Modular Home Office

Opt for either a scaled-back or full-service desk system.

Overall dimensions: 66" w × 24"d × 57" h

Whether for bookwork, running a small business, or conducting online research, no home should be without a fully functional office area. Made from oak plywood and solid red oak, this collection of modular components lets you pick and choose a desk system that fits your needs. Should you want the desk in the center of a room or just a dressier look, make the vanity back. If you work from a laptop, simply build two identical filing drawer base cabinets, leave out the vanity back, and add the desktop. If using a monitor, separate keyboard, tower, and printer is more your style, build both types of base cabinets, and add the pull-out keyboard shelf with its drop-down front (as shown above). If desired, add more storage with a pair of desktop boxes, shelves, and top. Any way you slice it, this versatile and stylish design will help you set up an organized, computer-friendly workspace for all your office needs.

Note: If using a computer tower and printer, compare their sizes with the cabinet and desktop storage boxes to ensure a good fit. Create openings in the tower’s cabinet for wires and ventilation.

With the stops and edge guide adjusted, plunge-rout the mortises in three incremental passes.
With the router unplugged, use a scrap of oak plywood as a gauge for setting the fence, ensuring that the outside edge of the bit and plywood are flush.

Start with the legs

1 Using 6/4 or greater stock or by face-laminating 3⁄4" stock, joint, plane, and rip enough material to 13⁄8" square for the eight legs (A). Crosscut the legs to the lengths in the Cut List.

2 Determine if you plan to make the optional vanity back shown in Figure 1, since it requires cutting additional mortises on the inside rear legs (A). Now, carefully lay out the mortises 7⁄16" in from the inside edges, where shown in Figure 2 on page 24.

3 Cut the 3⁄8"-wide mortises 13⁄16" deep. For this, I went with a U-shape shop-made jig held in a vise and a plunge router, as shown in Photo A. (Later, to accommodate the rounded mortises, I rounded over the tenons, test-fitting each one.)

4 Chuck a 1⁄4" straight bit in your router table and adjust the fence by using a scrap piece of 3⁄4" oak plywood, as shown in Photo B. This guarantees that the inside faces of the plywood panels will be flush with those of the rails and legs.

5 Referring to Figure 2 for the groove locations on the leg (A) faces, cut the 1⁄4" grooves 3⁄8" deep, as shown in Photo C. When you reach the trailing mortise, you’ll feel the bit break through. Turn off the router at this point. Notice that the mortises are 7⁄16" from the inside edges and that the grooves are 1⁄2" in from the same edges.

6 With a round-over bit, cut 1⁄8" round-overs on the edges of the legs where shown. Sand 1⁄8" chamfers on the bottoms of the legs.

Mill and shape the rails

Note: When cutting the rail tenons, pay attention to the shoulder-to-shoulder lengths of each part. Getting these right ensures a square cabinet. I cut all of the rails to the shoulder lengths, plus two inches for the tenons. Later, I'll trim the tenons to slightly under the stated tenon lengths in Figure 3, and then round their edges for the routed mortises.

1 From 5/4 stock, mill the material for the cabinet rails (B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I) to 1" thick. (If adding the vanity back, mill additional material for its rails [M, N] and divider [O].) Referring to Figure 3, rip the rail material into 21⁄2" and 3" groups, including a test piece or two. Cut the top front rail (F) to width. Note that this piece does not receive a tenon but will be screwed to the subtop. With the exception of the front top rail, crosscut the rails to precisely the shoulder-to-shoulder lengths, plus two inches for the tenons. (You want full gluing surfaces on the tenons inside the mortises.) Cut the divider (O).

2 Referring to Figure 3, label each rail and the faces that will receive grooves to avoid miscuts. Note that the side rails are mirror images of each other. If making the vanity back, also lay out the vanity back rails (M, N) and divider (O) at this time.

