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How to choose the right solid wood for your desk

To have found our website you might already know what you don’t want. You don’t want an MDF top, a cardboard filled top, a chipboard top. You don’t want veneer. You don’t want low quality. Knowing what you do want though might be a more difficult question to answer! One way to figure it out is to see a examples, that is why we have a comprehensive desk top customer gallery which we add to each week.

Theoretically you could use many different materials as a desk surface, we currently offer three solid woods: Oak, Pine, Walnut, but also work with Birch Ply and can access many different solid wood varieties, from Asian Hardwood to Sapele to Mango wood. What are the pros and cons of each? Why would you choose one over the other? In this post we discuss some key factors that could help with your decision making.

A (somewhat opinionated) comparison table

Density/Weight (1 = hardest)1 (~750 kg/m³)3 (~450 kg/m³)2 (~660 kg/m³)4 (~350 kg/m³)
Strength (1 = strongest)1213
Affordability (1 = cheapest)3241
Supply (1 = most available)3121
Aesthetic (1 = best)1212
Longevity (1 = longest)1212

What do you need to use your desk top for?

The more weight and peripherals you load the desk with, the more work the desk top is going to have to handle.

Pretty much any weight on top of the desk can be handled by any of the solid woods (if thick enough), especially when supported by a good frame.

If you plan on using monitor mounts or camera clamps all solid wood will withstand the pressure, but pine and asian hardwood might be left with indents in the surface of the wood depending on the clamp, as they have some soft wood properties. Oak and walnut are much denser – whilst they might scratch if the mount is attached incorrectly, a considerable amount of force would be needed to leave pressure marks.

Some customers use a solid wood top so that they can under-mount a cable tray, computer tower, keyboard tray etc. All solid woods can withstand this extra burden, but the denser the wood (and thicker the top), the more weight the top can take from underneath using wood screws.

What aesthetic do you want for your desk top?

How does the desk top need to look in order to be a compliment or focal point for your room? Our finishes cannot be applied to every wood type. Note: The wood we use for desk tops does not contain knots, and probably wouldn’t be described as ‘rustic’.

Oak has lovely characterful grain, it is warm in colour when finished with danish oil but not orange (some indoor lighting can make it look redder on photographs than it really is). It can be stained darker, or tinted lighter with tinted oils (tinting solid wood with oil comes with maintenance benefits).

Pine is a time tested favourite for making furniture, it accepts coloured stains very well and also looks great with our standard wax finish, which has a slight brown tint.

Walnut is naturally the darkest wood we offer, we generally would not lighten or stain it, most of the cost of walnut is due to it’s beautiful grain.

Asian Hardwood is the lightest wood. Unfinished (just sanded) it looks very similar to oak, when finished with danish oil, it has a pinkish tone; when stained darker, it again looks very similar to oak with the same stain.

Note: All woods can be supplied unfinished (just sanded) for a £15 discount.

What is the budget for this project?

Each project will have its own price ceiling, so sometimes the solid wood you choose could be determined by your budget.

As the above comparison chart (‘affordability’ row) highlights, different woods come with different price points. The most volatile being oak. Also, the thicker the wood, the more expensive it is to source.

How quickly do you need the desk top?

If you already have a desk top, and this is an upgrade, time scales might not be your main concern. If you are currently working from your lap on the sofa (don’t do that!) then you might need the top ASAP.

As the above comparison chart (‘supply’ row) shows, pine and asian hardwood are much more easily available, and so they are generally dispatched quicker. Longer lengths can pose problems with oak and walnut, and are sometimes limited when purchasing through our site depending on reports from our suppliers.

How big does your desk top need to be?

As desk top dimensions increase, so does the need to have a top strong enough top to cover any expanse without the support of a frame (i.e. a karlby and alex style desk).

If you have a good frame, any of the solid woods will be strong enough.

How much weight can your desk frame take?

Every frame can handle a different amount of weight. This is especially a concern for sit/stand desk frames, as they use motors to lift the desk top to the required height. If you are already loading up a fairly small desk with lots of equipment, you might to think about if the extra weight of a solid wood top would push you over the limit.

As the above comparison chart (‘density’ row) shows, some woods are heavier than others. Oak is the heaviest, and asian hardwood is the lightest.

Generally motors are rated for much more weight than you would normally use. Additionally some frames have already calculated the weight of the existing MDF top, so you might have an extra 10-20kgs to play with. Finally, the weight of the top is very evenly distributed on the frame, some customers report it stabilising the desk when in standing position.

How big does your desk top need to be?

As desk top dimensions increase, so does the need to have a top strong enough top to cover any expanse without the support of a frame (i.e. a karlby and alex style desk).

If you have a good frame, any of the solid woods will be strong enough.

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