Pottery Barn Printer's Keyhole Desk Knock-off Tutorial

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 -

I am so excited to share today's post! I may have a new all-time favorite project. A few of you have been asking "Is the desk finished???". I've been sharing a few sneak peeks on Instagram and Facebook. Well, the desk has actually been done for a little while. The reason for the delay is I am involved in a seriously awesome collaboration (forgive me if I get a little fan-girl right now).

Ana White has been a huge inspiration to me, like many of you out there. Not only is she an amazing builder, but she has some covet-able Google Sketch-Up skills. I knew I would be really proud of this desk and I wanted you all to have building plans for it, so I talked to Ana, and she has designed plans to build your own Printer's Keyhole Desk. Head over to her site to get a free copy.

Don't spend hundreds on a designer desk! Build you own, solid wood Printer's desk for a fraction of the price. Free building plans included.

A couple months back my husband, who is currently a full-time engineering student, requested a "real desk" for his birthday. Shamefully, we have been using a dresser and folding chair as a make-shift office space for years. After searching online for weeks, I decided on this desk from Pottery Barn.

If you know me at all, you know that I would NEVER pay $1000 for a desk, especially one that is built out of particle board and pine veneer. The first step to building one was to find some suitable legs. I talked to the people at Osborne Wood and guess what? They designed a table leg that is a perfect match to the inspiration! The Chatham Table Leg. Just look at them. Aren't they beautiful? Very reasonably priced I might add. Around $20 each for knotty pine. You can buy your set here

You can find detailed building plans on Ana's site, but if you like a little more information, I'll walk you through the build.

In order to get the plywood home, I had to have it ripped down at the store. I went ahead and asked them to rip down two, 15" wide strips, since that was the width I'd be working with. Once at home, I used my *Kreg Rip-Cut to cut my panels to size. I'll be honest, I love my table saw and use it most of the time to cut plywood, but there are times that schlepping a big piece of 3/4 across the garage by yourself is not an option. That's when a tool like the Rip-Cut comes in handy.

Attaching the plywood panels to the legs is just like building a basic table, only on a larger scale. If you have a *Kreg Jig (and you all should), its as simple as drilling pocket hole and securing the leg and panel together with screws. Make sure to use a spacer block underneath the plywood so your panels are inset 1/4".

After attaching all 4 legs, this is how it looked.

To give the piece some rigidity, I needed to tie both sides together. I used my speed square to draw a vertical line, 1/2" from the outside edge of the front legs.


Then, I aligned a 1 x 2 and attached it using more pocket holes.

I love using a nail gun whenever possible, so I secured the next piece with finish nails. 


Back to pocket holes, I started to build the frame for the drawers.

In order to accommodate the horizontal support, I notched the center panels with a jigsaw. You want to try to hide the pocket holes if possible, so make sure you drill them on the drawer-side of the panel and not the side that will be open. I also added edge banding to the edge that would be exposed on the front of the desk.


Making sure to pre-drill to avoid splitting, I connected the panels to the horizontal support using wood glue and 2" screws. 

Now that I had the drawer compartment framed out, I figured how large I could make my drawer openings and added dividers. 

In the center, I used a 1 x 4 to tie together both side of the desk and to create a frame for the center drawer. "Why a 1 x 4 here?" Well, a smaller piece of wood would work fine, but this drawer uses a 1 x 4 for the drawer front. Using the scrap here saves material.

In order to use side mounted drawer slides, I needed to attach extra 1 x 2s, running front to back. This gave me something to screw the slide to.

Its always smart to build your drawer boxes to fit the opening, not the other way around. I build 3 for the left bank of drawers and one for the center.

"But what about the other side?"

I hope this doesn't offend anyone, but I think printers are ugly (sorry printer people). And, since I was building this desk the way I wanted, I decided to convert the right bank of drawers (actually a large filing drawer in the Pottery Barn version) into a slide out tray that my printer can sit on.

Ana's plans show a large drawer, but if you like this option, it's just as easy to build. Simply *edge band a piece of plywood the width of the drawer, attach drawer slides, and nail on a handle if you wish. Now, to make it look pretty.

For the drawer fronts, unfortunately they turned out to be an odd height, so I had to rip them down with my table saw. No fear, you could do the same with a circular saw. Remember to make 7 drawer fronts total; 3 left side drawers, one center and, 3 "faux drawers" that you'll attach to the printer door.

If you go with the printer tray option, you will need to build an inset door from another piece of plywood. A little more edge banding and it looks like a solid piece of wood.

Instead of putting together a planked top, I bought a doner table for $30 on Craigslist and cut it down to size. To make it the top and drawer fronts look more like the inspiration piece, I ran my router around the edges. For the top I used a large cove bit on the underside, and on the drawer fronts I used a round-over bit.

Before hanging the door, attaching the top, or screwing on the drawer fronts, I spent 2 days adding the finish to everything. Sorry for no photos of these steps (to my defense, I huffed a lot of lacquer during this process). I can tell you, I used *pre-stain conditioner, Special Walnut stain by Minwax, and some custom mixed black glaze for shadowing. I think I spent half a day on shadowing alone. I wanted to pretend I was a "pro", and I've had such good results with my bathroom cabinets, that I decided to seal everything with semi-gloss lacquer. Lacquer is great in some ways (self-leveling, drys quickly, hard as a rock, etc), but takes a little practice to mix and spray properly (not to mention, kills brain cells). A few days later, I had a finish to be proud of. 