3 Use a mortised leg (A) to adjust the tablesaw tenoning jig for cutting the tenon cheeks on the rails (B, C, D, E, G, H, I,) and, if desired, the vanity back parts (M, N, O). To do this, place one inside mortised face of the leg against the jig. Now align the outside edge of the mortise on the adjacent face with the outside edge of the saw’s blade. Lock the jig’s fence. Remove the leg and place the inside face of a test rail against the jig. With the blade raised 1" above the table, make the outside cheek cuts on the rail, flipping it end for end after the first cut. Hold the piece against the leg to gauge the fit. If good, cut all the needed outside cheeks at this setting.

4 Retrieve the leg and reset the jig. Now make the inside cheek cuts on the test piece, as shown in Photo D and in Step 1 of the Tenon-Cutting Detail in Figure 3. Using a handsaw or bandsaw, trim the cheek waste and rough-cut a tenon to width. Slip it in a leg (A) mortise to test the fit. It should be slightly snug with the rail’s inside face flush to the leg. If good, cut the cheeks on the remaining rails.

With the tenoning jig adjusted, saw through the ends of the rails to form the tenon cheeks.

Chisel square edges of the routed knife-hinge mortise to a depth equal to the hinge-leaf thickness.

5 Adjust the jig, turn the tails 90°, and cut the tenon edges. Now with a miter gauge and standoff on the saw fence, cut the shoulder, adjusting the blade height as needed. Bevel-cut the tenons. Round the edges of the tenons to fit the rounded mortises with a chisel or sanding block.

6 Install a dado set, adjust the fence, and cut the 1⁄4" grooves 3⁄8" deep in the rail eges where shown in the Edge-Groove Detail in Figure 3. Cut grooves in the vanity back parts (M, N, O) at this time (Figure 4).

7 Adjust the fence and cut the 1⁄4" grooves 3⁄8" deep in the inside faces of the bottom rails (C, E, G, I), where shown in Figure 3.

8 With a fairing stick, lay out the curved edges in the bottom rails (C, E, G, I). Bandsaw just outside the cutlines, and scrape and sand to the lines.

9 If you opted for the cabinet with the door, lay out the knife-hinge mortise on the top front rail (F) and bottom front rail (G). (See the Knife-Hinge Detail in Figure 7.) Use the actual hinge part for this, locating the hole for the pivot pin halfway over the front edge of the rails flush at one end. Cut the mortise within the layout lines using a trim router. Clean up the edges, as shown in Photo E.

Cut the plywood parts and assemble the cabinets

1 Dry-fit the various leg (A) and rail (B, C, D, E, G, H, I) assemblies on a flat surface, and measure the opening  for the side panels (J), back panels (K), cabinet bottoms (L) and add 1⁄2". If building the vanity back, measure for the vanity panels (P) as well (see Figure 4).

Now cut the panels to size. If you need to trim the tongues further, do it at this time to achieve a slight gap between them in the grooves.

2 Use a dado set to cut the tongues to size on the panels and test-fit them in the rail and leg frames. The inside faces of the panels should be flush. With the cabinet bottoms (L), mark where the face grooves in the bottom rails (C, E, G, I) intersect the legs. Handsaw and chisel 1⁄4"-deep notches in the legs at these locations, where shown in Figure 2. Also trim off the rabbeted corners of the bottoms, leaving 1⁄4" to fit in the notches.

3 Make the panel assemblies applying glue only to the mortise-and-tenon joints. Check for square. Now install the drawer slide hardware, where shown in Figure 1.

4 If you built the parts for the optional vanity back, solicit a helper and glue and clamp them in place between the cabinets, as shown in Photo F.

Build the subtop and desktop

1 Mill enough material to 7⁄8" thick for the subtop rails (Q), stiles (R), and dividers (S). Referring to the Cut List, rip the parts to width. Cut the dividers to length, but cut the rails and stiles 1" longer than their finished lengths.

2 With a 3⁄8" cove bit in a table-mounted router, cut the cove shown in the Desktop Edge Profiles in Figure 5 on the outside edges of the rails (Q) and stiles (R). Miter-cut these parts to finished length.

3 Cut biscuit slots in the subtop parts (Q, R, S), where shown in Figure 5, and then glue and clamp them together, checking for square.

4 Center the subtop assembly (Q, R, S) on the cabinets, allowing for about a 1" overhang, and secure it to the cabinet rails with screws.

