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Desk Modifications

Between a lot of leather work and Santa suit bits, the last few project posts have been pretty focussed on sewing and soft crafting, so just for variety this one will be a little collection of the various ways I've modded and upgraded my desk over the years.

Sidenote: I've also been doing some thinking about my posting schedule. For the time being I'm going to go to a four week cycle - one theoretical post, two weeks of project posts (which I might extend if I get those project writeups that end up becoming several parts), then take a week out and repeat. I think I'll find that a little easier to keep up with - a lot of these posts end up taking three or four hours to put together and I'd like to loosen up the schedule just a little, not least so I can focus my time and energy on actually making things!

I've had this desk for almost ten years now, having picked it up (already pretty well worn) on Freecycle when I moved into my first house after coming back from travelling. It's a fairly standard office desk in configuration but a nice solid piece of furniture with a hefty slab of wood for the surface, and give the amount of time I've spent at it during my years of web design work and a period living out of a studio flat when it was also my dining table and living room table, I've grown pretty attached to it.

The first thing I did when I started getting serious about my crafting, back when it was also my computer desk, was discipline myself to keep it clear - that big, empty, clean space is just full of potential and possibility for me, and it always makes me feel ready to make something.

The first modification or upgrade I made to it was a monitor riser. I wanted to bring my screens up to an ergonomic height, as well as give myself a bit of extra desk space.

It's also a classic example of an absolutely barebones, zero skill (and virtually no tools) build. At the time I was lacking pretty much any tools except a decent saw which I think was a hand-me-down from my dad, and was fairly sure I couldn't reliably make a set of square cuts to build even this simple box.

However, I did have a rickety set of shelves that were ready to be scrapped, which were just the right width. So I literally sawed the entire top off the shelving unit including the top few inches of the vertical boards to act as supports, cut a notch in the back for the monitor cables, and it served me beautifully as a monitor riser for over eight years and through two moves.


A couple of years later I was messing around with LED strip lights, initially for a lighted cocktail cabinet project I'll write up separately. I'd been getting into the idea of replacing my overhead lights with softer pools of light for a more chilled atmosphere in the evenings, so I hot-glued (then UHU glued, and finally superglued) a spare LED strip along the underside of the riser.

For extra swish (and convenience) I plugged it into one of these awesome remote control sockets.

Nice soft, low level light for working and crafting.


Mod 3 wasn't 100% a success, but I still feel like the principle is interesting and might be worth pursuing in some other form. I always kept a couple of USB charging cables plugged in under the riser, but I got irritated with losing the ends or having them trailing across the desk top when I wanted it clear, so I decided to try making retractable charging cables with a bit of bodgery. There are a lot of retractable USB cables out there but they're mostly very thin to fit on the spring reel - I had three in a row break after just a couple of months use - and designed to be carried, not fixed in place (because they reel in at both ends they're not suitable just to fix down either).

Various ideas with springs and elastic didn't seem to fit the configuration, so after finding that a mini USB plug could just squeeze through some eye bolts I had (with a fair bit of force applied) but wouldn't pull back through easily, I screwed the eye bolts in pairs to the underside of my riser and ran the cables back through them.

Then I hung a mini drinks can on the hanging loop of each cable (down behind the desk), and weighted it with nuts and bolts until the cable would retract back against the eye bolt if there was no resistance on it, but would stay pulled out with the minimal resistance of being plugged into my phone or tablet sitting on the desk.

In practice the retracting action was always unreliable, requiring various amounts of jiggling to free it up and let it pull back into place, but it was kind of fun and an interesting exercise for minimal investment of time and parts.


Next is a dead simple one: I'm probably the last person in the world to notice this, but last year I realised that pretty much all my power bars have holes on the back to allow them to hook onto a pair of screws, and now whenever possible I attach them to a vertical surface, including under my desk.

Because the holes are keyhole shaped you just need to install two screws standing a little proud of the surface, the bar drops down and locks over them and you can then pull plugs out of it one-handed. So handy.


Two more quick ones: When I moved into my dedicated workshop room and my desk became my workbench, I wanted to reduce the clutter in the drawers to where I could grab my most frequently-used tools instantly.

These organisers are just lengths of of 6mm square dowel, hacksawed to length and then held in place with screws driven up through the thin metal and plywood underside of the drawer. They're just tall enough to keep everything in place, but shallow enough that I can grab anything without fumbling around (the middle section's not quite worked out yet).

And since I reach for my straight edge about ten times a day, this bracket holds it in position for me to pull the drawer out an inch and slide it out quickly and easily.


Finally, it's been said that the one tool you can't do without is a good solid vice. Mine turned up cheap as chips in an antiques shop, like a blessing on my workshop from the Steel City, a couple of weeks after I moved in. I didn't want to permanently obstruct my nice clear working surface, so I drilled three holes and bought some satisfyingly chunky 10mm stainless steel bolts and matching wingnuts. Now it can be stowed out of the way under my desk or screwed into place as needed.

I will leave you with the strangely satisfying sensation of sliding perfectly fitting 10mm bolts into place. You're welcome.

See you soon!


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