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If you remember, I built a gigantic desk a couple of years back, that I named “Über desk” because it was..  well.. huge.  Über desk served me well, but was starting to age.  The seam of the paint and whiteboard paint was starting to separate and I found that I wasn’t taking advantage of the majority of the surface. Those weren’t big enough reasons to rebuild it, but then we found out that someone was giving us a very AWESOME, BIG gift. More on that gift in the future, but I basically have the summer to make room for it in my lair/shop/studio/office.

I also have noticed, looking at web stats, that I get a huge amount of traffic from people searching for things like “DIY MDF desk”, so this seemed like an all around good project & post.

I decided to rebuild the desk, with some improvements.

  • a bit smaller
  • find a way for the whiteboard paint to not peel up
  • more storage underneath

PLANS:

As per the usual, I started in SketchUp. This time, I didn’t want to do a fully detailed plan, but it was helpful to visualize and generalize. A big difference was minimizing the 2×4 structure underneath the desk surface.  This desk is much simpler in that way.

Not terribly precise, more for visualization.

Not terribly precise, more for visualization.

STRUCTURE:

I decided that I wanted to work in the opposite direction from last time, in that I wanted to cut the top to size, lay it on the floor and build the frame upside down on it. This was pretty helpful in keeping the frame mostly square(-ish). One of the downfalls of having carpet in the shop, is that squaring things on the floor doesn’t really work. I also wanted the little “keyboard” triangle piece to be part of one of the big pieces of the top, rather than a separate triangle piece joined in place. This made it so that the desk top only had one seam, which has worked out much better than before. So, I laid out the pieces on the floor, measured and drew lines, based on the SketchUp model. Some quick cuts (using a clamp, 4′ level, 2×4, and circular saw) and the top was done.

Use a 2x4 and some clamps for a long straight cut with the circular saw.

Use a 2×4 and some clamps for a long straight cut with the circular saw.

One thing to point out here,  in the end, I was going to wrap the parameter of the desk with 1/2″ mdf, then route down the top-outer corner. To allow for this facing, I made the top 1/2″ oversized all the way around. Following the plans, and checking against the actual desktop size, I cut and laid out all of the frame before nailing it together, making sure to maintain the 1/2″ border. You’ll notice that there’s one 2×4 that is laying flat in the frame. This one is below the seam in the desktop. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of area to nail down both sides of the seam, so that over time, they’d be less likely to separate/shift. On the old desk, all of the desktop seams ended up shifting a bit.

I used the desktop as a level surface to build the framing on.

I went with 30″ legs, and connected them across the bottom to help stabilize them. Eventually I was planning on building more structure around them, but I knew that flipping the desk over with no leg support would be a bad thing.

So, next, I flipped it over 🙂  The support was a good idea.

DESK TOP:

I moved the desktop in place, again making sure to maintain the 1/2″ border and nailed it down with some 18 gauge brads. At this point, I just wanted to keep it in place, not fully attach it. I measured and cut the MDF border to go around the parameter. This was really simple until it got to the diagonal piece. The angles were a simple 45 degree, but because the frame wasn’t perfectly square, I had to do just a bit of shaving on the back side of the piece, but eventually got it to fit perfectly. All of the seams would eventually be sanded and cleaned up with wood filler, so I made sure to not have any edges that were really messed up.

Shaving the backside of the angled piece helps a lot with making it fit (when things aren't perfectly square.)

Shaving the backside of the angled piece helps a lot with making it fit (when things aren’t perfectly square.)

Next up, THE ROUTER. I have a love/hate relationship with the router.  Mostly, I love it, but I always feel like I can just barely control it. Maybe it’s just a practice thing, but I digress…

I needed to route the edge of the top, but I had to move the whole desk outside to save my space from the dust. I wish I had pictures, but just imagine me standing this thing on it’s edge, sliding a skateboard under it, and wheeling it through a doorway with about 1″ clearance.  Pretty funny looking, I promise, but it worked.

The router sawdust is messy, but the rounded edges are SO nice.

The router sawdust is messy, but the rounded edges are SO nice.

I next had to fix my seams and corners, so I pulled out the wood filler.

