Engineering Desk


As mentioned elsewhere, whenever you relocate, you seem to loose storage and a desk. At first we just used the dining room table with some Apple laptop and server and a couple of screens. Then came the oscilloscope, soldering iron and much complaining whenever it all had to be cleared for visitations...

The house was a recent purchase, built-in cupboards were not designed to carry any weight on the shelves as they had support wooden strips nailed to the plasterboard and in some places, into the studs behind the plasterboard. For an office, we needed to store tax files, records, reference books, etc., which weigh a lot more than a few T-shirts and sandals. And so it started on this project.

Glue old sliding door

Glue on one of the wardrobe doors which was made of wood veneer covered chipboard. The doors were approximately 2,8m long, as they reached from the floor to the ceiling. Two doors were glued back-to-back to form the top of a desk that was going to be be able to handle any engineering task we would throw at it — electronic engineering, software engineering (is there such a thing?), repairs, general desk with plenty of space.

First incarnation

First version of desk painted blue

First version painted blue

The top which was two boards glued back-to-back is supported along the bottom and side with 90×35mm lumber. The sides and top bookshelf are laminated pine panels, with a vertical bar to stop the top shelf from sagging (also supported along the inside and back with 90×35mm lumber. The vertical board was to stop books or test gear from falling off the shelf, and on the inside, we could screw on electronics modules if necessary.

Bookshelf details

Bookshelf — we did not want to see this thing sagging in the future.

The colour choice was not easy. It was going to be more grey or charcoal so that nicks and scratches would go unnoticed, but the comments from elsewhere suggested that it should be white. What do we engineers know about colour anyway, so it turned white.

Left hand side with Apple server

Left hand side with Apple server. The left hand side with the Apple server on a small shelf, the screen below, a Freescale Tower connected via USB, the printer on the top shelf on USB, and everything feeding off Ethernet.

Not the neatest, but never originally intended putting this on the website.

We have to look for photos of the LED lighting for this desk. It was the same as in the kitchen, with two long stips below the bookshelf. It pointed towards the wall so that there was no glare (I wear glasses).

Glass Finish

Glass Finish desk

The colours before this were varnish over the blue to see if it would act as a “clear coat”, then a white Dulux primer and filler, followed by Dulux Luxathane (two pack white epoxy) paint. The top shelf has not been painted yet as there was a space problem, but it is easy to see how books can add up to well over 100kg in no time. The Luxathane was sanded to 1000 grit (100 to 180 to 240 to 320, then 400, 500, 800). The Festool vacuum and orbital sanded made this a much easier task than the original blue sanding by hand.

Glass Finish desk to right

The glass finish completed — a view to the right and the top shelf also painted with Luxathane.

The first pour did not cover the whole surface very well, so we ended up doing a second pour over the first one. With a poplar benchtop, during a second batch mix, there was a spot that did not harden for days, and had to be taken off and sanded. That was how we discovered that the glass finish can be sanded (and polished), as well as repoured.

We had some resin run down the sides, but the sides were at least 90mm and could be sanded with the random orbital sander. It you want smooth edging, the timing to remove the tape that keeps the liquid from escaping onto the floor should only be removed when the resin has almost set. It will still move and forms a rounded edge.

View to left

The Apple server (screen saver kicked in), but some work on LED lighting at the time. The screen to the right was connected to a Windows PC.

Along the back above the screen and lower support for the bookshelf is a standard 35mm DIN rail to connect modules onto for testing. Never got to actually use this, but as can be seen, it does not take much to clutter up a desk — there is not even any test equipment in this photo!


Two screens on PC

Before showing the tragic end to this engineering triumph, this shows two screens connected to a Windows PC. The PC was placed on a small platform on the floor (we had been flooded out in a previous life), and out of the way of being kicked to reset the box in the middle of something important. The vertical support beam was roughly in the middle of the desk, so although it was a reasonable size desk, it did not take much to clutter it up.

The DIN rail is visible above the monitors. It extends the length of the desk and was to be used to test CAN modules.

To the right, there is a collection of cables hanging from hooks screwed into the side of the desk, and welded printer bars from rollers connected like a ladder. You can never find the cable you need if they are in a box, but something standing out of the side of a desk needs to be close to the wall if you don't want to keep bumping your head.

First part of the dismantling

When we knew that the house was going to be rented out, the desk posed a big problem. It would be too late to take it out if the new tenants did not want it, and if they use the space as a bedroom rather than an office, then the desk was too big. There was no way to take it out, so it had to be cut up. It was also not going to be part of the 2,200km relocation as each return trip was about $1500. This is the top bookshelf cut out and stacked, ready to get dumped.

What are the chances of someone else wanting your custom made monolith? Yeah, I also though so. Not much.

On the underside, there was a 90×35mm plank at the back to minimise shelf sagging when placing over 100kg of books on top. The back pine laminated piece also helped to minimise flexing, but was really to stop stuff falling off the back, as the bench was about 200mm from the wall. This was to pass cables over or behind when connecting up pieces to test over a period of a few days.

Another view of the bookshelf

Another view of the bookshelf. It was also designed to take test equipment — oscilloscope or logic analyzer, power supplies, etc.


Dismantling the left hand side

The left hand side cut along a 90×35mm piece of lumber and through the pine laminate shelf. We used a jigsaw after checking for screws with a metal detector.

Right hand side cut away

The right hand side pretty much the same.

Cut level to the top

The vertical pine laminate sheets were full of screws, as we had not discovered the Festool Domino yet, but cut off here with a bimetal blade in the jigsaw.

Just the top left

Both sides above the desk top have been removed. The vertical support piece would be taken out with a Japanese flush-cutting saw, so I could see how the glass bonded around this.

I think that the yellow is from the change in colour of the resin (glass finish) and not the Luxathane. The side closest to the window picked up the morning sun. It could also be sawdust, but it did fade.

View of underside

Turned over to cut the top. This shows some details of the bottom supports. Functional, but not how I would do it again!

Jigsaw and Japanese pullsaw

Cutting from the top to bottom with a jigsaw, then the last bit with a Japanese pullsaw. The last part was too thick for the jigsaw, and no need to mess the tiles up at this stage.

Now junk to be paid to dump

The desk in kit form, ready to be put into the van with other rubbish and taken to the dump.

Now junk to be paid to dump

The desktop turned so that the glass finish is visible. Not that easy to see in a low-res photo, but the edge (to the bottom right) is a light yellow. This was the glass finish that had been exposed to sunlight, or to arms when writing software. The desk was regularly wiped down, but does sweat penetrate this resin? So if you really want to have a clear finish over white, maybe look into proper glass rather than this resin. (At a recent home show, there are companies who can take a photo and print it onto tempered glass typically used in kitchen splashbacks, and not that expensive. The Feast Watson Glass Finish is priced high when looking at similar products in the USA or elsewhere.)

The van was good for 3,7 metres in the back, so the 2,8 metre desktop did not need to be cut up. Not the easiest to pick up either.

What would I change?

Building stuff into a room always ends in tears. There will always come a time when it has to be moved. Even to get behind and clean between the desk and the wall is not easy, as there are no wheels on this beast. Next one is mobile, and it has already started as shown in Mobile Furniture.

The next house will hopefully be a “build to lock-up” stage so that decent wardrobes and shelving can be put in from the start. The test equipment cabinet will also double-up for my wife for any craft work, plus it will be easier to wheel it around than keep rebuilding it into the next place.

The glass finish was nice to work on, and we used this for over two years. We also work on a pine slab that is waxed and sanded to 320 grit, but it always feels a bit sticky.