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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Need help designing/building computer desk

Edited for clarity and simplicity.
Edited again: Moved some questions to the joinery sub-forum.

Hey guys, first time poster here, and I need some serious help! I've got limited experience in wood working. However, I'm a quick learner, good with my hands, and patient.

I've been working on designing a computer desk. The one that I'm designing in sketchup (see picture) includes a cabinet with a shelf for computer, and two fixed shelves, hidden by doors. Includes a cabinet on the right, with a filing drawer, a slide out printer shelf, and a drawer, slide out keyboard tray, and a monitor shelf.

I was planning on making everything I could out of 3/4" and 1/2" 2 sided plywood. On the face (front) I am going to trim the edges with 1/4" thick molding, or equivalent so that the edges of the plywood do not show. I have not decided whether or not I'm going to paint it yet, but if I do, it would be painted black.

1. My first question is whether it is feasible to use plywood for just about everything. I could possibly change the dimensions of the hutch so that it could be made out of hardwood if that would be better. I want to avoid trying to join multiple boards together to get the widths I need, so plywood would be a better option for me.

2. Do you see any issues with my design?

3. I don't know how to build cabinets, so the drawing in sketchup is my best guess of how to build these. Any advice on how to design and build the cabinets/hutch?

As you can read, I could use some really good advice! Hope you all can help!

Joshua
 

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Discussion Starter #2
In regards to my second question, after doing quite a bit of research and reading different forums, it seems the best way to join the plywood together end to face, would be using a rabbet cut, gluing it in, and then (what I call) tack nailing it to help hold it together until the glue dries. For example, when making the cabinets, I would dado the side pieces so that the shelves fit in, glue the shelves, clamp it down, and use my nail gun to nail it together. Then after the glue has had time to dry, going back and using some hardened steel screws countersunk through the sides into the shelves.

When thinking about how to secure the top, I realized that I'm not going to have much room to work with inside the cabinets. So for that I was thinking about using pocket holes on both sides of each cabinet to secure it. What I would really like to do, is make it easy to take apart in case I have to move it. At 30" deep, I'm not going to be able to fit it through my doors.

Any thoughts on this? (and my other questions too!)
 

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Yes, plywood can be used throughout. As far as the base, I would build each section as a box. Then attach the top across both sections. I would dado and rabbet to make the boxes. To cover the plywood edges, I would use solid wood strips glued on. You could use any edge banding they sell also, like iron on banding as well. To attach the top, just screw from bottom up, through the box into the bottom of the top. Other people might have different or better ideas. This is just how I would do it. I would use solid wood on the edges so I could profile the edges. Like I said, that's just how I would do it.
 

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Yes, plywood can be used throughout. As far as the base, I would build each section as a box. Then attach the top across both sections. I would dado and rabbet to make the boxes. To cover the plywood edges, I would use solid wood strips glued on. You could use any edge banding they sell also, like iron on banding as well. To attach the top, just screw from bottom up, through the box into the bottom of the top. Other people might have different or better ideas. This is just how I would do it. I would use solid wood on the edges so I could profile the edges. Like I said, that's just how I would do it.
+1. :yes: Plywood can be use for all of it. If you rabbet the tops of the ends to the boxes, you can use a stretcher across in the front and back to hold the ends in place, and also as way of screwing down the top from underneath. With the stretchers in a rabbet, they won't show from the outside. They can be plywood or solid wood.





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Your sketch does not seem to show a back. Do you plan to have one? I think it would be good to have one to help support that long (71") shelf at the top.

George
 

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PCs give off heat. Make sure your have ventilation plans for where the PC goes.
Cables. Make sure you have paths (holes/channels) for mouse, keyboard, monitor cables to get where they need to go.
Wheels? As PCs often get reconfigured over time, making the desk so it can easily be pulled out from the wall will make your life less frustrating.
Lights? I'm going to suggest you put a small service light in the rear if the cabinet where the PC goes. Good light will make it much easier to see where you are plugging in cables.
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
Rayking49,

Perfect! That's pretty much what I have been thinking, but wasn't sure. Dado the sides for the shelves, rabbet the sides for the back. I'm going to use solid wood banding because I want dark wood trim vs the lighter color of the plywood. I'm not going to be able to screw from bottom up inside the cabinets. The left cabinet will only have 5 " of clearance and the right shelf 7", unless I can build it where the shelves can be removed. See the pictures that I have attached below.

Would it be feasible to design it where the shelves could slide in, and the back could be screwed into the sides, top and bottom? If I did that, then I could set the desk up, screw the top in through the top of the cabinet, slide the shelves in, and screw the back down. I'm going to be using a 1/2" back, unless 1/4" would be work just as well.

Top View

Back View
View of one of the sides


George,
Yes, I plan to have a back. I left it out of the drawing in sketchup so far, to make it a little easier redoing things like dado's, shelves, etc. I haven't decided whether to have it span the whole desk, or just in between the cabinets. Also have not decided how tall I want the back to be. This is something that will have to be able to be taken apart easily so that I can move it. I'm thinking It would be fine if I put it between the cabinets, and bring it in from the back about 8 inches.

