What started off as an idea late last year is now becoming reality, it’s build your own desk time! Featuring me, some bits and bobs from Bunnings, a few parts from online and a lot of cut up PVC piping along the way..
(This will be an on-going project with updates sporadically. If you like what’s going on so far, don’t forget to bookmark the page and leave a comment, especially if you’re planning to build your own desk, possibly based on the madness you see here.)
Also this article does contain the occasional Amazon affiliate link. While it costs you nothing to check out the parts I’ve listed, I may get a little kickback payment for you doing so. Okay, on with the show.
Desk-scribe your desk history then
I’ve never actually bought a new desk for myself – since I first got into computers I’ve either had a desk bought for me (thanks Jo!) or I’ve scoured Gumtree and the like for either cheap units or on a couple of occasions, completely free ones. It was times like these where I loved my Nissan Stagea station wagon because there wasn’t much it couldn’t haul home if need be.
But now after a couple of years of tooling away on this $30 Facebook classifieds bargain, I’ve decided to clean up my act. Er…I mean my desk and start from the ground up. New desk parts, some creative shelving and a workspace that doesn’t look like the house exploded and everything landed in my corner.
Rather than my desk supporting my computer and then a coffee table parallel to sit the 3D printer, I want to have enough space for both with a bit more leg room and shelving on top so I actually have a bit more breathing space. Strong metal legs underneath and some under desk shelving that solves the possible issue of ‘now exactly where am I going to put everything on there currently??’
I mean how hard can that be to put together?
Build your own desk – the desktop itself
Ever since I first saw a decent length project panel at Bunnings, I’ve always thought yes indeed, you could easily build you own desk with one of those. And it turns out that the two options I was looking at were both a) the correct size for my needs so no cutting needed there, joy! And b) already oiled, so I wouldn’t have to. Because I’d rather get everything together and break out the drill instead of staining, waiting, more coats, waiting, something and waiting and then reach for the power tools. Pre-oiled? That’s the way to go.
Although I was quick to discover that it’s a bit of the quick or the dead scenario when it comes to these particular panels because I could never find one now that I want one. Even when Bunnings has them listed as available on their website, that’s no guarantee that it’s actually there ready to be wedged carefully into your Subaru.
However today the website said one of the two options were back in stock and so with a quick prayer to the DIY gods, I drove to the store, grabbed the nearest trolley just in case and….found a fresh stack of heaps of them! And so I carted one off quickly just before a horde of desk building lunatics descended and whisked them all out from under me.
This is a 2200 x 600 x 26mm Acacia Solid Oiled Hardwood Project Panel courtesy of Bunnings and set me back $119. While it’s the same width and depth as my current desktop, the 2200mm means an extra 560mm of working space at the end and will get to the window nicely.
Now in case you’re wondering, yes you can get something like this home if you drive a 2000’s Subaru wagon, so I did. Measuring things up previously it’s all about back seats down, passenger seat reclined back as far as it can go and no sudden stops and you’ll be just fine. Dragging it back myself saved a $50 delivery fee (and that’s even though I’m less than 5 clicks from the store!) so I’m happy I got it in there easily enough at a time where I didn’t have to worry about passengers.
Now to get everything else ready..
Build your own desk – the legs
I wasn’t going to buy the legs until I nabbed the desktop and now that I have, I’m thinking along the lines of something like this. Well a pair of these actually:
This is Happybuy Metal Table Legs Set of 2 Dining Table Legs Black Desk Legs (Amazon AU affiliate link, similar looking Hifree version in the US affiliate link.) At 51cm/510mm across it’ll fit under my panel just nicely and it comes with enough drill holes to secure a rhino. At $107 for the pair, it’s cheaper to get these delivered than go with a Bunnings option, plus it’s got those wind up lifters (unsure I’ll need them though.) They certainly go well under a flat panel build you own desk:
This will be our go to unless something easier/better looking comes available. If you know of anything that fits that bill, let me know!
Build your own desk – the shelving
Now originally I had the thought of a metal shelf structure, built around my monitor and extending out both ways but there’s a few issues with this thought:
-I can’t weld, so linking it up could be difficult
-I don’t have anything to cut lengths of metal pipe down, so I’m at the mercy of existing sizes
-Given what I want to make, it might end up expensive and heavy. And since I don’t want a nuclear fallout shelter here, just a framework for some nice wooden shelving, maybe we should try something else?
