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Scratch Build Project: The Ultimate Computer Desk

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December 22, 2010 12:02:10 AM

Hi Everyone,

I've been working on a big project lately to create what is to me, the Ultimate Computer Desk.

Here are the stats in brief:
- Built of 3/4" 2-Sided Maple Plywood and Solid Maple
- 2 Integrated Desktop Computers
- Fan Control
- Noise Control
- Dust Control
- 3 Monitor Expansion Capacity

I'm actually quite a few weeks into the project already, so I won't post all the pictures and all the steps I've taken, but I'm hoping some of you will chime in with your ideas and comments.

Constructive thoughts, criticisms, and shouts of encouragement are always welcome :) 
December 22, 2010 12:06:38 AM

This was the result of many hours spent in Google Sketchup:



And here, you can see the two cabinets blown up to get an idea of the construction techniques I'm going to use to build them:





The dark bits are solid maple, which I will be using as trim, and the light brown bits are 1x1's that I will screw to the cabinet from the inside, to minimize the number of screw holes on the outside.

In these two diagrams, you can see how the computer components will be laid out inside the cabinets:





Both systems will use 4 intake fans, and they will pull air through a large piece of furnace air filter material, so some strong fans will probably be needed to maximize air flow.

The two "cubby" holes on top of the desk (One on each side) will house the switches, fan controls, LED's for power and HDD, as well as the optical drives.
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December 22, 2010 12:10:53 AM

Here is the small wood shop I have access to:



And the sheets of plywood I picked up from the local hardware store:



I got all of the major cuts done in one session and labeled everything accordingly:



And made a nice big mess ;) 

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Related resources
December 22, 2010 12:24:40 AM

This is what happens when I forget to print out my workplans for the day:



I'm going to put together the 3 drawers (without faces) by gluing, clamping, and then countersinking some screws into them:











Everything looks nice and squared up:



And, once the glue has dried, I put some screws in. Some good work for this session:



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December 22, 2010 12:37:43 AM

I decided to cut the holes into the surface pieces, which by the way, are super heavy and unwieldy. They are 8' long and weigh between 20 and 30 pounds a piece.

I started by measuring and marking the appropriate lines, and then cut a rough outline with the jigsaw:



I went deep into the corners, carefully trying to keep them square:





I then clamped a straight-edge down and ran a router across all 4 sides to get nice clean edges:







I was very happy with the tolerances. A few minutes with some sandpaper, and the corners will be as close to perfect as they come:



I then repeated the process in a similar manner for the bottom desk surface. The bottom desk surface has a hole that is 1/2" smaller all the way around to create a lip that the glass will rest on, that will cover the computer in the left-hand cabinet. Yes, the whole desk surface weighs a ton when lifted together as one piece ;) 

And to finish off the first flurry of updates:



Stay tuned for more :) 
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a b ) Power supply
December 22, 2010 1:10:21 AM

Looks nice!
Is that ARES xfire?
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December 22, 2010 11:18:44 AM

I can believe that the tops are heavy and unwieldy. I made my daughter an 'Upsy Daisy' bed (From a CBeebies kids TV show from the UK) when she was little, out of 15mm MDF for the base and I think 6 or 8 mm ply for the shaped ends and sides. It looks great but I can't lift it in one, also it won't go through any house doors without being dis-assembled and re-assembled due to the height of the ends - though I guess you'll build that desk in pieces and then assemble in situ.

So my advice which I guess you've probably already thought of is to make sure it is easy to assemble, carry and disassemble from manageable sized assembled chunks.

Nice project!

EDIT: Oh and looking at your left cabinet design I couldn't quite work out your airflow solution for the PSU. Is the PSU going to push the hot air out the bottom into the space underneath which is also where your front intake fans pull from? Just a thought..
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December 22, 2010 11:37:28 AM

looks good, but you might want some top exhaust and front intake? small space high temps it will have.

i was thinking. your exhaust is good so how about in front for air intake you add speaker mesh wire covered by perforated cloth so it resembles a house speaker? just a thought though i thought that with no front intake it will only be circulating hot air. but then again if you use the panel as a door you can cool it off anytime.
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December 29, 2010 1:59:58 PM

duk3 said:
Looks nice!
Is that ARES xfire?

Thanks - that is indeed a pair of ARES cards. I don't think that is what I'll be using as components, but that is what I selected as a model, since they are rather large cards, and it gave me a good idea of the amount of space I'll have in the top of the cabinet.

OllieUK said:
I can believe that the tops are heavy and unwieldy. I made my daughter an 'Upsy Daisy' bed (From a CBeebies kids TV show from the UK) when she was little, out of 15mm MDF for the base and I think 6 or 8 mm ply for the shaped ends and sides. It looks great but I can't lift it in one, also it won't go through any house doors without being dis-assembled and re-assembled due to the height of the ends - though I guess you'll build that desk in pieces and then assemble in situ.

So my advice which I guess you've probably already thought of is to make sure it is easy to assemble, carry and disassemble from manageable sized assembled chunks.

Nice project!

EDIT: Oh and looking at your left cabinet design I couldn't quite work out your airflow solution for the PSU. Is the PSU going to push the hot air out the bottom into the space underneath which is also where your front intake fans pull from? Just a thought..

