Introduction: Floating Computer Desk Workstation (with Hidden Printer Area and Floating Keyboard Pullout)
In this Instructable, I'll show you how I made my new computer desk with a cabinet area with a movable shelf, floating pullout keyboard, and hidden printer area; and it's all very, very sturdy (ignore the lack of cable management). What I had previously did a pretty decent job, but it just didn't maximize the space I had where I keep my computer in my new place. I sent the old unit downstairs and this one is what came about. I had the idea that I didn't need, or even want, legs (on the desk, not my body). There's no need for legs because this desk is in a nook. So that's really the kicker here...if you don't have a nook where you want your computer, then I'm afraid this desk isn't for you. You'd have to either build a wall/closet on a side f the room, or get lucky like me. There are certainly better alternatives on this site. Like a lot of Instructables, this one is to serve a very specific purpose. But you can always take away any ideas from this you'd like and make 'em into your own build (especially the pullout keyboard drawer). Mama taught me to share.
Step 1: Measure and Gather Tools/materials
Hopefully I'll be able to give you enough info that you won't have to make 13 different trips for different screws to the hardware store like I did. That's the idea anyway. This is a very simple design that you can use a limited amount of tools and materials. It ended up costing me about $100, most of which was for the stain($15), hardwood ($40), and special keyboard drawer materials($30). Make sure you measure your nook to ensure you have enough wood to go on. This should be plenty. It was enough to make mine (27" x 56") with some leftovers. I would be hesitant to make the top too much longer than that or else you might start to see some bowing, especially depending on what you plan on putting on it (no safes). I had no issues with that however.
Table saw/Skil saw (something to cut wood)
router (not completely necessary though)
jigsaw (for optional printer paper opening)
3/16 and XXXX drillbits
stud finder (luckily, I've got my wife...she always knows where I am)
1 1/2" or 2 1/2" hole cutter
phillips head screw bits
120 and 220 grit sandpaper
paint brush for oil bases
1 3/4" 4x8 sheet of birchwood (or oak, or another hardwood)
2 96" 2x4s
1 cable grommet1 cable grommet (optional)
1 pint of stain, pre-stain conditioner, and post-stain finish (I used the aerosol can version and recommend something else)
2 2ft. levels (very specific level, I-beam type (mine was from Home Cheapo, $11/ea.)
4 pairs of sliding door rollers, screws included (about $2/pair)
2 pairs of rear drawer rollers, screws included (one left and one right, $2/pair)
1 pkg. of shelf supports ($2 for the nice ones)
2 small L-brackets (aka corner brackets)
box of 1/2" wood or metal screws
box of 3" deck screws
"Measure twice, cut once"
Step 2: Cut the Support Braces
The 2x4s will create the support for the desk. To do this, measure the length of the back wall. In my case, it was 56 1/2" long, so I cut one piece to that length. Next, decide how far out you want the desk to come. You want it to be at least 25 1/2" deep for the keyboard drawer mechanism. I chose a depth of 27" without thinking about how I was going to do the keyboard pullout drawer, so it just so happened to work out (whew!). Once you decide on your depth, cut two 2x4s at a length 1 1/2" shorter than the depth to allow for the width of the 2x4 support on the back wall (FYI, the actual width of a 2x4 is not 2" by 4", it is 1 1/2" by 3 1/2"). I decided to cut the supports that were to be visible to the front of the desk at an angle so that they weren't just a flat fronted 2x4. It worked out very nicely. I just grabbed a straight-edge to what I thought I would like, drew it on one, cut it, and traced it on the other. It's not completely necessary to know the angle, but by all means, please get out your protractors. If you do choose to do this, make sure that you choose an inside side that is pretty without any words or logos on it.
Step 3: Cut the Desk Top, Cabinet, Shelf, and Keyboard Drawer
The hardwood you choose will compose the actual desk top area, cabinet with shelf, and the pullout keyboard drawer. More individual forethought will come into play here because of the exact dimensions of your nook. Like I mentioned previously, my top is 27" x 56 1/2". Cut one large piece for your top to these exact dimensions. And while we're on the largest piece, go ahead and cut your 1 1/2" hole for your cables to go through (yes, this is big enough for a monitor cable to fit through). NOTE: If you want a plastic or metal grommet to dress it up, make sure your hole is 2 1/2" so the grommet will fit, as they do not make 1 1/2" grommets.
Next, decide how long you want the size of your keyboard pullout. I wanted a slightly oversized one, but it actually turned out to be the perfect size at 12" x 30". You can see in the photo how it was ultimately laid out. Think about this carefully because you only have so much room to work with.
The cabinet section on the right is also the hidden printer area. The shelf goes on any given level when inserted in the cabinet. My storage area measured 17 1/2" wide, 17" deep, and 10 1/2" tall. Adjust accordingly to your likings. The only area of concern is to make sure the interior dimensions are wide enough to fit your printer in. Most standard printers are relatively compact. Mine was 16" at it's widest point. If you don't plan on using this as a hidden printer area, then it's irrelevant. I cut three pieces; the left side as 10"x17", the right side as 6 1/2"x17" (shorter since it's mounted underneath the 3 1/2" tall 2x4 to make the full 10" to match the left side), and the bottom as 17 1/2"x17". Basically, the bottom is mounted underneath the two sides, as opposed to in between the two sides, just to keep it simple. This way I didn't have to try to hide the screws, I just went in from underneath. Then cut the shelf that will go inside the boxed cabinet to the interior dimensions. Again, mine was 16 1/4"x17". Also, be sure to cut an extra piece of hardwood about 3"x6 1/2" to insert in between the wall and the cabinet for extra support.