The next step was to attach the top through the horizontal support and with pocket holes in the back and side panels. I would recommend not following my photo and pre-drilling your holes at an angle. Otherwise you don't have room to drive the screws and its a huge pain in the butt. 

I screwed on the drawer faces and made a jig to drill for hardware (totally worth the time!).

I hung the inset door over the printer side, using mortised hinges and screwed on the faux drawer fronts and hardware. That's it! I thought I was done, until.... I tried to open the printer tray door. 

The faux drawer fronts wouldn't bummed into the leg and wouldn't allow the door to open enough to get the slide out. A few choice words may have been said at this moment. I was convinced that I would have to cut the drawer fronts down, and refinish them. Not only did that sound like a ton of work, but it would also mess with the balanced look of the desk. I was NOT happy. Later that day, my brilliant husband suggested an easy fix. "Why don't you move the hinges to the bottom and let the door flip down?" Worked like a champ. No cutting required.

Are you ready to see it all finished?! Here it is

And for reference, the Pottery Barn version:

I wanted mine a little darker and cooler, but I think it looks pretty darn close. It may be a little "old school", but that's what I wanted. A classic piece in a neutral color that would stand the test of time. 

I am in love with the antique brass cup pulls. They were generously donated by D. Lawless Hardware.

Thanks to my hubby, the printer tray door works perfectly.

When I need to print something, I just slide it out.

I know this might sound cheesy, but when I built this desk, I had the goal of making an heirloom quality piece of furniture. I want my grandkids to be writing college papers on "Granny's desk". 

Who knows if my progeny will still want this desk? But I know I was able to built a solid wood, traditional desk for a fraction of $1000, and it has more than a little love built into it.

It took many steps to build, but I promise you, it wasn't very difficult. Make sure you check out Ana's site for the full plans and materials list.

*I was compensated with sponsored product for this project, though my opinion was in no way influenced. I only endorse products that I love and use. This post contains affiliate links. 

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  1. What a fantastic knock-off! And congratulations on pairing up with Anna! Isn't there so much more satisfaction looking at furniture you built yourself??

  2. Gorgeous! The shadowing is fantastic, the flip-down printer door is genius, and you'd never know it didn't cost $1000! Bravo!

  3. Gorgeous! I love the printer tray idea, I wish I'd thought of that when I built my desk!

  4. It came out beautiful!!! Love the color. Love everything about it. You need to make & sell them!

  5. You are amazingly talented. Love the finished product in the darker colors. Coming over from Facebook.

  6. Wow!! It is sooo beautiful! Your finish is amazing, the shadowing makes is even better! Kudos to your hubby for figuring out the printer door, I would have cried at that point, so glad you figured it out! I love it!!! Totally a piece that will stand the test of time.

  7. Oh my goodness! It's BEAUTIFUL! I'm so jealous of your building skills. Great job.

  8. Wow, this is fantastic! Great job! Pinning!

  9. You did a fantastic job. The desk is absolutely beautiful.

  10. First of all, if your progeny don't want it, I do! You are a rock star. That is gorgeous. You are seriously talented, friend!

  11. I would love to feature your desk, really a beautiful piece, i like it better than your inspiration piece!

  12. Girl! I keep seeing you everywhere! I'm so glad!!!

    We would love for you to link this amazing piece up to Your Designs This Time tomorrow at 8 am!! :)

  13. You are one talented lady. What amazing skills you have.
    Mary @ Orphans With Makeup

  14. Elisha,

    This is absolutely beautiful. I am so in love with your desk! And that finish is to die for. Will you please do an in-depth tutorial on how to do it? I love the shadowing! Great work! Thanks so much for sharing!

  15. Hello lovely desk , I'm planning on building one for my home office here in the uk , could you please clarify the wood shopping list in mm I'm a little confused


  16. This is absolutely marvelous! An heirloom piece for sure.

  17. Absolutely beautiful! I love this so much, I featured it as a Friday Favorite! Hope you stop by and see. Happy Thanksgiving!


  18. WOW, what a fantastic build! Your desk is an heirloom quality piece of furniture if I've ever seen one. It's truly lovely and I admire your skill and care in building it. Thank you for sharing your tutorial, it's easy to follow and the photos make the steps very clear. I'm going to look at the plans on Ana's site and start planning one myself. This was a great collaboration, again, my compliments and thank you both! VBg

  19. I really enjoy your site and the furniture that you've built. However, the advertisements on the right hand side of the page make it nearly impossible to enjoy your page. I've been trying to scroll down to read through your process and I keep getting scrolled up to the top to watch the advertisements. It's really exasperating.

    1. Thank you for letting me know! I've recently switched to a new company for my ads and had no idea this was happening. I will get this corrected immediately. Thanks again!

  20. Hi. Your desk is very interesting and it seems like you had a great time making it. I was just wondering how much you might sell a piece like this and how long it took you. It would be very interesting to know how much a hand made piece would cost. Thank you and I hope to hear from you. Sam.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Hi I really like your desk and it looks like you enjoyed making it. I was just wondering how long it took you to make the desk. Thank you. I am looking forward to be hearing from you.

  23. Hi, curious if you used a router on the drawer faces and top edge of the desk all the way around? Beautiful desk, thanks for doing this!

  24. Never mind, just saw it in the notes...thank you! :)


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