Yes - it will disassemble into 4 pieces - the desk surface, the desk shelf on top, and the two cabinets. As for the airflow, the 4 fans act as an intake, which will pull air from the hole in the bottom surface, and the air will have nowhere to go except out the back of the cabinet, with the aid of the PSU, CPU Cooler, and fans on the video cards.

_tru_ said:
looks good, but you might want some top exhaust and front intake? small space high temps it will have.

i was thinking. your exhaust is good so how about in front for air intake you add speaker mesh wire covered by perforated cloth so it resembles a house speaker? just a thought though i thought that with no front intake it will only be circulating hot air. but then again if you use the panel as a door you can cool it off anytime.

Hmm, there are only intake fans - the 4 fans in a row are all intakes, on both cabinets. The left-hand module will pull air from the hole in the bottom surface, and the air will have nowhere else to go except exhaust out the back of the case where the PCI cards are, and CPU Hole, as well as the PSU exhaust fan. Same will occur on the right-hand module.

Hey all, hope everyone had a good Holiday!

Hey everyone, it's been a little while since my last update, so here are a few snapshots. As some of you might know, I've been a little held back in the project due to not having selected my motherboard I/O plates and motherboard trays. Without having the actual items, I couldn't make the appropriate measurements to make cut-outs in the back of the cabinets, and therefore, was unable to make the dado cuts due to worry about everything not fitting properly.

So I scrounged through some old desktop systems I had lying around, emptied their components into my bins, and decided to take apart their chassis in search of some good motherboard tray and I/O parts.

So - off to the spooky basement with a pair of chassis, my trusty drill and dremel.





Having never drilled rivets out of a case before, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. At first, I started with a bit that was a little bit small, so the rivets came up onto the drill bit itself and got stuck on there pretty good. Eventually, I moved to a bigger bit, and all it took was one good squeeze of the trigger and the rivet would come right out nice and cleanly.





Starting to rack up some parts here



You can see in the image above that the I/O and PCI Plate is built right into the back of the desktop chassis - this is unfortunate, as you'll see in some future photos, my other case actually had a modular I/O plate. I'll have to take the dremel to that part to get what I need.

Time to grab the pliers...



Here is the shot of the back plate of the other desktop chassis - see how the I/O plate was actually riveted in, and not pressed as a whole back sheet like the other one? Soo much easier to deal with.



That was a pretty fun experience taking apart the cases. I've got a bunch of scrap sheet metal now too - wonder what interesting projects I can come up with to use them...

On to that first I/O plate - I need to dremel out the section that I need



Huh.. that actually didn't work out too well, at least, not the way I would like. I'm going to take these parts to the shop to see if there are any better tools for getting nice clean lines.

Until next time!
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a b ) Power supply
December 29, 2010 6:08:35 PM

most of your pictures dont seem to work? :( )
thats a really cool project...i want something like it, except with capability for about 10 computers...
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a b ) Power supply
December 29, 2010 6:14:11 PM

very nice looking project. can't wait to see the outcome
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December 29, 2010 8:27:51 PM

Thanks for the comments guys - try refreshing the page, and the images should load up properly.

I had some time to take those motherboard tray and I/O Plates to the shop to try out a few tools / techniques for shaping them into something I actually like.

First off, yes, Mike and I tried using the nice Dewalt Jigsaw, but the Mastercraft metal blades we were trying to use just wouldn't stay in the darn clamp. It would cut like butter for maybe 10 seconds and then bam, the blade would fall out of the bottom of the jigsaw onto the ground. Not sure what was going on there.



Next up, we tried this neat little Mastercraft oscillating tool with a metal blade as well, but no such luck. Couldn't figure out a good way to clamp down the metal tray, so it just vibrated it like crazy instead of actually cutting.





Our next contestant was an air compressor powered cutting wheel, which, was ultimately less accurate than the dremel, and just as slow.



So we took out the big gun, the sawzall.



Ha, no, just kidding. It wouldn't work even a tiny bit for a piece like this.

In the end, you know what ultimately worked the best?



Yeah, a hacksaw. Go figure.

Anyways, here you can see my mangled I/O plate for the motherboard. It's not a pretty sight at all in my opinion.



This is the nice I/O plate that I didn't even have to do anything except drill out a few rivets.



I think I'm going to have to come up with a better solution for this. We'll see shortly ;) 

Hope everyone who is getting snow is enjoying it, I know here in Ottawa, it's been a pretty crazy few days!

Stay tuned for more updates, will be spending some time in the shop this week and working with WOOD!
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a b ) Power supply
December 29, 2010 10:33:49 PM

how far away are you from here? i have an io plate/mobo tray that came out of a case with removable mobo tray...you can have it free if you come by
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December 31, 2010 1:27:37 PM

Thanks for the offer there shovenose, but I think I've solved that particular issue.. I'm in Ottawa, Ontario, FYI

I had a bit of time in the shop this week to work on getting my drawers up to speed. I decided to take the advice of a fellow forum member and add "false fronts" to my drawers so that I can attach the "real fronts" using screws by screwing from the inside of the drawer, so I wouldn't have any screw heads to cover up on the outside.

Here they are, with my roughed out false fronts - I happened to have 3 pieces of wood almost exactly the size I needed.



