’s still not enough to satisfy your craving, get a load of these sexy plywood shelves I made to match. 

Update #2: I went back and put an extra special finish on this desk to make it satiny-smooth.  Read about that here

P.S.  If you like stories of something made from nothing, I’m sharing this one with Mandi over on Vintage Revivals.  Hop over there to check out her first Rock What Ya Got party!

P.P.S.  I would probably make a terrible and hilarious contestant in Creating with the Stars.  But I entered anyway, and used this desk as my submission.  Hop on over to East Coast Creative to see what all the other entrants submitted.

Disclosure: This post was written in partnership with American Workshop.  They have generously allowed me to use their space for this project, but have not told me what to write.  All projects and opinions are my own.


  1. says

    Looks stunning Sarah! I love the subtle white stain. Don’t you just love the timesaver … We use the one up at forest product supply in Maplewood for our big projects.

    • Sarah says

      Hi Jean! If you’re willing to do a little legwork, you could try calling any custom cabinet/woodworking shops in your area and see if they’d be willing to give you their scraps. Free is always better! 😉


  2. Regina says

    The desk looks awesome! I was wondering where you got the hairpin legs? I’ve been contemplating making a desk with some, but not sure where to find them.

    • Sarah says

      Hi Regina! I was lucky: I had a broken table in my basement with a perfectly good set of hairpin legs on it, so I poached them. You could try hunting craigslist and thrift stores, but you can also find them here.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Sterling says

    I also jumped over here from AT, because I just had to. This desk is baller. It’s amazing. I literally said “Damn”. Out loud. Kudos on seeing a VERY ambitious idea through to completion, and keeping things out of the landfill to boot.

      • Sarah says

        Okay, not to jump into this convo uninvited, when I read the “Damn” out loud it then became in my mind DOL. (Gads better than LOL, IMO.) And Sarah, that desk. My land. I read your post yesterday, and had to come back today and just stare at it some more. It’s beyond amazing.

  4. Judith Nigh says

    I love the idea of a wood shop you can use. Is it by the hour or do you join? Thanks for sharing a great project!

    • Sarah says

      You can buy an hourly punch card, or an unlimited monthly membership. The more time you buy, the cheaper it is. You can see their rates here.


  5. Heather says

    You are clearly very talented. And yours came out so much more polished than the inspiration piece. I saw this on ApartmentTherapy and had to see the process to really believe it. I’m impressed!

    • Sarah says

      Thanks for your support! If I get into the contest, I promise all my readers that the ensuing meltdown will be both terrifying and hilarious.


  6. says

    Okay, this is really an amazing project. Really creative and it looks awesome. Love it! Saw it over at the Creating with the Stars contest and it’s a real contender! So glad I saw it over there!

  7. says

    This is incredible! Seriously. I found you via Creating With the Stars, and I just have to say, you got robbed! This projects is far and away more impressive than almost all the winning entries! Anyone can paint some Ikea curtains, but this took talent and craftsmanship. I’m a fellow builder, and I can truly appreciate your work. I’m sorry the “stars” couldn’t see what they are missing out on.

    • Sarah says

      Wow, thanks Elisha! But maybe the judges were looking for simpler projects; they may have seen this and (rightfully so) thought that I would take on WAAAAY more than could be accomplished within their one-week time frame. We may never know. They did give me a shout-out here, so it didn’t go totally unnoticed. And the good news is, without the constraints of the contest, I can take on more projects AND actually have time to blog about them! Plus, there’s always next year. 😉


  8. Marília says

    From the other side of the globe, I’ll tell you, Sarah!
    This is a piece of art! Gorgeous!

  9. says

    I love this desk! It’s so cool and creative! If you haven’t already, I’d love for you to share it at my Twirl & Take a Bow Linky Party at It’s exactly the type of projects and DIYs I love! Have a great week.

  10. moe says

    Sarah, I do not want to overstate this, but I may owe you my life. Thats right people, Sarah’s blog saves lives. I am doing my first job out of architecture school, which will be the interior of a children’s library in NJ. No one would do my design because it would cost too much, so I volunteered to build it myself pro bono, because it must be done. They wanted it to be wood, but I would not work with my grandmothers idea of a bookshelve so I decided to go with a wood known as parralam lumber manufactured only by Weyerhaeuser out in canada or something. I dont know how to attach a pic or I would. It is meant only for structural use but as it turns out is insanely beautiful. The problem is, it only comes in heavy,dense and huge sizes. Its similar to your sexy plywood idea but in reverse. Its strips of wood glued and pressed together and I was gonna slice it up the length to produce the small 1″ panels I needed. But after having my table saw go down in a blaze of glory against this monstrosity of this lumber I had to admit defeat. Problem was I had already talked the client into this style amd everything else seemed boring and expensive now. So I figured out a different way to incorporate it into the design but I still needed something for the bookshelves. And I was running dangerously close to the budget. I searched for many hours to find someone out there who might veiw wood the way I do. Thank the good lord I found your tutorial. This would keep me under budget and get me the look I had been lmaking myself and everyone else crazy about. Its not more complicated then the desk but its about 20 feet long. Hopefully I can do this without seams. Today I embark to Home depot. May the forces be with us. I will of course give you a shout out and the respect which is rightfully yours in my upcoming website
    if this works.

    • Linda Douglas says

      Hi, I’m from Canada and would love more information on the product you soeak of in your post.
      Thanks in advance
      What a awesome desk! Love everything about it!
      Oh- shelves too.

  11. Ollie says

    I like it a lot, and it was very interesting to read the process involved.

    Sorry to say I really don’t like the handles. They break-up your beautiful clean design imho. Have you thought about routing out handles, just hand-sized rectangles – it would be clean and simple then.

    Just my 2c.


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