Which is why I opted instead for PVC. Cheaper, easier to work with, easier to paint, a tonne of connectors already good to go and a lot less forgiving if you stuff things up (which I will.) I got some great ideas about PVC desks from this page (TinkTube), drew up a rough sketch of what I wanted to build and started to piece things together.
I’ve opted for 15mm PVC for this build due to the cheaper price and the fact that it won’t be supporting nearly as much weight as the rest of the desk will.
Working on tentative plans and measurements, I started off with just a few bits and pieces and spent a couple of afternoons cutting and sizing to see what worked and what didn’t. I quickly learnt that you need at least 2cm provision on either end of your pvc pipe to sit nicely in the connectors. Also rather than build everything in the one big hit, I decided to work on one half of the shelving structure first. That way I could perfect what I needed, then go out and buy exactly the right number of connectors for the other half. I never thought I’d need a five way (or two) in this build but that’s one of the things you learn along the way when trying something new.
There will be some parts that just jut out (ie the one with the end cap there) and they’ll only provide partial support to the wood overlay, the wood shelf part however will be cut to length so that the ends are supported by the full connected sections. If that made no sense, proper pictures coming soon!
And here’s almost one half of the PVC structure in our build your own desk project done. It’s missing a couple of 5 way connectors (and 1 elbow which I found laying about soon after) but I’m happy with the length. While I don’t have all the wood handy to finish this half off, here’s a crude paint job so you can kind of see what I’m planning here!
The wood panels are actually going to sit between any connectors, rather than on them. Which should look something snug like so:
When everything is bolted together I plan to paint the pvc (black undercoat, maybe a metal top coat?), stain the pine to hopefully match the desktop and then screw them all in place for added strength.
I’ll update things when I work out a final tally but parts involved so far:
Pine board – I have the receipt and size somewhere..
Also just a quick note on cutting, I was planning to use my hand saw and a mitre box only to discover that I didn’t bring the box with my down from the Gold Coast when we moved a couple of years ago. So I used a jigsaw but unless you’ve got a clamping/guide setup the cuts can be pretty hit and miss, especially if you’re trying to get everything the right size. So I’m going to recommend something like thus:
A fair bit more level than hacking away with a jigsaw, it cuts through 15mm PVC fine until the last tiny bit (I think it was designed for slightly bigger pipe) – fiddly at the end aside though, it’s been getting a workout so far and glad I got it. If you are using this for larger diameter pipe, make sure you read the reviews – too big and you might run into some issues..
PVC pipe cutters on Amazon US Affiliate link
PVC pipe cutters on Amazon AUS Affiliate link
Bunnings Warehouse Haron PVC Pipe Cutter $17.48
Right, so there’s the parts for our build your own desk job, next step is to mash it all together!
Time to build! Test fitting the board
Not keen to hang about for the legs to arrive (it would help if I ordered them first of course) I decided to have a look at how things would fare so far using the two drawers where the legs will go eventually and the acacia project panel on top.
First things first it was a case of taking the old desktop off and removing the panel that connects them at the back, as well as pulling out the old dowel pins so I have a decent flat surface to work with. More under desk shelf here we come!
Then I spaced the drawers further apart before setting things up roughly to see how things fit in. The 3D printer now without reach and not set at a lower level to the desk makes it so much easier to work with.
The more I sit and work at this wood, the more I appreciate it – the look and feel are really starting to grow on me. Plus the extra space under the desk to swing my feet around is very nice although now that things are open (and will be open even further soon) some cable management wouldn’t go astray.
Today I also headed back to Bunnings for a couple more 5 way 15mm pvc connectors to finish off one side of the shelving roughly and see how things fit. There’s a little trimming to do on some lengths to get things level but for the most part it seems to be coming along well and will look much better with a) all the wood for the actual shelving and b) primed and painted. I’m still thinking something metallic to simulate actual pipes but the jury is out at the moment. We’ll cross that build your own desk bridge when we get there.
Plus I’m also working on something for the legs of this thing to smooth it out – shouldn’t be too hard to whip up something that fits on the 3D printer should it? Let’s find out!
Build your own desk – getting the 3D printer involved
Now that it’s got its own section of real estate on the longer desk, it’s time to put the printer to work to see what we can do with the base posts of the shelf, especially if one is ever so slightly longer than another. Rather than trim and possibly make things worse, I’m thinking of creating an end post sleeve that should cover up any rough cuts nicely and provide a bit more of a base to rest against the wood. Firstly I’ve measured up the dimensions of my 15mm pvc pipe and plugged things into Tinkercard. Then I’ve whipped up a 2mm sleeve around those numbers just to get the handle of this. All going well, we’ll have a test print in 36 minutes! (Can you tell how much I like being able to design and print my own solutions to things??
