Introduction: Building My Dream Desk With an Integrated Computer
I spend a lot of time at my desk. It's easily the most used piece of furniture in my house. Heck, I'm sitting at my desk, right now, writing this post. So when I decided it was time to upgrade my desk and build a new one I really wanted to pull out all of the stops. And like with any good project I really wanted to push myself and try to do things with this project that were outside of my comfort zone. I'm super thrilled with how it turned out and I can't wait to share it with you.
(Quick note: I've provided a link to my YouTube video for this project above. I think its probably the better way to view this project. Some things are just easier to communicate through video. BUT I will do my absolute best to translate it into text below!)
Let me start by giving you a brief rundown of the features of this desk:
First and foremost, I think the biggest trick feature of this desk is the fact that my entire video editing/gaming PC is contained in one of the drawers. Not only does this clean up my workspace by removing the big unsightly computer tower, but it also allows me to easily access it in case I need to upgrade or replace a part. Eventually, the drawer on the far left will be used for more long term storage with hard drive racks or a NAS setup. The drawers on the right-hand side of the desk hold all of my camera gear, camera bodies, and lenses. The top of the desk is made from solid walnut (excluding the ash accent strip) and the grain flows continuously from the top down the sides in a "waterfall" pattern.
There's actually a lot of other neat features to this desk, but I want to get into the construction of it now, so I've included a bonus section at the end for those who are interested!
Step 1: Supplies
I'll start with a big disclaimer upfront: This was an expensive project. Really the only way I was able to afford to do it was because I won an Instructables contest a couple of months ago, the prize money from that funded this project. So huge thank you to everyone who voted for my woodworking contest project and of course, Instructables.com itself, this project wouldn't have happened without all of you.
Here's what I used:
50 board feet of 8/4 walnut (10' x 24" x 2")
16 board feet of 4/4 walnut (8' x 24" x 1")
5 board feet of ash (10'x 5" x 1")
2 Sheets of 3/4" Walnut Veneer Plywood
1 Sheet of 1/4" Walnut Veneer Plywood
Walnut Edge Band
6 set of softclose 20" drawer slides
Motherboard hardware stand off kit
1 Gallon Saman Stain Hybrid Satin Floor Varnish
8' of 2" flatbar steel
8' of 1 1/4" square tube steel
Black Spray Paint
Step 2: Cutting the Wood
I'm reluctantly calling cutting the wood the first step in this project. Truth be told, I'm omitting a few critical steps because this is going to be a really long post as is. I started this project by jointing, planing, and otherwise squaring up all of the lumber I used in this project, but let's pretend I bought all of the lumber pre-finished for the sake of brevity.
*ahem* I started this project by cutting all of the wood to length on the miter saw. I started with the 10 foot long boards that would become the "top" of the desk and cut each into 3 sections. 1 for the literal top (72" long) and 2 for the waterfall ends (24"). I labeled them and kept each trio of pieces together so that I could glue them together later and have the grain pattern wrap continuously from the top down both of the sides.
Making sure that each of my cut pieces was exactly the same length would also be critical to gluing them back together later so I used a stop block for all of these cuts. Stop blocks make for easily repeatable and accurate cuts. Instead of measuring each cut, simply slide you lumber gently until it makes contact with your stop block and then make your cut. In this case, the stop block was simply a scrap of wood that I clamped to the surface of my miter saw station, no need for anything fancy.
After that, I took the trio of pieces that would be the front edge of my desk and cut the 45-degree front reveal on the table saw.
Step 3: Gluing the Waterfall Ends
A lot of glue that went into this desk. Like, a lot, a lot.
I started all of the gluing with the waterfall ends of the desk. They were small and manageable. A warm-up for the true challenge ahead, the top. I applied my glue and clamped them together so the glue could dry. It sounds easy when I saw it like that, but the big challenge here was that I needed near-perfect alignment between all of the individual pieces.
All of those individual mitered pieces needed to form one continuous 45-degree angle across the entire width of the desk. If one poked a little further ou,t or was recessed back a little bit, it would ruin the waterfall ends. To help ensure alignment I clamped my router sled to the table as a straight edge and butted all of the ends of the individual pieces against that before clamping them together.
Step 4: Gluing the Top
The top was even harder because I needed perfect alignment at both ends.
Again, I applied my glue and started clamping.
