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Want to build a DIY keyboard tray? But not sure what drawer slides to use, what height to make it or how to have a professional looking tray when done?
First, I understand the challenges of adding onto your existing desk.
As a cabinetmaker I’ve built countless pieces of furniture and desks.
And getting the keyboard right is important for three things: looks, usability and to avoid injury caused by improper ergonomics.
So to help you build your own keyboard tray in this article we will cover:
- Supplies needed ($20-40 depending on access to wood)
- 4 steps to building a tray
- Tricks and tips for measuring and installing
And, if after all of that, if you’d prefer to just purchase a pre-made slide (they are just a few bucks more) we’ll review a few of the more popular trays available.
Today’s Best Selling Keyboard Trays [Amazon]
First Up: Having the Right Keyboard Tray Supplies
4 Steps to Building a DIY Keyboard Tray
These are the basic steps to build a DIY keyboard tray:
- Determining the size of the tray
- Building the keyboard tray and mounting brackets
- Finishing the keyboard tray
- Installation tips and tricks
Step #1 - Determining the size of the tray
This first step is the most critical and will require a few precise measurements. So, if you’re not comfortable with fractions or millimeters you might want to check into a pre-manufactured tray.
Determining the tray width under an open area desk
If your tray won’t mount between two vertical surfaces you’ll have the freedom of picking the width of keyboard tray you’d like. And while most purchased trays are between 21-25″ (50-65cm) you can best determine your width by laying out your keyboard and mouse on a flat surface.
After a bit of playing around and finding the maximum space you’ll need for moving the mouse (without picking it up!) you’ll have the width down.
Lastly, if you have under 25″ of space you might need to consider a factory tray with extending mouse pad*.
Measuring keyboard tray width when mounting between two vertical sides
While it will be easier to install, if your keyboard tray fits between two vertical spaces you’ll need to accommodate side mount drawer slides in your measurements.
What’s special about the drawer slide width?
Well, almost all side mount drawer slides require a 1/2″ on each side for clearance. So if your opening is 24-1/2″ you’ll need to plan the finished width of your DIY keyboard tray at 23-1/2″.
Determine keyboard tray depth
At this point you should have your trays drawer slides selected. The depth of the keyboard tray should allow the full keyboard to be accessible when the slides are extended.
So what should you watch out for? A few things:
- For partial extension slides you’ll want to make sure they extend enough for all areas of the keyboard to be accessed.
- And with full extension slides deduct the depth the drawer slides be mounted behind the front of the desk from the slide length.
Lastly, the minimum depth of the keyboard tray should then be the overall depth of the keyboard PLUS 3″ for a padded wrist wrest*.
Step #2 - Building the keyboard tray
At the simplest, this step can involve cutting your plywood to width and length, sanding the edges and proceeding.
But there are a few ways to make the finished tray look better:
- For slide-out shelves a great way to conceal the plywood edge is with either stick-on edge banding* or by wrapping the plywood with a 1/2″ x 1″ (or thicker) piece of solid wood
- Then, use a router to round-over the wood edge for comfort
If your tools don’t include a table saw, then edge banding is the way to go.
Step #3 - Applying finish to the tray
With any keyboard tray you’ll want to apply a finish to avoid the wood from soaking up oils from your hands. And to make the mouse move smoother over the surface.
My recommendation? Check out one of the finishes in our guide to clear wood finishes (I prefer General Finishes wipe on). You’ll have a smooth finish in hours with no messy brushes.
Step #4 - Installing the tray
When you’re working with cabinets and furniture it’s always worth asking “whats the worst that can happen”.
And the worst that can happen with this step of the project is poking a screw through the top of your future desk.
So, to avoid this happening the first step is planning how you’ll mount the keyboard tray and the screws you’ll need. Not sure how thick the top is? One trick is pulling the desk away from the wall to review the top edge.
And unless it’s an extremely low quality desk the top should be at least 1/2″ thick.
Side mount drawer slide installation
If you’ll be mounting the keyboard tray between two vertical surfaces you’ll be using side mount slides. While easier, in my opinion, to install than a top mount slide you’ll want to consider:
- Find the height of the top of the keyboard tray in relation to the top of the drawer slide.
- If handy, a drawer slide jig will be worth it’s cost (but not just for this type of drawer alone) if you are doing other remodeling projects
- Mark the height of the slides and attach using supplied screws
Top mount drawer slide installation
If it’s possible, the easiest way to install a DIY keyboard tray to an existing surface is by turning it upside down. Literally.
By doing this you’ll have gravity working with you and not against you as you install and screw the slides to the underneath of the desk or table.
If that’s not an option, here’s a few tricks:
- Fully assemble the keyboard tray and slides.
- Then lift the assembly under the surface and mark with pencil or masking tape the location of the top mounts
- Make any height adjustments as you do this step (as top mounts are adjustable)
- Then disassemble the tray and install the slides
DIY Keyboard Tray Purchasing Guide
1. Top Mount Keyboard Tray Slides
If you’re building your slides, this top mount slide will make the job much easier…
This is a DIY keyboard tray slide* that gives you the flexibility to choose your own depth and width to build your own keyboard tray.
If you need a custom size then a pair of top mount drawer slides will give you the flexibility to design your own keyboard tray. The only drawback? Besides a little more time constructing the tray you’ll need to purchase a wrist rest.
Not sure you’ll be able to find a piece of plywood for a reasonable price? Then perhaps a pre-made tray is your best bet.
Or, Let's Skip the Build and Buy a Keyboard Tray...
Simple screw-on solution for a high quality keyboard tray
Adding a keyboard tray* under your desk is simple with this kit that requires just a few screws.
For standard desks and height adjustable desks this sliding tray will attach easily. Due to a tilt-adjustable +6-degrees to a -22-degree tilt it will bring ergonomic comfort as well.
- Swivels left-to-right for fit in corners
- Tilts up/down for ergonomic adjustment
- Integrated polyurethane cushion for comfort
- Ample room for a mouse
- Dimensions of 25″ wide by 9.8″ deep
A Factory Keyboard Tray for Glass Tops
Simple clamp-on tray when screwing to the surface isn’t an option
For a glass top desk a simple clamp-on drawer tray will give you a drawer tray in just seconds.
And also work for a wood top and even some kitchen tables with no need to screw into the wood.
- Fits up to 1.5″ thick material
- Sliding tray
- Room for a mouse and keyboard
The only caution is this unit is overall 32.5″ wide and requires adequate mounting space.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you make a sliding keyboard tray?
A keyboard tray can be made using top mount drawer slides and a home-made tray bottom.
How do I install a keyboard tray?
A keyboard tray is typically screwed into the bottom of a wood desk using #8 screws that are 1/2″ or 5/8″ long.
What is the best under desk keyboard tray?
The key features of a keyboard tray are adjustable tilt, left-to-right swivel and an integrated wrist rest for ergonomics.
DIY Keyboard Tray Summary
While a project anyone can tackle it’s one that will take a few measurements to start. Keep an eye out for the width of your space before deciding which keyboard tray to purchase and/or build.
Drawer Slide Series
Choosing and installing drawer slides takes planning. Follow our series for more guides, tools and techniques to complete your project: