Converting a desk into a computer workstation

24 May

Older desks — mine included — make uncomfortable computer stations. With a few quick changes, though, many desks can turn into customized pieces that are much more comfortable to work on. All you need is a saw, a drill, and a few pieces from the hardware store.

I have an ancient institutional desk — the sort of thing you’d find in a low-rent office in 1965. It’s solid like a Ukraine bull, and it matches my décor, but it’s been awful to use as a computer station. The desktop is uncomfortably high for a keyboard or mouse, and I’d rather sit farther back from the screen, too. In the end, I turned the widest drawer into a keyboard tray and the topmost remaining drawer into a mouse surface (they’re at similar heights, which is much better ergonomics than the desk provided before).

Your materials may vary — this desk is a university relic from when my alma mater was disposing of a building’s-worth of desks. I hesitated to change the desk at all because it already has sharp lines (and it’s virtually an antique), but I made sure that my modifications were invisible.

You can get everything you need at Home Depot or a similar all-inclusive hardware store.

  • Hinges: I deliberately chose old-fashioned hinges to give my desk that authentic typing-in-the-Wild-West feel. They aren’t antiques, of course — you can get them at Home Depot.
  • Roller catch: This will make sure that your drawer front stays up when you want it to.
  • Board: This will be your mouse pad, so pick something reasonably attractive. I had a piece of an Ikea shelf that fit the bill for me, but you could use any solid material that will fit inside your desk drawer.
  • Shelf supports: I used brass supports for a classy touch, but anything that keeps your shelf level and stable is fine.
  • Contact paper or wood finish (optional): Depending on the material used for the mouse pad, you may want to coat or cover it to keep it from picking up scratches.


1. Remove drawer front using a saw. A circular or reciprocating saw will make this easy.

2. Reattach drawer front with hinges. The exact placement of your hinges will vary. In my case, the lower edge of the drawer front stops them from rotating past 180 degrees, so I am comfortable using the drawer front as a wrist rest when the tray is “open”.

3. Install roller catch on drawer front and drawer wall. All that matters is that the metal catch hits both rollers.  Since my drawer front was taller than the side of the drawer, I installed the roller part first and then placed the catch to match.

4. Cut board to fit precisely in a side drawer. At a minimum, you’ll want a square piece so you have enough room to use the mouse; the more space, the better. I covered my board in contact paper to keep the finish from wearing. I also used the space in the drawer below the board as storage for blank CDs and computer software.

5. Install shelf supports in drawer. I measured so the mouse pad would be roughly flush with the top of the drawer. I also added perpendicular supports at the edge of the pad to keep it in place.

When closed, my desk looks very traditional (aside from the 27″ LCD). When in use, it’s incredibly practical and much more comfortable to use with a lower keyboard and mouse pad. Practically speaking, I keep it open most of the time because I’m always on the computer, but it makes it easy to clean up the desk in an instant and turn my home office back into the guest room.


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