Parson Tower Desk

Submitted by Ana White on Sun, 10/17/2010 - 19:35
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This is the desk that this very blog was built on. I love it because of the large top surface, ample storage, but clean simple modern design that begs to stay clutter free. You can also use this desk as a console table.

Well, I got a new desk.

There was nothing wrong with my previous desk. It just that I'm spending more and more time at my desk, and need something bigger.  That, and I'll admit it, I don't need much of an excuse to build something  :)

What do you think?  Not bad for scraps, eh?

Oh, and the finish is scraps too!  I used leftover (from Grace's Bookshelves) Antique White by Valspar in flat, two coats, brushed on.  I wanted the wood grain to show through slightly.  Then I painted on two coats of satin polyurethane.  It's now got a sheen but it's not goopy or glossy and you can see hints of wood grain.  My favorite finish.  Also, the Antique White is such a softer more pleasant color than traditional white.

And here is one unstaged.  I'm always amazed at how beautiful a few 2x2s (well, more than a few for this desk) and some MDF can be.  And strong, functional and sturdy.  I put this one together completely with pocket holes (I use a Kreg Jig).  It's worth the investment.  You will make your investment back if you build just this desk.

Another bonus of building something yourself is the freedom to modify it to suit your needs.  You can't tell, but my desk is actually 2" shorter than the plan calls for because I'm short, and wanted my keyboard to be at the exact height of the armrests on my chair.  All I had to do was take two inches off the legs and adjust the middle shelf down an inch.

Now it's your turn.  Want to make my desk yours?

Dimensions are shown above. Resist making the desk much narrower, or there won’t be room for your knees. As discussed earlier, you can shorten the desk quite easily be taking length from the legs and adjusting the middle shelf accordingly.


Shopping List

1 Sheet of 3/4″ MDF or Plywood cut into 15 1/2″ widths, 8′ long (referred to as 1x16s)
7 2×2 boards, 8′ long
2″ pocket hole screws
1 1/4″ pocket hole screws

Common Materials
120 grit sandpaper
wood conditioner
paint brush
Cut List

1 – 1×16 @ 57″ (desk top)
4 – 1×16 @ 15″ (Shelves)
10 – 2×2 @ 15 1/2″ (Trim perpendicular to desktop)
8 – 2×2 @ 15″ (Trim parallel to desktop)
8 – 2×2 @ 28 1/2″ (Legs)
2 – 2×2 @ 60″ (Desktop Side Trim)

Tape Measure
Speed Square
Safety Glasses
Kreg Jig
Circular Saw
Power Sander
Drill Bit Set
General Instructions

Pocket Holes

Go through the entire set of instructions and drill all pocket holes first. Basically, you need pocket holes on both ends of all the 15″ and 15 1/2″ 2x2s, one pocket hole on the tops of each leg, and then pocket holes on all sides of the shelves and desktop. Remember to set your jig for 1 1/2″ stock for 2x2s and 3/4″ stock for the MDF.


Step 1

Shelf Trim

With the tops flush, glue and screw the shelves to the trim as shown above. Use 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws. Drill pocket holes set for 3/4″ stock. Make sure you have already drilled one pocket hole in each end of all of the 2×2 trim pieces. The pocket holes in the 2x2s need to be for 1 1/2″ thick stock.

Build four of these.

Step 2

Mark legs for the center shelf. Then glue and screw through the pocket holes into the legs. Remember – the tops of the legs should each have a single pocket hole to attach the top. If you don’t have a right angle drill, resist the urge to place the pocket hole on the inside where it won’t be seen – you also won’t be able to get your drill in there. Build two of these.

Step 3


The tabletop is super simple. Begin by attaching the end trim to the top. Then attach the front and back trim (the long ones) to the top and the side trim. Done. Keep the bottom edges flush.

Step 4


I choose to leave the glue off to make for moving the desk easy. Simply lay the desktop on top of the tower and screw through the pocket holes into the underside of the desktop. Remember, the towers are not perfect squares, so you may need to rotate the towers to get the perfect fit.

Good luck! And PS – if you are intimidated by this project, don’t be. My desk was done in a few hours Can’t wait to see yours!


Ana White (not verified)

Mon, 10/18/2010 - 06:45

Hi Andjarnic, I sand with 120 grit sandpaper and prime with Kilz too. Then just brush on paint. I have personally had great experience with MDF.

The best way to reinforce MDF is with face frame (trim on the front edge) and plywood on the back, or building a box under the MDF. Check out the Sagulator online for a calculator for saggage. I like to use MDF on lower use painted projects. It works well for sides of bookcases, shelves, and would be great in a closet. Consider this - most closet organizers are made of particle board! And most furniture these days is made of MDF - even the spendy stuff!

Ana White (not verified)

Mon, 10/18/2010 - 06:47

Faith, it would! If you used a 1x12 instead of 1x16s, then all you would have to do is cut your perpendicular trim to 11 1/2" long instead of 15 1/2" long. Part of the "look" for this piece is the towers are square though, so you may consider making the shelves 12" x 11 1/2" squares to keep the consistency there.

Dennis (not verified)

Mon, 10/18/2010 - 07:30

Hi Ana,
I am a woodworking instructor and I am really happy to see you promoting self made furniture. I don't believe in stereotypes where furniture making is predominantly done by men. In fact, the Shaker tradition have many women furniture craftsman / woodworker.
My biggest concern is safety on power tool usage. Woodworking bookstand even shows (ex:Norm Abrahm and the American Woodworker by Scott Philips) only conveys the message to follow instruction given by the manufacturer. The problem is that the instructions do no explain safety.
I have been a woodworker for over 15 years and worked in the industry for another 12 years. I strongly encourage your sybscribers to take one class in power tool (circular saws and especially tablesaw usage at a local community college/ park-recreational class. Sawstop makes a real safe tablesaw for those who wants to get into making furniture regularly. However, even that saw will not explain tablesaw kickback prevention. Books do not explain enough. My shop is called The Wood Works Furniture Design Studio, Corona in California.

Kristen (not verified)

Mon, 10/18/2010 - 08:01

I really like that you even put the placement of the pocket holes on the plans! Fantastic idea.

Haley (not verified)

Mon, 10/18/2010 - 10:16

Hi Ana! Love the desk, but love the wall even more. I have been thinking about a similar treatment in our basement. Would you share a picture that shows how you finished the edges? Did you use trim? Thanks!