Time to take out 'ol trusty



A quick test fit, and all 3 fit perfectly





Add a bit of glue, and some trusty clamps, and we've got ourselves the beginnings of some false fronts!







All 3 of them fit rather nicely. I think they helped square out the drawers overall as well (Even though they were only out of square by around 1/16th of an inch).

So, I've got some time for the glue to dry. I'm not sure if anyone can remember this, but in my original cut sheets, I had planned on cutting out a specific piece of wood using the wood that I jigsawed out of the desk surface.

Here's that piece:



Not, exactly.... square..

So I take this nice little protractor attached to a table saw slide - it's set at 90, so here we go!



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December 31, 2010 1:28:26 PM

I do 2 sides, and then use the actual table saw fence to square out the other 2, but something just doesn't seem right..





It's not really square. What's going on here?



Aha! Looks like the protractor was a little bit off, resulting in a shape one step closer to a diamond as opposed to a square. After a bit of readjustment, I redid that bit and cut it to size - it's the drawer face for the large drawer.



Now that the glue is settled, I decided to throw a few screws into the false fronts.





Awesome. And solid too!



Now, this is kind of embarrassing, but I had to go back and fix a mistake I made in my initial cuts. This piece of wood was supposed to be 20" x 28", but it ended up being more like 19.8" x 28". It may not seem like much, but this is the back piece to the left-hand cabinet. I would have to adjust the width of all 3 shelves if I were to continue using this, and I've got the space already pretty tightly packed with computer components on the top shelf.

So... don't do this at home, just cut a new piece of wood (I didn't want to cut into a new sheet of 4x8 just for this one piece...)

This piece looks like a good fit...



:banghead:





No one will see it, because it'll be in the back, but you will all know. So... let's just forget that ever happened, ok? ;) 
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a b ) Power supply
December 31, 2010 10:25:46 PM

i will never ever ever forget :)  lol jk
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January 5, 2011 8:04:50 PM

Haha, thanks shovenose ;) 

I decided it was time to glue the two surfaces together that would comprise of the actual desk surface and take a break from working on the drawers for a while.

Here it is, the first piece. At first I wanted to lay it face down, so I could evenly distribute screws through the bottom, but in the end, I went face up so I would protect the surface, and it would be a LOT easier to line up the holes.



I threw on the top layer, lined them up, and thought to myself: Hmm, I wonder what it'll look like with the top shelf stacked on:



Pretty cool. This was the first time I had actually pulled a chair up to it to get a real grasp of how big this desk is going to be. I was pretty psyched.

Just a note, the two pieces of wood on each end holding up the shelf will actually be the inner supports (ie, pushed inwards towards the middle of the desk a foot or two), and the cubby holes on the outer ends will support the long shelf. The long shelf also has to be trimmed a couple inches, it won't reach right to the end of the desk.

This next part was really quite a challenge on my own.

I lined it up as best as I could (According to the holes that I cut out, since the edges are easy to trim later), lifted one end with a mighty, strong arm, squirted as much glue as I could with my other arm (And only as far as I could reach!), put it down gently, ran to the other side and repeated.

Let me tell you - with the amount of glue I put down, and the fact that each side weighs 20-30 pounds - it did NOT want to slide around easily to get into perfect position.

In the end, I had to muscle it around a bit to get the holes lined up satisfactorily.

(I spoke with a couple friends about this afterward, and one of them suggested making some pilot holes and screwing in a few screws BEFORE the gluing, and then retracting the screws so that just the tips go through the bottom board. That way after the glue is put down, you shuffle around the top board until the tips of the screws find the pilot holes, thus, eliminating the issue of getting proper alignment before the glue becomes too tacky.)

I then threw some weight on top of the table, attached as many clamps as I could find, and started putting some 1.25" screws through the bottom.



A few clamp shots of the hole - everything lined up pretty much perfect. 1/2" on the left and right, 1/2" at the bottom, and I think just a little under 3/4" at the top. (The size of the lip between the upper and lower holes)





I wasn't satisfied with the way the clamping was going on lengthwise on the surface. I didn't have enough clamps to place them every half foot, so luckily, Mike had some of these nice, big, cedar logs lying around that I re-purposed temporarily.









The end result turned out quite nicely. The hole was lined up properly. There is only a small overhang / underhang of maybe 2/16's of an inch on two of the edges of the surfaces that should be easy to correct with a flush-bit on the router later.

We'll take a look at them next update! Thanks for staying tuned!
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January 14, 2011 8:21:54 PM

I got a chance to do some work on the drawer face trim - this was my first time doing solid wood trim.

I cut a nice piece of maple into 1/4" strips, glued, and sanded. I only did one piece this time, as I am not totally sure that this is the way I would like to go.

Something about the trim not meshing quite well with the plywood.

First, I set the table saw to the right width:



Measure 3 times, and you get a nice solid cut:



Made a few strips:





Cut, glued, and clamped on the initial pieces of trim. The trim pieces were about 2/16's of an inch wider than the plywood, which is great, since there will be no voids, though, I'll have to do quite a bit of sanding:







Took the sander to the top and bottom:







Overall, it looks pretty good. I'm still not 100% certain about it, however. I'm thinking there is a strong possibility I will go with solid maple for the drawer faces.

