Introduction: Computer Desk ( That Thinks Its a Piano)

About: Aspiring wizard... Influenced by steampunk designs and desire to make things my way.

Computers are traditionally hidden away in an office or bedroom, having your main system on display in the living room is never good. They just dont fit in with the room (not when your system has three monitors anyway). I have built numerous computers over the years, but never attempted anything like this...

... I had seen various computer desks, that is desks with computers built in, however they are ridiculously expensive and didn't meet my needs. The concept I had was very simple:

1) built in computer - completely custom case
2) air or water cooled - cost is a big consideration, but quiet would be better.
3) big enough for three 23" wide screen monitors
4) hide monitors from view
5) look good in my dining room

Sounds simple enough....

The first part of this project started about eighteen months ago, the idea was slowly evolving in my mind but lacked any clear direction. Whilst trawling the Internet for ideas, I stumbled upon a couple of pages showing how old pianos had been converted into desks. From that moment I was clear what I was working towards. Unfortunately I hadn't discovered Instructables, and although I took numerous photos throughout, this is more of a build log than how to.

Despite liking the idea of a converted piano, i decided that it would be easier to build the desk from scratch, that way I could make it to the dimensions required.

I am not a woodworker, so had to invest a lot of time effort, and a small amount of blood (tables saws are vicious if not treated with respect), into learning the basics and acquiring machinery needed. Namely a table saw, router and bits, drill press and cordless drill. I already had some hand tools. The other thing I needed was an old computer case which could be cannibalised for mother board tray, disk drive mounts etc.

This was also the first time I had attempted anything like this so I didn't have much of an idea about how to achieve it.

Step 1: Initial Design

I initially started by working out the size needed to hide the monitors. This provided me with the first problem... How to mount the monitors? There are numerous monitor mounts on the market, each being very expensive and lacking the ability to be mounted inside an enclosure. After modelling the proposed layout on Google sketch-up I finalised on a fixed design, which would hold the two side monitors at about 24 degrees from centre, but be adjustable should I change monitors. Now the width was known, I guessed (well calculated without any reference points) the height. I could then start with the building the sides. The first prototype was just that. Too small and not practical, but a great learning tool.

The materials used were oak boards, spares from flooring the dining room. These were about 110mm wide and various lengths up to 1500mm, ideal for what I needed. I decided to reduce costs by using infiltrate panels of marine ply. I was fortunate enough to get some 50mm walnut dowel for the front legs. Like I said I'm no carpenter, so won't go into detail of how to cut, join or work with wood. Once the sides were built I then faced the next problem... How to enclose the screens, maintain the piano look and have a usable workspace. I had the idea of constructing a "barrister bookcase" door system which would fold under the top, however the first design left a large overhang at the top of the desk, so scrapped the idea.

Step 2: Folding Front

This was my eureka moment. I had built the top with a hinged section, for some reason I had done this with a 110mm front, which was ridiculous given the design I was working to, but then it dawned on me. If I built the front to be hinged at various sections, I could hide the assembly under the hinged lip. I prototyped the idea with some off cuts and insulation tape.

I have moddeled this in sketch up, to show the layout. basically the top two panels are fixed together, on the main rail. The remaining sections are all hinged to create the desired shape necessary to enclose the entire desk and still be able to fold up under the top.

Copper tube and oak runners were used to support the movement and provide the pivot which forms the baristers bookcase design. The actual panels were made from a beech frame and inlayed with 9mm plywood as this provided good strength but kept the assembly light

I've made a short youtube video showing the movement, please see

Computer Desk (that thinks it's a piano) - FoldingFront

Step 3: Monitor Bracket

The monitor bracket was loosely designed in Google sketch-up. I knew I needed a means of attaching a vesa 100 mount, so hit upon the idea of using 80x20 extruded aluminium for the main bracing and then use 20x20 aluminium "L" for the mounting plate. I then designed ( with the help of a friend) the end brackets. These were simply four plates which fitted top and bottom and hold the outer branches at the desired angle. They can slide on the rail to allow for different sized monitors. I then acquired an old black an decker workmate. I liberated the adjusters and was able to construct a wooden frame which holds the aluminium frame and is height adjustable. The uprights were knotched out to allow the movement.

