Introduction: Fancy and Functional Desk With an In-built PC

About: I'm a lot of a philosopher, a good deal of a musician, a fair bit of a geek, a bit hippie, and in my free time I like to build stuff. I like to think that I have enough good taste and imagination to come up wi…

This was, as of now, the most challenging of my projects. Work on this one requires some precision and a fair bit of time. Having some more fancy tools would be really useful here - I didn't have some and although I managed, I spent way more time than I could have.

OK, first the concept. As always, I was dissatisfied with the desks you can buy - I think that most of those available on the market are either ugly or unfunctional. What irritates me especially is the waste of perfectly usable space, or using that space in a quite thoughtless way (like really deep and narrow drawers). Additionally, being a student I need lots of space for photocopies of articles I read for the course and not many desks have large enough drawers to accomodate them. Conclusion - build your own desk.
Most importantly, however, I never understood why most desks nowadays are so computer-unfriendly. Especially those that claim to devote space specifically for a PC case (mostly by providing a tray on a side) are absolutely hopeless - whenever you want to do something with the pc you need to crawl under the desk, and to take the case out you need to disconnect all the cables. Generally, they try to make your PC as unaccessible as possible. Now I like to play with mine, take a hard drive out every now and then, plug another monitor in, use external sound cards, etc., so I needed the thing to be always at hand. Conclusion - build the computer into the desk. Further conclusion - if you're going into all this pain, make it look cool and fancy ;)

Now a quick overview of the final efect.

Size: 125x62cm, 81cm high

- 2x small W32xD30xH10/8cm
- 1 large W32x55Dx34H

- 1 large for a printer/stereo
- 1 hidden tray for printer paper
- 1 hidden shelf for documents
- 4 small shelves for CDs (takes 2x 50CD spools each)

Built-in containers:
- 1 for handy a4 papers
- 1 for smaller papers (letters etc.)
- 1 for pens
- 1 for block notes
- 1 for small office stuff (paperclips, batteries, etc.)

Keyboard & mouse tray

Small box for an surge-protect extension cable, to keep the leads clean.

The PC case hanging on the back of the desk is accessible from uder the desk (the case just opens to the front which gives access to the motherboard and PSU) and through valve on the top of the desk (access to hard drives and the back panel). The optical drive, USB and audio ports are placed just under the desktop, and the power button is hidden. Oh, and they are no LEDs, I hate them, they just look silly and so unprofessional ;)

The whole design is slightly green as well - it reuses a lot of old materials (old PC case, old tabletop, etc.) and is very space efficient - it's many functions can be achieved without using too much materials. Also the good airflow in the PC case makes it very energy-efficient.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

- Wood for the desktop - I was fortunate enough to find an old table and just re-used it. You'll need a board 1250x620 and at least 3cm thick.
- Lots of 12mm MDF, at least 2x2700x1200
- 4mm plywood, about 600x600
- 6mm plywood, about 1200x600
- 3-4mm carton board, about 1200x600
- Simple drawer runners: 1x30cm, 2x25cm
- Heavy duty full extension drawer runners: 1x50cm
- Old useless PC case (at least the frame)
- 6 small hinges
- Assorted screws
- Pegs
- Paint and varnish

- Jigsaw
- Drill
- Chisel
- Wood and metal files
- Plenty sanding paper
- Wood glue
- Screwdrivers, hammers, clamps and other standard stuff

Tools I didn't have but which would be really useful:
- Grinder
- Milling machine

Step 2: Plan

First, here are the plans for the whole thing, apart of the computer case.

Step 3: The Desktop

The first step is to cut the shape of the desktop. Using a jigsaw this shouldn't be a problem. When finished, just smooth the edges with sanding paper.

Now cut the holes for the organiser section, as shown on the picture. Just drill a hole at some place, put the jigsaw in and cut the rest. If you have a milling machine, you might want to use it for holes 3&4 - you only need them to be really shallow anyway (3 - around 2.5cm, 4 - 1.5cm). I didn't have the machine, so I cut them out and then fitted small boards underneath to provide a bottom. Again, use sanding paper to smooth the edges.

Next, cut the hole for accessing the back panel of the PC - same method.

Since I was using an old tabletop, I needed to sand it all - here's where the grinder would get useful.

Step 4: The Desktop 2

Now turn the board upside down. First cut the 'step' on the front of the desk (about 15mm - depends on your slimDVD drive's size). It will provide some cover for the front panel. Use a milling machine if you have it - I did it all with a chisel.

Next, cut the space for the optical drive and cables. It would be best to use a milling machine again - I don't have one and I managed to do the whole thing with a chisel. The depth of the space will depend on what your optical drive will be - typical slim DVD drives are 12mm, so adding another 4 for a cover that will hold it in place, you should aim for about 16mm. Also remember that typical slim drives have laptop ATA connectors, which means that you won't be able to connect them with your PC using just a simple cable - you'll need an ATA, SATA or USB adapter. Various shapes of adapters are available and the shape of the hole you are to make should match what you are going to fit in it.

