I am in the process of building a new desk. The table top will be about 175cm. There will be 2 simple shelf cabinet so one on each side. But in between the 2 cabinets, there will be another desk drawer slider so I can slide my keyboard out.

I want to keep this project under £110 as this includes a circular saw which will be about £40.

Now while I would live to use wood such as Oak or pine, it's too expensive.

I was thinking of using plywood but that is pricey as well. Now I am thinking of using MDF since it is pretty cheap.

However, the main issue is I read the MDF board will sag, I thinking of using 18mm board.

Question: If I build a timber frame to support the desk, and using MDF as table top over the frame, will this be fine since the desk is being supported by timber? If not, do you think I should use plywood, if so, can someone recommend a place that delivers cheaply in the UK and is cheap, would need 2 large sheets since the length will need to be at least 1800mm by 600mm. Also, will there be any issues if I use wood screws, drilling pilot holes, or will the boards split?

Also I am planning to buy 2 sheets of MDF, from 2400mm x 1220mm x 18mm depth. These sheets will be huge and heavy. I can get these two for £34. What I am planning to do it take the measurement to the store so they can cut out the pieces, that way I can drive it myself.

I will also buy Timber boards to make the frame and Pine for brackets.

Anyway, any help would be appreciated.

  • In my part of the world, some DIY stores have a free cutting service limited to only 2 cuts per sheet! This might be worth checking. Aug 4, 2016 at 15:14
  • Have you considered using melamine-faced chipboard? Aug 4, 2016 at 16:10
  • Hi, Andrew, I haven't considered melamine-faced chipboard, what would the pros be to use this over MDF. I have decided that since I am going for a cheaper wood, painting it might not be great so I will be using vinyl wrap to wrap the table top. I will be posting a image of the desk in a few days so I can get further help. Thanks.
    – mumihp
    Aug 4, 2016 at 17:15
  • 1
    @mumihp The chipboard is cheaper and less dense. Melamine facing is available in a few colours. That is the end of its advantages compared to MDF. Aug 5, 2016 at 15:47
  • Painting is exactly the right thing to do with cheaper wood, if you care about not having it look like cheap wood. Of course, nothing says you have to care about that.
    – keshlam
    Jan 7, 2017 at 0:49

3 Answers 3


Take a look at this online sag calculator to see the amount of sag you would get.

Using 18mm MDF shouldnt be a problem if you use a small amount of structural support.A relatively simple solution would be to fix 1 or 2 wooden beams to the underside of the desk and have them be supported by your side cabinets, which should provide enough support.

Side view structural support

Another option would be to glue a second piece of MDF thinner than the width of your desktop to the underside of the desk top, in this way improving the strength.

Both options would not affect the aesthetics of the desk in general, as desks are usually quite low, so the viewing angle prevents you from seeing the relatively hidden structural support.

Of course if you are planning on placing the desk against a wall, you could always use a couple of L brackets to prevent sagging.


There are a number of things to consider that you may have overlooked as a beginner... one of them is what the finish will be. Plywood (unless you buy a pricey grade) tends not to have attractive faces. If you're planning to paint it, MDF takes paint well whereas plywood shows the grain (and as mentioned it may not be attractive). Also MDF doesn't tend to hold screws all that well. My advice would be to post a drawing or photo of what you're thinking of and I/we can give you more relevant advice.


  • Hi Paul, Thanks for the comment. I have looked into some nice plywood but it will just push my budget overboard, would like to use pine or oak but it be an expensive project. I was thinking of painting the MDF but thinking of using vinyl wrap for the table top and then paint the sides. I am using SketchUp to design my desk so wants I have a clear idea what I want, I post a picture of it to get some more feedback. At the moment, I leaning towards MDF, but still trying to decided on the wood. Thanks again.
    – mumihp
    Aug 4, 2016 at 17:10

If you haven't taken on the project yet: Skip your initial ideas entirely & just buy a Flat Face Door Slab for possibly just 50-pounds...preferably without pre-drilled lockset holes or even hinge mortises.

It has the support frame built-in, is already the size you need & is very lightweight. You'd just want to use both Glue & Toggle-Bolts or Mushroom-Head Fasteners to make good & permanent attachments to the door that's now a desktop.

  • Door-desks are something of a classic cheap solution. Properly made hollow doors are essentially stressed-skin boxes, and can be surprisingly rigid for their weight, though you do risk poking a hole in the skin if you drop a sharp corner on them. And you can cut the price further if you can find a door someone is throwing out, or if there is an architectural recycling/reuse program in your area. (Unsolicited plug: I'm starting to become quite fond of Habitat For Humanity's Re/store program; great source for construction leftovers and reusables.)
    – keshlam
    Jan 7, 2017 at 0:56
  • Oh yeah, I'd love to have a salvage place around me that did just ordinary stuff. Everything around me does antique stuff at super high prices.
    – Iggy
    Jan 8, 2017 at 3:19
  • If you want a slimmer door-desk, the 2' wide doors sold (usually) in pairs as sliding doors are useful without cutting, or can be ripped down to give 1' deep shelves. And B&Q in the UK will usually do up to 15 cuts if you ask nicely and have a clear cutting sheet to follow.
    – Owain
    Apr 8, 2019 at 17:51

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