Sunday, January 16, 2011

Desk Update

I mostly finished my desk/workspace. I think it looks good. You can see pictures of it here:

I totaled up the cost for the materials. Not tools or time, just materials. The new things I bought came out to about $340, but I also used some wood from my old desk. I'll figure about $60 for that and put the materials cost about around $400, plus about a full week of time spent on it. Don't even ask about the tools and miscellaneous consumables (staining pads, etc). Tools are worth it, but consumables are just something you have to live with.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Proper Workspace

When it comes to work surfaces I am no fan of store-bought desks - I'm very angry at them. I need to do real work and to do that I need a solid dependable work surface. Sadly, you won't find that in most stores. Or, if you do, you'll pay $1000 for an 'Executive' desk that does its job well (and usually that job is much different than the one you want it to do). If you buy from a store, you're likely to find something like this in your price range:

This monstrosity is a disaster. I mean, even the picture alone signifies that they just didn't care. Look at the CRT and circa 1996 inkjet printer. They didn't even update the picture for the new millennium. I'll start picking this thing apart in no particular order:

3) Teak Laminate Top. Teak Laminate Top. When you're just not important enough for real wood, we'll mix sawdust and glue together to give you particle board and plaster it with just enough real wood to make you think we spent money on you. This is low low low LOW quality. And sadly, if you're anything like me you've seen plenty of laminate (and hated it).

6) Penumatic work surface adjustment - how likely is it that the pneumatic parts are similar to the ones you see in office chairs? You know, the office chairs that fail working particularly well after a few years? Yes, for now it's an adjustable work surface, but come three years along you'll have to drill holes through the supports and stick bolts through them to make sure that it doesn't keep dropping on you overnight.

2) Keyboard trays - these are universally awful. For me anyhow. Yes, I'm sure they work for some people but how likely is it that this keyboard tray will work for you? You'll either end up disconnecting the thing (painfully) or developing carpal tunnel. I have not had a single work desk (that I didn't make myself) be 'ergonomic' in any fashion and the keyboard trays were some of the worst offenders. Just look at the wrist rest - bunched up right against the keyboard. That looks painful. Look at the odd angle. Yes, I'm sure it works for some people, and I'm sure it can be altered, but let's face it - they use cheap hardware on these things and they never stay altered. They wear down and flop back to the worst possible position.

7) CD storage on the desk - since when did this ever work at all? Do you own 12 CDs? Then this is the desk for you! Pathetic. You need a real storage solution for CDs and DVDs - not the pathetic attempt seen on this desk.

9) No monitor stand. Really, this is a necessity. Your neck is just as important as your wrists.

4) No cable management. It will look ugly.

1) No front legs. Just try to lean on it and see what happens. And I don't hold out much hope for those metal support parts. They're probably hollow and will bend/break eventually. This is not how you make stable work surfaces.

5) Leg room - nil. Seriously, where do my legs go? Can I stretch them? No I'm going to hit the wall or one of those supports.

8) Too small - it's 29" deep which is good, but only three and a half foot wide. Not nearly enough room to spread out several documents.

But hey, what can you expect for a desk that's only $80? Oh, wait, what's this:

Top component of the Balt Ergo Sit/Stand Workstation - ORDER BOTH TOP AND BASE
Oh, this only half of it, so it's $170 or so right? No? Nearly $400? Oh, well that's a great price....

This will not do. I cannot work on those thin
gs. I don't just need a computer desk - I need a real workstation - computer desk, writing desk, solder station, filing system, parts storage, tools storage and sever closet all in one. I need it to be solid. I need it to not hurt me. I need it to look nice. And I don't want to spend $1000 on it.

So I make them myself.

Now, this may surprise some of you, but I did not start out as an electron pusher. I grew up on a farm and learned about many many things. I can spot weld, cut metal with a torch, help pour concrete, drive a tractor, be a human gate, give a pig a shot, stack hay and shoot guns. I am also not to shabby with woodworking. Wood is my preferred material. It's light, strong and pleasing to the eye. It's also phenomenally cheap and the tools to work it are similarly inexpensive. And when you mess up it's easy to hide (as my dad always said 'A little putty and a little paint makes a carpenter what he ain't').

I started making my own desks with very simple construction. Here's an example of something I hacked together with 2x4's and wood screws that is very similar to my first desks:

Such a table is not difficult to put together. Most of the pieces you'll buy pre-made from places like Lowes. The top is a single 2 ft x 4 ft sheet of 3/4" plywood screwed into the frame. The frame and legs are 2x4's all around - butted up against each other and screwed with cheap wood screws. Everything was cut to length right in the store then brought home for assembly. The only touches of flair are counter-sunk holes for the screws (keeps the screw heads from sticking out) and paint, along with a coat of spar varnish to protect it from the elements.

It's not pretty, but it has its benefits. It is exactly the table I wanted - no more no less. It is solid, very solid. I can stand on it no problem. It won't tip or jostle and the legs stay in place. And it is cheap. Materials were at most $50 and my labor is free (I'm a slave driver).

That's all well and good, but it's still not really a piece of furniture - I wouldn't hand that down to my grandchildren. And it's not very shall we say... featureful. It's four legs and a top. No drawers, no shelves, nada. For a workstation I need something a lot more complicated. I need this:

This is my workstation. I just made it over Christmas with the help of my dad. It's just shy of 8 foot long, 30" deep with a 12" deep monitor shelf along the back - all pine. It has four stylish legs all the way at the corners of the desk for maximum stability, and the part in the middle is also weight-bearing. I sanded the hell out of it and applied two coats of a stain/polyurethane combo. Half of it (on the left) is meant for electronics and the other half is for the computer. There are cable holes on the computer end for easy cable routing. My laptop there is sitting on an Ergotron laptop arm. There are spaces for drawers on both the electronics and computer end. The part in the middle is slide out storage for printers (both my inkjet and laser). Take a look at one of them in action:

Underneath, there's power strips running all along the back of the desk, as well as a piece of pegboard that holds my wireless router, NAS, print server, power adapters and other IT-related paraphernalia. This is temporary at this point and everything is going to go in the drawer when it gets put in later:

There is a second piece that is still waiting to get put in that will support rails for plenty of shelving storage and a bookshelf on top as well as extra lighting. Here's what it looks like right now:

(Oh and don't complain that it's covered in papers. This is what a desk is supposed to look like. If your desk is clean it means you're not doing any work.)

And what did this wonder cost me? Less than $500 at this point, and three solid days of work. Well, the tools cost a fair bit by themselves, but I think it's worth it when you consider what you can make with them.

I'll post pictures of the completed project when it's done.