While it seems simple at first a DIY keyboard tray actually takes a few unique tools and supplies to be done right. But, with a little planning (and the right drawer slides), the right finish and a few hours its a project just about any DIY’er can tackle.
In this article we’ll help you:
- Keyboard tray slides to mount your try under a desk or table.
- Pre-made or custom built options for the keyboard tray
- Steps to install and adjust your DIY keyboard tray
- How to build a clamp on keyboard tray
And, if after all of that, you’d prefer to just purchase a ready to go keyboard tray we’ll show you a couple of options too.
Top mount drawer slides:
› FRMSAET Top Mount Slides at Amazon ($29.99)
Cable management straps:
› SOULWIT Straps at Amazon ($13.95)
Padded wrist rest:
› Gimars Memory Foam Rest at Amazon ($9.98)
Pre-built clamp-on tray:
› VIVO Large Tray at Amazon ($59.98)
Most adjustable tray:
› HUANAO Under Desk Tray at Amazon ($99.99)
Slides and Material
Getting started, there are just a few things you’ll need to make and install your own tray:
- Top mount drawer slides
- Keyboard tray material
- Wood finish if you’re making your own tray
Top Mount Drawer Slides
First up is drawer slides because no tray will slide without, well, drawer slides.
And while your first thought might be to make an L-shaped bracket and use standard side mount slides, I’ll highly recommend you just order top mount drawer slides if you don’t have sides to mount the tray to. It’s what they are made for, after all.
So, with that, here’s a quick guide to choosing slides:
- Top mount slides should be used if you are mounting your keyboard tray to the underside of a wood desk or table. Either the
- Side mount slides are the drawer slide to use if you want to place your tray BETWEEN two pieces of wood.
So you have two choices when it comes to the tray. If you decide to buy the drawer slides AND the tray you MIGHT be better off just buying a pre-made tray for about the same cost.
But, if you’re building your own tray to match a desktop (say, a maple desk) then you’re on the right track.
Here’s a few great ways to make a custom looking keyboard tray:
- Buy a cutting board that’s at least 12″ by 24″ wide and attach it to the drawer slides you’ve picked out
- Head to a big box store and pick out a piece of pre-glued wood OR grab a stair tread
- Lookup a reclaimed wood dealer near you
- Buy a pre-made melamine shelf material (pictured above)
My Keyboard Tray Combination
So what did I use on my keyboard tray?
Well, I was matching a black desktop and wanted a larger surface area. So, I went with a aminated black melamine shelf and 16″ partial-extension top mount slides.
Tools You’ll Need to Install A Keyboard Tray
- Miter saw, table saw or circular saw
- Random orbit sander
- Wood glue
- Cordless screwdriver
- Measuring tape
4 Steps to Building
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
- Installing drawer slides and attaching to desk
Step #1 - Determine the Size Of The Tray
There are two things to consider in this step:
- The minimum usable size of the tray
- The maximum area you’ll have to install (including side clearance for the slides)
Measure: Desks With No Sides
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.
Measure: Desks With Sides / Drawers
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 Width and 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 wrist rest.
Step #2 - Building The 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 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
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 On A Desk
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
- Note: I used a cabinet jack with my standing desk tray to hold the assembled keyboard tray in place. If you use something similar, just be sure to use light pressure and test the drawer slides operate smoothly without binding.
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
Adding a Tray to a Standing Desk
Have a standing desk? Then simply make sure your keyboard tray and slides will clear the frame and mechanisms below the top.
However, quite a few desks WILL have a crossbar in the way. Which makes your project switch from DIY to buying a clamp-on keyboard tray.
If after all of this you’re realizing it might be easier to just buy a tray it’s NOT a bad idea.
With slides and material adding up to a basic pre-made unit that likely integrates a wrist wrest it’s a viable option.
Option 1: Skip the Build and Buy a Keyboard Tray...
Adding a sliding 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
Option 2: Clamp on Keyboard Tray
For a glass top desk a simple clamp-on tray will give you a drawer tray in just seconds.
And, this will also work for a wood top, kitchen tables and any other surface with a lip to hold the clamps. All with no need to use screws.
- 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.
While a DIY keyboard tray is basic when it comes to drawer slides and a piece of wood, there are a lot of options to consider as you assemble one.
And, after factoring in time and investment in tray material (and wrist padding) it’s often not a bad choice to just buy one.
- About the Author
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.