Introduction: Building a Computer Desk / DIY Desk PC
In this two part video and Instructable, I'll show you how to build your own computer desk / desk PC. What's a desk PC? Well, you take all of your computer components and shove them into your desk, negating the need for a computer case. More importantly, they're fun to build and trick out!
Make sure to check out the two videos above before moving onto the Instructable! There's a lot of detail that's hard to convey through pictures and text alone. Onwards!
Step 1: Gather Your Materials, Hardware & Tools
This desk has a LOT of hardware, I tried to list everything below as that's the most common question on these Instructables usually. The tools needed for this build are pretty simple, you could build the whole desk with a circular saw, jigsaw, and drill.
Materials Used on Computer Desk / Desk PC Build
- 3 sheets of ¾" Purebond plywood: http://bit.ly/purebond
- 1 sheet of ½" Purebond plywood: http://bit.ly/purebond
- 1 sheet of ¼" Purebond plywood: http://bit.ly/purebond
- 1 pound of 1 ¼" wood screws: http://amzn.to/2jqmkBc
- 1 box of 1 ¼" pocket screws: http://amzn.to/2jqkz6K
- 4 sets of 22-Inch Bottom Mount Drawer Slides: http://amzn.to/2j3Y5Mx
- 1 set of 16-Inch Bottom Mount Drawer Slides: http://amzn.to/2j3XHxH
- 1 set of 12-Inch Bottom Mount Drawer Slides (for keyboard tray): http://amzn.to/2iAO8mn
- 2 sets of 1-1/2" X 30" Continuous Hinges: http://amzn.to/2jqzC0p
- 1 set of 1-1/2" X 12" Continuous Hinges (for subwoofer access panel): http://amzn.to/2iAKQPT
- 1 pair of 100N/22.5lb Gas Springs/Gas Struts: http://amzn.to/2jqnJrs
- 1 x USB 3.0 x 4 Power/Reset Button: http://amzn.to/2ic7H3j
- 1 x High Speed USB Charger Receptacle: http://amzn.to/2iccFNg
- 2 x Fan System 8" with Speed Control: http://amzn.to/2iciISa
- 5 x Cable Pass Through Brush Plates: http://amzn.to/2j3QJZm
- Triple Monitor Mount: http://amzn.to/2jVJAHq
Tools Used on Computer Desk / Desk PC Build
- Dewalt 20V Max Impact Driver : http://amzn.to/1QxJD7w
- Bosch ROS65VC-6 Random Orbit Sander : http://amzn.to/2aWHSDR
- SawStop PCS 1.75-HP Professional Cabinet Saw : http://amzn.to/2aqqRyn
- DEWALT FLEXVOLT 120v MAX* 12" Double Bevel Compound Sliding Miter Saw : http://amzn.to/2ah20gS
- Kreg Jig K4 Pocket Hole System: http://amzn.to/2gcJ5LY
- DEWALT Biscuit Joiner: http://amzn.to/2j3PpG4
- Shapeoko XL CNC: http://bit.ly/shapeokoXL
Step 2: Get to Know the Design
Let's take a look at the SketchUp model before getting into the build, so you can get a handle on this project. Here's the complete desk.
Also, I do have plans available for this desk, including the SketchUp file, cut list, and cutting diagram to help break down the plywood. You can check the plans out here: https://craftedworkshop.com/product/computer-desk-diy-desk-pc-plans/
The second photo is the "midsection", as I'll call it in this build. The midsection and cabinet legs are separate structures. This makes them easy to separate if/when the desk needs to be moved. Since this desk is all plywood, it is incredibly heavy. Having it as three separate structures makes it much more manageable.
On the cabinet legs, the channel you see in the back right and left of the cabinets is for cables to run through. The hole on the right cabinet is a compartment for a subwoofer. The sub is located inside the desk, surrounded in foam to isolate the sound. This desk is in a dorm room, and the isolated sub really helps keep from pissing off the other students.
Step 3: Break Down Materials
Alright, now that we know how the desk will look, let's get onto the build! First step is to break down the sheet goods. I used a table saw and track saw/circular saw, but you could get away with breaking down all of the pieces with a circular saw. Just make sure to keep everything square!