Attempt #1 – printed fine and strength seems good so we might be able to get away with just 2mm. However it’s just too tight for the pipe lengths so I’ve increased the size by 0.5mm to see if that makes a difference and cut the prototype in half so that it only takes 18 mins now to spit out the next attempt.
Attempt #2 – Almost there! It fits with some firm effort but there’s a bit of stretch going on and I can see this possibly starting to split the more pvc you push into it. So I’ve set the printer to print 2 more, at .5mm intervals. One should fit nicely, surely..
Attempt #3 and #4 – Slightly too big! Slides down the PVC way too easily. Time to drop things down by .25mm increments until we find the right balance.
Attempt #5 and #6 – Great success! Both the thin and the thicker ring slide on with minimal effort and stay there until moved. Now that we’ve got the basic measurements locked in, it’s time to add some flair like additional design and maybe a drill hole on both sides.
Of course out of curiosity, I wondered if there were already some PVC related 3d printed options and of course there are, with quite a lot of them free! Cults 3D is a fantastic place for these bits and pieces, including printable versions of all the joins I’ve been buying! So if they go out of stock, at least there’s a viable (time consuming though) backup! And yes, there’s more than likely something like this exactly already there, I still had fun experimenting and modifying as I went along.
(Someone’s even uploaded a free PVC pipe cutting tool – how cool!)
In the meantime I also whipped up a rough slip ring hook. Originally I thought it would be good to help tuck away wiring but now I realise I’ll never misplace my keys again if I hang em high..
And while the latest batch of leg supports are busying printing away, I poured myself a coffee and got down to working on a clip on bracket to add to the middle shelf supports. I’m guessing on the position of the cross section and the thread hole size (3mm) but they’re nothing that can’t be fine tuned as we go along.
Turns out 3mm is great for the little screws I have on hand. Joy!
Not on the level
I’ve cut down some wood and attached it for a better look at how things are coming along and while it’s looking great so far, the balance problem is very evident – especially when I broke out the spirit level. The desk itself is close to perfect level at the moment and so there’s some more fine tuning getting the shelving to balance.
So I’ve gone back to the original sleeves I drew up and put a closed end on it. Then I designed some printable inserts to drop in. Some ends will need none, some will need a few but we’re hoping to have all things close to level by the end! (And this saves me pulling them all out and trying with my limited tools to make them exactly the same length.) It’s like lifts in shoes so everything can stand tall!
Finally after a few more of the levelling disks were printed out, the bubble in the spirit level is happily seated near the middle. Time to work on the other side now!
A bit more trimming and balancing and this is where we’re at right now. I need to go back to Bunnings for a few more metres of PVC to finish off the structure but I’ve also been trying out some printed connectors like the great stuff that Tonyyoungblood creates over at Cults3d. Set em up on the printer, walk away for a few hours, come back and there’s your next 3/4/5 way ready to go!
3D printer top tip: If you’re going to print these things out, don’t skimp on the infill like I accidentally did. 10% infill will print just fine but any major movement when connecting things up will cause breakages. My latest one I printed at 50% infill a using tri-hexagonal pattern. Longer to print but far stronger in the end.
Also two thirds of the way through the shelves part of this build your own desk project, I’ve realised a couple of things:
- How much little PVC bits and off cuts I have left over
- How much more PVC I need to finish this off.
Thinking on this I whipped up a snug plug that I can print off when I don’t have the exact length, joining two off cuts together. While the cuts on the ends are never accurate, the thick plug keeps things nice and straight and a bit of fill later before painting should fill any gaps just fine.
I still need at least a couple more meters to get it all done though, then some wood, paint and wax..
A week later and another trip to Bunnings, now I have too much PVC to play with. A few more connectors (printed or bought ones) and the skeleton of this build should be finished!
Of course now that I have more than enough PVC, the printer is throwing a hissy fit again. I suspect once again the cat has used it as a stepping stone at some stage and knocked it out of alignment. Maybe with the leftover PVC I might have to build some kind of printer enclosure..
Edit: Yes it was unbalanced, thanks cat! Printer working again for now..
Meanwhile: A strange bunch of wires suddenly appear
Call it the universe reading this blog and discovering my grand plans (or more likely me just gabbing on about them to anyone willing to listen), but suddenly the boss wanted to know if we needed some more computer speakers. Planning to sell them online and then promptly getting annoyed by people trying to bargain him down to nothing, he gave up and just passed them on. Thanks boss!