As to the USB and audio cables - do not cut the holes all the way to the edge of the desk - instead finish them a little before the edge and drill the rest with a drill - this way it will look much better from the outside.

Once all holes are cut, fit the cables in. Depending on what kind of cables you bought you might need to remove the plastic covers they have on the sockets. Fit in the slimDVD and make sure that all cables fit comfortably in the space you cut.

After this is done, cut additional shallow (4mm) gaps besides the main cuts - they will be used to attach a cover for the whole thing. Best place them strategically in places where the cover will need most support - on both sides of the hole for the optical drive and on both ends of the cable-'channel'.

Once everything is in, prepare a cover for it - cut it out from 4mm plywood to match the exact shape, minding the additional shallow gaps you prepared. Screw the cover to the desk at those shallow gaps.

Step 5: Cutting Out the Frame

Next step is to build the main frame of the desk. There is again a fair bit of playing with the jigsaw needed, but since most shapes here are straight, you can use a standard round saw as well (I don't have one, so just went on with the jigsaw). The picture shows how to make the cuts.

I used 12mm MDF board for virtually everything here, but it might be a good idea to use a thicker one for the main vertical supporting boards - 'legs'.

The image also shows where the pegs and screws will come - drill holes for them now.

Now paint and varnish all the parts.

Step 6: The CD/DVD Shelves

The shape of the CD shelves is determined by the size of the boxes - I have virtually only loose CDs in spools and I designed the shelves to take two such spools each. If you have yours in boxes, you might want to alter the measurements. In my case the measurements were 160x325mm, and since the spools are round, I cut a round curve at the outer edge.

Once you cut the boards, attach them to the left 'leg' of the desk using 2 pegs and a corner brace. This unfortunately compromises the looks a little - you can see the construction element, but the only alternative I thought of was to use longer screws, and this would mean drilling throught the 'leg', which will also be visible. In practice, however, the corner braces are hardly visible anyway (you have to crawl under the desk to see them, really, especially when the CDs are there), so it's not that bad.

Step 7: Cables Box

This part is very simple - it's just a small wooden box that you need. The plan shows how to cut and assemble it (it's an 'inside' view).
Now simply attach the extension cable on the back board and it's ready. Don't forget to cut out some space in the back board - the cables cave to enter and go out of the box somehow.
You will need to add an knob of some sort to open the box.

Step 8: Organiser

Before assembling the frame you'll need to prepare the organiser section. It's really simple, just build two boxes from the 4mm plywood, one for the pens (7x7cm and c. 10cm deep - it has to fit the hole in the desktop) and the other for papers (again, has to fit the hole on the desk). Do the latter one in two parts. First cut out the bit for the a4 papers, which should be c. 21cm deep and take up most of the size of the hole (say, 6 of the 8cm) - it doesn't need a bottom, because board 7b will serve as a bottom for it. Then attach the smaller part which will be just 12cm deep (with a bottom) and take up the rest of the hole in the desktop.

Once all that is done, both boxes should comfortably fit the holes in the desk - glue them in if needed.

With the other two holes (if you didn't use the milling machine), just blind them at the bottom with a plywood board.

Once everything's done, you can cut a fancy small board to cover the places where the desktop joins with the organised boxes.

Step 9: Assembling the Frame

With everything prepared and painted you should be able to assemble the whole. How to do that should be clear from the previous pictures, and here is how it should look like now:
(this picture doesn't have the cables box, unfortunately)

Step 10: Top Drawers

Preparing the drawers will be slightly more complicated. First, they won't be exactly rectangular, which makes it difficult to cut them, and second - the front will be curved.

First cut out all the elements for both drawers except the fronts. The plan shows how to do that for the top drawer, the second one only differs in hight - instead of 70mm it should be 80mm. The sides of the drawers should be made of the 12mm MDF, while 4mm plywood will be more than enough for the bottom. As to the curve on the bottom plywood - it should mimic the curvature of the desktop and should be as close to the curve of the board no. 7b as possible.

Once everything is cut out, attach the back vertical board to the bottom (just use a couple 3-4cm screws). You will need to file the ends - since it's not in a straight angle with the bottom, there will be bits sticking out - get rid of them. Now see how the side boards fit and file them as well so that they fit well with the back board and are in line with the front curve. Repeat for both drawers. Once all elements are prepared, unscrew the backs and paint and varnish everything separately.

Assembling: first attach the back boards again, then if you have drawer runners fitted at the bottom, screw them at the bottom through the plywood to the sides of the drawer, by the same attaching the sides. Now if needed, join the back and the sides with a screw at each side.

Once both drawers are done, it's time to prepare the fronts, which is a bit tricky. First, cut two elements of the carton board, about 200x410mm. Now put both drawers on their backs so that they stand vertically in line, about 1-1.5cm apart - when you are looking from above, they should stand as they will fit in the desk. If you cut the curves on the plywood bottoms of the drawers correctly, you should be able to place one of the carton boards on them and bend it so that it fits comfortably the curves and touches all four sideboards of the two drawers. Now just screw it to these sdeboards so that it keeps the curve. Use screws with really small heads or drill a tiny hole in the carton board where the head will hide - we don't want anything sticking out. This is because once this is done, you need to fit the other carton board on the first one and glue them together - just spread the glue on the board already attached and fit the other one on top of it using the clamps. Leave it for a while to let the glue dry and voila! Now you just need to make a cut in the middle to disjoin the drawers, file all the edges and paint it, and it's done. You may also want to give them even more fancy shape and cut bits off the corners, as I did (see photo).

