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How Thick Should The Top Of A Desk Be?

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Are you working on your DIY desk, and you’re wondering what the ideal thickness for the top is? Wonder no more, for we researched this question, and we have the answer for you.

The standard thickness for the top of a desk is 11/16-inch to 3/4-inch of plywood. The thickness will depend on the desk material, length, and intended purpose. These measurements are typical for desks constructed from wood.

A regular desk for a laptop and a few schoolbooks will be served well by the example we provided above. However, it might not be suitable for a work desk. We have several examples in the succeeding sections that will help you decide the right thickness for your project based on the function that it will fulfill once finished. Read on!

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What are the factors that determine if a desk would sag or not?

There are several factors to consider if a piece of wood would be ideal as the top of a desk. The thickness of the wood is just one of these factors to consider.

If the thickness that we provided above will be used in a gaming desktop that is typically four and a half feet in length and will support a regular laptop, then a thickness of three-quarters of an inch would be just fine.

However, if the same table would be used to support a mid-tower gaming PC with two 24-inch monitors on a central support arm, then the top of the table will not only sag towards the center, but it could eventually fail.

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Wood Type for Desks

Just like different metal alloys, different types of wood also have different material strengths. Considering which wood to use will determine whether the final desk can handle the load that it is expected to carry or not.

Here is an example to illustrate the concept:

The sample gaming PC from the scenario above can easily weigh more than 70 pounds. The total weight includes the tower with computer components, water cooling, and dual 24-inch monitors.

A Caribbean Pine for the top of the desk will be able to handle the weight of a gaming PC at the recommended thickness we provided above. However, if you use a high-density MDF board with the same measurements, it will break at the weight of the same gaming PC.

It is common for the tops of most desks to be made of hardwoods like oak, maple, and walnut.

A desk with a top made from the Northern Red Oak can handle three times the weight of the sample gaming computer at the same thickness. It will not break but will likely sag over time.

Thus, if you’re using plywood for the top of a desk that will carry a heavy load, consider increasing the thickness above the standard three-quarters of an inch.

Desk Length for Holding Power

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The total length to consider when determining whether a wood length can handle more weight or not is the distance between two of its legs. The distance of the load from the nearest support—or the desk’s leg—has a proportional effect on the total force that the top needs to support.

This means that the overall downward force increases as the load moves farther from the nearest support. This means that the part of the table that is affected the most by the weight of the load is the center.

The center of the desk is equidistant from either side. Thus, it is the farthest that a load can be placed and where the weight of the load has the maximum effect on the desk. This is an illustration of the Law of Moments.

Let’s have an example:

Take the same MDF board in the scenario above that we placed on a table with a length of four and a half feet. At that table size, it cannot support the weight of our sample gaming PC.

However, if we reduce the length of the table to just three feet, then the same MDF board will be able to support the weight of the gaming PC without increasing its thickness.

Similarly, the Northern Red Oak that can support the equivalent weight of three gaming PCs at the center will no longer be able to support even one gaming PC if the table length is increased to eight feet.

So, if you feel like the top of your desk will not be able to support the weight that it will carry, then decrease the overall length.

Middle Support Leg

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Alternatively, you can add middle support to your desk. Middle support is usually another leg installed at the exact middle of the desk.

Adding middle support halves the effective length of the table. Thus, the distance to consider when computing for the force on the table will be half of the length or just a quarter of the overall length.

Middle Brace

A brace installed along the length of the table and crossing the middle where weight affects the table the most can improve the weight capacity of your desk.

The desk skirt does a similar job. Having it installed between all four legs is a good idea to increase the top of your desk's weight capacity without changing the material you used.

Adding a brace or skirt is like adding materials that will help support the weight that will be placed on top of your desk.

What other factors should be considered when building a desk?

Here are additional factors to consider when building a desk or when choosing a material to use for the top of your desk.

Wood Density

In the age of home gaming computers and working from home, the variable-height desk is slowly becoming popular. It is being used not only at home but in offices too.

If you’re planning to build a desk with a motor to change the desk's height, then it is important to consider the wood density that you will use for the top of your desk. Wood with a higher density is normally heavier than wood that is of a lower density.

If the top of your desk is heavy, the motors that will raise and lower your desk height will have to work twice as hard to raise the height of your desk and might fail earlier than intended.

Balance the weight of your desk by choosing a wood with lower weight but with respectable strength. This will allow your desk to support the weight that you plan to give it without adding too much stress to the lifting motors.

  • Redwood is known to be light and strong too.
  • Even Cedar is popular because of its lower weight and high durability.
  • Fir plywood is lightweight and among the strongest materials used for shelves, crates, and even doors.

Wood Moisture Resistance

Stylish scandinavian interior of home office space with a lot of mock up photo frames. Modern neutral home staging.

Stylish scandinavian interior of home office space with a lot of mock up photo frames. Modern neutral home staging.

Consider using moisture-resistant wood if you will place your finished desk in a room where there is a high moisture content in the air, like the kitchen.

Wood normally swells when exposed to moisture. Some types of wood will readily absorb moisture in the air.

Once the humidity drops, wood will start to dry. Uneven drying will create small cracks in the surface of the wood. The bad news is that cracks in your wood compromise its strength and its ability to support the weight.

If you eventually use your desk in a humid room, use water-resistant wood for the wooden parts of your desk.Here are some moisture-resistant woods that you can use for desks that will be exposed to higher-than-normal moisture.

White oak

White oak is known to be naturally resistant to water. It is often used as an outdoor flooring material because of its resistance.

Maple

Maple is also known as another water-resistant wood. It is a popular wood choice for wood furnishings for kitchens. It is also often used as a flooring material for kitchens where there is a higher amount of water vapor in the air.

Ipe

Ipe is another wood that is resistant to water. It is often used as wood for coastal construction. It is the wood used on the newer sections of the Atlantic Boardwalk. Additionally, Ipe is resistant to insect damage.

Cedar

Cedar is both moisture resistant and weather resistant. It is a softwood, however, so it can easily crack or get scratched.

Conclusion

The standard thickness for the top of a desk can greatly change when considering various factors that affect how the desk will handle load once it is complete.

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