How to build your own studio desk
Hey everyone, in this article I will illustrate a step by step guide on How to Build your own DIY Music Studio Desk. Now for a little background story.
I wanted to purchase a new desk for my music production set up, primarily because my previous desk was very small and had no room to host anything that I required.
Not to mention that my Yamaha keyboard occupied a huge amount of work space. Annoyance and frustration grew daily from having to spin around my chair to play phrases on the piano then spin back to make edits in Protools. Sometimes it require a good lengthy stretch just to hit record in Protools so I could record my performance on the piano. Personally this felt extremely cumbersome and demoralizing at times. I wanted everything in arm’s reach.
So ultimately I knew I wanted a new desk that sufficed the needs for my preferred work flow. Seemingly, the majority of desks available for purchase that we’re affordable would do nothing for my needs. They can’t host my piano and mixer at all, and the ones that could facilitate my desired work flow costs in the thousands!
Even then, they still didn’t quite suit all the needs I was looking for. Take a look at the first desk in the pic above. I could spend $350 and still won’t be able to fix the issue I have with piano taking up room resting on the keyboard stand so I would still have the same issues. The second pic with the desk for $1,389.00, I could spend that much and actually host my Yamaha piano, but I did not like the limited capacity for rack gear. Those 3 small sections on the top shelf does not accommodate for large future growth. Which I wanted a desk that I can build on as my business grew. So then I asked myself, “Why not Do it Yourself?”
So here we are, as I decided and successfully designed and built my own music studio desk, in this guide I’ll share my tips, guidelines and share resources to help you guys build your own DIY Studio Desk.
In the rest of this article I will thoroughly explain all the key steps I took in order to build my own studio desk. This entire process requires a lot of planning but it is truly worth the outcome. You will need to establish a design, a budget for materials, great planning and PATIENCE. If you want your desk to turn out amazing, please don’t rush it! Take your time, enjoy the process, enjoy the journey! I know that I surely did and loved every minute of it!
I highly recommend reading on any online materials that you can acquire. There are countless of useful resources at your disposal and amazing tutorials available on YouTube.
You will want to know everything about the power tools you may be utilizing, painting and staining techniques, and any woodworking material from the pros. You’ll want to learn as much as you can to ensure the success of your project.
Step 1. Figure out your needs and wants.
My design simply stemmed from figuring out what I needed, and that is the first step you’ll want to do. No matter what design you choose, you need to consider a sturdy foundation. Your legs should be rock solid since they will be holding the weight of all your gear. Secondly, think about where you plan to host your monitors, screen, and any music equipment that will be resting on your desk.
As the picture above illustrates, my initial problem I had was that my Yamaha keyboard piano was not within arms reach from my production area (mixer and computer). At times I literally had to move back and forth between edits and recording. Very annoying to me, personal choice I’d say.
I also discussed that it occupied too much space in the room. I needed to elimate that factor, so I knew I needed to design a pull out shelf to have it closer to the mixer but also to store the keyboard away when I’m no longer using it.
I know I wanted the capacity to grow and expand on any studio production equipment, such as; compressors, effects processors, channel strips and so forth. It became clear to me that I needed rack rails to mount the gears and keep those also within arms reach. So a rack cabinet came to mind, but I also wanted to add more features to the top section of my desk closer to the mixers. This would mean I would have smaller rack spaces on the top shelf.
Step 2. Take measurements.
Building your own desk will require one main component, accuracy. So please take your time to measure every detail of the project, and I do mean everything.
What’s the size of the space that you can fit your desk in? How tall should your desk be? How wide can it and should it be? What about the depth? How tall are the legs? How wide are the gears you’ll be using? How long is your piano? There are a myriad of questions you need to be asking yourself and write down every single measurement for every component.
For example I took the measurements of my Yamaha keyboard from left to right, front to back and top to bottom. By knowing the dimensions of my piano I could then figure out what the minimum measurement my pull out shelf needs to be to host the piano.
My first actual measurement that I did was calculating the maximum space can my desk occupy in the room that I will be using it. Once I figured that out I started measuring how tall I want my desk.
Since I will be utilizing a pull out shelf, one important key measurement I needed was the height of where my pull out shelf starts for my keyboard piano. So I needed to measure a distance from the ground up, that was comfortable for me to play any musical scores.