At first, I clamped everything very loosely and then, as meticulously as I could, double and triple checked all of my alignments using a straight edge. Once I was satisfied I started tightening the clamps and applied some cauls over the top to press everything down into the table. In retrospect, I probably should've used some dominos or biscuits here to help with the alignment, but the cauls ended up working pretty well, even if they were a little awkward to set up.
After that, I used my big drum sander to clean up any excess glue and smooth out any small alignment issues on the surface of the desk's top.
Step 5: Cutting the Plywood for the Cabinets
Originally I had planned to glue the desk's top and waterfall ends together and then make the cabinets afterward, but I quickly realized that that wasn't going to work. It would be way too awkward to glue the waterfall ends on without a structure underneath them. So I decided to switch gears and build the cabinets to help support the assembly.
I started by breaking down my 3/4 plywood sheets into smaller more manageable pieces, then I cut all of the plywood pieces I would need for my boxes.
The cabinets on both sides of the desk are identical in their exterior dimensions (17"W x 23"H x 23"D) and construction. I made a list of all my cuts and got to work. I tried to do all of my cuts in batches that shared dimensions so I was adjusting my table saw fence as little as possible. This helped to ensure I didn't end up with any small variation in size between my pieces.
I cut rabbets into vertical sides of my boxes to add strength and make assembling easier. I also cut a dado for the horizontal stretcher that separates the top and bottom of each box. I'm lazy and didn't feel like setting up my dado blade, so I just cut them one blade width at a time.
Step 6: Assembling the Cabinets
Assembling the boxes was actually pretty easy. I applied some wood glue into my rabbets and dados, lightly clamped everything, and pinned it all together using my cordless nailer. I cut a 90-degree L shaped jig that I could clamp in the corners to ensure that everything was going together nice and square.
Before I knew it, I had 2 boxes that were ready for some drawers!
Side note: Cordless nailers are great. I used to think there was no way the battery could last long enough to make them useful, but I was wrong. It's really nice not having to manage a compressor line while you work.
Step 7: Cutting the Plywood for the Drawers
My boxes wouldn't be of much use to me without any drawers so that was my next job.
All of my drawers are 4" deep, so I started by ripping a bunch of plywood down to 4". From there I started cutting all of the sides, fronts, and backs that I was going to need. Similar to cutting the boxes, I made a big list of all the pieces and did my best to batch out all of my similar cuts at the same time.
The fronts and backs of each drawer got rabbets to help with assembly and strength and every piece got a small 1/4" x 1/4" rabbet that would allow the drawer bottom to sit flush inside of the drawers.
Step 8: Assembling the Drawers
By this point, I was getting pretty adept at assembling square stuff made out of plywood.
The assembly here was very similar to the boxes. I applied glue to the rabbets, clamped everything, and then pinned it all together. I even reused the same corner jig to ensure square, though this was probably a waste of time. Let me explain.
I made the bottoms of my drawers out of 1/4" walnut plywood. I took great care to ensure that all of my drawer bottoms were cut square and fit very snuggling into the bottoms of their drawers, to the point where I had to use a little bit of force to get them to seat properly. By making the drawer bottoms fit so snuggly the simple act of pressing them into the drawers pulled everything into square.
And trust me, you're going to want to make your drawers nice and square, its integral to them functioning correctly. Drawers that aren't square won't slide smoothly and sit flush with the face of your boxes.
Step 9: Installing the Drawer Slides
And then it came time to install the slides...
Installing slides is finicky work, and to be honest, I don't particularly love it. Small errors (on the order of 1/32nd or 1/64th of an inch) can cause drawers to stick, jam, or otherwise not function smoothly (or at all) so it's really important to take your time when installing drawer slides.
I like to use little template blocks that I rip on the table saw to support the slides while I screw them in place. I place the block inside the cabinet, rest the slide on top of the block, flush it up with the face of the cabinet and then screw it in place. It ensures that the slides go in level and at uniform heights.
I had six drawers, so I mounted twelve 20" slides. I'm also a complete sucker for soft-close slides, so that's what I used here. Each drawer had a slightly different configuration so I had to cut a lot of template blocks to get them all installed.
