If you can't buy, then DIY!

Posted on December 9, 2020
Tags: sitting standing desk diy woodworking learning skills 100DaysToOffload

Tim Lavoie

An idea is born

Like many people, I find myself embarking on the idea of a project or task almost as an afterthough, perhaps arising from some minor chat or brief thought. When this happens, more than likely it descends into a rabbit hole of unknown twists and turns, usually having to figure out what I’ll have to figure out. Calling it a plan is too much, at least at the start.

That said, I do like to see a good result in the end, and so will put a fair bit of effort to research what I need, read reviews, and generally bring myself up to being able to make reasonably informed decisions.

This time, two such discussions led to the idea of getting a new desk.

  1. First, my wife’s space, A.K.A. “the Zen Room”, is recently free of foster kittens, and along with other rearranging, she’s given an old desk to our daughter. It might even have started as hers, I’m not sure. Anyway, she’d like a desk. I’ve been using hers since we moved here, about 6 years now, so I guess it’s time.

  2. In one of my weekly chats with my manager, we got talking about sit-stand desks, so we can stand more, and sit less. Really, this pandemic only encourages the bad habits we came into it with, so any effort to get up off one’s butt is a good thing. Anyway, he had recently purchased one, and I thought I’d do the same.

In the end, I went with this one. The catch is, that the many options at this site come just as the base, with or without a motor. To be a functioning desk, I’ll need the top too. After all, it’s got to hold up all the usual laptops, monitor, and other widgets.

They do link to an Ikea page, where you can buy just the top for a desk. Perfect, right? Maybe, and the price could be right, but none of them called me. I had specific thoughts about size, and the desk base has certain constraints as well. Can’t be too shallow, or too thin, and it’s got to be stiff enough to be held up mostly in the middle.

Easy options would be great, and cheap. Pick one

I figured a furniture store might have options, especially a smaller one, or I could get an old solid core door from the Habitat for Humanity’s local ReStore. Further afield, there is a cool store that sells all kinds of neat fixtures, odds and ends, and old furnishings. And finally and further yet, there’s a Lowe’s, which carries the sort of top my manager picked up.

Starting with easiest and nearest options first, I spent much of one weekend day just checking out furniture and hardware stores to see what they might have. As it turns out, what they had most was funny looks for my odd request. It seems furniture stores mostly have complete pieces of furniture, and lumber places mostly have lumber.

The next expedition started early enough to hit the ReStore, which had no doors I liked. I found one that was kinda flat, and solid, and would be an OK size once I cut off the part with the cat flap at the bottom. The next town over also has a ReStore, so I found and inspected that one as well. They had none that would work at all, being either interior hollow doors, or ones with big ridges that make poor desk surfaces.

The place with funky fixtures had no ideal old doors, but they’d be happy to make me something. Their work looked great, but it was very expensive. (Side note, old bowling lanes are fascinating bases for new panels.)

Off to Lowe’s, where they had a bamboo island counter top, thick enough and a little bigger than I needed. This would be great, except for a few catches.

  1. The panel is expensive.

  2. I’d still have to cut it, and refinish at least the cut edges.

  3. I was pretty sure it would barely not fit into a Honda CR-V, that being the largest vehicle we own, and the only one brought on a two-hour drive from home.

  4. Oh, and it was heavy. Like 80 kilograms. Even if it would fit into the car, it would be a sort of reverse-birthing process to get it in, with me as the sole “midwife”.

Anticipating a result like the stairway couch in Douglas Adams’ “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”, I gave up and left.

Sometimes you have to do, or do without

Driving home, annoyed and empty-handed, I had a couple hours to consider my failed project. Did I mention I’d already ordered the desk base?

It occurred to me that I could spend a similar amount, between tools and lumber, and then still have tools at the end. Oh, and that would fit in the car!

How it started

Three bundles of 8 2x2" boards fits between the seats, along with a belt sander since I didn’t already have one.

Another trip for glue (more research!), and clamps, and I could start. Off to the University of YouTube, where it turns out to be a plausible task. Picking out the ugliest, twistiest four, I had twenty boards left, and would replicate the 30" depth of the desk I’m using now.

First batch of four

The process then, became one of gluing together four boards at a time. Too many, I’m told, and it’ll be cupped out of shape. Besides, I have use of a planer, and each “plank” will fit.

What you see in the picture here is a number of side-to-side clamps, and 2x4 board pairs clamped the other way to hold each batch flat. Regular wood glue holds them together.

Once each plank is planed to a consistent height on each side, removing (most of) the humps and dips of boards that wave that way, they can be glued by adding one plank at a time to the preceding one(s). Of course, I needed more long clamps. Back to the store!

A bunch of sanding later, the random-length ends are cut square, and a borrowed router nicely rounded off the edges.

All in one piece

Finishing required more attempts at sanding, and with some great guidance at the local Windsor Plywood, I got stain and a satin varnish for over top. As it turns out though, it’s a very good thing that the “distressed” look is in vogue. As a rank newbie, wielding power tools on very soft wood, the imperfections leap to attention. It seems that every dent, tool mark and sanding nick is preserved, and additional sanding makes for some wood-coloured bits where the tall bits got worn off.

In the end though, I’m very pleased with the result!

Finished desk top

P.S. This is post #2 for #100DaysToOffload. I don’t anticipate most will be quite this long, but I guess we’ll see.

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