Step 3. Customize your design
Whether you do it on paper, on the computer or on your smartphone like myself, is entirely up to you. I literally designed everything straight on my iPhone. I wrote down all my measurements of every item, a log of quantities, cost, and where can I find them. Sites like amazon.com, Sweetwater.com are great places to shop for this project. However, the majority of my materials derived from Lowe’s.
Step 4. Plan your materials.
What type of wood you choose is up to you, some are fascinated with MDF or Red Oak, which are traditionally superb choices as they are great to look at but also very solid. I personally went with spruce wood which was more affordable for me but still strong. There’s a Lowe’s right next to me which always had large quanities of the Spruce in stock and always available, so it was a very easy decision.
To optimize your expenses, a sure way to save money is by having very precise measurements and start figuring out which board you’re cutting will leave what remainder that can be used for another part of the desk. The less panels you need to buy the better, and you can do this by mapping out your cuts, what the remainders will be, and is you can use said remainder on another section.
Type of materials you’ll need to get you going; Wood of your choice, wood screws, wood glue, 2x4s for stronger support, 120 and 220 grit sand paper, wood stain/paint (optional color of your choice), wood finish, couple of brushes/cloths, and gloves/masks/protective equipment (optional but highly recommended). I also picked up 12u Gator rack rails from Sweetwater.com for my rack cabinet and then 6u Gator rack rails for the top shelf area.
If you decide to go with a wood stain, you need to make a choice between a water based stain vs an oil based stain. If you’re using an oil based stain you need to go with a polyeutherane finish, if water based stain then go with the polycrylic. As they say, oil and water do not mix. You’ll also need a saw to cut your pieces, whether that’s owning your very own circular saw, table saw or leveraging the employees at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s to do the cuts for you.
Step 5. Measure and cuts
Before you begin cutting anything, measure once, measure twice, measure over and over again. Precision is key in any woodworking endeavor. Thankfully I have a handy Hitachi Table saw at my disposal so I did all the cuts from my own location. After every cut that’s made be sure to sand the pieces down with 120 grit sand paper.
Step 6. Foundation
Start with building your foundation, for me that were my two cabinets. One for my rack mounted equipment, the other for miscellaneous items for my computer. They are both supported by sets of 2x4s which acts as a sturdy support since there will be a lot of heavy gears on this desk. The only thing I needed to connect them to the spruce board was just wood glue and sets of clamps. One of the 2x4s were cut to be the width of the rack mounted equipment.
All rack mount gears sit at 19 and 1/8th of an inch (19.125) standard. I also considered when securing both rails there will be 1/8th of an inch differential so I did my cuts on a pair of the 2x4s for 18.25inches which should offset the difference of the rack rails + screws when installed. Ideally if you were to use your top shelf area for your rack gears, you’re two vertical boards need to be roughly 18.25 inch a part for all the screws to be aligned correctly.
The other pair are cut shorter and lodged in between the longer 2x4s. On the Lowe’s website it shows the actual size of the 2×4 is actually 1.5 x 3.5, ouch! So keep that in mind when doing calculations.
My desk in particular is 24 inches from front to back. That alerted me to figure out how short I needed the 2x4s on the sides to be. So let’s see, there’s a 2×4 in the front, and another one in the back. That’s a total of 7 inches from the get go. 3.5 + 3.5 = 7. Remember I said previously the 2x4s actually measured up to be 1.5 x 3.5? Yep very important detail!
Next I had to do the math for the remainder. So I subtracted the depth of my desk (24in) from the total of the 2x4s in the front and back (7in). So 24 – 7 leaves me with 17. Next I made my cuts for the 2x4s that are on the sides to be 17in in length and then they are secured between the front and back 2x4s.
Apply the wood glue to the connecting ends of the 2x4s and connect them to form your anchor. Be sure to keep them flushed. If you have a set of wood clamps use them to keep them together. Allow the glue to dry for at least 30-40 mins. Then you can connect your 2×4 base to the walls of your cabinets. Use clamps again as necessary.
When you’re doing the top 2x4s please be advised to allow the glue to completely dry. I recommend keeping them clamped for at least 24 hours since they will be dealing with a lot of stress weight. You’re going to want to wait for the glue to bond completely with the wood before you move the cabinet around. Remember what I said about patience?
Step 7. Hardware installation.
My pull out shelf will be side mounted so I knew it would be connected in the center of my two cabinets which are essentially the legs of my desk. Since traditional piano keyboards tend to be very heavy I wanted to ensure that it’s properly supported so I had the drawer slides screwed in to 2x4s for stability and had the 2x4s secured to each cabinet by a couple of screws + wood glue.
