How to Turn a Desk Drawer into a Keyboard Tray

I think a good vintage desk from the “Mad Men” era (that’s 1960s for nonfans) is far out. And yes, I’m using some 60s slang here! I also believe everything old can be made better than groovy again. So, I say to you, go ahead and dust off that lonely desk sitting in your storage unit, or start a search for an outta sight vintage desk at a thrift shop.

The biggest hurdle to overcome when trying to make an older desk more ergonomic is the lack of a keyboard tray. It’s no biggie though. Vintage desks come with a middle drawer, often complete with a pencil tray and lock. That middle drawer is your answer. Modern desk manufacturers still include a middle drawer, but instead of being designed for storage of pencils and paper clips, the false drawer serves as a keyboard tray. Your challenge is to take the real thing and make it into a keyboard tray. To do that, you need to make the drawer front mobile.

The exact steps for transforming your desk drawer into a keyboard tray will depend on the style and construction of the desk. In general, there are some no-prob steps to follow, but you should consider taking your desk drawer, or photos of it, into your hardware store when shopping for parts. A hardware store associate may be able to help you make the right choices for your particular desk drawer.

Transform that Drawer in Seven Right-on Steps

Step One: Remove the drawer from the desk, and take off any metal hardware on the front sides of desk where you’ll be making your cuts.

Step Two: Using a table, circular, or hand saw (while wearing protective eyewear, of course), remove the front of the drawer making a cut on the right, left and bottom. Since you’ve removed that pesky drawer front, you now have a keyboard tray! You just have to make it a bit prettier and more functional.

Step Three: Using sandpaper, smooth any rough edges on the wood. Also, make more room for your keyboard and mouse or trackpad by moving back the pencil tray, if one is included.

Step Four: If you’re using a wireless keyboard and mouse or trackpad, then skip this step. If not, drill a hole in your drawer for the cables. The location of the cable hole will vary depending on whether your drawer rails are located on the side or bottom of drawer. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid drilling around your rails! Also consider the location of your computer. When you’re done drilling, spiffy up the appearance around the hole with a cable grommet.

Step Five: Replace any hardware removed in step one, and replace the desk drawer.

Step Six: Attach the drawer front to the desk using two cabinet hinges (shown here) or one continuous piano hinge.


Step Seven: Maintain that vintage desk appearance by keeping the drawer front upright when the keyboard tray isn’t in use. With a turn of the key, you can use the existing lock to secure the drawer front. If you don’t have a key for your desk, you can buy a new lock for a few bucks at the hardware store. Another option is to install magnets to keep the drawer front upright.

I hope this tutorial has inspired you to dig out that old desk in your storage unit, or to be open to searching for a vintage desk that’s somewhere out there waiting for you. I’m peeling out now, but please have a gas with this project!