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I have a desk which looks like this:

enter image description here

I have decided to take some steps to fix it. This includes creating a way to manage the dozens of wires that form part of the work from home setup.

I am going to buy a wooden board (MDF or chipwood) which is a bit smaller than the long panel on the back of the desk. I shall put screws into it to mount extension leads and also stick the ethernet switch, wifi extender, usb hubs, laptop charger, monitor psu and many other things to this sheet of wood. At the end, this wooden sheet shall have to be attached to the back panel of this desk on the side facing the wall.

Now to the question. How do I stick the new sheet of wood to the back panel of this desk? Use only wood glue? Use bolt and nut? Use simple wood screws or something else? The back panel is obviously not very thick. If I use screws, it might drill through the new wooden sheet and back out of the back panel. I don't know if this is bad. As for nut and bolts, don't know if the chipwood will get damaged by them. As for glue, I don't want to make this a permanent bond.

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  • I'm sure I'm not the only one who is having difficulty in visualising what exactly you're seeking to do here, without even a quick sketch to go on. I can't even be sure of the orientation of the new board/sheet.... I initially thought of something else, but I think now that you intended to mount it face-to-face on the (inside?) of the back panel, is that correct?
    – Graphus
    Jan 20, 2023 at 18:46
  • I intend to stick a wood panel on the outside of the back panel of the desk. Panel on panel. Talking about it from another perspective, think of a sheet of wood lying flat on the ground and then we put another sheet on top of it and make the both stick together, using glue or otherwise.
    – quantum231
    Jan 20, 2023 at 21:20
  • OK, that's what I thought and it's really very easy. You can simply screw it on, or drill through and use nuts and bolts. I'll elaborate in an Answer.
    – Graphus
    Jan 21, 2023 at 4:30

2 Answers 2

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I presume that you're attaching your new panel to the vertical "modesty panel" that's under the desk surface.

You could use glue, but any sort of woodworker's glue wouldn't hold very well on the smooth melamine (or metal) surface of the modesty panel. Construction adhesive (if it's indicated for use on metal) would probably work OK should you choose to go that route. Ideally, you'd want to use a contact cement to adhere to the melamine coating that's already on the desk. Using contact cement and making it fit properly and creating a strong bond would be very difficult (even if you take the modesty panel off and work on it on a bench), so it's a good thing you don't want to go down this path.

With glue out, you have a couple of options left:

  1. Screws.

    • Drill a clearance pilot hole through the modesty panel. This will be larger than the diameter of the screw threads.
    • Drill a pilot hole into your new panel. This will be about the size of the shaft between the threads
    • Using screws of a length that won't penetrate the surface, screw through the modesty panel into the new panel.
    • You'd want to use a screw with a flat bottomed head (so it doesn't try to countersink itself), and I'd suggest a washer under the screw head, especially if the modesty panel is a thin material.
  2. Through bolts.

    • Drill clearance holes through both the modesty panel and the new panel.
    • Put the bolt through a washer, through both holes, through another washer on the back side, and thread on a nut.
    • Tighten.
    • I'd suggest that you'll want the bolt heads on the new panel side. This will give you a smooth surface where your knees are and leave the end of the bolt sticking out toward the wall. This will prevent you from ever jamming your kneed into an exposed bolt or catching your pants on it, potentially tearing your pants.

If you're certain that you want to use MDF/chipboard/particle board, then through bolts are actually a better option. Generally, screws don't hold well in these types of materials, even if you do get the right kind of screws.

If you choose, instead to use plywood, you can use any sort of wood screw to hold this together, and it will probably be a much easier process.

No matter which attachment method you choose to use, I'd suggest that your work and work conditions will be better if you remove the modesty panel from the desk and put it on a horizontal surface to work on it. Note that the horizontal surface could be the desk itself!

