Suggestions on material for desktop

Our project of installing new lighting and repainting rooms has led to the need to completely empty out my home office - which means I decided to take the opportunity to rebuilt the layout and update the now 30 year old furniture.

The room is about 9 ft x 9.5 feet.

My plan is an 8 foot desktop along one wall; most likely a drawer cabinet (Ikea) on one wall perpendicular to the desk for some storage drawers and printers on top, and the opposite wall with an Ikea Kallax unit to provide bookshelves and additional storage / filing.

I am trying to decide on material / sourcing for the desktop, which will be 8 feet long and 30” deep (flexible on that, but would like at least 28” to allow depth for working in front of the dual Apple Studio displays that I use).

I think the most viable choices come down to:

  1. Ikea desktop. These are reasonably priced; seem popular on the Internet blogs. I am generally not excited about wood veneer products, but wonder if the internal corrugated cardboard construction is actually more sturdy than intuition would imply due to the strength of corrugated cardboard.

  2. Butcher block. Much more expensive in this size, heavy (more on support below), and I wonder if this is the best material given the potential for warping over time.

  3. Bamboo. This would actually be my material of choice, but I have yet found a source for a desktop in this size at a reasonable price.

I am willing to spend some money on this, but not break the bank money.

In terms of support for the desktop and contents, I want to overbuild to some extent given that it will support two Apple Studio displays (and a Mac Studio, but that hardly weighs anything!), possible my second printer, and I might at some point put a Kallax unit on one end for additional bookshelving / storage space.

My learning at present is to build a frame using metal piping, 1 1/4”, probably with SteelTek components which I have used to building backyard railings which have proven quite sturdy. In addition to a leg at each corner, I will put two additional along the back of the desk to help prevent sagging. This should be able to more than meet the support requirements.

I was also thinking of building a support for a shelf about 8 or.10 inches deep about 8 inches below the desktop in the back, where I can put various networking hardware devices such as eero unit, switch, Ring alarm hub, and Ooma telephone hub, and my Synology server. However, I don’t know if putting wireless devices (eg the Ring hub and eero) on that shelf might not be a mistake as the surrounding metal might degrade wireless connectivity. The Synology and the Ooma don’t matter as they will be connected via Ethernet.

Would appreciate thoughts on desktop material (and if you have a vendor to recommend that would be great) and the idea of the under-desk shelf (I could build it and then use it to store something else as well as to run cables, so not a total loss if I build it and don’t use it for that purpose.


This is an excellent idea.

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What is your location?

I’ve had the Ikea tops. Those cardboard Ikea tops are serviceable until you have to do something like clamp a monitor arm to them. They’re not designed to hold clamps, they’re not designed to have any legs attached other than the legs they come with (can’t screw in anywhere else on the underside - just the very corners), and they’re not designed to bear weight. If none of that is a problem, then go for it.

That said, your local home improvement store likely has custom-cut kitchen countertops, with a ton of material options, edge finishings, etc. I realize Ikea is cheaper, but well-finished laminate can last decades. My dad is still using the laminate countertop (on top of two filing cabinets) that he bought probably 40 years ago.

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I have the 48x30 bamboo desktop on my Jarvis and like it. I’d prefer if it was a bit thicker but it’s not a dealbreaker. I have noticed that it’s faded/bleached with sun exposure over nearly 4 years (I have a keyboard mat on part of it, the area under is darker).

I wish I’d gotten the 60" but at the time I bought, my office didn’t seem quite large enough for it. 30" is the minimum depth IMHO, if you can go a little deeper (32-34 inches), give that a go.

I was also thinking of building a support for a shelf about 8 or.10 inches deep about 8 inches below the desktop in the back

I love this idea. Make sure you have a way to secure the items on that shelf to it as well. I have a paid of USB-C docks screwed to the underside of my desktop (work-issued PCs). Just make sure you have enough space between the shelf and the desktop for proper ventilation of that equipment. And put the Synology on rubber isolation pads to cut down on vibration & noise.

Another thing to consider is space for power bricks. I don’t have any good answers here yet. Maybe mount a power strip under each end of the desk?

I also recommend mounting your display(s) on VESA arms. Since you’re building the desk yourself, see if you can find a way to mount those arms to/through the desktop instead of clamping to the side. The amount of real estate you get back on the desktop is incredible and a big help if you can’t swing a 32-34 inch deep desk.

Sadly Ikea doesn’t make it anymore but both my wife and I have Ikea Galant modular desks. Now they have the Bekant which isn’t as flexible. It’s a fiberboard top with a veneer laminate. But there is a metal underframe for strength and stability as well as heavy metal legs. Frankly it’s as good as or better than most of the stuff I ended up with at work over the years.

In my opinion, the IKEA tops are terrible. No structural integrity.

I’d also second a depth of 30”. As others have said, finding something like what you’re looking for is very easy at Home Depot and the like. IKEA would work, but only if you’re ok with buying their wood countertops (which are actually decent).

Look to see if there’s a nice reclaimed wood store near you. You can often find environmentally friendlier wood options at places like that that have aged beautifully (our TV stand is made from reclaimed oak, and it’s gorgeous).

There are some calculators online you can use to calculate the maximum weight your desk can support based on the wood type and the support system you build for it. Also very helpful.

Finally, bamboo is a fine wood choice and it’s what I have on my Jarvis too, but I understand it’s less sustainable than the marketing would have you believe (reclaimed wood is probably a better option). Anything you buy at Home Depot will also be less wobbly. Bamboo’s killer flaw, in my opinion, is how wobbly everything is on it.

Thank you to all who have responded thus far!

@jec0047 US/CT. Why?

