DIY Pallet Desks [2023]

Things have been crazy busy around here – hence the pause in posting. Hopefully things will settle down soon. Today I’m sharing one of the first projects Brad and I did together when we moved into our little home – our matching desks.

Our Previous Project: DIY Pallet Spice Rack

When we first moved in we were using one of those giant fold out tables as desk space in our craft/science/guest room. The table took up almost all of the room and I ended up just throwing things on it that I didn’t want to put away instead of crafting/science-ing/guesting. Needless to say, it just wasn’t working out. Sorry table, but you just had to go.

What to put in its place? We decided to try our hand at this whole pallet phenomena and build two matching desks. It was a success! We spent about $4 and it has completely transformed the space. We actually enjoy spending time at our desks instead of just overloading them with stuff.

This tutorial is long and picture heavy. It might seem a little complicated, but trust me, it is super easy once you get under way.

What do you need to build a pallet desk?

  • Pallet wood
  • Sand paper
  • Power drill
  • Screws
  • Saw

The first thing we did is take our giant pile of pallets and wash them down. It is always a good idea to  scrub pallet wood down with soapy water. Make sure your pallets are stamped with a logo that features HT. This means they were heat treated and safer for your home. Never use pallet wood that doesn’t have a logo or that has been chemically treated. I would never recommend using pallet wood for children’s objects or on a surface that will ultimately hold food. Capeesh? 

Next, you’ll want to start breaking the pallets down. This can be annoying but just think, two desks for four dollars? Totally worth the effort. 

We ended up just using a hacksaw to cut through some of the old nails and screws holding the boards together. You can also pry them apart with a crow bar or your bare hands, if you’re into that kind of thing. 

Once you have all your boards apart and have thrown out the cracked and ugly rejects, sand them all down. You can fix any cracks with wood glue. Sand, sand, and then sand again. Then, when you think you’re done sanding – do it again. It will make them so much nicer in the long run. A power sander makes this step a breeze.

Now it’s time to start assembling. Hooray!

We used the thinner boards for the top and trimmed them down to 40 inches wide. We wanted the desks to be 24 inches deep. Each desk has about 7 planks on top. Just move them around to find the way everything fits tightest. It’s like a puzzle.

Look at the diagram above to see what I’m rambling about. From the bottom view (right side) you can see that there are three 2x4s (the heaviest boards from the pallet) supporting the top. Make sure they are standing up with the 4 in. side providing height and the 2 in. side providing width. Your thin boards are on top of these and you can see from the diagram (left side) that you will be drilling down each plank into the 2×4. Make sense?

You’ll want to try to square all your edges the best you can, but you can always trim the edges later.

Below is the finished view from the bottom.

Now we’re going to turn the whole thing over and build a shelf. I don’t need a shelf 24 in. deep or to be sealed because I’m just putting some small storage buckets in them so I’ve just used 3 of the thinner boards for this shelf.

You will just place them on top of the 2x4s and drill down.

Now on to the legs! I don’t have pictures of this because I forgot in my flury to finish these things up.

Cut four of the boards to your height and attach one to each corner of the desk, drilling the top of the board into the 2x4s on the far left and right sides. Attach one of the thinner boards cut to your desk’s width about a third of the way down from the back legs to act as a crossbeam. Lastly, attach a 2×4 (blue box in diagram) to the left legs and the right legs from added support.

That’s it, new desks for pennies.

Depending on your wood, these desks will not be perfectly even or fit completely tight but I’ve had no problem working on them and Brad’s been able to draft on them as well.

Now we need some cool chairs and more storage!

Update 7/9/13: We added 3 coats of polyurethane to each desk, sanding in between layers. The color is slightly yellowed but the texture is much smoother. When we spill liquids it just beads up on the surface and is easy to clean off. New pictures soon!