After all the slides were mounted, I placed the drawers inside their corresponding boxes and marked the center of the slides on the drawers. I then separated the slide rails (the part that attaches to the drawers) and mounted them on the drawers. I attached them at the front first, being careful to center them on my marks, and then, using an adjustable square I translated that same measurement to the back of the drawer and secured them in position at the back.
Step 10: Edge Banding
So here's the problem with veneer plywood. When you're looking at the face of it, it looks great. Just like real walnut in this case. But then, when you're looking at the sides of it you can see the raw plywood insides. Edge banding is a thin veneer of wood coated in a heat-activated glue that you can use to cover up those raw edges.
Installing it is pretty straight forward. You cut it into lengths that are approximately the length of the surface you want to cover, iron it in place, while applying a lot of downward pressure, and then trim off any excess using a razor blade (there's also a number of tools specifically designed for trimming off excess edge banding, but I like the simplicity of a razor blade). Then after that give it a quick sand and you have something that looks much more convincingly like real wood than you did before.
I spent a few hours covering all of my raw plywood edges in edge banding, both on the drawers and on the boxes.
Step 11: Cutting Biscuit Pockets
With the cabinets finally sorted I was finally ready to put together the top of the desk.
To ensure proper alignment and to help add strength to the miters (corners) of the desk I cut 5 biscuit pockets into each side using my biscuit joiner. If you've never worked with biscuits before they're kind of cool. They're wooden discs (ellipse-shaped, technically) that you can use to bridge the gap between two pieces of wood. You cut a pocket in a piece of wood, then on another piece of wood you cut a corresponding pocket and use a biscuit along with wood glue you stitch the two pieces together.
Step 12: Assembling the Top
Assembling the top was was a bit nerve-racking. If the grain was even slightly out of alignment it would've ruined the illusion of the waterfall ends. I really only had one shot to get this right and I had sunk a lot of money and time into this project. Honestly, if I had failed here I'm not sure I would've tried again. I geared up for this step by doing a couple of dry runs with no glue to make sure everything lined up correctly and that all my clamps were all long enough to do the job (they weren't, I had to extend my biggest bar clamps with a set of F-clamps).
"Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast." I whispered to myself as I started applying the glue. I filled all of my biscuit pockets first and then slathered the entire length of the miter with glue as well. I wrestled the right waterfall end into position first, used my cabinet box as a square and a clamping point, and then left it to dry for 30 minutes.
I then repeated the whole procedure on the left-hand side. Luckily both sides went off without a hitch.
Step 13: Screwing the Cabinets to the Top
My next job was screwing my cabinet boxes to the desk top. While I'm pretty confident that my new desk top was securely glued together it certainly didn't hurt knowing that the box was effectively holding both sides of the miter together. Who doesn't love a bit of structural reinforcement, right?
I pre-drilled 9 holes on the side and 6 on the top (a bit overkill perhaps) and then sunk 15 screws into them. Those cabinets aren't going anywhere.
Step 14: Cutting the Wire Chase
Up on the top side of the desk, I wanted to create a wire chase. A small cut out that allowed anything that was plugged in on the surface of the desk to conveniently and discretely route its wire down to the computer below. It also allows me to push the desk flat against a wall without worrying about pinching any wires.
I penciled out the area I wanted to cut away and then set about cutting it out with my track saw (for the long straight part) and my jigsaw (for the angled bit).
Step 15: Rounding the Sharp Edges
While I had the desk up at a convenient working height I took the time to round off all of the corners using a trim router and a round-over bit. It wasn't a particularly aggressive round over, just enough to break the edge and make the whole desk feel a bit softer. I'm not exactly the most graceful person, so I didn't want a big heavy desk with a bunch of sharp corners.
Step 16: Building and Install the Wire Valence
I don't know about you, but I hate seeing wires. I go to great lengths to hide them on almost all of my projects. For this project, I wanted to build a wire valence at the back of the desk that would create a space where I could hide all of the wires. It would make the wires basically invisible from the front of the desk. Only once you pull the desk away from the wall do you see the tangled bowl of black spaghetti.
To do that I ripped two pieces of 6" wide and 32" long plywood and screwed them together into an L shape using a Kreg pocket hole jig. I then screwed it in place at the back of the desk spanning between the two cabinets and directly under the wire chase I just cut. Once the valence was in place I cut a few strategic holes using a hole saw.