Step 4: Cut the Insert Hole for Your Printer Paper
If you choose not to put a hidden printer area, then you can proceed to the next step. However, if you do like the idea of not seeing and dealing with your unsightly plastic POS printer (and I digress), then you'll find this is a great way of getting it out of sight. The will also take some careful measuring. "Measure twice, cut once." You'll need to measure how big you want your hole that comes out of the desk for your paper. Mine is 9"x3" which was plenty large enough for the paper to fit through, as well as make any adjustments for the printer's guide for different paper sizes, like envelopes, photos, etc. Most importantly, you'll need to find out exactly where it needs to be in relation to the side wall. The edge of my 9"x3" hole was 5" away from the side wall, which allowed enough room for the printer to be adjacent to the interior side of the cabinet and still allow the paper to come up through the hole. This way, all you see is the paper, not the printer. And it's still easily accessible to change ink and obtain printouts. If your printer is an HP-style front/bottom feed, then this wouldn't really do you any good, unless you want to future-proof your desk. But I'd say it's not worth the cutout on top if you're doing that. Just put it in the cabinet area.
Since I wasn't sure that I'd always want the hole, I made it to where it was replaceable. If cut at an angle, you can easily put the top back on and have your space back. It only needs to be two sides, so once you've decided where the cutout is going to be, drill two holes on opposite corners large enough to insert your jigsaw blade through, while making sure that the hole doesn't go outside the pre-measured line you drew of the cutout. I repeat, drill on the inside on the cutout, not the outside. Otherwise, you'll be stuck with two moon-shaped holes in your desk top. I also created a replica of the piece of wood that came out because it had holes in it. I don't know of a way around this, but I didn't really put much effort into thinking of a way around it either, so.... I kinda like the replica piece anyways because it's a different grain, thus not trying to look like it's not there. It is indeed there and it looks nice. It might take a little sanding to get it to fit just right, but it's worth it.
Step 5: Drill Peg Holes for Shelf Supports
Next, for the interior of the cabinet storage area we'll add the peg holes so that you can insert the shelf and different heights according to your current and future needs. First, mark a vertical line about 3" inside the front and back on each side. Measure out how far apart (height) you'd like the holes from each other. I chose to have it adjustable at a 2" intervals, which gave me 3 different heights for the shelf. Just take the 3/16 drill bit and bore out a 1/2" into each mark you made for each individual hole. A drill press would be ideal here if you have it, otherwise, just be careful you don't go too far.
Step 6: Routing the Edges
If you have a router, choose your pattern and begin to route the edges. Make sure you have all your orientations correct. Know where the front is at all times! I chose a simple round edge. I actually didn't have a router and didn't want to buy one, or even BNR (buy and return) one, so I called a local carpenter and he came to my house and did everything I needed for $15. Same day! Not too shabby, eh?
Step 7: Sand Away
Now you may begin the process of sanding. A very easy way to do this is to get the big sheets of sandpaper and wrap a scrap 2x4 with it and, if you have a staple gun handy, secure it to the 2x4. Voila! This will work well for the flat surfaces. Start with the more coarse 120-grit and sand all the surfaces of the wood you've cut and then move onto the more fine 220-grit. For the round and hard to get to areas, just do it by hand. Be careful, we don't want too many splinters!
Step 8: Stain Away
This process will be based on the stain you use. There are many different types and I suggest you research what you want to use. You should also follow the instructions on the can. They may differ with what I've done slightly. With that said, I chose a red oak oil stain. Treat it with a pre-conditioner, let it sit for 15 minutes, turn over, repeat. Let it dry for a couple hours. Then bust out the actual stain and lather it on, wait 15 minutes, turn over, repeat (see the pattern?). Let it dry for a couple hours and then apply the second coat the same way you did for the first coat. Then you are supposed to wait a full 24 hours before you really manhandle the pieces. Ahh, time's a crutch. I just let it set overnight and started assembly the next morning. Remember, you don't need to stain all the sides. Some will be covered by the other parts or the wall.
Step 9: Construct the Floating Drawer Pullout Mechanism
I did not want to have some flimsy mounted keyboard drawer, as I tend to lean on mine a lot. And I didn't really want the tacky side mounted drawer sliders hanging off the sides either, so I set out on my biggest hurdle on this project. After hours of research and tests, what you see below is my final product. Originally I only wanted one support brace, but field tests proved this to be too flimsy, so I had to double it up, which I'm glad I did, even though it was a bit more pricey. It's very sturdy now.
