Built-in Art Desk

Built-in Art Desk

Use carpenter Amy Devers’ step-by-step instructions to create an art desk in a closet.

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This project is to build an art desk inside an existing closet space. The desk will have a flap on the underside that will allow the desk to be tilted up at the back.

3/4” Birch paint-grade plywood to fit closet width by depth (Piece A)
3/4” Birch paint-grade plywood – 7 inches by width of closet (Piece B)
2” by 2” Clear select pine – cut to the width of closet (Piece C)
(4) 1” by 2” Ledgers – Each 12 inches length
3/4” Screen molding – cut to width of closet
Piano Hinge
(4) 1 1/2 inch zinc-plated utility hinges
Wood glue
(50) 3/4 inch common nails
(8) 3 inch drywall screws
Sand block– medium grain
2 Bar clamps
Masking tape
Drill with #37 drill bit
Phillips head screw drill bit OR screwdriver
Stud finder
(2) Angle brackets
Interior eggshell enamel – any color (Decorator White shown)
Decorator paintbrush
Repurposed 3-drawer cabinet (Optional)


  1. Measure closet width and length to determine the size of your desk. Take your measurements to your local hardware store or lumberyard and purchase 3/4-inch Birch paint-grade plywood. Have them cut it to your desk dimensions

Plywood Piece A:

  1. Hand notches are cutouts in the wood that will allow you to grip the desk and tilt it once it’s built and installed inside your closet. Their sizes are standard for any desk. There will be one center hand notch and two side notches
    1. Center notch: Measure along the width of the desk and mark the center point. From the center point, mark with a pencil 2 1/2 inches on either side for a total of 5 inches. This will be the width of the center hand notch. Next, draw a line 2 inches down on either side from your 2 1/2-inch marks for the hand notch depth. Use a handsaw to cut out the piece
    2. Side notches: On the same edge as the center hand notch, draw a line 2 inches in from one side of the desk. Next, draw a line 5 inches down for the hand notch depth, making a rectangle. Use a handsaw to cut out the piece. Repeat to make a second side notch on the opposite side of the desk
  2. Apply wood glue in a thin line along edge of the screen molding and attach it to the front edge of Piece A. Use 3/4-inch common nails and a hammer to secure the screen mold in place. Space the nails every 4-5 inches apart
  3. Use a handsaw to trim off excess screen molding so it’s flush with the edges of the desktop. Sand along the top edge of the screen molding with a sanding block, following the grain until the screen molding is level with desktop

Plywood Piece B:

  1. Use a handsaw to cut 3 inches off each side of the plywood. This will stop the excess wood getting in the way of the side hand notches once the desk is assembled
  2. Following Step 2a for instructions and measurements, cut a center hand notch along the width of one edge of Piece B. See diagram below:

  1. Using a protractor, mark a 30-degree angle along the edge without the hand notch and a 15-degree angle along the edge with the hand notch. Take Piece B to your local hardware store or lumber yard for them to cut off the excess wood. See diagram below:

Piece C:

  1. Piece C will be the front apron of your desk and needs a piano hinge attached to create the movement to raise and flatten your desktop. Center the piano hinge along the 2” x 2” clear select pine edge (Piece C). Use masking tape as a temporary clamp to hold piano hinge in place until firmly secured with screws. See image below:

  1. Center your #37 drill bit in first piano hinge screw hole and drill hole in Piece C. Repeat for each screw hole along one edge of the piano hinge
  2. Use screws that came with piano hinge to secure it in place, then remove temporary masking tape

Joining Piece A to Piece B:

  1. Along the notched edge of Piece A, measure 6¾” down from the top and draw a pencil line. See diagram below:

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  1. Line up Piece B along Piece A’s pencil line so the center hand notches on each piece are aligned. Place 2 utility hinges on each side of the center notch (4 total) and mark the center of each hinges screw holes with a pencil. See image below:

  1. Remove hinges and lay Piece A and Piece B flat on the work surface. Carefully drill out each pencil-marked hole making sure not to go through the other side of the plywood desktop

Tip: Wrap a small piece of painters tape around the drill bit 3/4-inch from the tip. Stop drilling once the painter’s tape hits the wood to prevent drilling through to the other side.

  1. Piece A will now be connected to Piece B using screws that came with the utility hinges to fasten them in place. Either a Phillips head screwdriver or Phillips head bit can be used

Joining Piece C to Piece A:

  1. Lay the desktop (Piece A) with its underside facing upwards. On Piece A draw a pencil line along the width, 3 inches up from the front edge
  2. Line up Piece C along the pencil edge and open up the piano hinge so it’s flush with the pencil line. Secure Piece C to Piece A with screws that came with the piano hinge
  3. Now that Pieces A, B & C are connected, paint the desk with interior eggshell enamel and allow to dry. At this time, also paint the 4 ledger boards that will be used later

Prepping the Closet Space:

  1. Measure the height of your repurposed 3-draw cabinet and add 2 inches to your measurement. This will be the height that the ledger boards will go for the desktop to rest on. If a 3-drawer chest is not being used, the ledgers can be placed 29 inches up from the floor. This will allow the desktop to be within standard desk height
  2. Using the height measurement from Step 21, anchor 2 ledgers onto the back closet with 3” by 3” drywall screws in each piece. Use a stud finder to anchor the ledgers into studs. (See image below)

Tip: When placing the back ledgers, keep in mind where the hand notches are on the desk, so when it’s fitted, the ledgers aren’t in the way.

  1. Place one ledger board on each sidewall 5 inches from the front of the closet and at the same height as the back ledgers. Anchor an angle bracket onto each side of the front two ledgers, using a drill with a Phillips head bit.
  2. Rest the desktop on top of the ledgers making sure the 2” by 2” piano-hinged edge (Piece C) is facing towards the front and resting up against the angle brackets. Use 2 bar clamps to hold Piece C up against the angle brackets
  3. Use a Phillips head screwdriver or drill bit to secure the angle bracket to Piece C. See image below:

  1. The desk is now securely in place. To tilt up the back of the desk, lift up the desk using the hand notches and rest Piece B onto the back ledgers

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