Canadian Woodworking

Computer armoire work centre

Author: Danny Proulx
Photos: Lead Photo by Michael Bowie, Lux Photography, Ottawa, Ontario
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: February March 2002

An armoire work center solves many housekeeping problems for the busy home-office worker.


Most importantly, the center organizes all your documents and equipment in one place. You don’t have to lug everything out each time you begin working – just open the doors and start being productive. When you have guests drop in, simply close the doors. It’s the instant office that’s perfect for the bedroom, family room or a large kitchen. This is an easy project to build and will be very much appreciated by a busy home office worker.

The armoire has large doors that have bulletin and memo boards on the backside. There’s even a place to hold documents that you are currently using.

The adjustable bookshelf is large enough to store CDs, books and directories. The drawer bank has two utility drawers, as well as a hanging file drawer.

The computer monitor sits directly above a large wood pullout that holds a keyboard. It’s set low enough to make keyboarding comfortable and the computer CPU is mounted on a pullout tray for easy disk insertion and removal. There’s even a small shelf beside the CPU tray that’s perfect for storing all your paper supplies.



Prepare both side panels by cutting a ¾” wide by ⅜” deep rabbet on the inside back edge of each panel. Use a router and straight bit with a guide or form the rabbet on a router table.


The backboard is secured to the two side panels in the rabbet cuts. Use glue and 2” finishing nails driven from the back side of the panel into the side edges.


The top board is attached to the sides and backboard with glue and 2” screws. It’s installed flush with the top edges of both sides as well as the backboard. The screws can be driven through the side panels because the heads will be covered with trim molding.


Cut the bottom board to size as detailed in the materials list. You’ll also need to prepare the solid wood strip (E) to cover the front edge on this panel. The edge strip should be rounded over on the front face with a ⅜” round over bit. Attach it to the bottom board, with its top edge flush with the top surface of the panel, using glue and biscuits or nails.

Install the bottom board using glue and 2” long screws driven through the sides and back panel. These screw heads will also be hidden with trim molding. The top surface of this board should be 1 ½” above the bottom edges of the sides and back panels.


The solid wood base trim boards (F) are installed on the lower end of each side panel. Before securing the boards use a ⅜” round over bit to remove the top and both end edges. Attach the trim pieces with glue and 1 ¼” screws. The screw heads are installed under the bottom board and the trim is clamped only where the screw heads would be visible in front of the bottom board.


Pre-drill the holes in each cleat for screws that will be used to support the desktop. The cleats are only ¾” wide and it’s difficult to get a drill located correctly after they are installed. Use a bit larger than the screw shaft so the desktop will be tightly drawn to the cleat surface. The screws can only spin freely in the cleats and thread tightly in the underside of the desktop, securing it properly.


Secure the three desktop support cleats (G) and (H) with glue and 1 ¼” screws. Pre-drill the holes in the cleats to avoid cracking the thin strips. Attach the cleats so their top edges are 29 ¼” above the floor.


The desktop (J) requires a hardwood edge strip (K), similar to the bottom board. Dress the hardwood edge with a ⅜” router bit after attaching it to the desktop. Secure the completed top to the support cleats with glue and 1 ¼” screws.


Cut the two stiles (L) and install one before proceeding further. The stiles are secured flush with the outside face of each side panel and secured with glue and finishing nails. Countersink the nail holes and fill with wood putty.


The upper rail (M) is secured with glue and biscuits into the stile edges. It is also face nailed to the edge of the top board. If you don’t own a biscuit joiner, use dowels or small wood blocks on the backside to attach the rail and stiles. Install the second stile now.


While the cabinet is on its back, cut and install the head casing. The trim is made by rounding over the front edge of a 1 x 4 board and cutting it to size. Once the edge is rounded over, cut the 45-degree mitered corners. This head casing extends 2 ½” past the front and side faces of the cabinet. It’s secured with glue and 1 ¼” screws.


Now is a great time to sand the face frame smooth. It’s also worth taking time to fill the nail head holes before the crown moulding is attached.


Stock 3 ⅛” high crown moulding is glued and nailed at an angle between the cabinet and head casing. You’ll need three pieces cut at a 45-degree angle as detailed in the materials list.


Crown moulding can be accurately cut at 45 degrees if placed correctly in your miter box or saw. Always place the crown upside-down on the miter saw. In other words, think of the saw table as the ceiling and the backboard as the wall surface. Orient the crown so its top rests squarely on the saw table and the bottom tightly against the saw backstop. You’ll get a perfect miter cut each and every time.


Use a ⅜” roundover bit in a hand held router to ease the outside edge of both cabinet stiles. The router will stop at the crown, which will be the end point of each cut.