  • You won't be cramped working under the desk.
  • You won't be fighting gravity trying to hold the new panel up on the modesty panel while doing all the drilling.
  • You'll have plenty of light and visibility.
  • You can simply have a friend squeeze the two pieces together as a "clamp" if you don't have any other sort of clamping option.
  • You'll be able to comfortably lay out all your screws, hooks, hangars and other attachments while it's horizontal, and you'll be able to either put all those attachments in place or, at least, drill pilot holes for them all so your work time under the desk is minimized.
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  • I know that real wood has grain and this aspect gives it strength. However, coming to MDF, chipboard and plywood, is there a thread of screw that is considered to be too small to use on them? I am sure that thread of screws that go into wood can't be too small. Also, when it says "wooden screws", does it mean they can be used on any type of wood i.e timber, MDF, chipwood and plywood?
    – quantum231
    Jan 20, 2023 at 21:21
  • @quantum231 There are screws with coarse threads that are made for MDF/chipwood and softwoods which would work fairly well for you in this case. Bolts might work better and provide a more reliable connection.
    – gnicko
    Jan 20, 2023 at 23:35
  • "Drill a clearance pilot hole through the modesty panel. This will be larger than the diameter of the screw threads.". Why does it need to be larger than the diameter of the screw threads. Doesn't this mean that the screw can't actually be gripped in the material?
    – quantum231
    Jan 21, 2023 at 23:35
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    Correct, @quantum231 - When attaching two pieces, you generally want a clearance hole through the first piece so that the threads do not engage it. Screws hold by clamping one piece (with the clearance hole) to the other piece (with a pilot hole, into which the threads bite). If you drill a pilot hole for the shank of the screw only through both pieces of material, there's a strong chance that when you drive the screw it'll spin a bit before it bites into the 2nd piece, causing them to separate. You can't get the screw to pull them tight without stripping out the wood.
    – FreeMan
    Jan 23, 2023 at 15:53
  • I see, I could never have known this since I never went to carpentar school (I am an electronic engineer that design microchips by the way).
    – quantum231
    Jan 23, 2023 at 23:02
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How do I stick the new sheet of wood to the back panel of this desk? Use only wood glue?
As for glue, I don't want to make this a permanent bond.

Since you want this to be removable you don't want to use any type of adhesive, even double-sided tape (e.g. carpet tape) would not be ideal.

If I use screws, it might drill through the new wooden sheet and back out of the back panel.

Well it's up to you to make sure you don't drill through if you don't want to. At the most basic the age-old trick of wrapping tape around a drill bit as a depth guide will help ensure consistent depths.

Also, ideally you want to drill two sizes of hole: clearance holes for the first piece of wood (generally the thinner of the two) and pilot holes for the second piece, the one that the screw will grip with its thread.

But fundamentally it's the screws you choose that will determine a good outcome here — they obviously have to be shorter than the combined thickness of the two sheets of material you're joining, or the point will bulge the opposite face of the chipboard, or worse, poke right through.

I don't know if this is bad.

Structurally this isn't a problem, a bulge is mainly a cosmetic issue but if the point projects you can injure yourself on it quite easily.

As for nut and bolts, don't know if the chipwood will get damaged by them.

This is one of the things that washers are for, they spread the load under bolt heads and/or nuts to lessen the chance of damage to the underlying surface.

Even with this you can quite easily cause damage if you overtighten (especially on chipboard/particleboard, which generally can be crushed easily), so bear this in mind. Honestly, just finger-tight should be OK for what you're doing here.

Nuts and bolts (and washers of course) are the way to go here IMO.

  • Nuts and bolts will allow assembly and disassembly multiple times as needed, even years from now.

  • Their installation simplifies the drilling since you will be drilling holes right through both pieces, and you only need one size of drill bit.

  • I'd use four bolts, one in each corner. They don't have to be thick (even as small as M4 should be fine). And smaller-gauge bolts can be easier to buy in the short length you need.

  • When buying your bolts be sure to account for the thickness of two washers and the nut! If needed, you can buy bolts that are too long and saw them to length with a junior hacksaw, it only takes ~30 seconds per bolt if you can clamp it in a vice.

  • Rather than trying to lay out accurately twice, drill your holes through the new board, then use those holes to mark the locations of the corresponding holes in the back panel of the desk.

  • The holes don't have to be an accurate fit for the bolts. In fact loose is good since it allows for minor variations in the holes.

  • On the chipboard it'll help to create a small starter hole with an awl or other pointed tool (use a nail if that's all you have).

  • On the back panel of the desk it would be best to drill from front to back because the exit hole of a drill bit can be ugly and splintered. If you need clean entry and exit holes a sacrificial piece of wood needs to be firmly clamped on the back.

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  • I am perhaps overthinking it, but is there is need to put a metal cylindrical ring around the part of the bolt that lives inside the wood? This is to prevent damage to the wood as the bolt moves about due to shear stress on the desk.
    – quantum231
    Jan 21, 2023 at 23:42
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    Yes you're overthinking this :-) There aren't any dynamic forces acting on the two sheets after the desk is in service, and you're dealing with manmade board materials which are dimensionally very stable. So there won't be any movement. Even where some movement does to be accounted for it's absolutely normal to have bolts go through plain drilled holes which are not reinforced in any way.
    – Graphus
    Jan 22, 2023 at 7:32
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    If the two pieces are moving against each other after installation, @quantum231, then A) you haven't attached them very snugly, and B) you're giving your desk some significant bumps. Gravity will pull the two pieces to the lowest allowed configuration (for a loose joint) and keep it there without some sort of other energy input like a good hip check or kick.
    – FreeMan
    Jan 23, 2023 at 13:30

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