How to turn an old desk into a new miter saw station
Many of us DIYers do our work in our very limited free time. Even the motivated among us might only get an hour of projecting a day — on a good day. That makes it all the worse when part of that time is lost to poor shop setup foibles. This includes classic hits such as “messing around moving the good extension cord between machines,” “trying to find just one of your four tape measures in all of this mess,” and “deciding the quickest way to cut this super long board without also cutting off your super useful fingers.”
That last one is where the miter saw and DIY miter saw station comes in. The miter saw lets you quickly break down long lumber, both with straight and angled cuts, while the station provides a dedicated space to support lengthy boards as you wrangle them into position. This tool and accompanying project offer a great way to build some efficiency into your shop space.
YouTuber Jay Bates’ design is pretty much a gold standard for miter saw stations these days. But it requires a dozen 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets of 3/4” plywood. At the time of this writing, the good stuff costs $52 a sheet, with the cheaper stuff clocking in at $33 apiece. That means the plywood price alone for this project ranges from $396–624. That doesn’t include fasteners, glue, special doohickeys, etc.
Nor does it count time spent building the project. Bates is an amazing woodworker, yet he still had to split the work up into separate videos. Some of us already have miles-long to-do lists without adding a project of this scope. For example, one person I know — who is definitely, definitely, not me — actually is still trying to finish up a flooring project from two years ago, among other things.
So does that mean I, er, my friend, can’t have a nice, functional, miter saw station? No way! That’s where the old desk miter saw station comes in. Grab an old desk, slap a used solid-core door on the top, build some outfeed supports, and bam, you’ve got a miter saw station.
The secret is in supply and demand. In my region, at least, old desks are like the tube TVs of the furniture world: They’re big, everyone has them, and nobody knows how to get rid of them. So they frequently end up on the free page on Craigslist here. In 30 seconds of searching just now, I have found three good solid, old desk candidates for miter saw station bases in close proximity. Who knows what I could find if I set up an IFTTT alert for “desk” on the free section and followed the results there instead.
The desk I use in the above video came from just a few miles away from my house. Sturdy box joints hold together the solid wood drawers, which are perfect for storing your 10,000 redundant screwdrivers or vaguely categorized “cutting things.” The front is covered in rugged scratches, which I would argue make the desk look even better.
This particular structure is missing some legs in the middle, so it sags a bit. But we can take care of that by sliding the desk onto a simple 2x4 frame on top of locking casters, making it easy to move if needed. This same support structure will also help form a storage area in the space where your legs and chair would normally go. This works great to hold a shop vacuum and DIY cyclone for dust collection, such as this one by #diyMATT.
We can extend the work surface (and protect the desk) by clamping an old solid-core door to the top. A university surplus shop near me was selling them for $3 apiece; you might be able to snag one for a similar deal (or free) on Craigslist.
For the offcut supports, Jon Peters offers an easy, quick design that works perfect here. I used scrap 5/8 plywood underlayment to build mine. It does the job and was the right price in this case (free), but it sure did chip out a lot. This would be a place to consider paying a little more for material.
Finally, we’ll screw in small plywood blocks in the back to reference the saw against and hanger bolts in the front to hold the saw down. This way, we can still easily remove the saw from the station for remote use when needed and then quickly reinstall it when finished without having to spend a bunch of time realigning the thing.
This design does not feature a back fence. YouTuber Gosforth Handyman suggests that it isn’t strictly needed and may even get in the way at times.
It also doesn’t feature a lot of the niceties of the more full-featured miter-saw stations out there right now. There are no shelves in the back, no drawers under the outfeed supports, and no T-track stop blocks for repetitive cuts. But I figure I can circle back on some of those things later.
Still, at the end of this project, you’ll have a fully functioning miter saw station while also having saved time, money, and landfill space. But best of all, none of the above requires any modification to the desk itself. A protective layer of cardboard protects the desktop from friction with the solid core door above. (Credit again to Jon Peters for another idea.) Simple brackets made from 2x4 chunks hold the door on the top. And plywood scraps clamp the wheel frame from slipping out at the bottom.
This nondestructive design makes it perfect for either an interesting desk that you can’t look away from on Craigslist or a family heirloom that you don’t know what else to do with. So some day, after you have the time and funds to build your proper Jay Bates miter saw station, you’ll still be able to reclaim this historical piece of furniture and give it the restoration it deserves.
Or give it away on Craigslist. Your pick.
Wisconsinite Andy Reuter writes and shoots video about whatever DIY project is holding his attention at the time. For more, follow him on Instagram, find him on Twitter, or subscribe to his channel on YouTube.