Desk clutter is a (minor) issue many individuals around the world face. Fortunately desk organizers do exist and can be purchased. However, good looking, artistic and unique organizers are hard to find and often expensive. I wanted to solve this problem for others on my own - with the end result being a creative, eye-pleasing piece that incorporated plant life.
Simply put - I needed a desktop organizer and I needed plantlife in my workspace. I decided to combine these two needs into one product: a desktop organizer and succulent planter.
Step 1: Design the Organizer
I wanted the organizer to be small - so that it didn't take up too much valuable desk space.
I decided to have four compartments:
- One for pens, pencils, scissors, etc.
- One for smaller items such as paperclips, candy, erasers, etc.
- Two for plants
I also wanted the heights of each compartment to vary. That way you could see all of the compartments at the same time and one wouldn’t be blocking the other.
I decided I wanted to use a hardwood (instead of a plywood or laminate) for my desktop organizer. After looking at various woods around the shop I settled on walnut - because of its naturally darker color.
With these basic needs in mind, the design was pretty simple. In the photos you can see the rough sketch of the organizer and a CAD drawing of the template with dimensions. The design uses ¼” wood and wood glue to fasten it together, instead of screws or nails, for aesthetic purposes.
The top view photo of my first sketch shows the planter dimensions being 6” by 7”. After doing more sketches and thinking about the design in greater detail, the final dimensions were set to be 7” by 5.75” by 5.25” tall (at it’s tallest point).
Step 2: Planing
I started with one walnut board measuring (approximately) 6 ½” wide, ¾” thick, and 72” long, which would be plenty for what I needed.
For easy handling I cut the 72" walnut board in half with the chop saw (it was a bit too heavy for my comfort as one board).
I planed the walnut board down to ¼” thick. Starting with a thinner board would have been ideal and would require less planing. If you don’t have access to thinner boards, using a bandsaw you can cut your board in half, leaving yourself with two boards of half the original thickness. I would recommend doing this instead of planing most of your board away.
Step 3: Cutting
Next, I cut out all the design template pieces, except the bottom piece (H). In the CAD drawings I labeled them A through H. The photos also show the specific dimensions of each piece.
A - 2 B - 1 C - 1 D - 2 E - 1 F - 1 G - 1
Using a tape measure and a square, I marked the wood. Using a chop saw and a band saw, I cut out all of the necessary pieces. I was able to do most of the cuts with the chop saw. I used the band saw for the inside corner cuts on pieces A, B and F.
I didn't cut out piece H until after I assembled A - F, which I explain in Step 6.
Step 4: Sanding
I did a rough assembly of all the pieces (see photo) to make sure they were the right size and not off by any drastic measurements.
A couple of the pieces were a little too large, so I used the table-mounted belt sander to shorten them up just a bit. Once I felt the piece had a nice fit, I sanded them by hand (both the faces and the edges) with 400 grit then 600 grit sandpaper. I did this to remove any rough spots and pencil marks. After sanding I wiped all the pieces off with a rag to remove the sanding dust.
Sanding with 600 grit was probably a little overkill and unnecessary - because I do sanding in later steps. Feel free to omit the 600 grit paper. Unless you're like me and like to just let yourself get carried away sometimes :)
Step 5: Glueing
I did the glueing in two steps - the taller side followed by the shorter side of the organizer. To glue the pieces together I used Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue. I'm sure any type of wood glue would work just fine. For clamping I used 4 - 6 Irwin Quick-Grip clamps.
Glue the (2) A pieces, the (2) D pieces, and the C piece together. Apply a thin line of wood glue on the edges of the (2) D pieces and the C piece. Now, the tricky part - hold the (2) A pieces standing up and slide the (2) D pieces and the C piece between them - making sure everything is snug and lined up properly. Once everything is aligned the way you want it, use 4 clamps to hold everything in place while the glue dries. I made sure there was at least one clamp holding each piece together. For example, I had a clamp squeezing the (2) A pieces against the C piece. And the same for the D pieces. See the notes on the photo for detailed descriptions of clamp placement.
If any glue oozed out after clamping, use a paper towel or rag to wipe away this excess glue.
Let the glue dry for at least 30 minutes before removing the clamps.
Now your'e going to glue the rest of the pieces to the assembly you glued in Step 1. Apply a thin line of glue to the edges of pieces E, F and G. Note: piece F only needs glue on the edges that will press up against piece B. See note on picture. Place pieces E, F and G in-between the assembly from Step 1 and piece B. Once everything is held together snugly and E, F and G are all lined up in the right positions, start clamping! Again, make sure you place the clamps in critical locations like in Step 1. See notes on the photo for clamping placement details. It would be a good idea to add another clamp to the F piece, holding in down toward the bottom so the notch on F is snug against the B piece.
If any glue oozed out during clamping use a paper towel/rag to wipe away any excess glue.
