Upgrade Your Desk: Hutch Construction

Building a desk hutch is a nice way to upgrade your workspace with minimum effort. This article will address a very simple desk hutch system you can put together in a couple of afternoons using a few common tools.

Design Your Hutch

This hutch system consists of units that are 1 or 2 feet wide, but you can adjust the measurements according to your needs. Start by planning your hutch on paper.  You can even mark out the shape of the hutch on the wall using masking tape. Say your desk is 4 feet wide, and your hutch will be 3 feet tall.  Plan to use one central 2-foot-wide unit with a 1-foot-wide unit on each side. For now, don’t worry about shelf placement—our system will have adjustable shelves. However, you should consider the number of shelves you need in each unit.  Also consider the depth. Measure the deepest book you plan to shelve, and use it to plan the hutch’s footprint on the desktop.

Gather Materials

To build the hutch, you'll need backing panels for each unit: two 3-by-1 foot panels and one 3-by-2 foot panel. Quarter-inch birch plywood takes stain and paint beautifully, but you may prefer a different style.  You can have panels cut from two 4-by-2-foot boards, available in the lumber department of your local home supply store.

Find the stock lumber width that best matches to your planned depth. Chances are, you’ll be going with 1-by-8 foot or 1-by-10 foot boards.  Check out the different options—pine and aspen may be the most appropriate, but if you’re planning to invest some time in staining or painting, you might consider poplar. Choose the straightest boards. Inspect each board by gazing down the length and looking for any warping. Shelves will need to be 10.5 inches and 22.5 inches for the two different unit widths. Take the number of shelves for each unit and add two. That’s the total number of boards of that length that you’ll need. For example, if you want four shelves in your 2-foot-wide unit, you’ll need six 22.5-inch boards.  You’ll also need six 3-foot boards—two for each unit.

Also make sure you have the following: 

  • One or two packets of ¼-inch shelf supports
  • Box of 1¼-inch drywall nails (or wood screws if you have a countersink bit and want to get fancy)
  • Bottle of wood glue
  • Box of 1-inch nails
  • Drywall anchors or other suitable hanging hardware
  • ¼-inch drill bit

Begin the Build

Once at home, start by drilling two rows of ¼-inch holes on each side board, 2 inches in from either side, with holes 2 inches apart. Be sure your holes don't go through the board. Begin assembly by laying everything out on the floor. Each backing board takes two 3-foot side boards and two top/bottom boards of either 10.5 inches or 22.5 inches. The sides with holes should face in. Make sure everything is aligned properly, then nail and glue the top, side, and bottom boards together. Glue and nail on the backing boards (make sure to nail all the way around the perimeter of each backing board).

Finishing Touches

When the glue is dry, you can paint, stain, and varnish as you like. Arrange the units on your desk as desired and attach each unit to its neighbor with 3 or 4 screws. Since hutches tend to be top heavy, they may be unstable. Be sure to properly attach your hutch to the wall using screws and drywall anchors. Insert shelf supports, hang your shelves, and you’re good to go.