The drawer compartment contains two utility drawers and a file drawer. Hanging hardware for file folders require the supports at 15 ¼” wide. This dimension determines the width of the drawer compartment. The outside dimensions, using ¾” thick veneer plywood, will be 18 ¾” deep by 18 ¾” wide and 27” high.

Cut pieces (S) and (T) to size and apply wood veneer edge tape to the outside edges. Join the sides to the bottom and top boards using 2” screws and glue. Counterbore the screw holes on the left hand side and fill with wood plugs. The other side will not be visible.


Attach the spacer cleat (U) to the right front edge of the compartment using glue and screws. This spacer will provide clearance when opening the drawers. A piece of ¾” thick plywood veneer will work fine. Secure the two top spacers (V) on the underside of the desktop using 1 ¼” screws. These spacers will fill the compartment to desktop gap. Install the compartment and anchor it with two 1 ¼” screws through the top and bottom boards.


Cut all the pieces of ½” thick Baltic Birch plywood for the three drawer boxes. Each drawer side requires a ½” wide by ¼” deep rabbet on both inside ends.

Install the bottom mount drawer glides so there’s a 2” space above the file drawer and 1” space above each utility drawer box.

Use 18” long full extension drawer glides for the file drawer and 18” bottom mounted glides for the utility drawers. I’ve installed 1 ½” wide by 1/8” thick flat aluminum, ⅜” above the drawer edge, to support the hanging file folders.


The three drawer faces are made with ¾” thick veneer plywood. All the edges have iron-on veneer tape to hide the plywood core. The bottom drawer face is installed first and secured flush with the lower edge of the compartment’s bottom board. Install the middle face with a 1/16” space between faces. The simplest way to locate drawer faces is to drill the handle hole and drive a screw through that hole into the box. This will secure the face until two 1” screws can be installed through the back of the drawer box front board and into the drawer face.



The plywood supports are attached to the underside of the desktop with 1 ¼” screws and won’t be seen. There are four pullout keyboard tray supports. Two are made from ¾” thick plywood veneer and the two vertical members that will be visible, are solid wood. Glue and screw the plywood pieces to the solid wood verticals forming two right-angled brackets. Round over the front lower corner on the solid wood supports with a belt sander. Secure the brackets to the desktop so the inside faces of the vertical supports are 24 ¼” apart.


Assemble the keyboard tray as shown. The hardwood sides, front and back strips are secured with glue and screws so they are ¾” above the plywood veneer panel. Counterbore the screw holes and fill with wood plugs.

Use a ¼” roundover bit in a router to ease all the hardwood support edges.

The tray is fitted with a full extension 18” drawer glide. The side pieces are 18” long but the tray platform, including the hardwood front and back rails, are 14” deep. This will provide room at the back of the pull-out for wires from the keyboard, monitor, and printer. Mount the drawer glide cabinet members as low as possible on the support brackets.


Drill a wire passage hole for a grommet at the back of the desktop. Position the hole near the centre of the keyboard pullout tray. Use a large diameter grommet to accommodate the large printer cable end. Drill an additional hole under the desk top, through the back board, for a power supply cord.



The CPU pullout is mounted on 16” bottom mounted drawer glides. Cut the parts and make the two support brackets as shown. Round over the tops of each upright.


Install the CPU pullout brackets with 1 ¼” screws driven into the bottom board. Space the inside faces of the vertical members 12” apart. The platform is ¾” veneer plywood with iron-on taped edges. Mount the platform on standard 16” bottom mounted drawer glides.



Build a paper storage compartment using ¾” veneer plywood and apply wood veneer to the front edges. Dado and rabbet the compartment sides and clamp the assembly until the adhesive sets. Edge tape the boards before making the router cuts so the edge veneer will be cut cleanly. This compartment fits between the CPU pullout and drawer compartment and does not have to be secured to the armoire carcass.



The upper bookcases are two simple boxes with shelf pinholes drilled for adjustable shelving. You must build two boxes, as one full width case cannot be installed in the armoire carcass. Apply wood veneer edge tape to all exposed edges. Join the sides to the bottom and top boards using glue and 2” screws.

I installed the cases with 1 ½” long screws and decorative washers. I did not glue them in place in case they need to be altered when I purchase new computer equipment.



Before constructing the doors, install two hinge plate support spacers as shown, using 1 ¼” #6 wood screws. These are necessary when using hidden hinges with a standard mounting plate. The cabinet side, where the plates will be attached, must be flush with the inside faces of the stiles. Apply wood veneer edge tape to one long edge of each board. This will be the inside visible edge. Use glue and clamp the supports in place until the adhesive sets.