5 Cut the oak plywood desktop (T) to finished size. Then, from solid stock, mill the wide edge bandings (U, V) 1⁄32" thicker than the plywood, and cut them to width and 1" longer than the finished lengths. Chamfer the outside edges where shown in the Desktop Edge Profiles in Figure 5. Now, miter-cut the bandings to fit around the desktop, and then clamp them in place. (Using a knife, I marked the miters at the other ends of the banding and cut the pieces to length. After this, I marked and custom-cut the remaining banding to fit.)

6 Cut biscuit slots in the mating desktop parts (T, U, V). Glue and clamp the assembly together. Later, scrape and sand the parts flush. Center the assembly on the subtop and screw it in place.

Build the drawers and optional keyboard shelf

Note: The drawer hardware in the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide takes up 1" of space between the cabinet sides. Check to see if the remaining measurement in your cabinet equals the overall width measurements for the three drawer boxes in Figure 6. If not, adjust the drawer front, back, and bottom measurements as needed.

1 Mill enough stock to 1⁄2" thick for the drawer parts (W, X, Y, Z, AA, BB, CC, DD, EE). (I used poplar.) Cut the drawer sides and fronts to finished widths. Cut the backs to the same width as the fronts. Now cut these parts to length.

2 At the tablesaw, cut the 1⁄4" grooves 1⁄4" deep for the drawer bottoms in the drawer sides (W, Z, CC) and fronts (X, AA, DD) in two passes and matching the thickness of the drawer bottom. Make the second pass the farthest one in from the bottom edges. Cut the drawer backs (Y, BB, EE) to width as shown in Photo G.

3 With a 1⁄4" dado set, cut the dadoes in the drawer sides (W, Z, CC) and the rabbets in the drawer fronts (X, AA, DD) and backs (Y, BB, EE), as shown in the Tongue-and-Rabbet Detail in Figure 6.

4 Rout the 1⁄8" stopped slots, for the aluminum bar file holders, in the large drawer’s front (DD) and back (EE) at the router table.

5 Dry-fit the drawer boxes together, and measure for the drawer bottoms (FF). Cut the drawer bottoms to final size, and then glue and clamp the drawer boxes together, checking for square.

6 Starting at the bottom, fit each drawer box in the cabinet, and determine the location for the slide hardware on the box sides. Attach the hardware and test the action.

After cutting the final groove in the sides and front of each box, raise the blade and trim the drawer back for an exact final width.

After cutting the final groove in the sides and front of each box, raise the blade and trim the drawer back for an exact final width.

7 Working to achieve a 1⁄16" clearance around each drawer front, cut two pieces for the medium and large drawer fronts (HH, II), referencing the Cut List and guiding off the drawer cabinet opening. Cut the small drawer front (GG) to length, but 1⁄2" wider. Stack the pieces in the opening and shim, as shown in Photo H.

8 Cut the coves on the drawer fronts (GG, HH, II), where shown in Figure 6. Now drill the centered holes for the pulls, and transfer their locations onto the drawer boxes. Drill the screw access holes; attach the fronts.

9 For the optional keyboard shelf (JJ), cut the 3⁄4" plywood to size. Mill banding material 1⁄32" thicker than the plywood. With a 1⁄4" tongue-and-groove bit, rout a groove along the ends and front edge of the shelf. From 3⁄4" solid stock, rout a tongue along one edge. Rip the banding strip (KK) to width, and then miter-cut the edge and end pieces to fit. Glue them in place, where shown in the Optional Pull-Out Keyboard Shelf Detail in Figure 6.

Scrape and sand the banding flush with the keyboard shelf.

10 Measure the height of your keyboard, and add 1⁄4" for clearance. This dimension, less 1⁄16", should give you the needed width and clearance for the keyboard drop front (LL).

