How to Make Your DIY Desk Shelf Look Pro

diy desk shelf refined edges

If you made your own DIY desk shelf, chances are it will lack a bit of finish. This post will show you how to make your DIY desk shelf look like a pro, even if you’re an idiot with tools like me.

Maybe you already read my post on How to Build an Easy DIY Desk Shelf and Monitor Stand in 5 minutes. That tutorial was intentionally kept very sparse to make it as easy and cheap as possible. However, since I’m a complete idiot with tools, this post continues in the same spirit showing you how to easily apply refinement to your newly built DIY desk shelf and make it look like a pro (almost).

My improvement suggestions are to install a magnetic cable holder, refine the edges, and paint the wood top in your preferred color.

Install a magnetic cable holder

It’s hard to avoid cables on your desk. Even if your peripherals are wireless, they will need to be charged. Installing a magnetic cable holder will make ANY desk shelf more functional. Your cables are easy to reach, you won’t have to go beneath your table and hit your head (yes, amazingly it happens every time even if you think you’ve learned from life) and they are positioned in the most optimal way beneath your desk shelf to avoid clutter.

Let’s start with the result.

magnetic cable holder attached to desk shelf
A desk shelf is the perfect way to attach and hide cables.
magnetic cable holder attached to desk shelf
Use my recommended cable combo to make your desk ready for anything.

Some (additional) free tips on your cable combo

My recommended cable combo is ready for almost anything you can throw at your desk:

  • USB-C with a lot of power juice connected to a dedicated charger.
  • Lightning cable connected to a dedicated charger (hopefully soon to be removed, Apple).
  • USB-C connected directly to PC.
  • USB mini connected directly to PC.
  • USB micro connected directly to PC.

One of the USB-C and the Lightning cable should be connected to dedicated chargers, so you can use them for charging larger devices like iPad, iPhone, laptops etc.

The other USB cables are for your peripherals and I recommend that you plug them directly into your PC. This ensures the best connection and proper power output. Sometimes your keyboard won’t work in BIOS or be slow to start up if you go through an intermediate USB hub, which can be really annoying.

You may also be wondering why there are 2 USB-C cables. This is because your PC power output is insufficient to charge larger devices, but too powerful for smaller devices. This is stated in some manufacturer manuals, but I don’t know if it’s actually true or just a “don’t put your cat in the microwave, even if it’s freezing”-disclaimer. Best to be on the safe side though.

What you need

Find a magnetic cable holder in your preferred design. Make sure you don’t buy the absolute cheapest you can get and check reviews if possible. Since your cables will hang upside down, the magnets must be strong.

The other (non-magnetic) cable holder is optional but will ensure that you don’t drop your cables below your desk when they’re not attached to your magnet. Make sure it’s one where the cables can slide back and forth.

magnetic cable holder and non-magnetic cable holder
Bottom: Magnetic cable holder. Top: Non-magnetic cable holder.

These cable holders will do the job and have great reviews (please note I may get a teeny tiny commission from these links).

The process

This is the most difficult part!

  1. Attach the magnetic cable holder to your preferred spot. I attached mine in the middle, which is the most direct path to your peripherals. If you don’t like the cables showing, you can attach the holder further back than me.
  2. Attach the non-magnetic cable holder to the edge of the desk (optional).

magnetic cable holder attached to desk shelf
As you can see, if you accidentally drop your cables, they will not slide beneath your table with the extra optional cable holder.

Refine the edges

If you, like me, bought a piece of wood from the local vendor, you can probably give it a little finish to improve the aesthetics. Refining the edges is the perfect complement to your wood material. My shelf now amazingly both looks and feels lighter.

Here’s the result.

diy desk shelf refined edges result
Here you can compare the results. The left side is finished, and the right is intact.
diy desk shelf side view
Side view of the finished edge.

What you need

You will need a hand planer, a delta sander, and a clamp or similar tools. Most likely your family handyman or neighbor has the tools already (mine did). Buying them from new would cost me approx. 55 EUR / 60 USD, getting the cheapest options available (or you can use a manual sander making it significantly cheaper).

The delta sander should be ideal for small areas and it was what I had available. However, you can of course use other types of sanders. A manual one will save your wallet but kill your muscles – your choice.

tools for refining diy desk shelf
Delta sander, hand planer, clamp.

The process

Instead of a square edge, I made an almost bevel edge as illustrated below. Notice the “almost”. I think it looks best when you leave a little spot intact at the top.

from square to bevel edge

The process is simple. It takes about 10 minutes per side and if you’re not used to hand tools like me, a few days to recover your muscles and some whimpering.

  1. Fasten the shelf in the clamp. Make sure you don’t do it too tight or you may damage the wood.
  2. Use the hand planer to get a bevel shape. See the picture below for approximate shape. Make sure your hand planer is set to only make a shallow cut, so you don’t overdo it.
  3. Use the delta sander to smooth out any unevenness. Don’t be afraid. It doesn’t actually rotate. It just vibrates.

refining diy desk shelf edges
Approximate shape after using the hand planer.
diy desk shelf plane leftover
This is the waste I ended up with doing one of the sides (plus apparently a few other things on the floor in the workshop I borrowed).

Paint the wood top

The aesthetics may become overwhelming with too much wood. Painting the wood top will give you a beautiful colored desk shelf with a wooden accent instead. I think this ties together the color of your desk and the shelf itself in a better way.

Below is a before and after, albeit in different setups.

desk shelf before paint
The desk shelf before painting the wood top.
desk shelf after paint
The desk shelf after painting the wood top.

What you need

You will need spray painting in your chosen color, optionally a primer, tape, and a surface and place where you can paint.

painting desk diy desk shelf
My “paint shop” consists of the outdoors with a wheelbarrow and an old moving box.

The process

  1. Attach tape to cover the edges, preventing them from getting painted.
  2. Optionally, you can use a primer before painting for best results and a smoother surface (I skipped this part).
  3. Spray paint the wood top 2-3 times as evenly as possible and make sure you let it dry enough every time. The time required will most likely be stated on the back of your spray can.
  4. Leave it outside in a sheltered place or somewhere with good ventilation for a few days or your office will smell like paint a shop.

painting desk diy desk shelf

Don’t hesitate to send me the results after your muscles have recovered.

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