@webwalrus Great info about the Ikea tops. Since I will definitely be using at least one clamp on monitor arm and building the support for the table, that seems to take the Ikea tops out of the running. I might check out the local kitchen supply stores for options; great idea.

@Alevyinroc My current desk is 34” deep and I think I it’s a bit too deep, which is why I was thinking 30”.

I was actually not planning to tie things down on the shelf. They aren’t things that will be manipulated once positions, so I was thinking the shelf would be sufficient. What are you thinking? Spacing for ventilation is a good point, and I might not put the Synology there due to noise (even with isolation pads, there is still the noise from the hard drives) and the amount of heat it gives off. I could use pegboard instead of a solid piece of wood and zip tie things to the pegboard….

Definitely have one monitor on a VESA arm already. Unfortunately, one Studio Display is on the fixed height stand so I’m stuck with that. I put that one directly in front of me and the one on the monitor arm is to the side. That has been working for me.

@snelly Thank for another point to steer me away from IKEA. I wondered about bamboo. All the websites go on about how sustainable it is! Helpful to know about it being wobbly, by which I assume you mean that it flexes under load. If that is the case, it’s not really suitable for an 8 foot span. Even though I will have extra support on the back, short of building a brace along the front, it will still be too flexible. I think butcher block (no one has yet commented on that as a choice) or perhaps a laminate would be better choices.

These two things brought up another idea for me - do you have something like the Habitat For Humanity ReStore near you?

That place accumulates donated items that are in the “home improvement” category. Sometimes they’ll have countertops and other misc. things like that that have been used, for a pretty decent price. Obviously selection is limited, but if you’re a little “handy” it might work for you.

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I also think the other reason nobody has commented on “butcher block” is because it doesn’t imply any sort of specific wood. Generally, it’s quite functional, but it’s probably not going to be a special piece of wood. That’s great if you just want a slab for a desk! And maybe not great if you want a special piece of wood.

I love good wood, but I’m also a guitar snob who admires maple flames. I can’t help it. You have to decide your priorities, though :smiling_face:

US/CT. Why?

I have occasionally found great desktop materials (including bamboo), reasonably priced, at such places as HFH’s REstores and building salvage outlets. HFH, of course, wouldn’t be a thing outside the U.S.

I built a desk in our motorhome using stock base cabinets and a butcher block top. Stained them to match the existing cabinetry. It’s been all over the country from coastal Florida to southwest deserts to Canadian Maritimes and still perfectly square and flat. It was a slab I picked up at Lowe’s and cut to fit.

For this forum, I am a hard no for IKEA’s particle/fibre board desktops, for two reasons:

  1. Monitor mounts/arms

There are warnings about this littered all over the Internet. Ikea particleboard does not have the structural integrity to support a monitor arm, especially if you have a heavy monitor. I decided to ignore this - what do random people on the internet know, right :joy: I’m just over a year in with my Ergotron arm supporting a widescreen monitor, and the point around the clamp is starting to buckle - my arm now has a 1cm lean in it like the Tower of Pisa. I have no-one to blame but myself. It would’ve been cheaper to just buy a more expensive solid wood/laminate desk. (I will hopefully sort out a new desk before something catastrophic happens.)

  1. Easy to damage

Two weeks ago I dropped my MBP from a small height and it landed corner first on the desk (I caught it). The MBP is fine - not the first time I’ve dropped one - but it took a chip out of the desktop. It’s a stupid, careless accident, but even so I personally think a desk should be able to withstand some knocks like this. What if I’d dropped something actually heavy on it! I’ve never had a desk that damages so easily, and I’m not impressed.

I’ve built quite a few desk/table/counter tops and although I’d say epoxy with matte scratch-resistant topcoat is very resilient for heavy use areas, my favorite so far has been my old custom standing desk workspace skinned with cork tiles. Still resilient, but much warmer and more comfortable.

This is faux marble epoxy with the matte finish in our church. I can’t find a photo with all the gear (including the Mac Studio) installed and cleaned up.

This is just a 2x4 frame with plywood top, skinned with cork floor tile.

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The cork looks really nice. Can you put a piece of paper on it and write on it without it scoring or the pen/pencil punching through? Does it resist staining and is it easy to clean?

Also, what is the item that looks a bit like a Mac Mini with a bare hard drive standing up in it?

Looks like a disk toaster | TechCrunch

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@webwalrus I have not located an H4H store near me, but will keep looking.

@snelly Good point. I am not sure I really need a “special” piece of wood, just something sturdy and the size I am looking for.

@glenthompson Very nice butcher block surface and cabinetry! I am someone more partial to unstained wood, and will likely just consider a polyurethane coat.

@Pupsino Thank you. Ikea is out.

@Drewski Very nice construction. I second the question: what do you use for your cork covering, and can you use it for writing? Otherwise, I suppose a deskmat could be put on top for that purpose.

The faux marble epoxy surface is also quite nice. I imaging a kitchen supply store would be the place to source that?

One of my coworker’s father is a carpenter who can construct a custom butcher block surface for me (maple). I am waiting to see what the cost will be. If reasonable, I will likely go with that.

Another question: I am going to use steel pipe for the supports. I am leaning towards 1 1/4" pipe to “overbuild” to make sure there is adequate support, but wondered if the 3/4" would be sufficient? The latter is of course cheaper and lighter…

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Yes and yes. Look up cork floor tile. I picked up a few boxes cheap at one of those stores that sells leftovers / overpurchases from new construction, but you can find it all over. This is not underlayment, or bulletin board cork. I sold that house, and miss that desk!

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Cork is plenty tough for writing or light mechanical work. It’s tile - made for floors!

And forget that kitchen supply store. You gotta DIY!
Here’s the whole story of that particular piece:
30 square foot Epoxy tabletop project

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