If you hate wires, this arrangement is for you...
I bought my iMac in early may, and refused to open the box until I had the proper desk to place it on. I had a few specifications in mind: I wanted luxurious leg room, and a simple and architectural design that both incorporated the sleekness of the computer as well as the darkness of the woods in my room.
I didn't really have a specific budget in mind, but i figured a large desk with a veneer and a cool top would cost me around $300-$400.
Asides from being ripped off in Chinatown, the costs of this desk were kept pretty low... kind of.
**Home depot's 4" blocks are actually 3.5".
update: I recently added a remote controlled mount to my desk that allows me to use my iPad as a distant monitor and as a mouspad.
This is a motor driven iPad mount created using a Firgelli track actuator. The iPad can be used as a monitor or as a visual mousepad for your desktop computer.
Step 1: Materials and Equipment
*Everything mentioned can be purchased at home depot except for the veneer and acrylic.
4X 4"x4"X6' pine beams/< $30
1X 2'x4'x1" acrylic sheet w/ 4" squares cut out of corners/~$300, I purchased this from canal plastics in chinatown, they did a nice job cutting and polishing the acrylic, but it should have been about 50 dollars cheaper.
1X 4'x8' teak veneer, with 20 mil backing/$120
1X Wood filler/$9
1X Clear Polyurethane Semi-Gloss /$12
1X Minwax finishing paste/$9
1X Dry wall screws/$10
1 Miter saw
220, 300 grit sandpaper
#0000 steel wool
Total cost of materials: $490
** If you can avoid buying wood from home depot, you should, their wood is wet and painfully crooked. I made the mistake of buying their beams, and spent an extra 6 hours sanding to get everything level.
Step 2: Measuring
You will need to cut four legs out of the 4"x4" beams. Depending on the size of your room, the legs should range from 28"-34". Finding a chair for anything larger or smaller may be difficult.
Using a large meter stick, measure out your desired length. I averaged the heights of the desks in my house and came up with 31".
It's more important that all the legs have the same height rather then be exactly 31". Since the tops of the legs will be exposed, make sure your cuts are completely square, if they are not, the acrylic top will not be flush with the corners.
As for the cross beams, you will need to measure very carefully... additionally, depending on the thickness of the veneer you choose, you need to account for this when cutting the cross beams.
Since the top of the desk is 2'x4' with 4" square cut outs in the corners, the 4' cross beam only needs to be 39" 7/8, this is because each corner subtracts 4" and the veneer will account for 1/8" of thickness.
You can use this same formula for the 2' cross beams, which will leave you with two 17"7/8 pieces.
Step 3: Cutting
Using a miter saw, along with a nice flat working space, you should cut all of the measured pieces. This step is pretty straight forward, but remember, everything needs to be square, if you need to shorten your desk a little, it will definitely be better than a hideous wobble!
After you make the suggested cuts, you should be left with:
4 x 31" legs
1 x 39" 7/8 crossbeam
2 x 17" 1/8 cross beams
This design is for a floating lip at the front of the desk, hence only having one longer crossbeam.
Step 4: Assembly
This wood is considerably thick, don't worry about tearing it up, because it is all going to be patched up and veneered. With that in mind, don't worry about the aesthetics yet...
You really should work with a level and a square ruler.
Using another table to hold the legs up, I drilled 4x 1/2" wide pilot holes into 1 side of each leg. I drilled these holes about 3.5" deep and started about three inches down. Since the top is 1" thick, you need to have the screws start at least 2" away from the top of each leg.
After the holes are drilled, use a 1/8 bit, and drill through the wood.
I made the left and right sides first, then attached the long cross beam. I held the cross beam in between the two left legs with blue tape, and drilled 4" dry wall screws in. The blue tape should hold, but in some cases where the pilot holes weren't drilled properly, the wood would twist. To avoid this, you can clamp down the leg and/or the crossbeam.
Using an additional table to hold up the heavier parts came in handy. This step shouldn't be too difficult if you use clamps, blue tape, and the proper drill bits.
Too make the desk even sturdier, you can use wood glue in between the joints.
Before you secure the middle crossbeam you should have 2 H like pieces and 1 long cross beam.
One of my legs was a little crooked, so i used a shim to bring it out a little. Measure the distances of your legs, make sure the spaces between each leg, top to bottom, are the same. Use shims to correct for marginal errors.
Step 5: Veneering
Once the glue has dried, and you feel confident that you have assembled a strong and sturdy structure, you will need to prep the wood for the veneer.
I palm sanded the entire desk with 220 grit sand paper. Additionally, I used wood filler to plug up all the drill holes. I also used the filler to level off parts of the cross beams. If the beams are not perfectly aligned with each other, then the acrylic top will wobble.
When the filler dries, sand the body of the desk again with 220 grit paper.
