I'm planning on building a desk soon and I am going to make the top of it out of 1x6 planks that I am going to join together. Would poplar or alder be strong enough for a lot of writing with something like a poly finish or maybe an epoxy top? My other option would be spending more and get some red oak.

I want the top to look nice too I don't just want cheap wood that won't look good stained.

I was going to get the wood form a local Lowes or Home Depot so I'm kind of limited to oak, spruce, pine, fir, alder and poplar but I know there are some local lumber yards that I could shop at too.

  • Hi, welcome to StackExchange. Any wood, bar something as ridiculously soft as balsa, can be used for a desk. The durability question is subjective, it pretty much comes down to what each individual decides they can live with for the exact way they'll use it (blotters for example pretty much allow even the softest spruce to be viable). So this query is not a good fit for the SE format — we're to avoid any Question where all Answers might be equally valid.
    – Graphus
    Mar 27, 2021 at 8:39
  • "maybe an epoxy top" You could easily end up spending more on the finish than the wood doing this sort of thing, and the finish won't last forever while a better wood will. Red oak, while obviously much harder than the poplar, has its own technical issues for a desktop as it has such a pronounced pore structure. This could make it problematic as a writing or drawing surface.
    – Graphus
    Mar 27, 2021 at 8:42
  • 1
    "but i know there are some local lumber yards that i could shop at too" If you have lumber yards available it would be well worth your time investigating them, seeing what they have and what it costs. In addition to the wider range of species that would typically be available you might be surprised at just how affordable some of the nicer woods will be (walnut and both soft and hard maple for example). Although the stock will tend to all be rough sawn, so you must process it to dimension and do all the smoothing work.
    – Graphus
    Mar 27, 2021 at 8:45
  • Using 1x6 dimensional lumber of any kind is going to teach you about how wood moves as relative humidity changes. Look at any number of porches or decks and see how many use 1x6 flat? Advise you do a little research, here and on the broader internet, for the sorts of wood that is used to make a desktop. This will end up being way more important than the hardness or finish, since modern finishes are so tough the kind of wood you use might not even matter. (Comments about how difficult some are to finish, aside.)
    – user5572
    Mar 27, 2021 at 13:34
  • I'm of two minds here. I think this is within the scope of questions we should ask here, but probably well-answered already. It is, at its heart, about what finish to use for a nice hard smooth finish for a table or desktop. The answer is, as usual "it depends, but pretty much any penetrating finish", and I'm certain this is captured in the many "finishing" Q&A that @Graphus has authored over the years!
    – user5572
    Mar 27, 2021 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


You can build a desk out of most any wood if you design it well.
A desk is more than just the top. Spend some time thinking about and drawing pictures of your desk to make sure it will fit your need and not be wobbly.

Poplar and alder have been used successfully to make desks.
Here is an example of a desk made of poplar
enter image description here

They both take stain well and can be made to look very nice.

You are right to worry about scratching and denting. Both woods are very soft. They will dent and scratch easily. Unfinished poplar can be scratched with a fingernail. My personal rule is - always build things I care about out of something about as hard as oak.

If you have a single sheet of paper writing with a ball point pen on poplar with a poly or epoxy finish I'd be nervous. Best to have a nice desk pad or glass top for writing on any wood table.

  • This is a good Answer, but unfortunately to a Question destined to be closed.
    – Graphus
    Apr 3, 2021 at 9:48

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