Anyone who's ever worked with a hole saw knows it can be really tough to get good clean holes. They have a tendency to blow out the backside of whatever you're cutting through. To avoid that here's a little tip: Start on one side, like you normally would, and cut your hole until you're ALMOST through to the other side. You want to stop at the point where the pilot bit is just poking through to the other side. Now back the hole saw out and finish the hole from the other side. Boom! Nice clean cuts on both sides :)
Step 17: Gluing Up the Drawer Fronts
As if I hadn't already done enough gluing on the project I started prepping for one final glue up. I was going to make the drawer fronts for the cabinets
I glued a bunch of my 4/4 (1" thick) walnut into a single large panel that was ~18" x ~50", clamped and let it dry.
Step 18: Cutting the Drawer Pulls
Once the clamps were off I cut that large panel in half and used each half as the face for one bank of drawers. One half on the left and the other half on the right.
While I was at the table saw I also cut 45-degree angles onto 3 of the 4 edges of the panel. These angled cuts would serve as the integrated door pulls for each drawer.
Step 19: Installing the Drawer Fronts
Installing the drawer fronts was a multi-step process. I started by drilling all of the mounting holes in the drawers. Then I sunk the screws I would eventually use to mount the drawers into those holes, but I set them so that they were only protruding ever so slightly from the front of the drawers.
Then I grabbed my big drawer front panel, carefully and delicately positioned it in front of the drawers, making sure it was exactly where I wanted it and proceeded to give it a good firm wack. That wack imprinted the tips of the screws into the drawer fronts, showing me exactly where my mounting points were going to be. I drilled out the imprints slightly to make them easier to find and cut my drawer panel into individual drawer fronts.
Once they were cut into individual fronts it was super easy to mount them on their corresponding drawers. I lined the protruding screw tips up with the holes and fully sank them in.
Doing it this way took all the guesswork out of mounting the drawer fronts and ensured that I had nice evenly spaced drawer front
Step 20: Finishing
Finishing this desk took less time than I thought it would, but it still took a while!
I used a mini roller to apply the lions share of the finish, though I kept a brush handy for reaching into tight spaces, and for cutting in corners. I applied 4 coats total, making sure to sand between each coat with 220 grit sanding pads. The first coat is all about speed, getting the finish on as quickly as possible. Since the wood is dry and bare it sucks up the finish and dries extremely quickly, so you want to make sure you apply everything quickly to avoid streaks and seems. On the subsequent 3 coats I tooks my time and applied the finish a little slower and took my time to get everything nice and even.
Because I was working with an older can of varnish I ran it through a screen (really I think it was the belt from one of my GFs old dresses or something), this helped to remove any snots or other contaiminents floating in the finish.
Step 21: Installing My Computer in One of the Drawers
Now we've reached the part of the project I was probably the least prepared for. Sure, I took a couple of measurements, I knew that theoretically, my computer would fit in a drawer, but I didn't really know how I was going to do it until I sat down and just went for it.
I started by mounting the motherboard to the drawer. Conveniently, the motherboard has 9 mounting holes that you would use to mount it inside of a normal computer case. So I dropped the motherboard in place and used it as a template to tap out 9 mounting points on the bottom of the drawer. Once I had my 9 holes drilled, I threaded 9 brass stand-off screws into the holes. You can salvage stand-off screws like these from an old PC case or you can do what I did and buy a kit off of amazon.
After that, I cut 2 openings at the front and the back of the drawer where I mounted the two radiators my PC uses to cool itself. The cut out in the front was for the big, 280mm radiator, that cools my CPU and also provides airflow for the rest of the components and the 140mm radiator at the back was for my GPU that also helps to exhaust the hot air out of the back of the cabinet. I tapped holes in the drawer and mounted the radiators using the same mounting points you'd use in a normal PC case.
Once I had all of the components installed (and thankfull they all fit) I test mounted the drawer back in the desk and breathed a sigh of relief.
Step 22: Modifying the Back of the Cabinet
I had to make a few modifications to the 1/4" piece of plywood that covered the backside of the computer cabinets. I first cut out a rectangle the same size as the computer's power supply unit (so that the PSU could easily breathe) and then I made a series of linear cuts next to it over on the table saw.
