Let me start by giving a huge shout out to Jordan Porritt, who inspired me on these pages to build this desk. His work can be seen here:
Now - a few introductory notes that I think should inspire you to try and venture out to build something. I am a software guy and I have never built anything out of wood at all. Never. I don't consider myself very handy, but I am learning a lot of things pretty fast as I am going through a major house renovation and I am trying to do things myself. I am also cocky enough to think that "I can do anything" but humble enough to know that this will not go perfectly at all and I just hoped that I would be happy with the results (which I am!)
When my wife and I bought an old house and started remodeling it inside and out, i noticed that the space in the den was kind of weird and that there was absolutely no desk available on the market that would fit the room without either wasting a lot of space and not providing what I wanted.
So, I had a few requirements: It needed to be L-shaped, needed to provide ample desktop space for computer monitors and other "stuff" and needed to allow me to sit behind it while facing the room. I work from home primarily, so this desk would be where I spend most of my waking hours.
So, I figured I'd build a frame out of plywood and 2x4s, get some reclaimed wood, cover the whole thing in epoxy (inspired by Jordan Porritt as mentioned above), figure out a way to mount the thing on the wall and support it only with one large metal leg (I hate it if I can't move around without hitting my legs on table legs).
Step 1: Building the Frame
23 inches wide all around
One leg of the L was to be 81 inches, the other 62 inches.
- 1 4x8ft sheet of 1/2 inch plywood
- A bunch of 2x4s (little did I know that they actually measure 3.5x1.5 inches)
I had the friendly folks at home depot cut the plywood for me in two sections: 38x20 and 78x20.
- Wood working clamps
- Saw Horses
- Power Drill
- Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
So I started by clamping the two pieces of plywood together and using the Kreg jig to get them together at a few points. Again, I learned about this amazing little tool on these pages and I was quite impressed with how well it performed.
Then, I started to build the frame with the 2x4s around it. I didn't do any fancy 45 degree angle cuts in the corners, but I should have. Getting started was the hardest parts, as I needed the top side of the desk to have at least 1/2 inch between the top of the plywood and the top of the frame to receive the reclaimed wood and the epoxy (more on that later.)
The 2x4 were again attached with Kreg pocket holes and the screws all the way around.
Step 2: Reinforcing the Frame
I don't have any pictures of this step, but I realized that i needed to add a bunch of diagonal cross beams throughout the table to give the frame more stability before working on the top side.
This turned out to be a pain in the rear, as all I had were the 2x4s (which are really 3.5x by 1.5 inches as I mentioned). I added the supports to the underside of the table, but because I took up 1 inch on the top side (1/2 inch plywood plus 1/2 inch of space for the reclaimed wood and epoxy), i needed to cut 1 inch off the 2x4s to make everything level on the underside. I used a hand-held circular saw for that purpose and I am just glad that I was able to do that without a visit to the ER.
I also drilled 1.5 inch holes through the pieces with a hole saw so that i could later run cables on the underside of the desk.
Once I was done on the underside, i could flip the thing over and add the reclaimed wood.
Step 3: Adding Reclaimed Wood
I didn't have any wood to use, so I went to a local lumber place and talked to them about what I wanted to do. They suggested using old barn wood and have them mill it to 3/8 inch thickness and make strips that are three, five, and seven inches wide. A quick shout out to the good folks at Old Florida Lumber - they were very helpful, suggested the design of the layout, and even made a drawing for me!
I cut pieces to length with a table saw and layed them on top of the desk, added a little liquid nails as glue and then banged them down with 18 gauge nails and a nailgun. I had bought a nail gun just for this project and was eager to use it - super fun!
- Reclaimed barn wood from http://oldfloridalumber.com/
- 18 gauge nails - 5/8th length
- Liquid Nails
- Table saw
- Nail gun
- Caulk gun
Step 4: Epoxy
This is not for the faint of heart amongst us beginners, but I figured I could do it.
So, first, I put down a bunch of plastic sheets because I knew that this was about to get very messy.
Then I put the desk on the floor on top of the sheets and used little shims of wood to ensure it was perfectly level because my floor is not. I then added blue painter's tape all around the edges as a barrier to have the epoxy build a sharp edge.
Now it was time to mix up the first round of Epox-It 80, which is an equal parts, two component resin. It's important to follow the instructions to the T, as the surface might be forever sticky etc. It's also important to do that work indoors in a room that is free of dust and at a consistent temperature that matches the manufacturer's instructions (75F in my case).
So, I slowly poured the epoxy on and of course it started dripping through the cracks and gaps in the frame. In knew i needed a propane torch to cook out some of the bubbles. I had bought a 2 gallon set (having done the math that this should actually be sufficient.) Little did I know that my reclaimed wood was very thirsty and I went through the full two gallons without finishing the first coat completely.
Now, the trick is that you want to apply this stuff in thin layers. otherwise you'd run the risk of trapping bubbles that you can't force to the surface with the propane torch or heat gun.