The materials for this section consists of the two 2ft. I-beam type levels, two 7" 2x4s, 4 corner brackets with screws, 4 pairs of sliding door rollers, 2 pairs of rear drawer rollers, the keyboard drawer platform, 8 1 1/4" screws, 6 2" deck screws (you can use the 3" if you don't have any), and two 16"x3 1/8" pieces of hardwood.
First, take the leveling units out of the levels so that only the metal remains. They should just unscrew. Also be sure to remove the stoppers on the end and set aside. Next, drill about a dozen staggered holes (6 on each side) on the side opposite of the smooth side. In other words, you don't want your wheels to get stuck in any open holes on the guide. Drill into the side that contains the openings. A quick tip: on two of the holes that are at the halfway point, drill two holes that touch each other creating an oval-like shape that we can later use for tweaking. Repeat for the second level and set to the side.
Secondly, grab a 7" 2x4 (it should be stained by this point, a test piece is shown here) and begin the assembly of the actual guided support. You have to be patient with this section. It's the most important part that's never seen. Be sure to do one on each side (mounted on the left of each 7" face) first so that you know the farthest over it will have to go. Since the wheel juts our farther than the screws, you don't want to screw it in to what looks correct on this side, but when you do the opposite side, you won't have a place to drill it in. You'll see. After that's done, screw the opposite wheels and ensure they are parallel with each other. The main thing is to make sure they are the same height at the top of the wheel. Otherwise, the unit will want to turn left or right. Do the same for the rear wheels. Ensure the wheels are the same top height and test it out on your level to get the proper position. Give it a test roll on a flat surface. If the unit veers left or right, then you know you need to tweak it. You really just have to tweak it to ensure proper tension.
Thirdly, attach the hardwood supports to the wheeled guide mechanism. The easiest way is the attach the two corner brackets on the 2x4 first, and then set that on top of the hardwood support. Just line the hardwood against the rear of the wheeled-guide and screw in your corner brackets to the hardwood. Then you can attach the bottom of the keyboard platform to the newly created wheeled-guide section. Turn the keyboard platform upside down and mount the back of the platform adjacent to the wheeled-guide. Ensure that they are straight and parallel to each other and secure. Now that the actual keyboard pullout drawer unit is complete, there's only one more phase.
Lastly, we'll screw the levels themselves onto the underside of the large desk top. This is where your measuring skills will come in handy again. It should be centered between the wall and the exterior of the cabinet. Turn your desk top upside down so you can work easier. Make sure you know where the front is. It should be the edge we routed previously. Place the levels where you think they should be, ensuring that the pre-drilled side is against the desk top and as far to the front as you'd like it. Then test out the placement by attaching the keyboard platform to the levels. Trace the outline and set your two screws in the oval-shaped holes first so you can move the level for tweaking. Once you're satisfied that everything is parallel, set your screws.
That was easy!
Step 10: Assemble the Support Braces
Find the studs in the nook and mark accordingly. Assuring that everything is level, screw the 2x4s into the studs with your 3" deck screws. I found some tan colored ones so it's less conspicuous. Just like we measured, the longer piece goes against the back wall, and touching the two side walls. The two shorter braces go against the rear 2x4, not against the rear wall. If you don't have studs in the places where you'd like 'em, make sure you get screws and supports for sheetrock. I had to do this in a few places for the side braces. Just pre-drill the brace where you'd like the screw(s) and use a paper clip to jam through the hole and mark where your sheetrock supports will go.
Step 11: Assemble the Desk Top
This is probably the easiest step of the project. Take your stained desk top and place it on top of the support braces. Assuming you've measured twice and cut once, all should be well. It's not necessary to have your keyboard platform attached, just the levels.
Step 12: Assemble the Cabinet Section
As I mentioned previously, I went for the bottom support on the very bottom with the two side supports resting on top of the bottom piece. I did this to hide the screws. If you'd like to go on the inside (more conventional I think) feel free; just be sure to adjust your measurements accordingly. Once you have these three sections assembled, we're ready to attach it to our desk. This part is much easier with an assistant. Since my wife wasn't around, I had to improvise. I originally planned for the right side of the cabinet to lay adjacent to the wall, but I decided to move it out a bit so that it was flush with the 2x4 for my printer. To accommodate this, grab the 3"x6 1/2" piece and place it between the wall and the cabinet in a studded area. As you can see, I chose to pre-drill most of my holes in the hardwood and set the screws so it would be easier when I only had one had to guide everything else. Set your 3" deck screws into the wall and 2 corner L-brackets on the opposite side, thus attaching the left side to the desk top and the right side to the wall. Do be careful if you ever try to take it apart. It's not exactly designed to be mobile. Now everything is super sturdy. Just put in your pegged shelf supports and shelf and we're nearly home free!
Step 13: Touch Ups and Enjoyment
Now you're basically done. Just put the keyboard platform on its guide and place the four stoppers on the ends of the two levels that we set aside in the beginning. This will prevent your keyboard from accidentally falling onto your lap. Once your get your computer set back up, be sure to organize your cables, unlike me. I did, however, take this opportunity to mount my UPS on the wall while I was down there. Much nicer that way.
Now that you're done you can enjoy having a super sturdy computer desk everything at your preferred height and size. Please feel free to make additional comments and suggestions. They are always helpful to other users here.
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