How to Build a Desk with Hutch Shelves
Sometimes store-bought desks just don't have what you're looking for. Fix your storage problems with a DIY hutch desk.
All your supplies will be within easy reach with this handy and handsome desk organizer. It provides 3 feet of various-size cubbyholes to hold papers, envelopes, and other supplies. You can make yours longer or shorter to fit your desk. Eliminate the drawer, if you like, or make more drawers. Follow along with our step-by-step instructions for a hassle-free installation.
Material and Finishing
The 3/4-inch-thick parts of the organizer are made of preprimed, finger-jointed pine. This material is as easy to work with as solid pine, but it has less tendency to cup because it is made of multiple pieces that interrupt the grain pattern. There are no knots to bleed through the paint, and the preprimed surface allows you to paint without priming. For a different look, you can use knotty pine or hardwood, such as oak, with a clear finish.
What You Need
- Tape measure
- Framing square
- Combination square
- Nail set
- Four bar clamps
- Table saw or circular saw with rip guide and crosscutting jig
- Router with 3/8-inch piloted rabbeting bit
- Dado set for the table saw or 1/2-inch straight bit for the router
- Hand miter box or power miter saw
Exploded View and Materials Needed
Painting pine is difficult because the knots are likely to bleed through paint and make a stain — sometimes even after a coat of shellac-base stain-stopping primer. Knot-free clear pine is becoming more expensive.
Finger-jointed pine stock — short clear sections of pine joined end-to-end with finger joints — provides a solution to this problem. Because the product is usually painted, it's often sold preprimed.
Building with Oak
Perhaps you want your organizer to match that nice oak desk. You can easily find 1/2-inch-thick and 3/4-inch-thick oak boards as well as oak quarter-round at home centers and lumberyards. Construction is the same, but you'll need to predrill 1/8-inch holes so you don't bend the finishing nails when you drive them into the hard oak. Sand the whole project with 80-grit and then 150-grit sandpaper before applying a clear finish.
Cutting the Parts
Step 1: Make Rip Cuts
Use a table saw or a circular saw with a rip guide to rip a 10-foot 1x10 to 9 inches wide for the top and bottom (A) and the sides (B), an 8-foot 1x10 to 8-3/4 inches wide for the two long dividers (C) and the shelves (D and E). Rip 1/2x6-inch stock 3 feet long to 5-1/4 inches wide for the short dividers (F).
Step 2: Cut to Lengths
Use a crosscutting jig with a circular saw to cut the top and bottom pieces (A), the sides (B), the two long dividers (C), the shelves (D and E), and the short dividers to the lengths listed in the Materials Needed chart.
Step 3: Make Extra Large Cut
Use the table saw rip fence to cut a strip 17-1/4 inches wide from a sheet of 1/4-inch lauan plywood. Have a helper support the long end of the plywood as you move it through the saw. If you don't have a table saw, make the cut with a circular saw and straightedge jig.
Step 4: Cut Back Piece
Cut a piece 33-3/4 inches long from the 17-1/4-inch-wide plywood to make the back (G). Make the cut with a circular saw guided by a straightedge jig.
Step 5: Lay Out Dadoes and Dividers
As the drawing shows, the short dividers fit into two 1/2-inch-wide, 1/4-inch-deep dadoes in the bottom of the top piece. Use a framing square to lay out these dadoes as shown. Then place the top and bottom side by side, ends flush, and lay out positions of the long dividers (C).
Assembling the Organizer
Step 1: Cut Dadoes
The four dadoes in the bottom of the top piece are 1/2 inch wide and 1/4 inch deep. Cut them with a dado set on the table saw or with a router guided by a router straightedge guide.
Step 2: Attach All Sides
Apply glue to the top edges of the sides. Place the top on the sides, and secure with 4d finishing nails. Do the same to attach the bottom to the sides. Use a framing square to make sure the box is square before the glue dries.
Step 3: Rabbet All Sides
Set a 3/8-inch piloted rabbeting bit in the router to cut 1/4 inch deep. Before rabbeting all four sides to receive the back, clamp a piece of 2x4 flush with the back to provide more support for the router base. Square the rabbet corners with a chisel.
Step 4: Measure Shelves
Put the long dividers side by side, with their ends flush. Use a framing square to lay out the position of the middle shelf (E). Flip the dividers over and lay out the positions of the side shelves (D). Then use the dividers to transfer the side shelf positions to the sidepieces (B).