4DThinker,
My PC has a fan in the front, one on the side, and one in the back, with the power supply also exhausting out the back. I know I'll need a space for air to come in, and air to go out. I think I've got some spare 80mm fans in another case that I could wire up and install one in the front bottom of the cabinet to push air in, and one in the back of the cabinet to push air out. I haven't completely worked it out, but I've got some ideas to ensure that I have adequate air flow for the PC.

To keep this reply simpler, I had cable management slots and rails and stuff built all in the first version, but left them out of this version so far. I didn't want to get too far into the design and end up having to make all kinds of major changes that would require redesigning everything. I will build cable management details into the final design, such as rails, and slots to route all of the cables to a mounted surge protector somewhere. So there's a few more design details to work out, but again, didn't want to get into all of that until I was sure I had the basic carcass and structure down.

As far as access, wheels might be something to consider. I've also considered making the shelf the PC sits on a slide out shelf. If I do that, I can cut a bigger hole in the bottom shelf for incoming air flow. Trying to design it where the desk can sit as flush against the wall as possible. If I put it on wheels, I might have to build a torsion box, and that would probably change my overall dimensions.

The Hutch will definitely have a light on it. I'm going to extend the wood banding down where I can hide the light from sight as much as possible, but I need good lighting for reading. I also have hundreds of LED's and switches around here that I was considering wiring up and using for keyboard and cabinet lighting. Although I may buy an LED strip and use that instead.


Thank you guys so much for the help, suggestions and advice. I really appreciate it and it's definitely going to help me finish up the design. Any other help, criticisms, advice, suggestions, etc greatly appreciated!
 

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Out of curiosity, is this for a laptop? Does that go on the shelf at the back? If so, why is a shelf needed? Will the user need to lean forward to reach the computer? Not quite following the intended use.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Out of curiosity, is this for a laptop? Does that go on the shelf at the back? If so, why is a shelf needed? Will the user need to lean forward to reach the computer? Not quite following the intended use.
The pictures that I just posted are for just one cabinet that will be at the left of the desk for illustration purposes to ensure that I understand how to construct each cabinet. This cabinet will house pc, modem, router, charging base for mouse, etc. The general design of the desk that I'm building is this:


Does that answer your questions?
 

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Does that answer your questions?
That, plus staring at it a while longer. The shelf in back is for a monitor and to slide the keyboard under when not in use, right? If so, that's a good design in that "computer desks" need to be able to function as regular desks, as well - we're still not "paperless". As to housing the tower(?) on the left - I have seen designs allowing the box to roll or slide forward for easy access to connections on the back.

Didn't mean to highjack the subject - realize your question was about construction technique and, for what it's worth, I agree with the other posts, above.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
That, plus staring at it a while longer. The shelf in back is for a monitor and to slide the keyboard under when not in use, right? If so, that's a good design in that "computer desks" need to be able to function as regular desks, as well - we're still not "paperless". As to housing the tower(?) on the left - I have seen designs allowing the box to roll or slide forward for easy access to connections on the back.

Didn't mean to highjack the subject - realize your question was about construction technique and, for what it's worth, I agree with the other posts, above.
The shelf in back will be for both of my monitors, allowing me to put some small plastic containers I have underneath it that have writing pads, post its, paper clips, etc.

One of my biggest reasons for designing and building a new desk is so that I have more desk space for books, laptop, etc. I just don't have room right now to have my laptop on the desk with a book. I'm going back to college to finish a degree, and it's been annoying. The keyboard will be on a slide out underneath the desk, with space for the keyboard and mouse. You can kind of see it in the shot I posted underneath the desk top between the cabinets.

I'm thinking that putting in a sliding shelf for the PC will probably be a good idea, as well as cutting out an opening in the back to allow for quick access to plug in things like flash drives, etc. The case I have has been repurposed so many times for different hardware that the front connections on it don't work anymore.

Thanks for taking the time to offer your opinions. I appreciate it. Conversation is still on topic regarding the design of the desk!
 

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PCs give off heat. Make sure your have ventilation plans for where the PC goes.
Cables. Make sure you have paths (holes/channels) for mouse, keyboard, monitor cables to get where they need to go.
Wheels? As PCs often get reconfigured over time, making the desk so it can easily be pulled out from the wall will make your life less frustrating.
Lights? I'm going to suggest you put a small service light in the rear if the cabinet where the PC goes. Good light will make it much easier to see where you are plugging in cables.
Why would you want to pull the whole desk out from the wall just to get to the computer? Please explain.

George
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
Why would you want to pull the whole desk out from the wall just to get to the computer? Please explain.

George
I can understand what he's saying. On occasion you have to get to the back of the computer, and sometimes with short cables, you can't just slide the computer out of the front of the desk, you have to plug them in through the back. I build my own computers, and just recently had to replace a hard drive. Fortunately my current desk just has an open shelf, but in the new desk design, this would require pulling the desk out from the wall in order to get to the back.