The required door width is calculated by adding 1” to the interior cabinet dimension. Inside stile face to inside stile face is 45 ¾” making the combined door width 46 ¾”. Dividing this value by two (for two doors) means that each door is 23 ⅜” wide. The height is not as critical, but you want the door 1 ½” off the ground and overlapping the part of the top rail. For this application the height is 67”.


The four stiles require a groove in the centre of one edge that’s ¼” wide and ½” deep. These cuts are easily made with a properly aligned table saw.


Four of the rails need a ¼” wide by ½” deep groove in the centre of one long edge. The remaining two, which are the centre rails for each door, require the groove on both long edges.


All the rails require a tenon centred on each end. This tenon is ¼” thick and ½” deep. The table saw is the perfect tool to make these tenons. You’ll need to make a number of passes on each board but it’s a quick and easy task to complete.


Attach the middle rail in the centre of two stiles. Use glue on the tenon and pin the joint with a brad nail on the backside of the door. Dry fit the two end rails by clamping them in place temporarily. Use a ⅜” round over bit in a router to round over the inside frame edges. Be sure the router bit bearing is riding on solid wood below the grooves.


Cut the four ¼” thick veneer plywood centre panels (AB). Slip the panels into their grooves but don’t glue them in place. Apply glue to the tenons on each end rail, install them in the grooves making sure they are flush with the stile ends, and clamp each assembly. Pin the tenon with a brad nail on the back side of the door.


Once the door joints are set, round over the outside profile using a ⅜” round over bit.


Drill 35mm diameter holes, ⅛” from the door edge, for the hidden hinges. Each door will be mounted on three 170-degree hinges for maximum opening swing and support. Attach the mounting plates with 1 ¼” screws when the door is held 1 ½” above the floor.


The backs of each door, in the centre panel area, can be fitted with various materials. On one door I’ve installed a ½” thick cork bulletin board. This material is available in sheets and can be found in most home stores. I secured the corkboard with mirror clips for easy removal and replacement. Remember to drill pilot holes for the screws, as you will be installing them near the frame edges.


Another alternative for door backs is ¼” thick white board. It makes a great note board for those telephone calls and meeting reminders. I found that common storm window clips made of plastic worked well to hold the panel. It is also easily removed when I want to change boards.


There are dozens of inexpensive plastic trays, bins, and paper holders available at your local office supply store. You can install any number of these to suit your own requirements. I’ve used plastic file holder trays and attached them to wood strips. It’s the perfect place for active files or phone books.


The armoire was finished with three coats of polyurethane. I then rubbed on a hard coat of paste wax with extra fine steel wool and buffed all the surfaces.

The interior compartment positions and sizes can be altered to suit your needs. Any layout is possible, with the exception of the desktop, which should be 30” above the floor, and the interior width of the hanging file cabinet drawer.

Your centre may be better suited to your needs with the keyboard tray on the right hand side. If that’s the case, install the drawer compartment on the left. You may not require a file drawer so the compartment size can be changed.

The bookcase module shown on my armoire will hold reference manuals, a few CDs, and software. But the case can be built higher, lower, or shorter. If you have a lot of CDs, a longer section, extended to the desktop with smaller shelf spacing, is a possible option.

For those of you with a number of accessories such as a scanner, external drives, or other hardware, consider eliminating one part of the bookcase to make room for an equipment shelf stack.

The pull-out tray for the keyboard can be widened to accommodate a mouse pad by lowering the drawer compartment. The paper storage shelf can be a printer stand with a few modifications. Mine is only one design – there are many possibilities.

My wood of choice for this project was oak. However, any sheet material is suitable. Using medium density fibreboard (MDF) or plywood and then painting can reduce the cost. I’ve used ¾” plywood veneer for the carcass, including the backboard. The “box” must be strong and stable to support all the equipment and to provide a sturdy workspace. The overall “look” of the cabinet can be changed with different mouldings to match any furniture style. For example, a thin top moulding will make the cabinet appear more streamlined and modern.

Finally, search the office supply stationery stores for some of the great plastic accessories that can be attached to the doors or installed in the cabinet. They are usually inexpensive and really help to organize your workspace.

Hardware List

  • Screws
  • Nails
  • Glue
  • Buscuits or Dowels
  • Three-quarter Extension Drawer Guides
  • Full-extension Drawer Guides for File Drawer
  • 107-degree Hidden Hinges
  • 170-degree Hidden Hinges
  • Cable Hole Grommets
  • Commercial CD Racks (optional)
  • Pull-Out Keyboard Tray
  • Drawer and Door Handles
  • Metal Brackets

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