Introduction: Convertible Standing Desk With Hidden Computer
I've seen a lot of computer desks on the internet and was itching to build one for myself since seeing the tower sitting on my floor was always such an eyesore. Most of the computer desks i've seen have a couple things in common: Large see-thru glass tops and lots of LEDs. As much as those appealed to me, they didn't pass the style test with my fiance, so I set out to make a version that would fit in better with the design aesthetic she had curated for our office. I searched around for inspiration on line and found two FANTASTIC resources that I highly recommend watching if you're going to tackle a build like this.
1. Linus Tech Tip's "Ultimate DIY Desk PC" series. I leveraged a lot of their design for the electronics cabinet as well as resources for building a custom PC
2. Darbin Orvar's "Building a Makerspace" series. I modeled a lot of the design based on her desk build (episodes 3 and 4 of the playlist).
One note is that I was retrofitting an existing PC into a new desk so this instructable will mainly focus on the desk build, with explanations of the electronics being limited to how they apply to the desk form factor. If you're looking for more information on building the actual PC and selecting components there are people infinitely more knowledgeable than I. The Linus Tech Tips playlist is an excellent place to start.
I'm not great at keeping receipts, and i had a few of these materials ahead of time, but would estimate that I spent ~$1000 for retrofitting my existing PC
-Three 4'x8' sheets of Walnut Plywood. You can get away with 2 1/2 sheets if your store will sell partial sheets
-4/4 Walnut, I bought a 6' x 1' board and broke it down to make the hardwood trim sections
-One 5'x5' sheet of 1/8" Baltic Birch
-Walnut Iron on Edge Banding, 1 roll
-Pocket Screws (optional)
-Plexiglass Sheet 2 pack - https://www.amazon.com/MIFFLIN-Plastic-Material-Re...
-Lift Mechanism - https://www.amazon.com/Practical-Mechanism-Hardwar...
-Filing Cabinet Nameplates -https://www.amazon.com/Uxcell-Drawer-Filing-Cabine...
-Drawer Pulls (Qty 18) - https://www.amazon.com/Amazer-Cabinet-Traditional-...
-Door Hinges (Qty 2) - https://www.amazon.com/Design-House-202523-6-Hole-...
-Small magnets (Qty 24)
-General Finishes ARM-R-Seal - https://www.amazon.com/General-Finishes-ASQT-Arm-R...
-WATCO Danish Oil - Dark Walnut - https://www.amazon.com/Watco-242220-Danish-Finish-...
-Wood Glue - I got the "Dark Wood" versio
Below will vary depending on your computer and needs. Again note that this was a retrofit for an existing PC for me.
-CableMod Cables - I used CableMod.com for a majority of the cabling since you'll need much longer cables than would go in a traditional tower. Length will vary depending on the layout and needs of your PC. I had to max out their options. Note I originally tried to make it work by daisy-chaining extension cables to avoid the price tag, but it ended up being cheaper (and far nicer looking) to use this since it didnt require buying 30 extensions of each type.
-Panel Mounted Video Cables - Needed to be panel mounted to mate with I/O panels that were mounted on the front and rear of the desk.
-Panel Mount RJ45 Cables - https://www.amazon.com/Ethernet-Extender-iGreely-N...
-Panel Mountable Power extension - https://www.amazon.com/Globe-Electric-3-Outlet-Gro...
-Audio Couplers for Panel Mount Audio Interfaces - https://www.amazon.com/Ksmile%C2%AE-Stereo-Adaptor...
-Computer Fans (Qty 4) - https://www.amazon.com/Corsair-SP120-High-Performa...
-Magnetic Frame Fan Guards (Qty 4) - https://www.amazon.com/AIYUE-Magnetic-Filter-Dustp...