Step 4: Cut Holes Needed in Cabinet Legs & Assemble Cabinet Carcasses
After the pieces are broken down, I cut the individual holes into the various pieces using a jigsaw. This is the back of one of the cabinets, and is where the cables will run out. In the second photo, I'm cutting the hole for the subwoofer compartment.
After cutting the holes, I assembled the cabinets and most of the desk using pocket holes. Pocket holes are a great choice for assembling sheet good projects (plywood, MDF, etc). They're fast and plenty strong for these applications. This is the pocket hole jig I used. It has paid for itself many times over, I use it all the time.
I assembled the desk with 1 ¼" pocket screws and glue. When drilling your pocket holes, make sure to orient them so they're facing either the inside or the back of the structures, this way they'll be hidden in the final desk.
In the second to last photo, I'm assembling the cable channel that is mounted in the back of the cabinet. Brad nails and glue are plenty here.
The last piece in the cabinet carcasses are these top stretchers. These help to strengthen everything and keep everything square.
Step 5: Assemble the Desk PC Midsection
Next, I started assembling the midsection. I attached the sidewalls with screws and glue from below. Make sure to pre-drill! In the first photo, I'm installing the back of the midsection.
Continue adding your pieces. I would also highly recommend countersinking your holes, otherwise the screws might not sit flush and will cause gaps between the midsection and cabinets.
I decided to get fancy with the front pieces of the midsection and cut the vent holes and USB hub mounting hole with my CNC. This is obviously completely optional, but I thought this was a nice touch. With the holes cut, I mounted the front piece, again with screws and glue.
In the last photo, you'll see the inner divider, which will hold the fans. There is one of these on each side of the midsection, and one set of fans will pull air in and the other will push air out. This will create plenty of circulation in the midsection. It's attached with pocket screws.
Next, I installed in the inner side walls. This is where the keyboard tray will mount.
Step 6: Cut Away Excess Plywood From Desk PC Midsection
After getting all of the side pieces mounted, I flipped the midsection and cut away the excess plywood from inside the keyboard tray area. I marked out my lines using a framing square then cut away the excess with a jigsaw. I left about ¼" of excess material, just to make sure I didn't cut into the sides of the desk.
After rough cutting the cutout, I flushed everything up with a flush trim bit on my router.
Step 7: Cut Holes Into Desk PC Midsection
Next, I needed to cut a bunch of holes into the sides and bottom of the midsection for the cables to pass through. I made a little template and used a template bit on a trim router to make these holes. I first tried cutting them with the jigsaw but they looked sloppy and it was a slow process. With the template, I was able to knock these out really quickly.
Here, you can see the template in action. I clamp it down onto the midsection, lower the router into the template, and follow the template with the router bit. This bit has a bearing that rides along the edge of the template. I had to take two passes since the cut was fairly deep.
The last piece I needed to get done for the midsection was this long divider (third photo). This piece really stressed me out, as this is where the computer components will be mounted. I had some pretty exact measurements I needed to hit here. I actually managed to cut this on my relatively small CNC by cutting the holes on one half then flipping the piece over and cutting the rest of the holes. You could also use a jigsaw.
Step 8: Build the Drawers
With the midsection and cabinets done, I started working on the drawers. They're made of ½" plywood for the sides and ¼" plywood for the bottom.
I initially assemble the drawer with brad nails and glue then come back and reinforce the corners and bottom with screws. Again, make sure to pre-drill!
Next, I routed the drawer handles into the drawer fronts. I made a quick little template and used the same template bit I used previously, this time on the router table. You could definitely use a handheld router for this. Using a template ensures that all of the drawer fronts will look the same.
Step 9: Build the Keyboard Tray
I assembled the keyboard tray in the same way as the drawers, with brad nails, glue, then screws. The tray is basically just a drawer with no front, and is made with ½" plywood. The holes are for the keyboard and mouse cables.
Step 10: Fit the Computer Desk Top
Next, I chamfered the top and bottom edges of the desk top with the router. This helps with wear and tear on the edges of the plywood, and also gives the top a nice, finished look.