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January 17, 2011 6:23:50 PM

Had another really busy weekend and unfortunately, wasn't able to post the update on the weekend like I originally wanted to...

BUT! Made a new friend - meet Mr.Air Nailer.





Nice and fast, no need to clamp everything down, and I can get a lot more trim done a lot quicker.

I really did a better job of being picky with the trim, and selected cuts that matched the colour a lot better:



Compared to the first drawer face that I tried:



That had to change, so I took my most subtle and elegant tools:





And, replaced the two mis-coloured pieces with nicer ones.

Anyways - this is what my trim production line looked like for the day:



First, I would mark off the lengths on an appropriately coloured piece of trim just using a pencil and holding the trim against the piece:



Take it over to the miter saw and trim it to within a sixteenth of an inch or so on both ends:





See that cedar log in the bottom right? Remember it being longer? Mike was in the shop today turning them into table legs, which partially explains the big mess!



I then took the piece that is being trimmed, as well as the trim, to the little sander. I would sand to a good 90 degree angle, and get the length just right.







Glue down, and nail down!





Occasionally, I'll crack the trim with the nailer... which means it has to be removed, and re-done with a new piece of trim:



After some sanding:



I finished all 3 drawer faces and then got started on the actual drawers. They look pretty decent. Not perfect, but they look nice.

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a b ) Power supply
January 17, 2011 9:08:49 PM

Nice work so far.
Cant wait to see finish product.
This link could be interesting to you primarily about grounding mobo to PSU
http://forums.techgage.com/showthread.php?t=5504
Good luck, keep up the good work and dont breathe too much sawdust
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January 17, 2011 9:29:21 PM

i love the idea of building the comp into the actual desk , gave me some good ideas.
while personally like a good looking case it could be cool to build some fans into the actual desk so i could have a cool case but also keep it looking tidy and out of the way and not have it over heat
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January 24, 2011 8:24:16 PM

Thanks for the link - interesting read.

The fan should be nice and cool, lots of airflow, as well as a good dust solution. Hopefully, you won't be able to see ANY cables in the end product!

I used a fairly similar process as the drawer faces, I started out by cutting myself some fresh trim strips from this piece of maple:



Hit the miter saw and sander, and lay down some glue:



Then with the nailer. Whoops, one more split.



Here's a before and after shot from the sanding. You'll notice the maple strips got burnt pretty badly when I put them through the table saw (The blade is getting a bit old). After a bit of sanding, they look as fresh as ever:



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January 24, 2011 8:24:43 PM

After trimming all of the drawers and faces, I had to get some wood filler to fill in all of the screw and nail holes, as well as the small voids between the plywood and solid wood. All in all, this process went OK - not as nice as I would have liked.





For the mostpart, I used Elmers Natural Colour Wood Filler. While it did the job, the colour matching wasn't exactly... inconspicious, to say the least. I also tried mixing some sawdust from the random-orbit sander with some wood glue, with not so great results.











You can clearly see, in the end result, that the sawdust/glue filler looks more like glue. It has an almost transparent look to it. I guess I should have used more sawdust?





Anyways, I finished up the rest of the voids and holes with the regular Elmers stuff:





And then sanded it it all up:





Anyone have any tips on how I can further hide the holes? I will have to go over them again with some more wood filler just to smooth them out completely, but even so, I have a feeling that the stain will accentuate all of my filling, which is not the desired effect, to say the least!!

I have ALMOST determined the stain / technique I will be using. I'm getting some very nice, richly coloured red mahogany / cherry right now on my test boards. With that in mind, has anyone used darker wood filler than the natural wood, when staining dark with good effect?
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a b ) Power supply
January 24, 2011 8:58:34 PM

what power supply are you going to use in the computers?
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January 28, 2011 12:40:16 AM

shovenose said:
what power supply are you going to use in the computers?
You know what I would really LOVE to use as power supplies? Those freakin gorgeous Seasonic X-Series Modular PSU's, however, I think they are a bit outside of my budget and maybe I'll throw in some good quality Corsairs. So basically..

Undecided so far ;) 

No real update today, but stay tuned, I'll have something interesting in the next day or two :) 
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January 31, 2011 8:47:00 PM

Received a nice package in the mail a couple weeks ago that I've been meaning to show off...





What could it be?



Woohoo!!!







That's:
4 x 2 GB of 1600Mhz CL7 Ballistix RAM from Crucial and
2 x 2 GB of 1333Mhz ECC, Registered RDIMM RAM from Crucial!

So it looks like for the main system I will have some options. Currently I'm thinking either a socket 1156 Core i5/i7 or a newer Sandy Bridge socket 1155. The only issue that may occur with the Sandy Bridge is that those Crucial Ballistix are rated for 1.65 Volts, which I understand is a bit over the recommended voltage for RAM for the 1155 boards. There is a possibility of looking at an AMD AM3 system as well with a Phenom x4 or x6 - I have not made up my mind entirely yet.

For the server system, I am almost definetely going with a Xeon processor - which motherboard is still in the air.

Aren't they so nice? ;) 





Can't wait to open them up and test them out! It'll have to wait for now, however.

So here's a distraction - my cat! She's going to have some kittens soon!