Because I had bought the Epoxy online (specialtyresin.com) I needed to wait until the next order arrived. I did not wanted to change brands and go with the stuff from the local marine store. But if you wait longer than 24 hrs. between layers, you will need to sand down the epoxy with 280 grit sandpaper, wipe the dust off with denatured alcohol, and then go for the next layer of resin.
This whole epoxy business is where I made the most mistakes. By the time I was done, I went through 6 gallons of epoxy, ended up with some bubbles and a little dust in it, but it was mostly ok. I could have avoided some of the screw-ups had I ordered more epoxy up front and if I hadn't worried about using so much of it.
Step 5: Sanding
Did I mention that I made a bunch of mistakes during the epoxy phase?
Well, when I pulled off the blue painter's tape, some of it had stuck to the wood. The lines were not straight at all, the whole thing looked like a giant mess.
One of the carpenters, who was doing some work in my kitchen normally works on boats and yachts. Thankfully, he was familiar with this sort of thing. He recommended taking his belt sander and make all the edges straight, sanding off the blue tape, and sanding off all the epoxy drippings from the underside of the desk.
All this sanding business actually dulls the epoxy surface, so he also recommended that I'd sand and polish.
I used 400, 600, 1000, and 1200 grit sandpaper and rubbing compound to get it all done.
- Band Sander
- Orbital Sander
- Polishing Buffer
3M Perfect-It EX Rubbing Compound(comes in three varieties and i used all three.. number 1, 2, and 3)
Step 6: Staining the Edges
The reclaimed wood, unfortunately, lost a lot of its interesting color variegation under the epoxy and just looked "dark". I decided I would stain and clear coat the edges of the 2x4s so that the whole thing would have more contrast.
This was relatively easy and done with foam rollers and a couple of rags.
- Sherwin Williams Minwax Wood Finish
- Sherwin Williams Minwax Fast Drying Polyurethane
As for the color, I chose "Ebony" which looked in the store sample a bit like the dark brown looking desk surface, but turned out to be almost entirely black. My bad - I should have guessed that.
Alternatively, i could have used the epoxy on the edges of the table as well, but I over the whole epoxy business at this point and wanted to get the project done.
Step 7: Mounting the Desk
At this point, I knew I was going to face a dilemma: How would I level this desk and attach it to the wall as I didn't want to have more than one leg?
I figured I'd take a few pieces of 2x4s and screw them onto the dry wall with wood screws where I found a stud and with 1/4 inch toggling bolts. It's critical to use a good level - my floors are NOT level in this old house! That way, I could just (with a helper or two) move the short L and rest it on top of these 2x4s and then attach the table leg on the long portion of the desk. You can kind of see what I did in the last pictures of the project.
A word on the leg:
I wanted this to look really cool so used my favorite Internet search engine to poke around. There's a company that makes table legs custom and I picked a 6 inch diameter, height-adjustable steel leg with a brushed steel finish:
I am really happy with the leg, but keep in mind that these need some time to be manufactured and shipped. I think it was about 2-3 weeks, but that was ok as I was still messing with the Epoxy and a bunch of other projects around the house.
Anyways, so I had two friends help me set down the desk on the wall supports and rested it on the leg. I had marked the underside of the desk (and built the frame supports accordingly!) so that I had a spot to screw down the 8x8 square mounting plate.
I then again used wood screws where I had studs and 1/4 inch toggle bolts and large washers to get the desk attached to the wall. I am pretty sure I could stand on it - that's how sturdy it looks and feels.
Step 8: Next Steps
I still have a few things to do:
I need to mount the keyboard tray I bought for it and I will drill 2 inch holes through the desk surface to route monitor cables and such things through it with flexible grommets.
- Keyboard Tray: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001B0DCOO?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00
I think that's it, so I will post some more pictures once I am moved into the new office and have everything set up.
For those of you interested in the cost of the project, I am going to list what I spent on material. I started enjoying this project, so I bought the tools that I could not readily borrow from friends and neighbors. Keep in mind that you can do this a lot cheaper if you know what you're doing, have access to reclaimed wood, and choose a few less expensive options.
- Plywood: $50 at home depot
- 2x4s: roughly $25
- Reclaimed wood: $475
- 6 gals of epoxit-80: $110 per 2 gal pack, so $330 plus shipping, call it $380 between my three orders
- Table Leg: $220
- Key board tray: $100
- 3M polishing compound: $150 (these things are $50 per bottle in the local marine shop - i was too tired of the project to start shopping around and looking for cheaper alternatives - plus i have a bunch of stuff left over that I can give to the carpenter or use again in the future)
- Wood stain and sealer: $20
Grand Total: $1,420
Of course, this turned out to be a bit more expensive than I bargained for. My cost overrun was primarily due to using more epoxy than I could have (if I hadn't made so many mistakes) and that I had to buy the polishing compound. The price of the reclaimed wood was also a little spendy, but there was no way I could have reclaimed and processed it myself. So, I think that those of you who have the right tools and material at hand and don't spend over $200 on a single table leg, you can get something very similar done for probably half of what I spent.
I hope you enjoyed this write up. I learned a lot during this project and will probably build other stuff out of wood in the future. I may even Epoxy another top surface at some point :)