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A friend of mine asked what wood to use for his desktop and said, "I'd be fine with pine, since I assume it's cheaper." I told him that I wouldn't use pine because it's so soft and would dent easily, but when he asked which he should use, I couldn't give an explicit answer beyond some of the common woods used.

I don't believe the desk will take frequent heavy impacts or the like, but It would be unfortunate to get a dent just for setting a cup down too hard or the like.

Roughly where on the Janka Hardness scale would be too soft to use for a desk or table top? Are there any woods you would avoid for other reasons?

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    This may turn out to be a very subjective question. You can buy wood tables and desks which dent easily. Some people use glass table covers to protect against dents, scratches, stains, etc. – rob Apr 6 '15 at 19:05
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    or use a mat for protection – ratchet freak Apr 6 '15 at 19:07
  • Or put a clear epoxy top on it to protect it. – bowlturner Apr 6 '15 at 20:00
  • Yeah, I was wondering if this would be too opinionated. Any suggestions to make it better suited, perhaps the better question is, "How can I protect a soft wood from dents?" – Daniel B. Apr 6 '15 at 20:53
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    Just a thought, many kitchen tables can get dented simply by writing with a ballpoint pen on a piece of paper on them without any protections, so it's not just "heavy impacts" that you have to think about. – FreeMan Apr 6 '15 at 23:26
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I was going to agree with OSU55 but then I looked and saw Douglas Fir at 660 and people use it as 'hardwood' flooring, granted you put a nice hard finish on it but you don't have to go all the way to epoxy. If it can be a floor, it should be able to be a desk top.

  • I was thinking something along those lines as well, when I saw a lot of common furniture hardwoods at much lower than I expected. – Daniel B. Apr 6 '15 at 20:55
  • Although flooring and desktops are subjected to different types of wear. Floors get a lot of high repetition, low pressure foot traffic (unless someone's wearing heels, or a pet with long claws). This can be combatted with a tough wear layer. Desks get a lot of high pressure wear from sharp points of writing instruments, which will be more likely to dent. – Doresoom Jun 9 '15 at 21:27
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Probably ~1500 and up. For typical domestic woods, oak, birch, hard maple, ash, pecan, hickory. Cherry comes in ~900 and Walnut ~1200.

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I cannot say what the industry standard answer might be, but I recently build a desk from 100% pine. I'm unsure of the species as I purchased "appearance boards" at Home Depot, but in SouthWest PA that's most likely Eastern White Pine, which has an incredibly low janka hardness (around 400). The desk top was finished with 7 coats of EM-6000 post-catalyzed acrylic lacquer and rubbed to a perfect gloss. You didn't mention any coating or finishing method, but I'll assume you'll be using some form of lacquer or poly.

I have been using the desk for just over a month. It has several computer speakers and a 30+ lbs 30" monitor sitting on it. I constantly set my phone, stylus, and bluetooth headset down and pick them up many times each day. I have had hot tea a handful of times. I'm not rough when placing items on my desk, but I'm also not overly gentle.

So far I have no dents, no nicks, and no easily visible scratches. With a flashlight I can find a few scratches when lighted just right, but those are definitely in the finish and not the wood. There is zero deformation under the monitor, which has been in place continually.

So from experience I would say almost any wood has sufficient hardness to act as a common desk if properly coated, assuming there are no unusual uses for it. Scratch resistance of the coating is going to be a more serious concern, especially if hard items like keys are constantly dropped on it. A poly-urethane is probably a better choice than lacquer, but the lacquer gives such an incredibly deep gloss that I couldn't bare to use anything else myself. As long as you're finishing the desk top, any wood should be fine.

Update: After over four months of continuous use I stand by this answer. I recently moved everything off of this desk including my monitor, so that a group of five could play AD&D. There was a lot of books, constant writing with pens and pencils, leaning by players, cups and glasses of various drinks, and much much rolling of hard dice across the bare lacquer. I see no deformation from the monitor, books, or leaning, no surface degradation in the wood, and just a few light scratches in the lacquer (I can count them on one hand). There is a dent in one corner, in the one area that I did not coat properly with the lacquer, and all coated corners (which are in more heavily used areas) show no wear at all, supporting my comment above about making sure you use the right finish for the job.

  • The finish really isn't going to harden it very much. As soon some corner hits it will smush the wood underneath and the finish will look like broken glass. You maybe are treating yours gently, but I can almost promise that just a fingernail with some pressure would put a dent in the table. This would show up in normal use from something like rolling dice on it. I made a tool chest out of the same pine you describe, but knew from the start it would get dented. And it has. – jbord39 Jul 31 '17 at 22:42
  • @jbord39 It will be interesting to see what happens over time, and I will come back and update this answer in the future. Though I will say that I did the fingernail test on the bottom of it and there was no dent or scratch in the finish. I'm trying to start up a D&D group so we'll see soon what happens when it's used with dice. :) – Nicholas Aug 1 '17 at 13:06
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    Thanks for coming back to it. I think it comes to the crux of it: the hardness doesn't matter so much as the finish. – Daniel B. Oct 25 '17 at 5:24

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