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Karlby & Alex Review – Using IKEA counter tops as desk tops

A recent trend with Ikea hackers is to use an Ikea kitchen counter top as a desk table top.

The first time I saw something like this was back in 2015, someone fitted an Ikea kitchen butchers block to their Bekant. It was something that got me thinking about the idea of solid wood desk tops. In the last couple of years, you may have come across Karlby & Alex desks, this hack is even simpler. Grab a kitchen counter top, and plonk it on two Alex drawer units.

As Ikea desks became more and more difficult to buy from March to May 2020, this idea seemed to gain in popularity. So, would we recommend it? Here are some factors to consider:

  1. Stability – A heavy top and sturdy base make it a stable option, but is the height right for you?
  2. Quality – Ikea kitchen counter tops are better quality than most of the desk table tops, but be careful if wanting to use with monitors or camera clamps.
  3. Cost – The Karlby & Alex desk set up is an Ikea hack, but are you actually saving any money?
  4. Endless configurations – This hack gives you a number of options to play with, but at only 2 lengths, could a custom sized desk top be right for you?
  5. Video reviews – 2 particularly useful and honest video reviews.

Karlby & Alex Stability

The Ikea Alex set up with a decent size top from a stability point of view is ideal. The centre of gravity is low, as it is not a sit/stand configuration. I have never heard anyone say they are worried about knocking the top, one reason is the Karlby top is heavy, about 39kg (of course, a solid oak desk top would be heavier and more planted still). The second reason for the superior stability is the ‘desk frame’…

The top is not fixed to the Alex drawers in anyway, but the Alex drawers are 36cm wide by 58cm deep, double that up and the surface area your desk is resting on is way bigger than most desks. Remember though, why don’t standard desks have such substantial support under the desk table top? Because it eats into your under desk leg room, so bear that in mind if you are thinking of using a smaller length that the 186cm counter top.

The Alex drawers are 70cm high, the same height as pretty much all Ikea desks. Their sit/stand desks often go down to 70cm. Is this ideal? Remember the Karlby 3.8cm deep, so that means your keyboard will be resting at about 74cm heigh. Ergonomically, for the average female height in the UK, you might want to be considering a desk that goes down to 60-65cm. Does this mean the Karlby & Alex set up is not for you? Not necessarily, other draw units from Ikea and other furniture retailers could have a draw unit the perfect size for you.

What if you are pretty tall? 70-74cm is likely going to be too small for your needs. Again, you could shop around for taller desk drawer units, or you could implement this hack of using furniture legs to prop the desk further. The first video at the bottom of this page gives you a quick how-to.

Adding furniture legs to the Alex drawer unit to increase the height of the desk

Karlby Kitchen Countertop/Worktop Quality

The Karlby countertop is a veneered unit. It is not solid wood, but is it better than a standard Ikea desk top? Yes. Standard Ikea table tops are not even MDF, they are cardboard inside, the Karlby is veneered chipboard, as shown below. Will this cause you any issues? It depends. If you are planning on loading your desk a monitor or two (and maybe a monitor raiser), a monitor arm or camera clamp, or even just planning on putting any kind of weight on the desk, be very careful. Both videos below highlight sagging of Karlby counter top, despite the only weight being their peripherals! One of the reviewers below also noticed sagging even though he had installed a support beam (using the >2m top).

Above: the cardboard inside a Linnmon top, similar to many of the other Ikea desk tops. Below: the chip board found inside the Karlby counter top.

A solid oak or pine desk top like the ones we make would not warp, sag or bow, even at 23mm. They also take the strain of monitor arms and camera clamps well. With the support from the Alex drawers, a solid wood top would not need an additional support, giving you more leg room under the desk.

Karlby & Alex Desk Estimated Costs

Most people use this set up as it is a cost effective way of sourcing an oversized desk. So, just how cost effective?

ItemQuantityCost
Karlby Walnut top1£150
Alex Drawer Unit2£55
Sultan Support Leg1£5
Furniture Legs (Amazon)2£15
Ikea Delivery1£30
Total£325

If you were planning on doing without the support leg and opting for solid wood from Ikea, things get a little pricer, their custom sized solid oak comes in at £200 per metre, so for that top it would be approximately £344 instead of £150 (+ delivery of £30). Check out our cost calculator for our all in price for a top of your exact required dimensions, with free delivery and returns, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

The options are endless!

A real benefit of this approach is how adaptable and flexible the whole premise is. You can swap the Alex Drawers for any other drawers, Ikea or otherwise. You can even use drawers on one side, and legs or a trestle (Ikea Finnvard) on the other. Don’t like the dark veneer? The Karlby walnut top could be swapped for a number of other counter tops that Ikea do, so you can get the right look for the office you are making. What’s more, as the ‘desk frame’ components are relatively inexpensive, and useful in their own right, changing things up in the future is always an option too; if you like to shuffle your furniture around a lot, this could be the answer for you.

Ikea kitchen tops do give you some limitations though. If you go too long, you risk sagging, if you wanted a different length from 186cm or 246cm you will need to get the circular saw out, if you want to load the desk with monitors or camera clamps, it might not be the right call. Fortunately, our custom sized solid oak and pine desk table tops can solve all of these problems.

Karlby & Alex video reviews worth watching

All IKEA Sit/Stand Desk Reviews

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