NOTE: Remember when I talked about how awesome wood filler in a tube was? I’m a big enough man to admit when I’m wrong, and I WAS WRONG. I pulled that tube out, and it was dried and stiff.. completely unusable.

After buying some better wood filler, I covered all of the seams and nail holes. Then I rolled the desk outside AGAIN to sand.

Time consuming and messy, but you end up with no seams and round edges. (and forget what I said about wood filler in a tube.. bleh.)

Time consuming and messy, but you end up with no seams and round edges. (and forget what I said about wood filler in a tube.. bleh.)

SURFACE:

With the desk nice and smooth, I primed it to prepare for the whiteboard paint. (Make sure that you prime with the smoothest roller that you can get. The whiteboard paint has a tendency to have a orange peel texture anyway, so the smoother the surface beforehand, the better.) The whiteboard paint
is a two-part mixture, and once mixed, needs to be painted within an hour or two. So, if you don’t need all of it, you might want to plan to paint a couple of surfaces in the same sitting, so you don’t waste the fairly expensive mixture.

For whiteboard paint, you want the smoothest finish possible, both for the primer and final coats. SMOOTH...

For whiteboard paint, you want the smoothest finish possible, both for the primer and final coats. SMOOTH…

BUILT IN STORAGE:

After moving the desk into place (with some help), I started on the storage. Now, if I knew what I was doing, I would have planned the storage out. But I’m sure it’s fairly obvious that I don’t always know what I’m doing 🙂  I reclaimed as much 2×4 from the old desk as possible, and kind of started free form building an under-frame, which would hold a big piece of pegboard. On the old desk, I did this at the end of the desk, and it was VERY helpful for holding audio cables. With a much bigger area, I now have room for my extension cords, and whatever else I need to hang.

Yes, this is ugly framing. That's because I didn't plan ahead. Winging it is usually messy.

Yes, this is ugly framing. That’s because I didn’t plan ahead. Winging it is usually messy.

I lined the inside of the area, and faced the outside with MDF, reclaimed from the old desk. Taking some other 1″ scrap, I made a little cleat all the way around the opening for attaching the pegboard.

Make a cleat out of scrap to hold the pegboard. (Also, I reclaimed as much wood as I could from the old desk.)

Make a cleat out of scrap to hold the pegboard. (Also, I reclaimed as much wood as I could from the old desk.)

SECRET COMPARTMENT:

I also wanted some small shelves in the end of the desk, which led me to have a strange box (behind the pole) that was awkward and kind of useless. This led me to SECRET COMPARTMENT!!! It totally made sense to just cover it with MDF (since the pole was making it hard to access) while I was facing the shelf area, but instead of nailing in that panel, I attached some simple roller catches that I had. I’d rather have used magnets, but these work great, and I had already paid for them!

Cheap and easy way to make a secret compartment.

Cheap and easy way to make a secret compartment.

If you use this method, just be sure that your measurements of both parts match up. Luckily, you have a little horizontal wiggle room once the pieces are attached.

secretCompartment

That was the final piece of construction, then I filled the holes and seams with wood filler, sanded, primed and painted.  Voilà!

GALLERY:[imagebrowser id=13]

 

WRAP UP:

I’ve been using the desk for a few weeks now, and it’s great! Having the whiteboard paint wrap around the bottom edge of the desktop was one of my better ideas (high five, me!)

All done!

All done!

As always, I love feedback & suggestions, so let them fly in the comments! Oh, and here’s a SketchUp file of the plans I started with. DISCLAIMER: They are not super precise, and weren’t really meant to be anything more than pre-visualization, but maybe they’ll be helpful to you!

 

UPDATE:

I’ve seen several questions regarding the clean-ability of the desk. non-permanent markers do leave behind some grime, but an occasional wipe down with rubbing alcohol cleans it up very nicely! Also, a lot of the dirt that you see on whiteboards is actually tiny fibers from the erasers. Wiping with paper towels helps that a lot.

Another thing to consider is marker colors. I’ve found that orange & red markers don’t always erase fully, so I stick to blue/black/green. They erase completely.