What Material Should You Choose For Your Desktop?

If you’re shopping for a new desk, building one from scratch, or even upcycling a desk, the most critical choice you will make is the desktop material.  You will be working on this surface day after day, week after week, hopefully for years! 

Getting the material right the first time around means you will enjoy your desk for longer as it’s a better fit for your needs. Be sure to also get the correct tabletop depth! We have an article on how deep desks should typically be and how your monitor size could influence this depth.

In this article, we’re talking about what materials are available for desks along with their pros and cons. With this guide, you will have a clear overview of what materials are available, and which is the best for you.  

The Common Desktop Materials

There are a ton of materials that can work as a desktop. These are the options that are commonly sold with desks and are also readily available on their own. 


First up is probably the most common type of desk: laminate. Laminate/Formica desks are popular due to their nice surface finishes and affordability. These are also referred to as melamine desks. 

These are typically made with a base material such as engineered wood, and the laminate is glued on top to provide a more robust surface. Engineered wood alone can soak up liquids, expands, and scratches easily. 

Kaboon 55x28 inches Universal Table Top, Melamine Table Tops One-Piece Sit Stand Desk Wood Top, Wood Countertop, Bench Top Only, Light Oak

Combining a base material of engineered wood with a robust top layer makes a very affordable and functional desktop. 

There is another type of laminate known as HPL (or high-pressure laminate). These have many more layers of laminate pressed together for a more robust desktop overall. They are not as common for consumer desks. 

Check out this article to learn more about the types of laminate desks. 


Do you want a desk that looks like a wood desk, but you don’t want to pay the wood desk prices? A veneer is exactly that. 

Veneer is similar to laminate in that it uses an affordable base/core material of engineered wood. Instead of a laminate being used as the tough top layer, real wood is bonded on top of the engineered wood. 

This gives you a nice wood surface that has all the advantages of real wood, but it’s a bit more affordable with the engineered wood core. 

Paper Filled

Paper-filled planks are the best desktop surface for tight budgets. This is IKEA’s signature affordable desk type. When I say affordable, I mean it. 

You can get an IKEA Linnmon desk for $50 at the time of writing. The paper-filled top alone is just $20

What does paper filled even mean? Check out the video below to see what’s inside these desks. 

A desk with this cost is a lifesaver for students too. It has a decently scratch-resistant top surface and is super lightweight. 

So what is it made of specifically? According to the IKEA website, the LINNMON table top has a fiberboard top and bottom surface. The topmost surface is finished with acrylic paint, which gives you that nice hard surface. 

The far ends of the table where the legs attach are made from particle board core. The core of the rest of the desk has 70% recycled honeycomb structure paper filling. All of this is finished with plastic edging to complete the clean look. 

The downside with this type of desk is that you can’t depend on the strength. For example, monitor arms usually have a tiny clamp that applies a lot of load to a desk. People can easily damage a paper-filled desk with a monitor clamp mount. 

That’s why we have our article on how to mount monitors for thin and weak desks


Glass is another desk material that is used every once in a while. These desks are easy to clean, have a nice hard surface, and can even give your desk a modern look. People also use their glass desks as a whiteboard! 

These desks can also break the moment a high load is applied to a small area. Don’t drop anything with some weight on it! Cable management is also a challenge with glass desks. We dedicated an entire article on how to cable manage these desks specifically.

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You also have to be careful about clamping things to a glass desk. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if what you are clamping is holding the entire glass area or just a small point. 

I only recommend glass desks if people love the look and the straightforward maintenance. Otherwise, there are a few more risks with these types of tables.

Engineered Wood

Engineered wood is mostly used in the first three categories of desks that we talked about: laminate, veneer, and paper-filled desks. 

It’s pretty uncommon for a desktop to just be made of plain engineered wood. It is more often a core material that is covered up with a more durable material. One exception is plywood, which we touch on soon. 

Splice board desks are typically also made with engineered wood for budget versions. If you don’t know what they are check out our dedicated article on splice board desks.

These are the most common types of engineered wood:


MDF stands for medium-density fiberboard. Fiberboard is one of the most common types of core or base materials to use for desks. Cheap with some respectable strength. 