Big thanks go out to Crucial, who are officially the first sponsor for The Ultimate Computer Desk



Stay tuned, lots of updates in the pipeline!
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a b ) Power supply
February 1, 2011 2:53:53 AM

Great project! I'd continue to use the natural wood filler for everything but the nail holes, for those i'd get the color matching putty sticks from minwax etc. Just put a light coat of your varathane or whatever you use over them after you colormatch and fill the holes.
http://www.google.com/#q=minwax+putty+stix&hl=en&prmd=i...

I should also add that since you're the one building it you'll know about every mar, dink, cross grain sand mark etc. in the project, no one else will see these tiny imperfections. If they're enough of a craftsman to notice them they won't be rude enough to point them out.
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February 3, 2011 5:34:45 PM

Thanks for the encouragement dirtmountain - I will put together a nice big test board for various waxes / fillers / coloured fillers, etc... and see what turns out best. It's true that I will be the only one to notice a lot of the flaws as well lol ;) 

Last time I left off, with regards to the table surface, I had just finished gluing and screwing it together. I put it on the backburner for about a week to dry while I worked on the drawers, and now I'm going to take it down in preparation for putting the outer trim on it.

Here it is:



All 4 sides were a bit off, with regards to the flushness. This was expected, as the initial sizing cuts were pretty rough, and it's better to have extra material than not enough.



Took out a straight-cut flush bit for the router, and some 60-grit sandpaper for the random orbital sander, and got to work. I did two passes with the router, because since the bit is not 1 1/2" tall, I couldn't trim the whole side of the table with just one pass.











And, after a bit of work, the final result:







The next step is to take a long strip of maple and turn it into trim for the table surface.
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February 11, 2011 2:55:54 PM

The last time I left off, I had just finished flushing the sides of the table in preparation to add some trim. I found a nice piece of long maple that was just a little over 8 feet long, a little wider than 1.5 inches, and thick enough to cut some 1/4 inch strips from.

I layed it out, setup the table saw and cut myself a test piece.



Looks good!



Here's a pic of the cutting process. I'm afraid I had some difficulty with this. Actually, let me rephrase - the saw had some difficulty with this. I was still using the same blade I've been using the whole project - which needs replacement pretty badly. Asking it to cut through 1.5 inches of maple, for a length of 8 feet was asking a lot of it.



I made it through eventually, but the whole process left quite a few burn marks on the wood.



I glued and nailed the trim around the perimeter of the desk, which was a pretty straightforward process.



And then took out a hand plane to get rid of most of the excess material and bring the trim down flush with the desk surface. Some neat pictures here.





After some sanding with some 60-grit on the random orbit sander to get everything smooth, I went nuts with the wood filler.







At that point I stood the surface up in the back of the shop and called it a night.

Next update in the loop, I setup some dado blades in the table saw, mmm mmmm, that was fun!

Have a good weekend everyone!
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February 25, 2011 6:59:00 PM

It's been a while since the last update, but basically, I got around to installing the dado blade on the table saw to make some important cuts for the two cabinets, and was able to do a bit of test fitting.

For those of you not really in the know, a dado blade has two regular saw blades (One for the left, one for the right) and some irregular shaped blades of varying thickness that you put in between, until you get the right width. I'll let the pictures do the talking.







The beauty of using dado blades in the table saw (At least I think) is that you can set it up at the right height and width, and then set the fence to the proper width and do all 3 of your supporting boards one after another so they will be lined up perfectly when it comes time for assembly.



I put 3 cuts in each of the 3 supporting walls of the left-hand cabinet. There was a bit of chipping, I should have probably put down some masking tape, but it's nothing major and will be on the inside anyways.



I threw on a bit of wood filler to patch up the chipped parts, and then let these 3 dry while I worked on the right-hand cabinet cuts.



I then had some time to put together a quick test fitting! Not bad! Some of the wood was just a bit crooked, so I'll have to spend some time with the sander to loosen up some of the dado joints.













This pretty much completes the first phase of the project - I won't have any use for any of the big, messy tools anymore.

All that's really left are a few small detail cuts, some holes need to be cut out, the whole thing needs to be sanded to pre-stain state, and then assembly and staining!

I'll be bringing all of the materials back to my place where I'll be doing just that.
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February 25, 2011 7:13:46 PM

And, through the miracle of internet technology, I'm bringing you the next update right away!

There wasn't much work done in this update - just thought I'd show everyone where the progress is going to be taking place from now on. The spooky basement in my building!

It's a really old house, at least over a hundred years old, in fact, there's a 12" x 12" solid beam of wood running as the main support member along the entire length of the house, it must be at least 30 feet long. Can't get those any more!!!

My main complaint with the basement is that I am constantly bashing my head on the low ceiling beams, and it's quite cold! Getting motivated to go work down there is not nearly as easy as working in the nice, heated wood shop.

Time to let the pictures do the talking:





I purchased a new shop vac at Canadian Tire along with a bunch of other stuff during the Boxing Week sales after Christmas. Sweet.



I also setup a plastic wall to help prevent sawdust from going all over the basement, as well as to help keep any breezes contained when it comes time to stain.



Some of my personal tools:











And there we have it! Until next time, have a good weekend!
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February 28, 2011 5:20:30 PM

So, I did a bit of work in the basement the other night, and since the next part of the project is going to be assembly, I decided to give it another shot at test fitting, since the last time I tried it was just loosely put together.