Step 5: Position Dividers
Apply glue on the ends of the long dividers, position them in the box flush with the front, and check for square before securing with 4d nails through the top and bottom. Glue and nail the short dividers into the dadoes, flush with the front.
Step 6: Attach Shelf
Use glue and 4d nails to attach one of the shelves (D) to the short dividers. Use a combination square to hold the dividers square to the shelf while you nail. Then nail through the sides and long dividers into the end of the shelf. Install the opposite shelf the same way.
Step 7: Assemble Other Shelves
Glue and nail the middle shelf (E) in place between the long dividers. Then glue and nail the lower side shelves (D) between the sides and long dividers. The assembly template will make it easier to align the lower side shelves.
Step 8: Attach Back
Put the back in place with its good side temporarily facing out. Scribe the positions of the shelves and dividers on the inside. Remove the back and apply glue on the rabbets, shelves, and dividers. Place the back in position with the lines showing the shelf locations visible, and then secure it with 1-inch brads using the lines as a guide.
Assembly Template: A Spacer Speeds the Work
Because all the side shelves (D) are spaced 5 inches apart, you can assemble them more quickly and accurately by ripping a 9-inch-long piece of scrap to 5 inches wide. Put this assembly template against opposing walls, then put a shelf in place against the template.
Adding the Trim
Step 1: Make Miter Cuts
Make stock for the top trim pieces (H and I) by ripping 3/4-inch-thick solid pine to 1 inch wide. Cut one piece at least 36-1/2 inches long with a 45-degree miter on one end and two pieces at least 10-1/4 inches long with a 45-degree miter on one end.
Step 2: Mark and Cut Top Trim
Place the long piece of trim stock in place at the top of the organizer with the mitered end aligned with the corner. Mark the other end of the trim piece and use a square to extend the mark at 45 degrees over the top of the piece. Cut the miter.
Step 3: Begin Installing Trim
Install the front trim piece with glue and 4d nails. Put the mitered end of one of the short pieces in place on one side and mark for a cut flush with the back. Do the same with the piece on the other side. Cut and install the pieces.
Step 4: Install Bottom Trim
The bottom trim pieces (J and K) are made of 3/4-inch quarter-round molding. Mark, cut, and install it the same way as the top molding. Wipe off any excess glue with a sponge before it dries.
Step 5: Smooth Nail Holes
Set all the nails and fill the holes with wood putty. When the putty dries, use 80-grit sandpaper to smooth and slightly round all the edges. Prime the bare cut edges. Don't paint inside any spaces where you will add a drawer.
Building the Drawer
Step 1: Make Cuts
Rip 32 inches of 1/2-inch-thick pine to 6-5/8 inches wide. Cut one piece to 7-5/8 inches to make the drawer front (L), two pieces to 8-1/2 inches for the sides (M), and one piece to 6-5/8 inches for the back (N). Rip the back down to 6-1/8 inches.
Step 2: Cut Dado
Set your table saw blade height to 1/4 inch. Set the fence 1/4 inch from the blade and cut a groove along the bottom inside edges of the front and sides. Run the ends of the drawer fronts against the fence to cut a dado from top to bottom.
Step 3: Thicken Dado
Reset the fence so the outside of the blade is 1/2 inch from the fence. Run the pieces through again to widen the grooves and dadoes to 1/4 inch.
Step 4: Cut Rabbet
Lay out a line on the top edge of each sidepiece 1/4 inch from the front end. Put a sidepiece against the miter gauge, align the blade to the line, and cut a groove. Move the piece and make another pass to remove the rest of the waste and create a 1/4-inch rabbet 1/4 inch deep.
Step 5: Assemble Sides
Apply glue to the ends of the back and attach it between the sides with four 4d finishing nails into each side. Apply glue in the dadoes in the drawer-front ends and on the rabbets in the sides. Assemble these joints with clamps. Check for square.
Step 6: Slide in Front Surface
Cut 1/4-inch plywood to 7-1/16 inches by 8-7/16 inches. Slide it into the grooves in the sides and front and nail it to the bottom with four 1-inch brads. It will be slightly loose to ease assembly and allow for wood movement. Don't use glue.
Step 7: Drill Hole
Add a knob to the front or drill a 1-inch diameter finger hole as shown. Sand all the edges of the shelf and the finger hole.
Tip: Set Blade Height with a Combination Square
To set the height of your table saw blade, first set your combination square to the height you need — in this case 1/4 inch. Then crouch down so the saw table is at eye level and raise the blade until the topmost tooth touches the body of the square. Make a test cut and use the square to check the groove depth.