Step 11: The Bottom Drawer

Building of the bottom drawer is analogous to the top ones, just the size and shape of the sides are different. Cut the sides, back and bottom accordingly with the picture. This time the back is exactly perpendicular, so it should be easier. I also suggest using 6mm plywood for the bottom - it will need to take much more load.

Once everything's cut, proceed to attaching the front in only slightly different than in the top drawers - here the bottom is straight and the curve comes up only at the top of the front. Make sure that the curve at the top is identical with the curve on the structural board no. 7a Sizes for the front carton boards are: 390x360mm

After that is done you may want to give it some kind of a knob for opening. I just cut another MDF board to match the curve of the drawer and glued it to it - see picture.

As to the internal divisions within the drawer - since mine is designed specifially for a4 photocopies, I cut a 4mm plywood board of the lenght of the drawer and attached it to the back and front to make one of the sides a4-width, and then further divided it with some more 4mm plywood.

Step 12: The PC Case

This part is actually surprisingly easy - the case doesn't need to be beautiful, just functional, because it's hidden in the back anyway. I present here how I built mine, but do remember that this was designed to accomodate my PC - if you have a huge heatsink, a large graphics card or a motherboard that's larger than 25x25cm (mini ATX) then this design will have to be modified.

The case is a simple box made of 6mm plywood. The first picture shows how all the components are arranged in the case. The second picture shows the dimensions for the back and the sides of the case, the third picture shows you the front with the door which will give you access to the PCs intestines.

Cut all boards (remember to leave a hole for the power cable - it's not on the picture, because it's location will depend on where is the nearest socket in your wall), paint and varnish them, and join the back and the sides using those plastic assembly joints that are used in wardrobes a lot and short screws. If you do it propertly, the outer surface should remain perfectly smooth. Add knob for the door and a small magnet on the door and the right side of the case to make sure it closes properly. Do not join the front to the rest yet.

Now take the old and useless PC case and cut two bits from it - the part supporting the motherboard together with the back panel, and the part which holds the hard drives. Attach the motherboard part to the back of the case in such a way that will leave you enough space at the bottom to fit a fan (c. 2cm) and make sure that the back panel plate is above the line of the door on the front board (so that when you attach the front an open the door, you can't see the edge of the back panel). Next attach the frame for the HDDs, again making sure that there will be enough space left on the left to fit the other fan. Depending what kind of old case you had you may need to attach this part differently - if needed, join it with the front cover as well.

Finally, you will need to screw two larger pegs to the back board to support the PSU. Make them both 10cm long and L-shaped - the top of the 'L' will be screwed to the back board, the PSU will come within the angle of the 'L' and 'L's bottom will ensure that the PSU doesn't move. Now join both those pegs with the back board using one screw each only - this way you will be able to turn them and when the case is finished taking the PSU out will be easier.

Finally, attach the front board and the door to the rest of the case and fill it with components (best start with the fans).

The case is now ready to be attached to the rest of the PC. Just join it with the two back construction boards (nos. 3&4) using screws with wing nuts.

Step 13: Assembling the Whole

There is a couple things you'll need to do now, which will require some measuring:

First, screw all the drawer runners to the drawers (the full extension to the bottom one, the 25cm to the top ones and the 30cm to the keyboard/mouse tray) and to the corresponding parts of the desk. Be very careful here because smallest difference in the vertical position of the left and right runner will make the sliding of the drawers less smooth. Now in most cases the right runner will be a little more to the front than the back one - this doesn't matter as long as you make sure that the runner on the drawer matches exactly with the runner on the desk frame, so don't worry.
When attaching the keyboard tray runners remember to make sure that when the tray is in, you should still be able to open the computer case - simply attach it c. 5mm above the level of the PC case door.

Then prepare a cover for the hole giving you access to the back panel of the PC. This is really straightforward - simply cut a 6mm plywood board of the size that matches the hole, paint and varnish it and attach it using hinges. You can give it a knob at the top, I just glued a little more plywood on it and carved it so that you can put your finger under it and open the cover.
If you are affraid that you might spill something on your desk and it may go down that hole to the PC, add some insulation tape just under the cover - it will hold the liquid for long enough to let you clean it.

Step 14: Ready!

And that's it, all ready!

There is just one thing which I would change in this design. The USB and audio ports in the front are really nice and fancy, but unfortunately sometimes they are a little cumbersome when something larger is attached to them, because the cables fall exactly on the keyboard. If I were to build the desk again, I would place them somewhere else (most probably in the corner between the left 'leg' and the desktop). The instructable shows the desk as I built it though, with this minor imperfection.

If there is anything that doesn't work or you have any suggestions, feel free to contact me.

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