Originally I was going to put them into my son’s computer but then when I found out how loud they can go (and the fact that the sub is a touch on the larger side than my old Logitech setup) I decided to swap them out. I’ll use the Creatives, Jack will have the Logi’s and everyone goes home happy.
This turned out to be a prudent move because testing them almost blew a second doorway in the nearby plaster work and nobody in this rental needs Minecraft or Roblox that loud.
So new desk and speakers that are less that 17 years old – win!
These are Creative Inspire T7700’s – originally a 7.1 surround system but now packing only 5 speakers. Still, the sound they pump out is incredible and they look more bookshelf speakers than my old Logitechs, so this should look good on the shelves when done.
June update: Some technical difficulties
The whole idea of this project was the build the desk and leave everything else the way it was, especially the computer. But no, fate being fate decided that the Build your own desk project could wait, a few things on it needed some attention. Firstly the mouse: My old Tt Esports Commander Mouse decided that every click was now a double click and if I closed one tab, well that just wasn’t enough – two tabs needed to fall.
Worse, it ran out of puff when drag click anything – deciding that halfway to wherever was good enough and let it go then. Getting damn tired of both behaviours, I opted for a new Logitech G203 – a basic gaming mouse if ever there was one but it’s comfy, the colours are fun and it’s working brilliantly.
My computer monitor on the other hand has not been showing any signs of irrational behaviour, it’s just a bargain opportunity to upgrade suddenly came along. Mal, the generous benefactor of the speakers above decided he needed a new screen and offered up his old one for a handful of shekkels. And how could I resist when a) It looks amazing and b) hilariously it just fit the shelves opening. Thank the DIY gods too, because I really didn’t want to redo this thing to accommodate going from 24 inches to 27..
It’s a Samsung SyncMaster SA950 Full HD 3d LED Monitor and aside from a few hiccups in getting it started*, I love it, strange right handed base and all. Now to find a new keyboard to round out the newer hardware on this desk build..
*It turns out it was in sleep mode. If you’ve just bought a Samsung SyncMaster SA950 and the power light appears just for a second when you plug it in, don’t panic. Plug the rest of the computer in, turn everything on and then press where the power light is. Suddenly everything next to it should light up like the 3d button and the arrows. The icon in the arrows is the button to cycle through HDMI and other options.
Also if you want the full 120hz experience, make sure you use DVI instead of HDMI. Now back to the build!
July update – all wood and pvc accounted for
It’s up and staying up! The final length of pine has been cut, clamped and screwed:
And we have a bare bones desk project on our hands!
However while it’s level from east to west, it’s not north to south. And the reason for that is that the desk panel isn’t either. Hopefully this’ll change when the legs arrive (when I finally order them) and then I can see what’s really going on. Still, it’s 80% done now – I just have to paint and wax the thing!
Build your own desk – the finishing
Since the desktop is finished in a hard wax, that’s what the pine pieces will be too. I’ll be trying this shortly and hopefully with a few coats they look pretty similar. While I’ve used vanishes before, this is the first time with a wax so wish me luck!
JULY EDIT – Oh good, the plan’s changed again. When I went to Bunnings for the last piece of wood for the Build Your Own Desk project, they were all out of Hard Wax. And so I jumped onto the website and it’s not available there either. Not at my store, not at any store nearby. Can I order it in then? No, of course not. Just like searching for the desk panel itself, once again their website infuriates me. Why advertise something you’re never going to get??
It is available online luckily but if I can avoid paying more for it that way, I will. Gah, why isn’t anything easy with these builds? Anywhoos..
Late July update – a very happy buy
A mysterious package arrived!
AusPost did message me to say that something was on the way today and I figured that it was the phone case I ordered for my son’s phone via AliExpress. But no, to my surprise and joy it ended up being the Happybuy desk legs I ordered from Amazon – the amazing part being that I ordered them on Thursday night and now it’s Monday morning and here they are. Seriously, I can’t send an express post anything across the country that quick.
So how did my $107 for the legs with free delivery go?
Really well actually.
They’ve got a nice weight to them, look solid and even better everything you need to bolt them to whatever comes with it. Yes alongside the screw in feet, you also get a big bag of 8mm self tapping screws ready to go. So no extra trip needed to Bunnings to find something suitable. Sweet!
