Making my own office furniture: part 7

I bought 11/32″ plywood at Home Depot and another quart of Minwax satin wipe-on polyurethane at Menard’s.

The plywood will be used as underlayment for the porcelain tiles inset in the top of the under-desk rack cabinet. I cut it to size, checked the fitment, and marked it for screws. It will be screwed and glued (TiteBond III) to the existing plywood of the top.

The tiles in the top are 17+7/8″ square. I’m using one whole one and one that I cut to 8+1/4″ width tonight on the tile saw. I slightly beveled the edge after cutting. The plan is to use Loctite PL Premium MAX to adhere the tiles to the underlayment. This isn’t a floor, and in fact in its intended use it will never have anything on top of it. But if we ever decide we don’t want it to live under the desks, it will make a nice robust top. The tiles are PEI 4, which should far outlive me for a table top. I like porcelain table tops, since they’re impervious to water and heat. If they’re PEI 4 or PEI 5 porcelain, they’re also nearly impossible to scratch. Easy to clean, sanitary, etc. I’m not going to use epoxy grout here, but that’s an option when desired.

I think this cabinet is quite nice for it’s intended purpose. I went a little overboard in the mix of materials and the front door design, but that’s the advantage of designing and building your own stuff from raw materials and parts. You can take your time and get exactly what you want, without compromising in areas that matter to you.

Looking back at this, there’s an unconventional mix of materials and components in this cabinet design. It’s a computer rack designed for a specific set of gear arranged in a particular manner, so it has rack rails front and rear. It has casters. Neither of those are unconventional. But then the cabinet itself is made of edge-glued solid oak panels (not steel, not MDF). It has a skirt to hide the casters. It has a very unconventional front door, to show the gear in a subdued manner (tinted scratch-resistant polycarbonate) and vent from the sides, top and bottom of the door. The door has solid brass butler tray hinges. It has marine grade solid brass hold down latches to hold it shut. It has a guide pin and leaded bronze bushing to make it self-center every time it’s closed. The ventilation holes are covered with filters inspired by an antique pie safe I saw in a bakery 20 years ago. The bottom of the inside is covered with a piece of UHMW so it’ll be easy to get my UPS in and out without using rack slides. The top is porcelain framed in solid oak.

You can’t go out and buy this kind of thing at a store. You could commission it, but given the amount of time I spent on the design in SketchUp, it’d be expensive. But you can build it. It requires patience, persistence, and multiple skills (and tools). But that last part… we learn by doing. If you’re not afraid to fail, you can build just about anything. And as a software engineer, I really appreciate the fact that I can spend no money on materials until I have the design nearly completed in a 3D drawing on my computer. The execution of the design just follows the drawing.

The desks I’m building follow a similar pattern. The Delrin (acetal) feet aren’t typical. Nor is the porcelain top (I couldn’t find anything on Google with respect to building a desk with an inset porcelain slab). Nor is the combination of joinery I used (dowels, pocket holes, guide pins and leaded bronze bushings, dowel nuts with long bolts, threaded inserts).

Porcelain tiles of the size I’m using are relatively new here in the U.S., and given that I’m not running stringers under the top, could be considered ‘risky’. But my fear has been allayed by handling the tiles. Despite the fact that they’re 60″ long and 30″ wide but only 6.5mm thick, I’ve not broken one just carrying them around like pieces of plywood. And they will flex a bit without cracking. I do have suction cups for placing them, but I haven’t needed them for general handling. And it’s desk tops, not workbenches. I won’t be hammering on them, nor putting a ton of weight on them. There’s 1.25″ of plywood underneath, and 1″ thick solid oak bordering. The top will be on a very strong base. I don’t think the porcelain is going to crack on me. And it’s sanitary, PEI 5 (nearly scratchproof), impervious to any fluids I’d have on my desk (coffee, water, juice), and easy to clean. It looks like polished marble but it’s manmade (didn’t require carving up the planet). It can’t be dented by writing instruments. It won’t be bothered when I spill candle wax on it. My watchbands won’t scratch it. It doesn’t care about sweat, and in fact it’s a comfortably cool surface to rest your forearms on. I can adhere things to it (cable guides, phone dock, etc.) and later remove them with no damage whatsoever.

Risky? Perhaps. But from risks come rewards and learning experiences.