What's the best way to find plans for building an office desk from scratch?
August 31, 2009 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm a tall, skinny software developer, (6'5"/196cm) who cannot find a desk even remotely what I need/want in terms of style, quality, and size. I am going to have a carpenter build me a desk. Google has found me nothing. Do you have a desk you love? What makes you love it? Are you a tall person who finds they need keyboard/mouse at exactly the right height? How did you solve this? Do you have plans you love or a desk design you can recommend?

i am quite particular about desk height as i have long arms and if the desk is too high it causes overuse/carpal tunnel-y problems.

My office is a 100+ year old building in Buenos Aires, Argentina so I'm not looking for ikea-style semi desposability, more big-old-oak durability. There is no 'office depot' but that's not the style or quality i'm looking for anyway...

What's the best way to find (I'm willing to pay) a set of desk plans that I can give to a carpenter to have a desk built from scratch? Alternatively, If I draw my own, what do I need to provide?

Any and all thoughts about how to tackle this problem are welcome... help make my 10 hours a day more enjoyable!
posted by carlodio to Work & Money (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can't you use a standard adjustable height desk?
posted by devnull at 7:31 AM on August 31, 2009

posted by devnull at 7:31 AM on August 31, 2009

I asked a question about making a desk to fit me (I'm 5'5" but some of the comments might help you). Here it is.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:32 AM on August 31, 2009

A good carpenter can come up with a plan - you'll have to tell them exactly what your requirements are and what style you want. Ask around for a recommendation though. Before the carpenter makes the thing suggest you outline the dimensions in your office space to make sure you really are happy with it - including how it works with your chair. Also have you considered that the problem may be chair and workstation set-up and not so much the desk?
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:38 AM on August 31, 2009

I have built my own desks a few times, not because I'm tall (I don't even scrape six feet) but because I find that store-bought desks are never deep enough, especially with a few monitors on top of them. This has been made a bit easier with the advent of flat-panel displays, but they're still too shallow for me. I like room to spread a book, a notepad and other things in between me and my displays.

My tips from experience.

(1) Deeper, as mentioned above. As a long-armed person, you will probably have even more appreciation for a desk that is 32 or 36 inches deep, rather than the traditional 24.

(2) If you can manage to do it in your room, an L-shape (or even better, a U-shape) desk gives you much more space within easy reach, and makes working much more pleasant.

(3) Ask the carpenter for drawers with "full extension" -- these come out on telescoping slides (usually aluminum, invisible when closed) that allow you to open them completely, accessing even the very back of the drawers for more efficient storage. They make drawers about 2x as useful, and if built-in they look fine even on classic old-style furniture. I'm a big fan of secret storage.

(4) Keyboard sub-surface, preferably at exactly the height you want, which is usually a bit lower than the desk surface you wish for other things. And consider mouse space. If your carpenter doesn't include this to start with, you can add one of those cantilevered arms later: the advantage is adjustability, the disadvantage is dirt-ugliness.

(5) Make the back of the underside (the "vanity panel") of very sturdy wood, not some very thin "for appearances only" product. That way you can kick it without concern.
posted by rokusan at 7:43 AM on August 31, 2009

I had one built, and I'm using it right now. I'm only 6'1, but still find standard desks a pain.

We went to a place that did general bespoke furniture (not a posh place, just the sort of place that does wardrobes for awkward corners and the like), with the height that we wanted and just had a chat with them about what they did and what it would cost. They had their own plans, so it was a matter of working out what we needed from there. My desk is actually based on a dining table because that's what I preferred. I've a pine desk, no drawers, a slide-out bit for my computer keyboard (I found that important - the height I'm most comfortable typing at is lower than the height for writing at). Very plain, very boring, but absolutely wonderful to work at. Cost about £300-400 (I can't remember exactly).

So I don't think you need any sort of fancy plan or type of desk - you need one that's the right height for what you do.

Major warning: standard height desks go round standard corners in buildings - tall ones don't! We had to saw the bottoms of the legs of mine off to get them into the room, put screw fitting on them and screw them back on again. Some designs of desks are in separate units anyway (I'm thinking of old-style ones with two sets of drawers), so if you decide on one like that you're fine. And if your office building has big doors and corridors it also won't be a problem.
posted by Coobeastie at 7:48 AM on August 31, 2009

4" Blocks of scrap wood with a notch gouged out of one side did it for me and my lack of budget. The notch made a secure place for the legs to rest so I didn'd have to worry about them sliding off.

Then I found a desk very similar to this one. Even with the drop-down keyboard drawer the leg height was a couple of inches more than most other desks I had seen, so I was able to use it as is.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:49 AM on August 31, 2009

Lifehacker has a "workspace show and tell" that you could get some inspiration from. Many of them include custom made desks, like the one I linked to.
posted by amethysts at 7:50 AM on August 31, 2009

On the topic of material choices, I was pretty excited to see this desk recently. It's standard chip-board plywood, but heavily varnished it looks amazing. I'm definitely going to keep this process in mind when building my next desk.
posted by odinsdream at 7:56 AM on August 31, 2009

I solved the desk height problem with Ikea's Galant, which is very adjustable (23"-35").

For the monitor issue, I use this once absurdly inexpensive monitor stand (now it's twice what I paid for it, but still a really solidly built stand and a decent value). With this I can have the monitors anywhere from touching the desk to a couple of feet off.

My remaining issue is the chair. I can get the desk high enough (or low enough to match the chair), but my chair doesn't go high enough. If I match the chair and desk, I have uncomfortable leg issues. So now I compromise and sit on pillows...

Btw, for the ikea table, just buy the legs and a solid door frame at the hardware store and you can have a workable compromise between price and function. I really like the frosted glass, though.
posted by ydant at 11:41 AM on August 31, 2009

Thanks for the comments. Knowing that many of you have similar difficulties or frustrations and then seeing the various ways you addressed the issue is inspiring me to draw up plans.
posted by carlodio at 3:18 PM on August 31, 2009

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