Let the glue dry for 30 minutes before removing the clamps.
Step 6: More Cutting and Glueing (of the Bottom Piece)
Once the glue has finished drying, use the glued assembly to trace the bottom (H) piece. I did this to get the best fit for the bottom (it's very likely my cuts and glueing weren't 100% square). Using the chop saw, cut out piece H.
Glue piece H to the bottom of the assembly and place clamps in all the corners and other critical junctions to get a really snug fit.
Let the glue dry for 30+ before removing the clamps and moving onto the next step.
Step 7: More Sanding
Using a hand-held rotary sander and 400 grit sand paper, sand all of the edges and faces of the organizer. Make sure all of the transitions between the different pieces of wood are very smooth and flush and that they're aren't any height differences.
Also, make sure you thoroughly sand the bottom piece - this piece hasn't been sanded at all yet.
If there are any areas where wood glue oozed out and dried, make sure you completely sand the glue off. The glue will be more noticeable after oiling the wood.
If you can't get into all of the tight corners with the sander, feel free to do a little sanding by hand in these areas. I didn't need to do very much sanding by hand.
When I made this, I actually did some sanding before I had glued the bottom piece on. Then I did more sanding after glueing the bottom on and realized this was a bit repetitive and I could have just done all the sanding at once, like I'm explaining in this step. I would recommend doing all of the sanding at once.
Remove all of the sanding dust with either compressed air or a dry, clean rag. Compressed air works really, really well and is quite fast :)
Step 8: Additional Details
I decided that dropping pens and pencils into a wooden cup would be loud and maybe annoying to some people. So, I decided to add a piece of foam to the bottom of the cup. I found some scrap foam around the shop that would work great for this.
Cut the foam into a 2.5" by 3.5" rectangle. Place into the organizer after the next step - oiling.
I also decided to drill a couple of holes in the bottom of the planters, as a preventative measure for any water spills that might happen while watering the plants.
I drilled two holes in the bottom of each planter compartment. I didn't measure or mark the location of the holes - I just eyeballed it because no one will actually see these holes. I believe i used a 3/8" drill bit, but the size doesn't matter all that much either. Lightly sand the holes if necessary.
Note: I actually completed these steps AFTER oiling the organizer (the next step) because I didn't think of them until that point. But it makes much more sense to complete this step before oiling.
Step 9: Oiling
I used mineral oil for a protective finish on my desktop organizer. Walnut is naturally a beautiful wood, so I didn't want to add stain or something that would alter the color of the wood. Oil leaves a nice, natural finish that isn't too glossy.
Using a paper towel or a clean rag, apply oil to the wood, making sure you get an even coat that completely covers all of the wood and gets into all of the corners. Let the oil set for 5 to 10 minutes, then wipe away any excess oil. You will notice the end cuts of the wood absorb the oil much quicker. Make sure you get plenty of oil on the end cuts!
Let the oil dry for a few hours or overnight before putting anything in your organizer. Move onto the next step while the organizer is drying!
Step 10: Make the Planters
I didn't want to plant the succulents directly into the wood, so I made two small plastic planters that fit into the organizer. I came across these old drill bit cases in the shop that were the perfect size for planters.
I measured the two planters to be 1/8" to 1/4" shorter than the planter spaces and marked them with a pencil. I measured and marked two more plastic containers to be the drainage trays for the planters. I measured these to be 1/2" tall and marked them with pencil.
Using an Exacto knife, I cut the plastic planters and the trays to size.
Next, I drilled 5 holes in each planter for water drainage into the tray. I used a 1/4" drill bit for this.
Lastly, I spray painted the planters and tray with brown spray paint. I didn't like the bright contrast of the yellow containers, so I thought brown would make them blend into the organizer nicely. I only focused on painting the outside of the containers, since the inside would be filled with dirt and plants.
Let the paint thoroughly dry before planting the succulents. The paint should not be tacky or sticky to the touch.
Step 11: Plant the Succulents
I purchased two different succulents at a local nursery to plant. Succulents of this size are very affordable ($1 to $3) and don't mind being in a small planter.
Make sure you plant your succulents in succulent-specific soil.
Plant the succulents in the new planters and give them a small bit of water.
Step 12: Organize Your Desktop
Now that the organizer is complete and dry (after oiling) it's time to organize your desk and clear up that clutter!
I put pens, pencils and scissors in my cup.
I put the two plants in each of the planter spaces.
In the tray I put my flash drive, paper clips, binder clips, pencil sharpener, and candy :)
Get creative and enjoy!
Tips for succulent success:
- They love sun! Place your organizer in the sunniest place possible. If your desk isn't sunny, you can always move your organizer into the sun on occasion.
-Don't overwater! They only need water once a week and they don't need very much. A spray bottle is a good way to give them water without giving them too much.