Edit: One thing I didn't think about. I also use an adapter to plug my guitar into the line in port on the back. I don't have a whole lot of cables here at home, so I am plugging/unplugging the cable a couple times a week. Being able to get to the back of the computer is going to have it's benefits.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Redesigned the desk, making things a little easier for me. PC Shelf now slides, and is on the right, so the hole cut out for the fan is on the inside of the desk. Also leaving the face open for now. Added a hole behind the back piece, so that I can route all my cables out, but may end up changing this. Under the monitor shelf, there will be a piece of plywood that goes all the way across that I'll be mounting a tripp lite surge protect strip, a 1bar12/20ultra. I picked this one, because it has two plugs on the front, and it's 20A. Behind the board under the monitor shelf where it's mounted will help serve as my cable storage. Everything will run here, plug in to the tripp lite, and the extra cable will be stowed under the monitor shelf.

Also made numerous changes to joinery, adding in dado's and rabbets where needed. Added a back between the cabinets. Haven't added one to the hutch, because I haven't decided whether or not I want a full back, or just behind the shelves.

On the left cabinet, above the file drawer, is a printer shelf that slides out. I haven't sketched in the drawer that fills the space above that yet. But in between the bottom of the desk, and the top of where the drawer will be, will be a slide out, 3/4", that I can write on, put a book on, etc.


 

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I like this. I was just talking about building a computer desk this morning. This gives me a lot of ideas.

1. With the slotted fan vents in the back, why not just open that up? What does having slots accomplish? It limits hand access to the back of your computer, but maybe that's what you want?
2. How much leg room are you giving yourself? It looks like not very much.

What tools are you going to be using? Or what do you have access to? If you don't mind me asking, what's your budget range?
 

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If you put a full back on the hutch you can also line that back with cork. That is what I have done with my granddaughters desk. Makes a good place to pin up notes or whatever.

If it was my desk I would never put a door in front of the computer. I make too much use of the front USB ports on my computer. All of my "data" is backed up twice to travel drives. Also where SD cards are inserted.

George
 

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Discussion Starter #17
I like this. I was just talking about building a computer desk this morning. This gives me a lot of ideas.

1. With the slotted fan vents in the back, why not just open that up? What does having slots accomplish? It limits hand access to the back of your computer, but maybe that's what you want?
2. How much leg room are you giving yourself? It looks like not very much.

What tools are you going to be using? Or what do you have access to? If you don't mind me asking, what's your budget range?
I've been working on the design some more. I changed all the rabbets to 1/2 inch depth instead of 5/8. Made a couple other changes but I'm not sure what else I did. The slots in the back where the pc is are for ventilating and looks. If you look at the picture of the back, there is a hole cut out on the side facing the inside. That's for cable and hand access. I don't remember how much I part the back, but the top is 30 inches deep. My current desk is only like 24 inches deep, and my knees are never further in than the edge of the desk. So I'm thinking about 18 to 24 inches will be plenty for me.

Before i start this project I'm going to buy a table saw and router, or get access to them. I'm going to use a circular saw to rough cut the pieces down to size. I haven't decided what to use to make the Dados and rabbets. I'm going to glue, clamp and brad nail everything together with a pneumatic brad nailer. Also going to screw the backs of the cabinets on, so I can take the shelves out to unscrew the top when I get ready to move it.

I don't really have a budget. My goal is just to build the desk I need with the features I want. And learn something in the process.

If you put a full back on the hutch you can also line that back with cork. That is what I have done with my granddaughters desk. Makes a good place to pin up notes or whatever.

If it was my desk I would never put a door in front of the computer. I make too much use of the front USB ports on my computer. All of my "data" is backed up twice to travel drives. Also where SD cards are inserted.

George
That's what I was thinking since my last post, I actually sketched in a full back to the hutch. I figured it would give it a little extra strength and stability and allow me to use it to post stuff up. Unless I buy a new case, I can't use the usb or mic ports. It had been repurposed several times for different compete builds over the last ten years. So I'm going to have to either put an access door in the outside side, or buy and install one of those usb port deals in the monitor shelf next to my surge protector.

I'll post my new pictures of the design later when I get a chance. My son is being for me to take him outside and play some ball with him.
 

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Discussion Starter #18 (Edited)
Here is Desk 2.0. I haven't decided whether or not to put doors on the hutch shelves yet, but will probably at least put doors on the two ends. Still have to cut a couple holes here and there for cable access, for example, up through the desk top underneath the monitor shelf. I also forgot to put trim around the door for the shelves on the right cabinet. I did decide that I'm going to try to find and mount an a/c powered USB hub next to the surge protector in the monitor shelf. There is also a 1/2" lip in the hutch on the back hole where the monitor shelf is, to help try to keep cables in there from slipping out the back. Total desk dimensions are 71"L x 86"H x 30"W.


 

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Discussion Starter #19
Something that also occurred to me was the bottom of the cabinets. I'm not sure if I should extend the sides to the floor like my current design, or if I should make the sides even with the bottom of the cabinet and build something like a torsion box as a base for the to sit on.
 
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