For side mounted slides you need to make sure your sets are extremely accurate in both vertical and horizontal. Each set needs to be completely parallel to each other. Your side mounts need to be at the right distance apart and parallel to each other. I used the Richelieu 18in Drawer Slide from Lowe’s which did the job perfectly and very easy to install. Refer to your drawer slide installation instructions for more accurate results.
I can state there’s one connection that installs directly to the sides of your pull out shelf and then the other on the wall of your cabinets. Once you have both cabinets completely parallel to each other and the correct distance apart, inserting the shelf is a matter of just sliding it into the grooves of the drawer slides. Each slides are different so please refer to your install guide in your packaging! I also recommend using a back brace to ensure proper tension between the legs/cabinets of your desk.
Step 8. Top shelf
All the pieces here are simply just connected with wood glue. Again give time for the glue to bond fully before applying any kind of stress. If you’re installing rack rails to the top shelf like I did you may do so to the individual pieces at any point whether before or after assembling the top shelf. Either way should not affect your build.
Step 9. Rack rails installation
Installing your rack rails is probably the easiest part of building your desk. Like I mentioned previously, the rails I’m using are the 12u Gator Rack rails. There are two different size of holes on both the front and sides of your rails. A small hole, then a large hole followed by another small and the sequence repeats.
The holes you’re going to need to install the rails into your cabinet are the large ones. The small holes are actually for your rack gear you’ll be adding to your arsenal. Every Studio gear usually comes with two holes on both left and right sides, top and bottom, to be mounted on rack rails.
It’s very easy securing your rail to the cabinet. You can pre drill your holes to properly align them using your actual rails as a template. Just remember the rails do NOT come with screws, so these are purchased separately. The standard screws are 10-32 thread screws which you can purchase from either Guitar Center or Sweetwater.com. The ones I used are the Raxxess 25 pack Rack screws which worked like a charm.
Step 10. Set the mood.
Once you get all your pieces together, let’s make your baby shine by adding color. I recommend a minimum of 2 coats of the stain/paint of your choice. Always sand between coats with a 220 grit sandpaper. This allows you to smoothen out the surface without removing the stain.
Before you use the wood stain, apply a prestain conditioner to the wood. This prepares the wood to be stained and allow the color to be absorbed thoroughly.
Take your time between multiple coats and follow the manufactures recommendations. This process will take awhile, be patient. Apply the stains for my desk took place over several days. Most of my time was spent honestly waiting for each stain coat to completely dry, re-sanding, then applying a second stain coat, waiting for that to dry, resand, then applying a single coat of my wood gloss finish, wait some more, then apply the final coat of wood gloss finish.
This part of the project truly tests your patience but please don’t rush this part, allow your work tocompletely dry each time! You may also want to consider the VOC level of whichever paint you use.
If you decide to go with an oil based stain please be advised they are highly toxic and the fumes can very strong. Proper ventilation is mandatory to let them fumes dissipate. You may also want to read up on what “off-gassing” is. You can read more detail about this topic for your own health risk.
Water based stains contains lower VOC levels which means they are less toxic than their oil counterparts. Water based stains are known to be safer but more difficult in application especially since they dry more quickly but also raises the grain on your wood. Whereas oil is easily applied but takes longer to dry and has strong pungent fumes that can be toxic with lengthy exposure.
Which choice you make is up to you but please take the time to read up both before making a decision and carefully read the directions and warnings on your can of paint!
As many people have asked, “Do I paint the pieces individually first before or after assembly? What’s the best time to stain?”
Rule of thumb is Glue and assemble first, then stain. The glue is only as strong as the wood it connects to but can be stronger than the wood itself once it cures. Applying wood glue to a stained or finished project is not as effective. Wood glue is meant to be applied to bare wood. A finished or stained wood will not have a strong bond as the glue would be mostly be reacting to the stain itself. You’ll always have time to stain after your desk is built. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
Step 10. Set up your desk
And at last, all the pieces are together, the color coats are finished. All that’s left is for you to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The time and effort you gave this project will be well worth it. This desk came out exactly how I hoped it to be. I truly wish that whomever reads this will share success in their endeavors as well.
Thank you all for taking the time to read my little blog, and I hope this post helps and inspires other future producers, audio engineers, songwriters, recording artists or any creative soul to start something exciting! Good luck on building your own DIY Music Studio Desk!