Introduction: Computer Desk Cable Management on the Cheap

Since many of the projects on this site have helped me in the past, I thought it was time to give back. This is my first instructable, so go easy on me. Unfortunately I don't have pictures of the individual steps or even "before" pictures. I didn't think to publish an instructable until after my project was completed. The pic tells the complete story. If you don't like it, modify it, make it better or check out another solution. I personally like the pegboard design I saw on Lifehacker a while back, but my solution cost $0 and it is moderately adjustable, so it works best for me.



The problem:
The mess of cables on and under my computer desk was out of control. I couldn't vacuum under the desk, I'd get my feet tangled in them, I couldn't unplug anything without yanking something else out and it just looked messy. The list goes on and on.

The goal:
To create a solution to the problem that can be had with little or no money and little expertise, while utilizing stuff around the house. Nothing elegant, just simple and utilitarian.

First, a bit of background on the desk. I like mine simple and clean. My computer desk consists of an old cubicle slab on adjustable legs. The legs are adjustable from Rockler and are $39.99 for the set of four, the slab I got from my employer for free, its very sturdy and heavy. That's it. Slab on legs.

Tools needed:
Screwdriver/drill
Drill bits (sized for your fasteners)
Bolt cutter (or hacksaw if you need to shorten the length of the shelf)
Tape measure
Pen/pencil

Materials needed:
Length of Closet Maid or similar wire shelving (I used a 3'-0" section)
Closet Maid or similar plastic end caps
(2) steel angles (2 per 3'-0" of shelving, I'd recommend one additional angle for every 1'-0" or so of shelving)
Wood screws (lengths based on your desk thickness)
Zip ties in assorted lengths (I used the permanent ones, you can use the reusable ones too)
Gardner Bender or similar cable management clips (I used the Gardner Bender SnapSHOT MultiCable Staple)
All your spaghetti of wires under the desk

All of the above materials can be found at your local big box home improvement store. I got lucky and had all of this stuff lying around the basement, so this only cost me some sweat and elbow grease.

Be sure to check out the pictures at the end of this instructable, they show important details.

Step 1: Planning and Prep

First things first. Unplug and organize all your existing wires and cables, clear off and clean your desk. Think about how you want your desk laid out. What is comfortable for you? Where does the monitor go? Will the PC go on the floor or on the desk? Are you planning on adding to your gadget/wire/adapter collection in the future? A dual monitor setup with an old CRT I had prompted me to do this project. Maybe you have something you're thinking of doing in the future? Plan for it. Sketch it out on paper first. Make sure you have all the necessary cables and appropriate lengths/adapters, etc... Answer all these questions before moving on, you'll thank me later.

Once you have a home for everything, set it up where you want it. Most cables detach completely from the peripheral (i.e. PC, monitor, external drive, etc...). This makes it easy to set up the peripherals without the tangle of the cords. Lay out the cable on the shelf, figure out how you want things to run, you may want to attach other things besides cables to the shelf. Take a picture of the layout. I ran mine blind and had to make some adjustments because of it.

Step 2: Attaching the Brackets

Since I was doing this on the cheap, the brackets I've shown each have only one screw holding them in, this is because the 2nd hole is past the rear of the desk. I did this for a reason. See how the lip of the shelf acts as a guide for cable going underneath the desk and is "hung" off the brackets? I wanted it like this. That way the cables would not slide from side to side or overlap each other. This also helps if the rear of the desk is not against the wall, yes it doesn't look too pretty, but it protects the cables from the backside of the desk or from someone facing you on the other side of the desk.

Figure out where you want the shelf on the desk, centered, to the left to the right, whatever is best for your situation. Mark the spot where the brackets should go, I came in about 10" or so from each end of my 3'-0" shelf. You might want a buddy to hold the shelf in place while you mark the spots. Set the shelf on the brackets to see how far they should stick out, mark the holes, drill a pilot and fasten them to the underside of the desk. Take care in how far you drill and how long your screws are. You don't want to punch through the desktop, do you?