Now comes the, boring and tedious part. I found that cutting the 4'x8' sheet of veneer completely in half, to form 2x 4'x4' sheets worked best. Use a very sharp box cutter to cut the veneer. From those two separate sheets, you will need to cut out 4" wide strips that span the entire length of the sheet ( with the grain) . Doing some simple math, that equates to ~ 24 strips. You don't have to cut them all in advanced, but I made a jig using a meter stick and a weight, in order to cut the pieces quickly. The edges of the veneer can splinter, so watch out and make sure you keep your hands protected.
Measure out 31" on 10x strips, and cut using the box cutter.
The other 6x leg strips will be 31"- 1" acrylic top - 4 "beam, so 26".
For the crossbeams, cut 8x 17" 1/8 strips and 4x 39" 1/8 strips.
For the sides of the exposed posts, cut 6x 1" strips.
The exposed tops of the 4 leg posts will each require a 4"x4" square (4x), try to use a nice section of the grain for this because it becomes a focus point.
Grand total of cut pieces: 38
There are a lot of different ways to adhere veneer, I used regular strength spray glue, I recommend using extra strength. You can also use wood glue.
If you want to use wood glue, use a paint roller, and spread a thin layer of the glue over the entire surface of the desk and on the back of the veneer. Once both dry, you can use a cloth covered steam iron, to adhere each piece to the wood surface. This will give a better bond then the spray glue.
I sprayed the back of the veneers and neglected to spray the desk, I did this because I was scared that I'd spray the good side of the veneer accidentally. I was satisfied with the results, but the glue could have definitely been stronger. Don't be afraid to lay down a thick coat of the spray onto the back of each piece of veneer. Every square inch of the veneer should have an even layer of the spray glue.
Start off with the legs, lay a single piece down, spray the back, line it up, and press down starting in the center and working your way outward. If you use a thinner veneer, you may see bubbling, but with the 20mil backing I never saw a single bubble.
After each piece you put on you should line up the edges and lay down the pieces accordingly. Since the veneer has thickness, the edges do not allign perfectly... but it's pretty close...
The rest of the veneering isn't difficult, it just takes time. Remember to line up the corners, and make sure that you press down firmly on the veneer. If you mess up, you can slowly peel the veneer off, respray, and then re-apply.
Order of veneering: Legs, Crossbeams, Exposed 1" sides, Tops.
if you can't get the corners to line up exactly, use a dark stain pen to cover up the exposed wood frame.
Step 6: Sanding
Using 320 grit sand paper, sand down the entire surface of the desk. Follow the grain, and sand in one direction. DON'T sand too hard. DON'T sand through the grain.
It should feel smooth...
Do the exact same process again except use 400 grit sand paper, your supposed to use water, I didn't, it sanded pretty nicely.
Run your hand over the surface of the wood, if it feels velvety, it's probably done. It should feel soft and smooth.
Step 7: Varnishing
I used a 10 dollar brush from home depot to apply the polyurethane coating. You want to make sure the bristles do not fall out easily. The brush should also be angled. Since the wood is 4" wide, I used a 4" brush.
The fumes are toxic, apply in a well ventilated area... or if you want to kill off some of your brain cells, do it in your closet. The brush strokes disappear as you lay down the polyurethane. Each coat takes about 1-2 hours to dry. I waited like 40 minutes, I have zero patience for drying liquids. In my defense it was 100 degrees out with zero humidity.
After each layer, softly rub down the shine with #0000 steel wool.
I put down about 5 layers of the polyurethane. On the final coat, I really spent a good amount of time rubbing it down with the steel wool... I wanted to have a really nice luster.
When applying the polyurethane, be careful not to drip on the edges, it makes sanding more difficult... but if you do, wait till it becomes solid before you sand. Sanding wet drip spots, will tear up previous layers.
Step 8: Waxing
This stuff is awesome... all it requires is some elbow grease and an old t-shirt.
I've never used it before, so I didn't know that it congealed after it was applied. I put on this really thick layer thinking all you needed to do was wipe it off... I was very wrong.
Put a thin layer of the wax on all surfaces of the desk, let it dry. Once it dries (30 minutes later) rub it off with an old t-shirt, I found that going along the grain worked best. If you have a buffer machine, you could use that as well. This entire process took about 2 hours.
The more you rub, the more it will shine. Try to rub along the grain and really put some elbow grease into it.
Step 9: Finishing Touches
*Wear socks on your hands when lowering the acrylic onto the frame. Since you can see the wood through the acrylic, you can also see finger prints. If you use cloth or socks, you will not leave finger prints.
Lift the large acrylic top into place. The corners should all line up, and the top should fit in nice and snug.
I hate looking at wires, so I routed the iMac's wires on the back surface of the desk, which contributed to a nearly wireless free working area. I put the desk near a window so that the light could really bounce through the acrylic.
Since this has a see through top, you'll need a mouse pad, I made one out of the extra materials.
Final remarks: Acrylic can scratch easily, I put felt pads on my mouse pad and the keyboard. When veneering, make sure the glue you choose is strong enough, test it out first. If you can peel it off after a few hours, it's not strong enough!