Bright Creations 1/4 In MDF Wood Chipboard Sheets for Crafts, Engraving, Painting (11x14 in, 6 Pack)

These are literally tiny fibers of wood that are all glued and pressed together to make a “board”. 


Plywood is a little different. This is actual wood with a grain structure and everything. These strips are all pressed and glued together. 

This is not commonly found in the core of desks, unlike MDF. However, many DIY’ers out there are making fully functional desks out of plywood. It’s a very close material to solid wood! 

Solid Wood

Now we start getting into the cream of the crop, solid wood! Solid wood is the most durable desktop surface of them all. And they have the price to show it. 

Wood desks can truly last a lifetime. They are super strong, so they are hard to permanently damage. Also, if there are gouges and blemishes that appear over a great long use, you can sand and refinish the surface. 

This makes solid wood tables a very worthy investment. You can even stain and oil a wood surface for an entirely new look. 

Different types of wood come in at different prices. Here is a guide that illustrates the respective cost of different types of wood

Let’s talk about the main types of wood that desktops are made with. 

Bamboo (Actually Grass)

Bamboo is not wood, so it technically shouldn’t be in this category.  It’s actually a grass type. The reason I left it in this category is because it is similarly durable to a solid wood desk. 

Bamboo grows very fast compared to normal trees. This boosts the sustainability factor dramatically. It also makes it much more affordable compared to the other types of solid wood out there. 

VWINDESK 72 x 30 x 1 Inch 100% Solid Bamboo Desk Table Top Only,for Standing Desk Home Office Desk with 60mm Grommets(Right Angle)

The Big Three: Oak, Maple, & Walnut

The most popular solid wood tables out there are made from these three materials. Oak, Maple, and Walnut. Of these three types of wood, oak is the most affordable, followed by maple, and lastly walnut. 

Oak and maple generally come in lighter colors, while walnut is typically a darker wood. 

Other Types

There are a ton more options for solid wood desks. Here are some examples in order of cost. 

  • Rubberwood
  • Acacia
  • Birch
  • Saman
  • Mahogany
  • Pheasant wood

Here’s an image from UpLift’s website showing off the different types of wood tops you can get with their associated thickness and cost added to a desk. 

Uplift Wood Desk Top Options List

Butcher Block (Any Wood Type)

You might see the term “Butcher Block” around while you’re shopping for a desk or a top surface. A butcher block is solid wood of a certain type (any of the above solid wood materials) that is made from strips of wood bonded together. 

It helps to know all these terms because you just know more about the surface that you are buying. 

Which Materials Are Environmentally Friendly?

If you have an interest in environmentally friendly table tops, here are some of the best materials that support sustainability. 

Paper Filled

IKEA’s paper-filled desktops are filled with 70% recycled material! They are partially hollow, so you get a usable desk surface with a small fraction of the material that a normal desk needs. 

That’s a huge jump for sustainability. Less material doing more work. There are some great engineers over there at IKEA! 

Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed wood is exactly what it sounds like. This is wood that is being repurposed and is being reused for a desk surface. The wood from these types of desks could be from old buildings, farms, etc. 

They are simply re-processed to make them usable again. No need to cut down and replace a tree as what would be happening with a brand new wood desk! 

HEIRLOUM Reclaimed Wood Table Top - Rustic Recycled Solid Wooden Piece Perfect for Kitchens, Dining and Coffee Table Tops (Reclaimed Wood Table Top - Economy, 30" x 48")


As we touched on before, bamboo grows super fast! According to this article, bamboo can be ready to harvest in 3-5 years, while trees need 50-100 years! 

You require fewer resources to support 3-5 years of growth compared to 50 to 100 years! 

What Desk Top Material Is For You?

So what should you choose? Which of the above is right for you? 

I would first start answering this question with your budget. Your budget can make this a quick decision. Here is a graphic that organizes the materials we talked about organized by cost. 

Once you have the cost narrowed down, think about the aesthetics you are going for along with the durability. Think about your desk as an investment. Higher-quality materials will last longer, but if you take care of your desk, even the paper-filled tops can last.

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I'm a big time workspace enthusiast who is constantly experimenting with my setup. Sharing along the way to help people make their own desk setups more functional and inviting, whether it be for productivity or play!