I am "The Imp". I like creating things. Some of the things I make end up here. Take a look - some of it is licenced as public domain!

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Deskhat

16/06/2018

Above: The finished deskhat.

Steve Jobs once quoted Alan Kay, saying "People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware." This is probably not what either of them meant, but as I approached my one millionth hour of being sat at my desk writing software, I started to think that a customised set up would be optimal for comfort and productivity.

This is the story of how secondary-school level woodworking skills and a little bit of cunning got me the desk of my dreams.

My Design Tech tutor taught me that you must always carefully consider the requirement before you carefully consider the design. (As I grew up, I learnt that this is an important principle in all feats of engineering.)

The most important thing for me was pretty simple - a surface that would elevate my screens to a substantial height. As I am quite tall, this would enable me to sit up straight, and still have the screens at eye level; as opposed to having screens at a height that encouraged me to slouch - yuck. I also wanted:

  • A recess under the screens for the keyboard to slot under - preventing the former from being pushed back by the latter.
  • Lateral slots to house my speakers - getting them off of my desk and out of the way.
  • A wide and long, but shallow area to store laptops, and document folders.

Considering all this, I did some (loose) drawings - helping me to reckon how al this would all fit together as something that I could make.

The key feature of the initial designs is obviously a "shelf" for the screens. This elevates the screens, while also creating an area underneath for the keyboard and my mitts. The designs also feature a "sliding out" mechanism - so the desk shelf can be whipped out like a pantry drawer when needed.

Having established a rough design, I now started to think: "What is a good way to visualise something in 3D space, while keeping track of precise measurements...?"

"I know, Blender will do it!"

Firing up the program and setting the unit of measure to centimeters for the first time, I create a 3D rendition of the deskhat. I measure my computer screens and take stock of the height that I want them to be at. I also measure the desk that the thing will sit on, my speakers, and a few other things, to ensure that everything will be exactly as I want it. After all, theres no point going to the trouble of building a custom desk if you fail to make it exactly as you want it - let alone fail to design it so from the outset.

I did some additional design work while modelling the desk: The final design is a little different from my initial drawings. Instead of having a slide-out section, I began to plan to place the whole thing on skateboard-style ball-bearing wheels. However, I drop this feature at the end, finding that the whole desk can be shoved backwards and forwards easily enough without them.

Next, the cutting list. In my head, I break down the 3D model into its constituent parts. I record the dimensions of each by referencing the Blender model.

Now, I need to buy the materials. I know that the store sells 12mm plywood in sheets of 2440mm x 1220mm, so I cunningly use graph paper to draw a couple of to-scale rectangles - then, its just a matter of mapping the required parts onto each rectangle, trying to keep wasted space to a minimum. My Design Tech teacher would be proud - it's just like a well-played game of tetris! 7 of the larger pieces fit perfectly on one sheet!

At the store, having purchased the two large sheets of timber, the helpful staff save me some manual labour by using a bandsaw to cut up my purchase as per my cutting list! I return home with the semi-prepared timber.

Unfortunately, one of the 1200mm x 1400mm parts was cut a bit ham-handedly by the dude at the store, so it is about 6mm too narrow.

Luckily, the offcut on the second sheet is essentially a slightly oversized version of this piece - about 7mm too large. So I shave a bit off, and promote it for use.

Now for the most delicate part - to carefully mark the joints. I have a mental model of how each piece will fit together. This desk is a bit like a 3D jigsaw. Having marked the joints accordingly, (and checked them carefully! - not forgetting the adage of "Measure twice, cut once"), I use some manual tools...and then some powertools, to cut the joints.

Below: Joints all done!

Having varnished each piece, I now assemble. Now that the varnish has added an extra few millimeters to the size of the pieces - something I failed to account for - the bits fit together just a bit too snugly. I file down the joints a bit more, and bash them together with a rubber mallet.

All finished! The speakers fit perfectly - Oh, me gusta!

Unfortunately, I have been a bit of a barbarian with a few of the joints while enlarging them, and they are now a little bit shoddy. So I use some woodscrews to ensure it is held together firmly. Its a bit rugged, but sturdy as hell!

And here it is, on my desk, in all its glory. C'est parfait! I love it when a plan comes together!

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