DIY Contemporary Hairpin Leg Desk

Hairpin legs on furniture are so sleek and chic. They’re substantial without looking the part, which is a contemporary aesthetic juxtaposition that is as appealing as it is intriguing. Plus, these days, you can get powder-coated hairpin legs in almost any color and in a variety of sizes, which makes building your own hairpin leg desk an absolute treat. Pair that with some ready-to-go project panels for your desktop, and you’ve got yourself a simple (if not exactly fast) DIY project that you’ll love for years.

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DIY Level: Beginner

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Materials Needed:

  • Two (2) 24”x48” project panels, 3/4″ thick each
  • Wood glue
  • 21x 1-1/4” wood screws
  • Polycrylic + paintbrush
  • Four (4) 28” tall hairpin legs (example uses powder-coated hairpin legs in mint)
  • 120- and 220-grit sandpaper + electric sander

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Begin by working with your project panels. If you’ve never heard of or worked with project panels before, project panels are pre-fabricated wood sheets where strips of wood are all attached together to become one single panel. They are sanded smooth and ready to go. Project panels are wonderful to work with!

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They’ll be sold in the lumber section of your local hardware store, although not necessarily by the large plywood sheets. My hardware store sold them near the trim and “craft” type wood options, wrapped in plastic so as to protect the pre-sanded surfaces. Project panels come in a variety of sizes; this example uses two 3/4″ thick 2’x4’ panels.

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Look at both sides of both project panels and determine which surface you want for the top of your desk. Place this surface face-down on a clean dropcloth.

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Grab some wood glue. I happen to really like Gorilla Glue wood glue, but feel free to choose what works best for you.

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Apply a generous amount of wood glue to the back of your project panel. Take care to keep a little distance between the glue and the ends of your project panel; however, it’s not the end of the world if some glue ends up squeezing out when you glue the two panels together.

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Place the second project panel (which will be the bottom of your desktop) on top of the wood glue.

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Carefully, as precisely as possible, line up all corners and edges to be flush.

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Keeping the alignment in check, clamp each corner.

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Check for precise alignment before clamping each corner; now is the time to fix any shifting that may have happened with the previous clamping.

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Keep the clamps on for 24 hours while the wood glue dries completely. You can add more clamps than this if you’d like (along the sides), but at least keep the four corners clamped.

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Choose a drill bit that matches the diameter of your 1-1/4” wood screws.

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Measure or mark your drill bit at the 1-1/4” spot. You don’t want to drill holes in the top of your desk, so be sure you don’t exceed 1-1/4”.

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Use a square or some sort of measuring device to mark points on each corner, 6” in from each side.

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Form an X, rather than draw a dot, for the most precise marking. Do this at all four corners.

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Measure and mark the very center of your panel as well.

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Predrill holes at the centers of all your Xs.

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Take care to keep the drill holes to 1-1/4” deep or less.

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Screw in your wood screws at all five pre-drilled holes (four corners + center). You can add more holes if you want, although it’s really not necessary. Leave the project panels alone for at least 24 hours while the glue dries.

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When the project panel glue is thoroughly dry, it’s time to finish the desktop. Take your medium sandpaper (120-grit).

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Sand the top and all sides of your project panel. Sand in the direction of the wood grain.

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If there are any bumps on the sides where the project panels were glued together, now is the time to smooth those out so the seam is smooth and, well, seamless.

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When your wood is completely smooth, grab your fine sandpaper (220-grit), and give everything a second sanding.

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Wipe everything off with a clean, damp rag. Let the wood dry completely before moving onto the next step: finishing the wood.

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Stir your sealant. Recommended for this project is water-based polycrylic in satin finish. There are plenty of options, from matte to glossy, but I prefer satin for most wood projects myself. Also, water-based poly is nice because you can simply rinse out your brush with water when done, rather than having to use mineral spirits or paint thinner or whatever. Much faster and easier.

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You’ll also want to use a high-quality paintbrush (the best you can afford, really) when applying polycrylic. I love Purdy brushes, personally, but use what works for you.

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Working with the grain, brush the polycrylic onto the top of your desk. It’s helpful to keep the tips of your brush fluid with poly, rather than letting them get dry, because brush strokes show up much more when you overbrush or try to brush without enough poly.

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Get all the sides and corners as well. When you’re finished, go around the panels again with your wiped-off paintbrush, swiping any excess or dripping polycrylic away from the underside and corners of your boards.

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Let polycrylic dry completely (follow the instructions on your can), then sand with 220-grit sandpaper, wipe down, and reseal. Do this one more time, for a total of three coats of polycrylic. Let dry at least 24 hours, maybe more depending on the weather and drying conditions. Be sure surface is not at all tacky to the touch before moving on to the next step. (This project panel dried for at least 72 hours.)

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Lay some old towels onto the floor, and place your project panel desktop on them, top-side down. You should be able to see your five screw heads now. Note: You can certainly seal/finish the underside of your desk if you want to. I did not.

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Measure and mark lines at 1-1/2” in from the sides at each corner. These lines will be what you match up with your hairpin legs for attachment. Be very careful in your measurement and marking, as your precision here will likely determine the stability of your desk.

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Be sure that legs line up perfectly with the 1-1/2” markings before screwing them in.

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Use four 1-1/4” screws to attach each hairpin leg.

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Repeat for all four legs.

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You’re done!

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Your new sleek, contemporary hairpin leg desk is completed.

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It’s quite lovely in its understated simplicity, isn’t it?

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I love the combination of blonde wood desktop with minty green hairpin legs.

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It’s so fresh and modern.

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Notice how the two project panel sides add some visual interest? They line up perfectly by feel, but their grains don’t align at all, which is actually one of my favorite aspects of this desk. A very subtle detail of visual interest.

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This size of desktop is quite large; big enough for a laptop, desktop, iPad, plus a variety of other desk-y accessories if need be.

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I like its functional size while still maintaining great proportion with the sleek hairpin legs.

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If you love hairpin legs (and who doesn’t, really), you might be interested in this other tutorial for a hairpin leg side table.

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You also might be interested in this tutorial for the copper gem mirror, too. Just, you know, while you’re at it.

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Happy DIYing! We hope you love your own contemporary hairpin leg desk as much as we love ours.