-Standalone Hard Drive Cage (The one i used is actual no longer sold), but there are other options out there
-LED light strip kit
-Water Cooling kit with extra piping - I used this due to the low profile pump and block which is critical for fitting in the dimensions of my electronics cabinet. https://www.ekfluidgaming.com/ek-kit-a240
Table saw with a plywood blade - I did not want to spring for a blade so as you'll see i had to use masking tape to prevent the veneer from splintering. Well worth the cost of the blade in retrospect
Pocket Hole Jig
Random Orbital Sander
4" Hole Saw for Fan Cuts
3D Printer (if using I/O Panels, if not you can just run cables out the back of the desk)
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Step 1: Breaking Down Your Plywood
The majority of the build can be made out of three 4'x8' sheets of plywood. These can be pretty unwieldy so it's always a good idea to rough cut out your pieces so they're easier to deal with. If you're breaking down with a circular saw just make sure to keep a factory edge on your rough cut so you can cut them down clean on your table saw fence.
I really wanted to keep a clean flowing grain with a consistent direction for my visible pieces so I had to orient them as shown when planning out my pieces. This is especially important on the drawer faces, if cut as shown they'll create one continuous flow from bottom to top.
If you're using a basic construction blade for your cuts it's important to mask off your cut with painters tape to avoid the veneer chipping. If i were to build this again i would definitely spring for a plywood blade.
Step 2: Detail Cuts
Now for the meat of the project, cutting all your pieces to finish dimensions. I had to do it this way since i was cutting pieces in one location and moving them back home to assemble. If you have the freedom I would definitely recommend doing your finish cuts as you build your sub-assemblies (described later) so you can cut to fit rather than pre-cutting everything. It turned out great as is, but i just think it's easier to make mistakes this way. I also found it really helpful to label all my pieces as I cut them to keep track of what was finished and what it was.
I started by making the four "legs" of the desk. These will define the alignment of the whole piece so consistency on these pieces is crucial. The "Outer Legs" are pretty straightforward, using a jigsaw to create the toekick section. The inner legs need a 45 degree partial cut up top which will be used to support the electronics cabinet. This can be done with a jig saw if it has an adjustable base. Alternatively you could do this with a circular saw, just make sure to stop short of the edge and finish it with a hand saw so you dont overcut the corner. IMPORTANT - the angles are mirrored between the two inner legs. I scrapped my first attempt by cutting these as identical pieces.
Most of the rest of the pieces are pretty simple cuts, just follow the dimensions on the drawing. Only tricky items are:
-Electronics Cabinet - I had to route out an area on the electronics cabinet, due to the height of the fans i picked
-"I/O Cutouts" on front wall and rear wall. I made these by first doing a partial depth hole (about half the sheet thickness) with a forstener bit at the four corners of the cuts and then cutting out the rest of the shape leaving space in each corner so the I/O panels could screw into these.
-Notches on the drawer sides - I set up a stop block on my router table so i could do the stopped notches on the drawer sides. Note that the left and right drawer sides need to be mirrored so don't get in a groove and batch out 14 identical drawer sides or you'll have to remake them.
Step 3: Building the Drawers
The drawers are super simple on this project. Once all the pieces were cut out i just assembled them with pocket holes, taking care to align the small groove on each side to fit the drawer bottom.
Step 4: Assemble the Left and Right Cabinet Assemblies
The left and right cabinet assemblies are fairly simple construction, but misalignment here will throw off the whole piece so take your time making sure everything is square and level. I assembled my cabinet assemblies using pocket holes. Just make sure to place them on the underside and rear pieces so they aren't visible on the final piece (i forgot this in some spots).
This is also the stage to add in your cabinet features. I put a shelf in the left cabinet so i drilled out the holes for my shelf holders here.
The right cabinet has all my drawers so this is the time to install the slides. Since i have so many drawers I went with wooden drawer runners rather than splurging on metal rails. In retrospect I wish i had gone with the metal rails. The runners work fine and did save me a good chunk of money, but it's definitely the clunkiest part of the final build. Either way take your time in aligning the rails to ensure good fit on the drawers later. I recommend making a quick spacer with some scrap to keep consistent.
Now is also a good chance to add on your edge banding, just make sure to leave the surfaces up top bare for now. We'll get to these later.
Step 5: Creating the Electronics Cabinet
Once the left and right cabinets are assembled it's time to make it an actual desk.
Start by dropping the U-shaped "electronics cabinet" piece on top of the left/right cabinets. This is definitely easier with two people since getting the spacing just right can be tricky. I put glue on the upward facing piece of the inner legs, and on the edges of the U shaped piece. Once you have the piece in there i attached it permanently using pocket holes from the underside. Make sure to get the wings of the piece level before screwing it in since these will want to sag. I had to use lots of clamps and various heavy things to accomplish this (3rd picture).
