Here are some plans, photos, and lessons from our recent desk project. Feel free to copy these or improve on them.
This was the original sketch-up, courtesy of Adam and John.
Disclaimer: we didn’t weld these. We had our guy, Joe Mcguire, craft the frames and he did an outstanding job. We would highly recommend having him be your guy as well. That being said, we can only comment about the desktops, you’re on your own when it comes to figuring out the frame.
So first things first. We had to acquire plywood. At the outset I thought it would be good to get the expensive oak. Don’t. It all looks the same on the inside, and that’s what you will be seeing anyway. A 3/4″ thick 4′x8′ sheet of pine plywood costs about $35, and makes about two 24″x54″ desks. The plywood gets cut into 24×1 1/8th strips. The strips will eventually be rotated 90 degrees, and then glue back together.
It took several people several hours to cut the 4′x8′ sheets down to manageable pieces, but once the beer was “in place” it actually went really fast. We cut these to about 1 1/8″ , which is how approximately how thick we wanted the desks to be. Remember that each strip is being turned on it’s side, so by using 3/4″ plywood, we were planning on cutting about 72 per desk in order to make the desks 4’6″ wide. In order to make ten desktops, we cut about 720 strips.
The next step was to smash all of these strips of wood into a usable surface. The strips are all held together by wood glue and several 1 1/4″ nails. The best part was using the nail gun; we highly recommend this experience to anyone. The glue ends up providing most of the support, but the nails are necessary at least until the glue dries.
Once all the glue dries, you will invariably run your hand across the surface and realize there is a lot of sanding left to do. This was probably the starkest realization we had and one of the most important. We started with a 80-grit belt sander to knock off most of the excess glue that had seeped out and generally flatten any ridges that resulted from drinking too much beer. Then we hit it with a 120-grit belt sander and finally a 220-grit palm sander. It was at this point we noticed that plywood is filled with holes, the cheap stuff and the expensive stuff alike. Initially we tried to fill those holes in with a wood filler. Don’t do that. It turned the wood orange and didn’t sand off very well. We tried making a sawdust/woodglue cocktail and using that for a while. In the end, we left the holes unfilled and hoped the clear coat would fill that in. It kind of did.
To finish things up, we used a palm router to round out the corners.
In order to add a little class to the desktops, we used some Howard Feed-N-Wax wood polish and conditioner. It darkens the plywood a little and adds contrast to the layers. Plus it smells good.
To finish everything up, we needed to lacquer all the desks. Initially, we tried brushing on the clear coat over and over, sanding in between each coat. Eventually we purchased a HVLP sprayer, which was more satisfying. It was about $50 and worth every penny. Each desk took about six coats to get the shine we were going for.
And… The finished desks, now in use! Let us know if you do something similar, we’d love to hear about it!