Step 11: Install the Drawers & Drawer Fronts
I installed the drawers using inexpensive bottom mount drawer slides. These install really easily and are nice and smooth.
Next, I installed the drawer fronts. You can see how clean the pulls look since I used the template. I spaced the drawer fronts evenly using playing cards, then clamped them in place and attached them with screws from the inside of the drawer.
Step 12: Add Spacer Blocks to Bottom of Cabinets
The last pieces to add were these spacer blocks on the bottom of the cabinets. I needed to add these, since the casters I used needed 1 ½" of mounting depth and this plywood is ¾" thick. I just glued and brad nailed them in place.
Step 13: Connect Cabinets and Midsection
Next, I need to connect the cabinets and midsection. I used biscuits for this, but you could also use dowels if you don't have a biscuit joiner. I added two biscuits along the front edge and three biscuits along the side. I glued the bottom half of the biscuit into the midsection slot but didn't glue in the top half. This way, the desk can be separated for moving. This worked really, really well.
Step 14: Prep for Finish
I filled all of the holes with wood filler and then sanded all of the surfaces smooth. I used hardwood plywood on this project, and I would highly recommend using something like that. It starts out really smooth, so it didn't take a ton of work to get it ready for finish. Sheathing grade plywood would have been a pain.
Step 15: Paint the Computer Desk (aka a Complete Nightmare)
For the finish, I used a black milk paint covered with a clear polyurethane top coat for protection. I attempted to spray the milk paint, and it was a major fail.
Here I am trying to spray the paint, trying being the operative word. This was a HUGE pain and was incredibly slow, no matter how much I thinned the paint. I ended up having to paint the desk by hand, and it was a very, very, very slow process. It took my wife and I over seven hours to put two coats onto the desk. It was not fun. I almost had a breakdown here. Many thanks to my lovely, patient wife for keeping me sane here.
Step 16: Apply Clear Coat to the Computer Desk
After painting, I sprayed on three coats of water based polyurethane. This was so much quicker, and probably only took an hour and a half for all three coats, plus the couple of hours of drying time between coats. I also sanded with 320 grit sandpaper between coats.
Step 17: Install Computer Desk Hardware & Electronics
With the finish applied, it was time to install all of the hardware. First, the access panel for the subwoofer compartment. I installed this door using a piano hinge and barrel bolt.
Next, I installed the fans. One of these 90 degree impact driver attachments is a necessity here.
I continued installing the electronics, attached the USB hubs and power button. I used the playing card trick again here to get even spacing.
Next, I installed these cable pass through brush plates. There are a total of five of these on the desk. Two on the front, behind the keyboard tray, for the mouse and keyboard cables to pass through into the desk. The other three are on the back of the desk, and this is where the cables for the three monitors route into the desk. Pretty slick.
Next, I installed the piano hinges on the back of the top. I used two 30" piano hinges, and they seem plenty strong to support the top.
I installed the drawer slides for the keyboard tray next. I'm not super happy with the way the keyboard tray works, since it's a little loose when it's fully extended. It's not a huge deal, but not as good as I had hoped. I think some different drawer slides might have worked better.
Finally, I installed the gas struts that help lift the top and hold it up when working "beneath the hood", so to speak. These were a royal pain and took a lot of fiddling, but I finally got it right.
The last step in the build was to install the casters. These were simple, just drilled a few holes, pounded the caster sleeve into the hole with a hammer, then popped the casters in. Done! Also, my niece found these casters fascinating.
Step 18: Marvel in the Greatness of Your Super Awesome Lift Top!
This was an extremely satisfying moment.
Step 19: Trick It Out With Your Computer Components!
Obviously, this desk can be customized to fit any configuration you need, and you can also swap out parts as they become obsolete in the future. This desk should last for many, many years.
Step 20: Enjoy Your Desk!
Hopefully, you all enjoyed this build. This was a huge undertaking for me, and I'll really happy with the way it turned out.
Again, I do have plans available for this if you want to replicate this exact desk, including the SketchUp file, cut list, and cutting diagram to help break down the plywood. You can check the plans out here: https://craftedworkshop.com/product/computer-desk-diy-desk-pc-plans/
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