When you’re on the hunt for a new computer desk there are many options to choose from; but what if your style is a bit more eclectic, and you are looking for something that isn’t only functional but is also ergonomic and truly unique – Well, you may have just found yourself in the right place. Check out my new Steampunk Computer Desk!
Steampunk Computer Desk – a DIY Instructional
When you want comfort, style, and personality without breaking the bank, often the answer is DIY. In this post, I’ll walk you through the steps I took to make my version of a Steampunk Computer Desk. I shopped for components at my local hardware store, and broke out the tools to create a solution that is stylish, comfortable, and super ergonomic to boot!
Assessing the Situation
When we moved from the Northeast to the Southwest last year, we decided the best approach would be to sell most of our furniture and then build or buy the key items we truly needed once we were settled in. We were looking for a fresh start and a minimalist lifestyle, so we didn’t want to bring along any unnecessary baggage. A fresh, clean slate awaited us!
One of the key items needed was a desk. I spend many hours sitting, designing, and working at my computer, so a good ergonomic desk was a must have. I searched the internet and the local stores and found nothing at all that I was happy with. I didn’t want a giant, corporate style executive desk but I also didn’t want a cheap looking desk that wouldn’t stand the test of time. I wanted quality, style, and price. I wanted it all, and when you want it all, you may only find it if you DIY.
Now, I’ll be honest about this one – this DIY requires a bit of skill with some tools and probably isn’t suited for a beginner woodworker. But, if you’ve got some basic skills, some patience, and a little time on the weekends to work on a passion project, then get ready to jump in!
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 1 – Sketch it out
I took some rough measurements and did a quick sketch of how I wanted my Steampunk Computer Desk to layout in the room. This corner was the best spot in the room for my workstation because it had an outlet and a coax jack that I could run ethernet too. This allowed me to get a nice little network going without having cables everywhere. I hate the cables everywhere!
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 2 – Engineering vs Design
I’ve been loving the Steampunk movement since Firefly and in our new little town of Raton, NM the old west and trains seem to still be living and breathing. Everywhere I looked there were pieces of yesteryear and great sources for inspiration. For me, design and engineering work together, and the best design comes from practical engineering. When I realized the desk I wanted wasn’t available to purchase, I started taking pictures of things around me that inspired me and ignited my creativity. I didn’t want to sit at my desk to work – I wanted to sit down at my desk and be transported to another dimension.
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 3 – Ergonomics
I spent a short stint as an AHA (At Home Assistant) with Apple and the one of the things that stuck with me was their passion and dedication to Economics. They had an entire class at Apple College devoted to proper ergonomics and its importance. It was a must attend, must pass class; no other option. I now know more about ergonomics than you can shake a stick at, but I’m much more comfortable now than I had ever been.
- When you sit, your feet should be flat on the floor with an almost 90° bend at the knees.
- When you sit and have your hands at the keyboard your elbows should be bent almost 90º and your wrists should be straight
- From this perfect sitting position, the top of the monitor should be at the level of your eyes.
These three things make all the difference in the world when typing away for hours. I’m 5’10” which could be called average. For me these 3 little rules define the perfect dimensions of my desk to be 26″ for keyboard, mouse, and writing, and 32″ for viewing a monitor. The problem I’ve always had with off the shelf computer desks is that they always seem to come with a small keyboard tray that’s sometimes at the right height, but never large enough for anything other than a keyboard. For true proper positioning, my keyboard, mouse, and papers would have to fit into that area, so I decided to build my desk with a 5′ x 14″ keyboard tray that spans the entire length of the desk. This design will give me plenty of room for a keyboard, mouse, paper, pad, pens – EVERYTHING that’s worth getting to at that perfect 26 inch height.
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 4 – CAD it out
When building furniture, you really have to have a solid plan to get it right (with minimal swearing). DIY headaches are very often prevented by having a good plan before you even begin.
Once you’ve drawn up a good plan, take the time to evaluate it and then take time to make it better. Every great project goes through a few rounds of revisions, especially if you have to buy specific materials. For my Steampunk Computer Desk, I needed a lot of pipe to be cut and threaded, and it wasn’t a job I could do myself. So I detailed out a cut list and headed down to my neighborhood hardware store, RBS True Value. There were a total of 16 pipe cuts and threads for my design and José, my pipe guru at RBS, nailed it perfectly because he had exact dimensions and a sketch to work from.
Quick disclaimer: If you print these plans; tees, flanges, and connectors can come in different lengths. Check the measurements to make sure they match what I have. Otherwise you’ll be coming up short and your shelves won’t be level.