Step 3: Attaching the Shelf

Drape the shelf over the brackets and fasten to the wire shelf using zip-ties as shown in the picture. Don't be afraid to pull them too tight, the larger zip-ties are tough to break. Make sure you zip-tie in both directions so the shelf will not move side to side or up and down. Mine feels like its welded to the brackets. Trim off the excess. If the rear of the desk is exposed, you might want to be mindful of where the tie will be trimmed, these leave sharp edges. You may want to make sure the trimmed end is facing under the desk.

Step 4: Attach the Multicable Staples

As the pic shows, remove the nail from the staple and use a small screw to attach the staple to the underside of the desk. Use as many as you need, I used 5 for my 5'-0" wide desk. These staples hold a surprising amount of cable.

Step 5: Lay the Cable

For the sake of simplicity I decided to run the power cables first before any data cables. As you'll also see, I've zip-tied a 6 outlet strip to the shelf. My 10 year old Belkin PowerAuthority II that sits on my desk is for the equipment that is protected. The strip is for the non-essential components like my AA battery charger, mouse charger, router/cable gateway, speakers and stuff that I want "always on". As you can see I ran the power, coiled them up and zip-tied them to the shelf along with the AC adapters. I made sure to not tie them too tight so that I can slide them up and down on the wire to make room for additional cable if needed. However, make them tight enough so they don't slide down. Then run the data - usb, vga, dvi, etc...Make sure to allow enough slack in your lines so that you can pull out the PC without straining the cords. Basically everything that needed to be plugged in was attached to the wire shelf and everything that needed to run horizontally, I put in the MultiCable Staples. As you will note, I also attached my router to the shelf. I realized that I reset the thing like once every 6 months or so and there was no need to have it accessible. I know I may be taking a chance with kicking off the Wi-Fi antenna, but I'm willing to risk it.

Step 6: Shelf Lip Detail

Use a bolt cutter to trim out the shelf as needed to fit cables through, be careful as to not nick the cables, the cut end will be sharp. Use a file if need be. I had one cable that had to be run elsewhere because it would not fit through the hole. Prepare for this.

Step 7: Endcap Detail

For a finished look, push on these Closet Maid endcaps on each end of the shelf.

Step 8: Zip-tie Detail

Use a double zip tie to create a loop to attach an A/C adapter to. Also, daisy chain zip-ties to make longer ties.

Step 9: Excess Cable

This shows the excess cable from peripherals that are not a part of my desk such as my ethernet cables, printers, internet cable and subwoofer cable. Also in this batch of cable is the "slack" from the PC so that I can pull the PC out for service. Granted, its not the neatest, but its off the floor and its easy to identify each cable with no tangle.

Step 10: Final Product

As you can see, everything is off the floor and organized. Could it be prettier? Yep. Could I have added lights? Yep. Could I have spent money on this? Sure, but why would I when this cost nothing but a couple of hours on a Sunday. There are some excess cables on the left of the picture and that is due to the coax for internet and audio cables. For those who want to know what type of peripherals I run so they can judge space and how much shelving to get, read on:
-PC (on desk)
-19" Flat screen
-17" CRT
-external hard drive
-battery Charger
-left & right speakers + subwoofer
-Game controller
-6 outlet surge protector (on desk)
-mouse charger
-mini-usb cable run from rear of PC to charge phone
-headphone jack to RCA cable run from rear of PC
-network printer
-usb printer

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope this has helped at least one other person. Your comments are appreciated.

