When we were moving into our new unfurnished apartment, we searched for furniture that would be cheap, easy to move, and look excellent with the room. After trolling around craigslist and finding an oblique mishmash of multicolored hand-me-downs, we threw up our hands, rolled up our sleeves, and went to TechShop to craft our own custom furniture.
This is one such piece: a sturdy, powder-coated steel desk that works great for your computer or home office!
Time Needed: ~3 hours (plus about 30min/day for 2 days for lacquering)
Materials: (Total cost: ~$70)
- 3/4" sanded plywood, 24"x36"
- 24ft. 3/4" 16 GA. square steel tube (See HERE, Part #T13416)
- Clear gloss polyurethane finish
- P80 grit sandpaper
- black powder coat paint (or black gloss spray paint)
- 6x #8 1-1/4" phillips head truss screws
- Mineral spirits and a rag for wood treating
- Plastic drop cloth to catch lacquer drips
- Acetone and a rag for metal cleaning.
- Pack of foam brushes
- Simple Green or other cleaner to remove oils from the steel
- Cold miter saw or horizontal band saw
- MIG (or TIG) welder plus filler, clamps, accessories, and safety gear
- Sand blaster
- Powder coating gun, and a powder oven
- Phillips screwdriver
- Power drill with 3/16" metal drilling bit
- A faucet and cup of water
- Hand grinder
Step 1: Materials Prep: Wood
To get a nice, glossy finish for our wood, we'll be using some high gloss polyurethane to seal our table surface. This takes a couple days to do right, so be sure to start this early.
Start out by using the sandpaper and sanding every surface. After sanding, take some mineral spirits and a rag and wipe off all the sawdust generated from the sanding process. Let the spirits dry for a few minutes.
Now rest the table on some scrap wood or a table and apply a light layer of lacquer with a foam brush to the top face and edges. Try to avoid drips and be consistent; the lacquer should only be on enough so that the wood looks a bit damp.
Wait as directed on the can (about 4 hours).
Now flip the wood over and apply the finish to the other side. Wait overnight for the coating to cure.
The next day, repeat the process - flip the wood over so the original surface is up, apply lacquer; wait, flip, apply more lacquer, let cure for the day.
Onward to the metal!
Step 2: Materials Prep: Steel
Before we start welding and powder coating, we have to prepare our steel by cutting it down to size, drilling some holes, and blasting off the black coating that it ships with. Take an old rag and some acetone and scrub down the steel pieces you received, to get rid of some of the oil and grease.
Now use your handy dandy cold saw or horizontal band saw to cut the steel in the following lengths and quantities:
|22.5||4||Bottom of legs and top left/right horizontal supports|
|34.5||2||Rear upper and lower horizontal support|
Next, toss the parts into your sandblasting cabinet and make smooth passes all along the steel so that all of the black coating is removed. You should end up with a matte surface that's light gray in color and slightly rough looking.
Now for the fun part - welding!
Step 3: Welding the Frame
Throughout the welding process, it helps to have another person around to spot out-of-place welds and help secure parts to your welding table. Just make sure you all have the proper apparel (heavy gloves, welding jacket and mask, etc.) before you start. We'll be welding the sides of the frame first, then joining them together with the two 34.5" horizontal pieces.
First, take two 22.5" and two 28.25" sections of steel and arrange them flat on your work table in a rectangular shape. The end faces of the 22.5" lengths should be flush against the sides of the 28.25" sections. In other words: you should be able to see all the way through the 28.25" sections, but both sides of the 22.5" sections should be closed off.
Use your MIG or TIG welder with the appropriate weld settings (we used MIG at 18V and 220 feed speed) to weld each of the joints together on the top face. We found it's prudent to start with one weld per join and then come back to weld the rest once the entire structure is standing, as it's way easier to break one weld than many if you make a mistake. Put this part aside, then make one more side using the rest of the 22.5" and 28.25" stock.
Now that you have the two sides, clamp both vertically with one of their 22.5" sections flat on the work surface. Position the 34.5" piece so that it is flush against a corner at the base of each side piece, and weld it into place. Now lay the frame on its back (with a 34.5" piece and two 28.25" pieces flat on the table) and secure the second 34.5" piece roughly 6" from the opposite side of the first 34.5" piece.
Now go around and finish off your welds. Make sure to leave the top and bottom faces of the frame unwelded, as a weld bead in these places would unbalance the table.
Take your power drill and 3/16" bit and drill two holes - 2" away from each end - on each of the top horizontal segments. These will be used to fasten the wood to the top of the steel frame. You might also want to drill a few holes towards the top of the legs before you powder coat just in case you want to mount anything to your desk in the future. Give your drill holes a quick once-over with the hand grinder to remove all the rough edges and burrs.
Take a minute to admire your handiwork, then head on to the next step to begin powder coating.
Step 4: Powder Coating
Note: If you don't have easy access to powder coat, you can still spray paint the steel. We highly recommend powder if you have access to it, though.
First, clean off the oil and debris with the simple green or other cleaner, rinse it with water, and let it air dry. From now on, we want to touch the part as little as possible to ensure a good finish. Also preheat your oven at this time, to the temperature on the powder coat paint plus around 50°F to account for heat loss when you open the door.
Take your dry frame into the powder booth, put the grounding strap or wire on it, and prep your powder gun. Make light passes along all faces of the frame... this is more of an art than a science, so use your best judgement to determine the coating you want. Too much will bubble and run; too little will show the steel underneath.
Pop your part into the oven for the curing cycle - we went with 350°F for 20 minutes, but again check your powder can for the best temperature and duration.
If all goes well, your part should pop out toasty and beautiful! Let it cool down to below 100°F, then get ready to assemble the whole thing.
Step 5: Assembly
Lay your lacquered wood table surface on a clean, soft surface with the best side facing down.
Take your powder coated metal frame, turn it upside-down as well and position it over the wood. There should be an overlap of 1/2" or so on the sides and front of the table surface, but the back should be flush.
Use your screwdriver and drive truss screws through each of the six predrilled holes and into the wood.
Flip it over, and you're done!
Step 6: Enjoy!
While it wasn't the easiest way to furnish our apartment, it was by far the most fun way to do so. Since we had a whole apartment to do, we built six of these desks and use them for project surfaces, computer desks, and even kitchen counter space!
We've got plenty more exciting new content on the way this summer, so if you enjoyed this Instructable, don't forget to favorite it and follow us on Facebook... and if you build a desk of your own, we'd love to hear about it.