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 5 – Desktop Materials : Making 2×4 boards look like a million bucks
Determining what your desktop materials are going to be is important. I’ve got some great hand-me-down tools from my Dad that make it fairly easy to create beautiful countertops out of standard 2×4 boards. For my desk tops I used 12′ 2×4 that I cut in half to 6′ length, and then squared off on a planer to 1.5″ x 1.5″ x 6′.
Now that I’ve got the boards square I survey my pile to choose the best face of each board – I have a 1 in 4 chance of getting a good side. Your run-of-the-mill 2×4 isn’t usually used for furniture making, but by trimming these boards down to dimensionally square pieces with 4 possible faces, the odds will pretty much guarantee that you’ll always find one ‘perfect side’ and your waste will be minimal.
When you have your boards lined up, take the time to alternate the grains before you glue them together. By alternating grains, you add strength and stability to your planking. This also combats warping in your finished piece. Once the boards for my Steampunk Computer Desk tops are lined up I mark them so I have a template to follow when using the biscuit joiner. I started 2″ from the ends of each pair alternate every 6″ on the adjoining pair.
Once the biscuits are in, glue the boards, clamp them tightly, and let them dry for 12 hrs. I built my desk tops 6 boards at a time in order to make it manageable and prevent warping.
After the smaller 6 board sections were completed and dry, I combined them together to make the wider tops I needed.
The top shelf and monitor ledge required some pretty big clamps to get this angle. It’s not easy combining pieces against the grain. It takes a fine finishing blade on your circular saw and it’s important to make sure you use a guide to make a straight cut.
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 6 – Sanding and Finishing
Prepping wood before staining is extremely important, if not MORE important, than the staining itself. For the best result, you have to open up the wood grain in order for the stain to properly absorb into the wood. I used a belt sander with a medium grit to do this. Always go with the grain when sanding.
In my design I wanted included a copper inlay in the top ledge. I bought 16 gauge grounding wire which measured out to be about 1/16 of an inch thick. I switched the blade out in my circular saw to a fine-finish laminate cutter and routed the straight inlay lines, again using a straight edge to brace the saw. To join the 90° corners, I used a sharp chisel to complete the groove.
I wanted the edges of my Steampunk Computer Desk to be angular but I also wanted a finished look. So I used a 26° flat angle bit and angled the tops and bottoms of all the edges.
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 7 – Ghostwood Stain
When you work with stain, the natural color of the wood will show through and ultimately will determine how the end result looks. Pine wood is naturally warm in color and has a lot of yellow tones, which I didn’t want. To combat the yellow undertones, I first used a white pickling wash to bleach the wood. After that I applied a Spanish Oak stain. The result is a rich stain with lots of character and highlights that looked more like Ghostwood – exactly the look I wanted.
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 8 – Copper Bones
My Steampunk Computer Desk was now ready for some Steampunk style accents and key design details. When you spend hours at your desk with your wrists resting on your keyboard tray, you notice the little things – like how the tray edge digs into the thin skin of your wrists (ouch!). Since I’m making this exactly the way I want it, I chose to have a smooth wrist rest on the keyboard ledge. Routing the edge would be ok, but I wanted to accent this area with a band of copper. So I chose a 1/2″ copper pipe that I custom cut to create a 1/4 bull nose that I than glued to the edge with epoxy.
With the desk tops fully stained, it was time to insert the 16 gauge copper inlay. It was a tight fit (which is what you want), and it inlaid beautifully when I unspooled it and gently tapped it into the grove .
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 9 – Sealing in the goodness
If you want long lasting quality, a good finish is important. I used a a water based polyacrylic satin finish to seal in the stain and protect the surface from water and wear and tear. I chose a water based finish because I’ve worked with it in the past, love the quality of the finish, and it’s much easier to clean up than an oil based finished. The stain I had used was oil based, and while normally oil and water don’t mix, when you’re working with stains and finishes, you can use a water base over an oil base as long as you give your oil based stain the proper amount of drying and curing time (approx 3-4 days).
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 10 – Putting it all together
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 11 – Finishing touches
Steampunk Computer Desk Step 12 – Setting up my world
My Steampunk Computer Desk did take some time, some skills, and a lot of patience, but it was so worth it! I finally have the ergonomics I need and the style I want for the price that didn’t break the bank. Overall, this entire project took me about 2 weeks to complete working a couple hours each week and weekends. Since much of my time was spent planning and drawing it out; by putting this DIY instructional out into the great interwebs hopefully, if this project is one you’d like to tackle, I can save you a few hours of planning and maybe spare a few pieces of paper.
Thanks for tuning in,
P.S. If you love the look but might not have the tools and time to do it yourself, I’ve got these desks up for sale Etsy [here] with 3 different legs styles (Stub, Flanged, and Casters). It ships anywhere in the US right now and depending on your height and needs I can even build a custom desk that fits you to a Tee.