Time to get out the sander with some 80 grit. The hose on my shop vac is a little over 2", and I didn't have an adapter to attach it to the DeWalt ROB Sander unfortunately, so a little tape had to do the job.





I took each piece one by one and sanded down the edges where they slide into the dado cuts. I had to do a surprising amount of sanding, as the fit was incredibly tight.

I also took the time to label each piece (Top, Middle, Bottom, and which side faces the front) so that it could be easily repeatable when it comes time for final assembly.

Almost there. So tight! I needed a rubber mallet to set some of them, and then remove them afterwards.



This shelf was just ~slightly~ warped, and needed a lot of sanding so that one end was nice and snug, and this end actually a bit of free space (Hello wood filler!)



A couple more progress shots:





And, all tightly assembled. I could probably jump on this box...





I spent about an hour and a half doing that, and honestly, it was freezing cold down there and that's about all I could stand for that evening. Until next time!
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March 14, 2011 4:45:40 PM

So - it's been some time since my last update (What has it been.. 2 weeks? Geez!) but I haven't been idle at home, it's just that I was really busy (There are kittens running around now!) and I've been working with some staining techniques, which has been a long, learning process.

I did a bit of research and came across a good video over here: Link and I opted to give it a shot, because there apparently, is a tendency for maple to come out a little blotchy due to the tight grain, or something or other like that.

So I picked up some supplies:



Made up a test board - some wood filler, some real maple trim, and one side sanded to 120 and the other sanded to 220:



And, apparently, I was supposed to cut the shellac with some denatured alcohol. Something I was not able to find, and subsequently, I found out that it is actually quite difficult to obtain here in Ottawa. I did not realize at the time, that I could have cut it with methyl hydrate, which is something quite commonly available at the local Canadian Tire.

And, this is where things start to go wrong. Here is the shellac applied:



Ok, not bad. Full strength. Ended up closing the grain structure completely, most likely. Here is the gel stain I chose:



And, onto the wood:



Wait 5 minutes, wipe off...



Gross. Seriously? This is why you test on samples first. Look at that colour - it's practically pink!

How about a second coat.



And why the heck not, we'll stain the back as well, where it hasn't been shellac'd.



Huh...





Now really. That was not quite what I was expecting. Time to get a new sample piece - no shellac, but sanded properly to 120.







What's going on here? This is not really the expected "richness" of a dark gel stain like this, is it? Hmm..



Doh! Looks like keeping the gel stain in the basement, where it is freezing, separated the contents. There is a visible layer of clear liquid on top of the stain - that shouldn't be there.

Staining attempt number 1? Failure.

1. If you're using shellac to seal, to avoid streaking and blotching - you MUST cut it
2. If you're going to use a gel stain, don't keep it in a cold environment before you're about to use it.

Well, time to put the stain upstairs for a little while, and maybe another trip to the hardware store... And just an fyi, this took me about a week just to do the 2 samples, since it's so cold, I can only do 1 coat per day, as it takes a long time to dry.

And here's a little something else:



Cute, no? A litter of 5 - the first one was stillborn, so we've got 4 kittens, pretty exciting stuff. ;) 
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March 15, 2011 4:47:51 PM

Some of you may have wondered - "You stained 2 small pieces of wood in the past 2 weeks?! That's all you have to show for progress on THE ULTIMATE DESK?!"

Well, not quite... Really - I did more, I swear.

As you all know, the first staining attempt went really poorly, so I immediately went out and started on a second staining attempt. This time, I purchased some pre-stain wood conditioner, as well as a traditional oil-based stain. I also set out to do this the right way. If I'm going to spend a week staining small samples, I might as well have something to show for it. I cut 8 small blocks of wood, and sanded them all to 120 grit, just like before, and tacked them all off.



I had a plan this time - I was going to see what kind of colour combinations I could get with just 2 stains, and 1 wood conditioner (The gel stain, for what it's worth, had been mixed several times, and had been kept upstairs for a few days). Here is the wood conditioner I used. You can see in the background that it tints the wood just slightly.



Here is the oil-based stain I picked up. It's a Minwax product, Red Mahogany.



And of course, the Varathane Gel Stain that you've already seen, also, Red Mahogany.



In this picture you can see a bit how the oil stain reacts to the wood conditioner. The wood conditioner seemed to have hardly any effect on the gel stain, most likely because gel stains don't really penetrate the wood the same as an oil stain.



And in this picture you can see the whopping difference between the oil stain and gel stain, which are, strangely enough, supposed to be the same colour. The one on the left is the Minwax, and the one in the middle is the Varathane. Neither the first or second piece have wood conditioner on them. The piece on the right is wood conditioner + the Minwax oil stain.



Here's the production line, the stain is still wet, I haven't wiped off the excess yet.



And here is the result of 2 days of staining. (First day sanding, tacking, wood conditioner, first coat of stain, second day some of them got a second coat).

From left to right, here is what I did to get the different results (Some of them obvious, some of them pretty darn subtle).

