I’ve always toyed around with building and carpentry, but most of my projects were small in scope or fairly simple in design. The first project that I would consider a real piece of furniture was a computer desk I made a few years ago.
When my wife and I moved in together for the first time, we tried to replace as much cheap college furniture as possible. Since we lived in a tiny, one bedroom, basement apartment, there was nowhere to hide the computer. Nothing looks more ‘dorm room’ than having a computer/printer set-up sitting next to your bed or kitchen table, so I decided to make a unit that would look antique and completely hide all traces of electronics. This was the design:
It was meant to be like a large secretary desk that would hold the monitor in a drop-down position, and the cabinets below would house the tower, printer, and a file cabinet.
It took me a few weeks to finish it. As you can see, I don’t really draw out the details of my work, so sometimes it takes a while to figure out how to put together the more complex aspects of furniture. I thought I took some pictures of the piece during various stages of building, but I can’t find them. Here are the pictures I took back in that cramped apartment. This is the whole piece. It’s my first and only experiment with crackling:
Here’s a look from the side so you can see the shape:
I had to paint the entire piece dark brown, then paint on the crackling, and finally paint on the antique white. It was a real pain at the time, and now I think it looks cheap. It didn’t help matters when I learned the brown paint was oil-based, but by then I was already painted up to my elbows. I was prepared to drive to the store with socks on my hands when I spied a small can of Goof Off under the kitchen sink. It wasn’t enough to get all the paint off, but it was enough to make me look less conspicuous when I went to the hardware store to buy a can of mineral spirits.
Even though I’m not too happy with the look of the piece, it’s always been very functional. This shot shows how the supports pull out. I installed a peg in a hidden channel on each beam so they stop at just the right length:
Here it is with the desktop lowered. I used a four foot piano hinge to make the joint strong and to keep it from wobbling. Also, notice my StartTac cell phone charging on the right. I was the last guy in America to have that phone. When parts broke, the folks at Verizon refused to fix them. I had to order a new antenna and battery on Ebay:
If I had set the monitor on the desktop, I couldn’t have angled the door. Since flatscreen monitors were still pretty expensive at the time, I thought that dropping it down was the best solutions. This shot shows how the monitor sits in a custom channel:
This was really hard to measure alone. I had to prop the monitor back on the floor against the oven door with one hand while I tried to measure the height, depth and width of the angled monitor with the other.
Since the pull-out supports are built into the piece, there was some vacant room in the framework. I decided to maximize the space. Pardon the mess:
Here’s a shot of the cabinet. In order to maximize my space beneath, all of the structural support was built into the base and desktop area. That way I avoided any obstructions:
Thanks to the openness of the space, everything is able to move freely:
Not bad for my first real piece. I’d say the most important thing I learned from this project is that doing it yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you save money, but you do get a piece of furniture that’s perfectly customized to fit your particular wants and needs.
UPDATE: I got eight years out of this desk before technology made it obsolete. I actually made it somewhat future-proof by making the lumber in the folding door and the table-top removable. There’s a chance that this desk will end up as an outdoor buffet or a craft organizer or something like that. I made a new console to replace it: Building a HTPC Console