Once that is in you can add the Front, Rear and Center walls. I installed these using glue.
Step 6: Adding the Lifting Mechanism
At this point you can install the lift top mechanisms on either wall. The thickness of your piece will determine where you can place your inner "bearing walls." You'll want as much space as you can get for installing all the electronics later, but make sure you leave enough space for a wrench if you need to remove or adjust the lifts later.
Once those last walls are in you'll need to add the trim pieces. Unlike the iron-on stuff i used on the front edges these also serve the purpose of supporting the plexiglass on the final piece so these are made from actual walnut. I routed a lip onto the edges facing the interior section of the electronics cabinet (not the lift sections) using a rabbeting bit on the router table. I installed these just with glue, using masking tape to provide clamping pressure while it dried.
Step 7: Building the Desk Top
I like the visual of a thick desktop, so i added a thick piece of trim around the four edges of my desk top piece. This had the added benefit of creating a nesting space that the rest of the desk sits in which helps covers up any misalignment in the final pieces. I used dowels to help keep this trim aligned while the glue dried. If you're having trouble getting a nice flush face between the plywood and hardwood trim it's better to have the hardwood higher than the plywood since it's a lot easier to sand the hardwood down to the plywood rather than vice versa.
Step 8: Sanding and Oiling
At this point you're almost ready to apply your finish. I needed to drill out the fan holes in the assembled desk. It was helpful to wait until this point so i could dry fit everything and get exact placement on where they needed to be. I put two inlet fans on each inner leg and two exhaust fans (part of the water cooling system) that blow into the left cabinet assembly.
Once that's in you can finish off the woodworking part of the build by sanding and oiling. You should have plenty of sawdust lying around so fill any gaps with glue and sawdust I sanded up to 220 grit with a random orbital sander. Be careful with sanding the plywood. It has a decently thick veneer, but there are a few spots where i accidentally sanded through it and it stands out with oil.
Once its sanded i applied Danish oil and ARM-R-Seal to finish it off.
Step 9: Installing Electronics and Finishing the Build
Despite this being at the end of the instructions it's actually one of the first things i started since i wasnt really sure how i wanted it to look. I planned out my layout and cable routing using some butcher paper to approximate the desk. This was also super helpful or getting lengths to use for the custom CableMod cable lengths. The basic layout is: (from left to right):
-Hard Drive Cage
-Water Cooling Pump
I also created two custom I/O panels for the front and rear of the desk. I think this does a lot to keep it clean, but you could just run cables out the back if you don't have a 3D printer. I sent most of my signals to the rear I/O, but brought out a couple of USB and audio ports to the front for easy access. I also put a power jack on the front, which just runs to the back via an extension cord since i sometimes use my desk for soldering and having power there is nice. All the cables are either screwed into the I/O panel or hot glued if there wasn't a panel mount option.
Installing the electronics is pretty simple, just swapping out machine screws that come with them for wood screws. The motherboard is mounted on the little standoffs that came with it, and i built a little wooden standoff for the graphics card to help with airflow. Getting the cable routing clean took a lot of work, but worth the extra time since it ended up looking so good. One of my favorite touches i did was wire out the power button to an old arcade button I had lying around so turning it on feels like an old pinball machine.
I finished off the electronics by installing some remote controlled LEDs underneath the lip of the trim i installed earlier. To protect the electronics when the desk is up i cut down two sheets of plexiglass to fit in the lips of the trim.
Once all those were all in I installed all my drawers, and created the fake drawers to cover up the front I/O panel using the extra two drawer faces. I added the name tags to each drawer so each would have a purpose, and hung the door.
Installing the desk top was a little tricky, I started by sticking it onto the lift mechanisms with double sided tape, checking the alignment and adjusting until it closed just right. Once i was satisfied with that i screwed it onto the lifts permanently.
Step 10: It's Done!
I was so incredibly excited to see this project finished. I've been using it for about a year now and am still floored with how it looks. I hope you found this informative and please let me know if there is any way i could improve the instructions. Thanks.
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