1. Minwax Red Mahogany Oil Stain
2. Varathane Red Mahogany Gel Stain
3. Wood Conditioner + Minwax Red Mahogany Oil Stain
4. Wood Conditioner + Varathane Red Mahogany Gel Stain
5. Wood Conditioner + Minwax Red Mahogany Oil Stain + Varathane Red Mahogany Gel Stain
6. Wood Conditioner + Varathane Red Mahogany Gel Stain + Minwax Red Mahogany Oil Stain
7. Wood Conditioner + Minwax Red Mahogany Oil Stain x 2 Coats
8. Wood Conditioner + Varathane Red Mahogany Gel Stain x 2 Coats

Wow! It's pretty amazing the different shades you can get when using just 3 pretty simple substances.







I then set about the next 4 or 5 days applying one coat of high gloss polyurethane each day (That was a long and boring process). Basically, get home from work, go downstairs for a whole 5 minutes, do a quick sanding, tacking, and another light coat of poly, done for the day, wait for the next day.

Here's the final result of Staining Attempt Number Two. Please keep in mind, they are not in the same order that I mentioned above.





There's no doubt that I will use this method again in the future. I also now have a great set of staining samples for maple plywood that I will surely fine handy in the future (They are all marked on the back what the process / stain used was).

Guess what though. None of them really came out the way I wanted. I'm still in search for that rich, deep, red mahogany / cherry look, and these just won't cut it (Though I admit, I do like #5 and #6, but maybe only because of their really spectacular grain pattern).

See you next time for Staining Attempt Number Three! *sigh*



Oh - and here's another snap of the kittens - they are 20 days old when this picture was taken, and they had just opened their eyes only a couple days beforehand.



I won't be posting another update until next week, as I've decided to take a trip to the East Coast to celebrate St.Patricks day! I'll be in Halifax if anyone wants to go for a few pints! Have a great weekend everyone!
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March 24, 2011 7:49:18 PM

For those of you interested in seeing how the kittens are doing, I've been keeping a bit of a video log on them - ie. I have been taking quick video clips of them every few days, since day 0. You can check them out here:
http://www.youtube.com/user/MrAderome#p/u

Also, here is a bit of a sneak peak, as far as actual computer hardware is concerned - I've been slowly acquiring bits and pieces, since I'm still not entirely sure what will end up in this Ultimate Computer Desk.

Kingston has decided to sponsor me, and has sent me this really fantastic SSD drive. I am PSYCHED!





As you are all aware, my first 2 staining attempts were successful in the sense that I learned a lot, however, I was still not achieving the result I originally wanted.

I decided to try something other than the tried-and-true local Home Depot, and I hit up a custom furniture store - Randalls. Let me tell you - it was a truly great experience, and I will be returning there many more times in the future due to the incredible service I received there.

I walked in with my backpack full of my 2nd attempt samples, and immediately a salesperson started talking with me about what I was there for. I explained to her the stains I tried, along with the techniques, and she asked to see my samples.

I pointed out the ones I liked, and why, and why I didn't like them, and she came back in a few minutes with a couple stains that might interest me. She then asked if she could do some sample stains on the back of the pieces I brought in. She took the pieces behind the counter, sanded them down, stained them, and came back in a few minutes with actual, real - this is what they're going to look like - samples.

How cool is that? I could have just gone there in the first place and spent the whole extra 2 dollars, but would have walked out with 1 product - the right one - the first time. Amazing - I'm really happy I discovered that place.

I can't imagine Home Depot opening up any of their products for a test piece.. I've never asked though, so who knows. Randall's is my goto place for stains now, however!



Once again, I decided to see what variety of colours I could get with what I had on hand, so I setup 8 samples once more:

1. Old Masters
2. Wood Conditioner + Old Masters
3. Wood Conditioner + Minwax + Old Masters
4. Wood Conditioner + Old Masters + Minwax
5. Wood Conditioner + Old Masters x 2 Coats
6. Old Masters x 2 Coats
7. Wood Conditioner + Varathane + Old Masters
8. Wood Conditioner + Old Masters + Varathane



I worked on the samples for about a week (1 coat per day, did 5 or 6 coats of poly on top, light sanding between poly coats)



Here are a couple close up shots while staining was in progress





And a comparison with the previous samples, once everything was nicely glossed up



Look at the difference in colour! Now that's more what I was looking for. There's no question that the gel stain has "muted" the grain a little bit, however, the colour is unquestionably closer to what I was looking for originally.

Here is a shot of my previously favorite samples from the 2nd round, against the new samples



And a closeup of the 2 samples I think I like the best. The differences between this batch are quite subtle, as the Old Masters gel stain has a very strong dye which mutes out the effects of conditioner, or any other stain applied before or after.



Now that's what I call progress! I think I can call it quits for testing stain now. Time to move on to the dreaded motherboard tray / I/O Slot stuff...

Until next time!
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a b ) Power supply
March 25, 2011 1:16:34 AM

nice!
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March 31, 2011 9:25:09 PM

shovenose said:
nice!
Thanks shovenose :) 


Sorry about the lack of updates everyone, it's not that I haven't been working on the desk much, but it's more that I've been using the camera a lot (You know.. kittens) and I haven't had time to sit down and sort through all the photos, re-size, crop, etc for some real proper updates.

I've had this update sitting on the back burner for a little while now and I've been meaning to squeeze in it somewhere. I had been talking with some folks at Danger Den because I was looking at their motherboard trays and I/O panels, and they've decided to sponsor me!