And so after shifting everything off the build your own desk project, I dragged the desktop outside where an outdoor chair that’s seen better days acted as a great workbench. I’ve decided the legs should go where the drawers once were with enough space on each end for a plastic crate or two (I still have a lot of stuff on this desk – that’s a big work in progress.) To keep things nice and straight, I’ve dragged out my cutting guide – normally wheeled out for any jigsaw or circular saw time, now it’s a very handy straight edge to make sure my new legs are lined up true (Baz the father in law would be so proud!)
Again I find myself singing the praises of Bunning’s Ozito drill for this task. I’ve owned all of two drills in my life, both from Ozito and the first one (grey model) was truly useless. This $99 special on the other hand has been ridiculously reliable and useful and once charged up and connected to an 8mm socket, away we went!
I even managed to use every predrilled hole save for one too! (There’s not a decent enough angle for the drill on that last one.) Not that it really matters because once you have most of the screws in, this desk leg just won’t move at all. Just what I need for hot and heavy days and nights of gaming and 3d printing!
And so here we are! They’re on, they’re strong, they look the goods and installation took less than half an hour (a bit of that time was finding my drill charger more than anything.) Now that they’re on too, I can finally donate my old desk to a new home and clear up some car port space!
Edit: The old desk lasted less than 24 hours on Facebook classifieds (although one woman asked if she could have the red chair in one of the pictures, even though it wasn’t listed in the ad.) John the former truckie nabbed it for his grand daughter although hilariously he arrived in a tiny Mazda 3. How do you get a big desk into a Mazda 3 you ask? By unbolting everything.
And surprisingly it all fits! Luckily he’s a bit of a Lego fan and has plans to sand it all down before bolting it back together again so this project desk couldn’t have gone to a better home really!
The hard wax appears!
Since Bunnings kept pretending they had it on their website (but not seeming to stock it anywhere), it was over to eBay to try and find some of this stuff for our build your own desk project. And a shout out to Carrolls’s Tools in Darlinghurst who had this over to my place within a week.
And having hard waxed my first piece of wood with it, I can confidently say…I think I ordered the wrong one.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is great stuff. For some reason I thought a few coats of this would naturally darken the pine to a similar range as the desktop while sealing things up. But no, I probably should have opted for the brown version of the Feast Watson range. This natural one dries and buffs clear – you can tell at an angle that the wood has a coating on it now (you certainly can feel it) but it’s barely any darker.
Still, the sheen after three coats looks alright in the right light and hopefully it’ll stand out a bit more when the blinding pvc white becomes a far darker color. Watch this space!
Edit: It didn’t really. Experiments with both this and a cheaper brown wax from Bunnings showed very little colour variation and that was after a few coats. Looks like for a darker look you need to stain the wood first, then wax to make it darker. So I guess that’s on the list now..
Sensational storage solutions
Now somewhere in this house (unless I threw it out at some stage but forgot I did) there’s a bamboo two drawer unit that I’m keen to find again and bolt under this desk so I have somewhere for all of the documents I read once and then file away forever more.
After some searching, I haven’t found it yet. However in the shed I found this:
A stackable plastic drawer I bought from Big W months ago and conveniently forgot all about. It’s been sitting in the shed for a while just storing various 3d printed prints and the more I looked at it, the more I thought ‘Hey maybe we could use this.’ Especially when I discovered you can carefully pry it apart for far easier installation.
I’ve lined it up to sit against the railing of one of the happy buy legs and a quick clamp from Aldi (10 bucks for four and I’ve finally found a use for them!) holds it in place while I search for various fasteners.
Some basic framing nails come next to pin this in place. This saves a bit of frustration when working with the screws in a sec.
Now just in case they’re not strong enough, I’ve added some screws. For the love of your sanity, create some guide holes first. This plastic is slippery, you might be working upside down like I was here.. you get the drift. Either pre drill some holes or just create some with a spare nail and save yourself oodles of time. But now that it’s in it’s a simple step to clip the rest of the drawer back together and…
The first of a few build your own desk under storage options good to go!
(And even better, Big W still sell them – at $9 each they’re a bargain!)
Quick update – While the Big W grey crate drawer has worked perfectly, the white KMart version has not. Unless you’re not putting too many things in it weight wise (and I was using it for paper), it constantly pulls away from the nailed in top part when you least expect it. Looks like it’s back to Big W for a matching grey one then!
December 2023: Speaking of storage solutions, I’ve suddenly discovered the wonderful world of Gridfinity so here’s another deep rabbit hole to explore!
TO BE CONTINUED