11 Cut the keyboard drop front (LL) from 7⁄8"-thick stock. Lay out and cut the mortises for the 1⁄2 × 3" table hinges on the mating pieces. Drill the pull holes. Bore the recess for the rare-earth magnet hardware 1⁄8" deeper than the steel cup for plugging later. Rout coves around the edges. Next, attach all the hardware, including the under-mount keyboard slides, adjusting for the needed clearance at the ends and top edge, using shims if necessary. Install the keyboard assembly to the subtop’s dividers (S). Locate, drill, and install the rare-earth magnet hardware in the subtop’s front rail (Q).

Add the door and cabinet shelves

1 Referring to the Cut List and door cabinet opening, cut the door rails (MM) and stiles (NN) to width and length. Cut the centered 5⁄16" groove, 1⁄2" deep, along the inside edges of the door frame parts. Locate, and plunge-rout the mortises for the haunched tenons in the stiles where shown in the Haunched-Tenon-and- Mortise Detail in Figure 7.

2 Cut the haunched tenons similarly to how you cut the cabinet rail tenons. Dry-fit the door rails (MM) and stiles (NN) together, and test-fit the frame inside the cabinet’s door opening. Adjust if needed. Measure for the door panel (OO).

3 Face-glue two oversized pieces of 1⁄4" oak plywood together–good sides out–for the door panel (OO). Weight the lamination for a complete bond. Later, trim to the final size. Now cut the tongue to size along the edges.

4 Glue-join the rails (MM) and, stiles (NN),with the panel in place. Mortise the ends of the outside stile as shown in the Knife-Hinge Detail, and install only the top hinge leaf at this time.

5 Screw the top front rail (F) to the subtop with countersunk screws, making it flush to the inside faces of the front legs (A).

6 Plane a slight bevel along the edge of the door’s opposite stile, drill the pull hole and recesses for the rare-earth magnet steel cups in the door and stile edges. (As before, I drilled these recesses 1⁄8" deeper for plugging.) Now with the uninstalled bottom knife-hinge leaf resting on the bottom front rail (G), tilt the door in place, as shown in Photo I.

7 To hide the earth-magnet catch hardware, plug the recesses as shown in Photo J.

8 Cut the cabinet shelves (PP) to size, and cut and glue on the banding (QQ).

With the door’s upper knife-hinge assembled; slip the lower door leaf in its mortise and screw it in place.

Cut and epoxy a 5⁄8"-diameter plug in the recesses to cover the magnets. Flush-trim and sand.

Create the optional desktop storage

1 If adding the desktop storage, cut the box sides (RR), tops and bottoms (SS), short shelves (TT), and long shelf (UU) from 3⁄4" oak plywood. Cut the groove in these parts where shown in Figure 8 for the tongues in the banding parts.

2 Rout the tongue on one edge of the banding stock, which should measure 1⁄32" thicker than the plywood. Cut the banding pieces (VV) to width and then to length or a hair over. Glue and clamp the pieces in place. Trim or sand the bandings flush, and drill the 1⁄4" holes for the shelf pins. To prevent the shelves from sliding off the pins, rout 5⁄16" deep recesses 1⁄2" wide and 1⁄2" long on the bottom faces of the shelves for the paddle-like shelf pins.

3 Biscuit-join the storage boxes together and check for square.

4 Following the procedures for the desktop, make the subtop from the front rail (WW), back rail (XX), stiles (YY) and dividers (ZZ), routing the edges as shown in the Top Edge Profiles in Figure 8. Follow this by making the desktop storage top (AAA) and edging it with the chamfered top banding (BBB).

5 Center the desktop storage top (AAA) on the subtop assembly, and screw the two together. Center and screw this assembly to the storage boxes by driving screws through the box tops (SS). Sand and finish any parts or surfaces of your home office that still require it.

6 For cable management and ventilation, drill holes in the bottom (L) of the door cabinet or side (J). Bore a 2" hole in the desktop (T) for a cable management grommet. Cut two 11 × 18" pieces of the Area Rug Gripper, and sandwich them between the storage boxes and desktop so they don’t slide around. Add the shelves and computer components and you’re done.

About Our Author

Jim Probst is an award-winning designer and builder who has crafted fine furniture for over 26 years at his shop in Hamlin, West Virginia. He and two fellow craftsmen produce several furniture collections that sell through dealers nationwide. For more on Jim’s furniture lines, go to

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