Big thanks go out to Danger Den, as these are critical components required for a professional end result - you've all seen the mangled results of the cases I tore up earlier in the project.


http://www.dangerden.com



Everything came very nicely packed - not much loose play, and plenty of foam to absorb any shipping issues.



I had these PSU support brackets custom made:



I sent them a higher resolution image of this, that I threw together in Sketchup:



Also included in this little shipment were some momentary switches for power and reset. (These are really popular these days, aren't they?)



And some real nifty motherboard trays:





All the acrylic is 1/2" clear - I will leave them wrapped up until the project is close to completion. With these parts -finally- settled, I can cut some holes in the cabinets and actually put them together -for real- !!

Stay tuned, I'll sit down this weekend and sort through the next round of updates ;) 
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a b ) Power supply
April 1, 2011 12:49:20 AM

wow man! you've doing something really really skilled and phenomenal here and I hope your next portion goes flawlessly and easy!
I can't wait to see the next update!
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a b ) Power supply
April 4, 2011 2:35:48 AM

This is looking really nice, great that you got some more sponsorship!
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April 4, 2011 3:47:47 AM

Very sweet. I think the custom work was the route to go for the I/o and tray.
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April 4, 2011 2:24:16 PM

That's a really cool idea to eliminate the case altogether, making a portion of the desk itself the case. Makes for a nice spacious case.
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April 12, 2011 4:36:16 PM

Thanks for the comments everyone, I really appreciate it!

So - it's been sometime since I've posted an update - apologies, things have been very busy lately.

With the parts from Danger Den having arrived, I could now move on to some more specific details with both of the cabinets that will contain the computers.

Once again, I started with a test fitting, this time, it was a very accurate fitting, requiring quite a bit of sanding and fiddling around to get as close to the final product as possible.







I then placed some test parts for fitting, and traced some outlines on the wood. The motherboard tray was placed on some thin strips of packing foam that I cut up, to help isolate any vibration from the CPU Heatsink.





Installed some new blades on the jigsaw, put my biggest drill bit in the drill, and went to town!





After doing the rough cut with the jigsaw, I took out the router and free-handed with a straight bit to smooth out the edges.



The semi-finished air intake for the left-hand cabinet:



The power supply rough cut:





I decided that the PSU bolts will need a little more clearance around the screw holes.



The I/O Shield cut out was a bit tricky to measure, but I think I did a pretty decent job:







And a final shot from above and below:





Next update, I'll have pics of actual assembly of the left hand cabinet, and then more cutting, and biscuit joining on the right-hand cabinet.
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a b ) Power supply
April 12, 2011 7:53:55 PM

wow
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April 12, 2011 11:40:12 PM

Damn. Nice work man.
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April 20, 2011 9:34:49 PM

It's been a while, but I can assure you, progress is still moving forward with the Ultimate Computer Desk!

I finally got around to assembling the left-hand cabinet - here it is, all glued and clamped together. It's a really solid unit - the dado cuts lined up really well, and the structure is rock solid.





Here I am doing a mock-up of the right-hand cabinet. This one was a little trickier to put together. There is a pretty specific order of assembly, otherwise, you're left with a piece that just doesn't want to fit properly.



Some outlines for the motherboard I/O and power supply



I remember mentioning that I free-handed the holes with the router for the left-hand cabinet. I decided to play a safer route for the right-hand cabinet.

I took a piece of wood, lined it up with my straight edge, and ran my router on top of the wood with a straight bit - this game me a perfect "stencil". What I can do then, is take the stencil, line up the edge with a line that I've drawn on the target piece, place a straight edge behind the stencil, clamp down the straight edge, remove the stencil, and run my router across the straight edge for a straight, accurate line.

Wow, that was a mouthful.





And the end product:





And then I made a pretty huge mistake...

Here is the suspect:



Bam. Can you guess why this was a bad idea?

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May 3, 2011 1:02:25 AM

Holy *** I saw this thread title and assumed it would just be a large desk with a lot of drawers. And to a point it is but wow I am impressed. I can't wait to settle in to a house once I get out of the Corps so I can do (attempt to do) something like this. Keep it up man.
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May 4, 2011 12:59:50 PM

I take my hat off.
Is this workstation for play or for work? both?
(obviously for fun - building it!)
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a b ) Power supply
May 4, 2011 1:33:17 PM

It is definitely urning out very very well. Hope to see the finished product in all its glory some time soon!
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May 17, 2011 8:43:17 PM

Holy moly, I'm really sorry for the lack of updates folks - I've been sick for quite a while and the weather has been miserable so I haven't had much time to work on the desk. Apparently I had cedar poisoning! Wonderful!

Anyways - back on track!

Those of you who guessed it right - yes, I shouldn't have made the hole in the first place. I don't know what I was thinking. This is the right-hand cabinet.



Whoops!



Here's the biscuit joiner I was using. It worked pretty well for what it is. The tricky part was determining the order of which pieces/faces/sides to glue first and how to keep it all from falling apart before completion.









Here's the left-hand cabinet all dried and ready for some trim



And voila, my erm.. elegant clamping solution (I need to grab some cauls!)





Hope you enjoy! Rest assured, this project WILL BE FINISHED! Just.. mm, I don't really know when. I'm moving in a month and a half, so all the staining/sanding will have to be done, at a minimum.

Take care!
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!