Step 4: Desk and Piano Keys

I wanted to be able to view the motherboard, therefore the desk needed to be glass topped. I also wanted to maintain the piano look, so though about integrating some piano keys into the front. This soon evolved into me wanting to integrate lights into the keys ( well between them).

Once again sketchup was used to work out the size and shape 52 white keys the black. There were basically 4 shapes, as shown in the first picture (colour coded) . The black keys are just rectangular. The keys themselves are hollow to make the lightbox. 2mm acrylic sheet was cut and glued inbetween the keys.

The lighting is RGB 3050 strip with 30 LEDs per meter and is 1.25 m long. This is connected to a self built controller board although i used diffent switches to those supplied. The results are stunning....

The desk is topped with 4mm safety glass which not only helps disipate heat from the computer but also provides a window into the motherboard area. 6mm safety glass is used for the front window

Step 5: Computer Case

I built the base of the desk to have as much usable space as possible, this resulted in a T shaped enclosure for the computer. I had settled on the idea of air cooling as I couldn't run to the extra cost of water cooling, however I wanted to be able to upgrade if funds allowed in the future, so space was a premium. I had the idea of mounting the mother board flat in the middle of the desk and having a 120mm fan either side. The hdd, cd/blu-Ray drives, psu etc would be hidden away underneath. I fabricated the main housing and routed out the necessary openings for the fans and the motherboard tray. I wanted to be able to access the components so decided upon a drawer with open front and an enclosed box at the base. Three fans are used in the base to provide adequate air supply.

The housing is 18mm ply. I have painted the inside with silver paint (it looked cool). The power and HDD lights are mounted in SUGRU and a small acrylic rod is drilled into the front.

The tray and housings for the HDD and optical drived etc were canablised from an old computer case.

Fot the lighting inside the motherboard area I used the same LED strip as the keyboard, and wired it into the same controller so that it changes with the rest of the lighting. It is simply fixed in 10mm "U" alimunium bar, the great thing about this is it is exactly the right internal diameter for the LED strip so no adition work required. The results are stunning.

I am planning on replacing the motherboard and installing a fan controller but that is a work in progress...

Step 6: Final Thoughts

The desk itself is still evolving, there are various bits that I would probably do differently, and no doubt my construction methods have made the carpenters out there cringe. I need to fix doors to the lower section to mask the computer area especially as I put a window in the front too. Anyway I hope this has inspired you into attempting something that little bit different when thinking about a desk. The sound system also needs to be replaced with something more in keeping and steampunkish.

I stained the wood black, and used a combination of dark oak gloss varnish and clear gloss varnish to give more aged victorian look, in keeping with the steampunk influence. The copper pipe is pollished and varnished and adds a nice touch.

I once again apologise for this not being "how to build a desk..." But there are many more talent and skilled individuals out there that can show you.

I welcome any suggestions advice concerning the build and ideas for its continued evolution.

Update 17/03/2015:

When i started this build I stated that I set my self clear objectives. With regards to having the computer built in and visible i am very happy with teh results. Despite the size of the desk 1.5m wide, 1.4m tall, 0.6m deep it still fits nicely in the dining room and obviously i can hide the monitors.

With regards to cooling the PC, in the (cluttered) old Antec 900 case the system was opeating well eithing spec but would often hit 75 to 80c under load, with this case i have the two graphics cards (MSI nvidia 660) run about 4c different and to date (1 week later) only reached 66 and 70c. and idels about 5c above ambient.

With regard to noise, air cooling hasn't been that problematic. all five fans are running off the mother board (fan controller soon) and its giving out abou 45db. (quieter than my fish tank). there doesn't appear to be any occilation through the wood.

All in all a major success...

Update 19/05/2015:

Finally got the lights in the motherboard area, I've update the photos. SOOOOOOO HAPPY.

Update 24/03/2015:

Just installed Lamptron CW611 fan controller - (£45). This has reduced what little sound there was to nearly nothing, yet still maintains good temperatures. Looks good too.


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