These cuts were a little tricky to do since I had to raise the sawblade up into the wood. I used my push block to keep the plywood flat to the table and slowly raised the blade being careful not to go too far, too quickly. Once the blade was peaking through the top of the plywood I cut my grill line, dropped the blade, moved the plywood over half an inch and repeated the process. By the time I was done I had a nice grill that would allow hot air to be exhauseted out of the back of the cabinet.
Step 23: Cutting the Grill for the Computer Drawer
With the exhaust sorted all I still needed to figure out was the intake. Obviously my drawer front would need a bit of modification.
Using a similar process I cut 5 vertical lines in the drawer front. These lines were thicker since there were fewer of them but I needed a similar amount of airflow. I knew I was going to have to cut these lines semi-freehand so I covered the whole drawer front in painters tape and marked out where I wanted my holes to be. These lines served as a guide to keep me from going too far.
Using a rat-tail file, I cleaned up the cuts and rounded out the top and bottom of the holes.
Step 24: Cutting the Metal for the Legs
I had a pair of electronically adjustable sit/stand desk legs that I was originally planning to use for this project. However, I quickly realized that this desk was going to weigh far too much for any lightweight electric motor to lift. I had a good long think about it and realized that I hadn't really used the standing function on those legs in over a year and that it probably wasn't that important of a feature to include on this project.
Instead, I opted to make my own legs. So grabbed some 2" flat bar steel and cut four pieces that were 16" long and 8 pieces that were 2" long. Then I cut 8 pieces of 1 1/4" square tube steel that were 11.5" long with 15-degree angles on both ends.
Step 25: Building the Legs
Then it was time to weld.
I grabbed my welding table cover (which you can read about here), setup my welder and got to work. I made four sets of legs following the same procedure. I started by tacking my components toghether into an A-frame like structure, checked all of my angles and measurements, and then fully welded together all of the seems.
I tapped 4 holes into each set of legs so I could mount them to the bottom of the cabinets. I then set up an outdoor work station where I cleaned up all of my ugly welds using an angle grinder and some flap paddle discs.
Back inside I set up a little spray station, donned my respirator and laid down 1 coat of primer and 3 coats of the finest flat black spray paint I could find for under $10. I figured since most of my computer accessories are black that the legs should be black as well.
Step 26: Taking It Home and Finishing Touches
In the end, I had to phone a friend to help me lift the desk and put it in the back of my truck to take it home. Yes, it was that heavy. I honestly don't see how I could've done it alone.
Once I got it home there was still a little bit of setup left to do. I screwed the legs onto the bottom of the cabinets, screwed the sliding keyboard tray to the bottom of the desk and set up my computer along with all of the peripherals.
Step 27: Enjoy It
With the desk all set up and ready to go, there was nothing left to do except to sit down and start editing all of the content about it. I wrote this post, I edited the YouTube video, and I edited all of the photos you've seen (and many more, make sure you check out my Instagram page @zacbuilds) sitting at the desk. It really gave me a good trial run to test it out as a productivity workstation, and I've got to say I am one happy camper. It works great. It's much more ergonomic and functional than my old desk, and, because it has so much more storage space my office is considerably less messy than it used to be.
Apologies for the length of this post, but there was a lot to cover and I didn't want to just breeze over too much. Thanks for reading this far. If you have any questions or comments hit me with them below. If you'd like to support me and what I do, one of the biggest things you can do for me right now subscribe to my YouTube channel. I'm just starting out on that platform and every new sub is much appreciated! See you guys in the next post!
Step 28: Bonus: Cool Features
For those of you who made it this far, I've got a few bonus features to share with you:
Underneath the keyboard tray is a USB hub that gives me easy to access USB ports for things like USB sticks, external hard drives and etc. The first slot is populated with a fingerprint reader that allows me to quickly and easily login to my computer without entering a password, all stealthy like
Inside of the camera and lens storage drawer is an integrated USB charging hub so that all of my camera batteries are always topped up and ready to go (so long as I can remember to plug them in) whenever I need them.
The angled front reveal of the desk combined with the angled drawer fronts makes for drawers that don't need protruding pulls, I can simply pull on the drawer fronts themselves.
Lastly, and most importantly, because my keyboard and mouse sit below the surface of my desk. This means my cat, Bing, is free to walk around on the desk in front of me while I work and she won't disturb my workflow. Except for the fact that she blocks the screen...
Alright, that's it for real. See you in the next one!
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