Comments

author
Wantonmin made it!(author)2011-04-12

Great use of existing equipment. I'm looking to build something similar for my workspace. I prefer not to poke any holes on the wall and need something that is attached under the table.

author
thewhitedogdad made it!(author)2010-09-26

Nice idea! My wife will love it. She is always complaining about the cables behind our computer desk.

author
uskeepa made it!(author)2010-05-14

I like this and think it's a very simple yet elegant solution...just out of curiosity -- why mount the unit to the wall so the "clutter" can still be seen rather than the underside of the table itself w/some lag-bolts and eye-hooks so you could even mount and unmount?  Just a thought.

author
70melbatoast made it!(author)2010-05-27

Thanks for compliment. Lag bolts/hooks are a great idea! My goal was to create something that I had sitting around the house and to spend little or no money. The way my office is laid out, there would be no reason for me to remove the shelf so I decided on angles & zip ties.

author
adhyyy made it!(author)2010-02-09

 i love this idea, specially  the shelf  :) i'll build one for mine.
thanx buddy :)

author
greatoak made it!(author)2010-01-28

Gr8 instructable! The pictures are very well done. I've seen too many blurry photos.

author
Supercoke made it!(author)2009-12-28

i give you commended performance on this ible. it is very unique and well written. especially for your first ible. you sir, get 4.5 stars!

author
wilwrk4tls made it!(author)2009-10-27

 Something else I like to do is to put my label maker to good use (and before it masking tape and a Sharpie) and label all the cords down there so that when you need to unplug something you can hopefully undo the right cable.

author
JediZombie made it!(author)2009-09-23

I like this, and I will soon be using this idea of yours. I will of course make adjustments for myself, but I think it will work perfectly

author
shtihl made it!(author)2009-07-20

i would have positioned the router so i can see the diagnostic lights. perhaps mount a mirror? you could probably use an old compact mirror (from wife or girlfriend)

author
wakebordr made it!(author)2009-06-26

This looks great. I am off to go buy my parts right now. I hope that it turns out as good as yours. Thanks for the advice and taking the time to make this guide.

author
CabrielLoxley made it!(author)2009-06-12

Very good solution. An alternative will soon be available at www.cablox.com No more loose cables! The Cablox Brigade

author
PlaidCat made it!(author)2009-04-22

This is a GREAT idea! I have an old wooden army desk with a pool of wires at the back that I can't clean around. This should take care of the problem. Thanks for taking the time to post. :)

author
MJTH made it!(author)2008-12-04

Coils of wire with electricity going through will cause heat and magnetic fields, its unsafe and can cause fires,

author
70melbatoast made it!(author)2008-12-08

J_Mi Thanks for pointing that out. While your point is very true, I think in this case any additional magnetic field or heat difference is negligible. We are not talking about 100's of feet of tightly wound, high current wire here. They are off the ground and will get better airflow instead of collecting dust and getting stepped on or tripped over while being on the floor.

author
tristan993 made it!(author)2008-09-21

looks professional

author
dchall8 made it!(author)2008-08-14

That's pretty good. I use the Velcro peel-off strips that come on a roll, but I like your ideas. One problem I had with mine was my speaker wire. When I coiled it up it became an antenna for the local AM radio station. I have to stretch it out to keep from hearing a buzz of country music all the time.

author
70melbatoast made it!(author)2008-08-14

Thanks for the feedback. Never thought of the velcro strips. Good idea!

author
dchall8 made it!(author)2008-08-14

Two rolls of 50 were under $5 at Home Depot.

author
verence made it!(author)2008-08-14

So you live probably very closely to the transmitter or your speaker is very badly designed/shielded. As you can't shut down the transmitter and most probably don't won't to buy new speakers, you might like to try to add some toroidal cores on your speaker wires. The bigger ones (often used in PCs and power supplies) open into two halves and can be mounted around a single speaker cable or even some coiled up speaker cables. If you have (or can find) a bigger toroidal core ferroid (not sure, if this is English ;-) ), wrap the end of the speaker line around it some time (6..10 times should do). This will block any high-frequency waves picked up from nearby transmitters. If it doesn't help ... well just let the cable drop down on the floor _ANTYTHING_ is better than country music.. (sorry c.m. lovers ot there..) :-)

author
dchall8 made it!(author)2008-08-14

Thanks. That's very helpful. For now I have that one wire stretched out and taped to the underside of the table. So far so good but I'll definitely remember your suggestion. I re-rig my wires occasionally.

author
gamer made it!(author)2008-08-14

Great, now I have a project for tonight when I get bored! Thank you very much!!! Faved and Rated -gamer

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