Office furniture: customizing a store-bought wastebasket

I bought a wastebasket that caught my eye at The Container Store while I was there for bamboo drawer organizers. I took a picture of it while I was in the parking lot.

I knew I would need to use bags with it, but when I got home and put a bag in it, I felt it looked like ass. I wanted to hide the bag inside, and also hide the bag flap around the rim. So I lined the inside with some scrap 1/4″ oak plywood I had on hand, and made a drop-on collar out of solid oak to hold the bag in place and hide the flap.

The recess was intentional, so I could create a lid. I wanted a flat lid so that the wastebasket could be used as a tiny table (say for holding a book or my iPad when I doze off on the new window seat). I went with solid 3/4″ oak I had on hand (leftovers from one of the rolling drawer cabinets). I used finger holes instead of a handle, to keep it flat.

After stain and polyurethane, I wound up with this.

In hindsight, I could’ve just built the whole thing from oak scraps I have. But the store-bought wastebasket was the inspiration, and I’m very happy with the result.

Office furniture: window seat/bench gains a drawer and fans

I recently installed the 3U fan panel in the window seat. It’s powered via a Kasa smart plug, so I can turn it on/off via HomeKit (usually using Siri). It’s quiet, but does a nice job. However, it came with ball bearing fans which I know will get loud over time. I’ll replace them with Noctua fans when they get loud enough to be annoying.

I also built and installed a wide wood drawer on 100 lb. drawer slides. I’m using it to store office miscellany. It has built-in finger-jointed dividers, but I also added some bamboo organizers from The Container Store.

I still need to order a cushion from rofielty.com. In the meantime I’m working on end tables to butt against the window seat.

Office furniture: under-desk rack

I recently realized that I never posted pictures of the completed under-desk rack.

Hiding under the desks, where it normally lives.

I guess I never posted about what’s going on in this rack. There are two ethernet switches, a Ubiquiti US24 and a Ubiquity 16XG. They’re connected via a pair of 10G fiber connections with LACP. The 16XG is also connected to the 16XG in the basement via a pair of 10G fiber connections with LACP. I use the copper 10G connections in the 16XG in the under-desk rack for Mac Studios and a Threadripper 3960X Linux workstation in my office. I use the US24 for CalDigit docks (for wired laptop connectivity), Raspberry Pis, etc. There’s a patch panel for each switch that passes through to parallel patch panels in the rear. This lets me keep the cabling in the front super-clean (just short patch cables).

There’s a Middle Atlantic 3U fan panel in the rear, exhausting air. There’s an ancient Best Power UPS in the bottom that just keeps on working (with battery replacements every 3 or 4 years). There’s a Furman PDU in the top with pull-out LED lights.

It’s on casters, and can be rolled out easily to gain some work space (more than shown here). The top insert is porcelain, the same as the rolling drawer cabinets.

There is a lot of ventilation in the front door. The front window is scratch-resistant polycarbonate, but the door box is vented on all 4 sides. There are two layers of stainless steel mesh in the vents. One is coarse for strength, the other is fine to keep pet hair and dust bunnies out. The inspiration here came from a pie cooling cabinet in an old bakery I used to visit. The air flow in this cabinet is front-to-back, for the components and the CloudPlate.

More office furniture: a second rolling drawer cabinet

This was mostly a duplicate of a similar cabinet I had already built. And I already had built the shell, but not the top or the base. It’s taller than the first, to allow for some shelf space. I finished it recently. No in-progress pictures or even nice pictures. ­čÖé But it has 21U of rack space. 19U is consumed with old Middle Atlantic TD drawers. 1U is consumed by an old rack mount PDU. The drawers are much deeper front-to-back than the PDU. Hence 1U below the PDU is a blank, which allows space for wall warts to be plugged into the PDU. The shelves are on shelf pins, so it’s easy to get to the outlets on the PDU by pulling out the lower shelf. Having the PDU here let me mount my Lutron and Hue hubs on the wall next to the Unifi in-wall HD WiFi access point. The access point is powered via PoE, but the Lutron and Hue hubs use wall warts. The Hue hub lets me control the Hue table lamps and the Hue bulbs in the floor lamps in the den via HomeKit. The Lutron hub lets me control the recessed lighting via HomeKit. I have Lutron stuff elsewhere in the house, and all of it currently uses this hub for HomeKit control (usually via Siri).

I bought most of my Middle Atlantic drawers about 25 years ago. The price has nearly tripled since that time, so I’m glad I bought so many of them way back when. They were originally in two of my server racks and a pair of MDV-R12 cabinets. I’ve been repurposing them for years. They’re durable, they happily hold more weight than I’ll ever need to put in them, I can reconfigure as desired, and they look good to me. This cabinet has two 5U drawers with locks, a 4U drawer, a 3U drawer and a 2U drawer.

Below is the other cabinet that I mostly duplicated. This one was finished in July 2022 while I was still working on the floor (hadn’t finished the shoe moulding). It’s now on the opposite side of the French doors.

Both of these cabinets are on casters, so I can move them as needed. Both are solid oak with porcelain inserts in the top that are intentionally just taller than the wood frame. So when I slide something a bit off the porcelain, it doesn’t scar the wood frame.

More office furniture: a bench

I’ve been working on a bench for the home office. I wanted something big enough for a short person like me to be able to lie down on (say while waiting for a make -j4 buildworld to finish on FreeBSD on slow hardware), and strong enough to outlive me and a now young oak tree to replace the wood I used.

I also wanted a little bit more drawer space. As is my penchant, I’m using Middle Atlantic TD rack mount drawers (all of my office furniture is sized to accommodate 19″ rack mounted gear). However, the bench spans the only HVAC register in the room (in the floor), and the combination of the position of the register and the width of the window bay meant that I could only put drawers in one side. For now I’m only occupying 5U of the 8U rack space, because I suspect I’m going to want a 3U fan panel to assist the HVAC when summer arrives.

The bench will be getting a cushion, of course. It is solid oak, with the base constructed of 4×4 legs and 2×4 stretchers. The top is 1 3/8″ thick oak butcher block (a workbench top), which I framed with 1×2 oak. It’s 61.5″ wide and 25.5″ deep. The height was dictated by the window sill; I didn’t want to block access to the handle in the lower window sash.

The feet are 1″ thick Delrin, bolted to the bottom of the oak legs via countersunk 5/16″-18 stainless countersunk bolts that thread into threaded inserts installed in the oak. I rough cut the Delrin, then mill the countersinks on the drill press. I then mark for the inserts in the oak.

I then drill the holes for the inserts and install them.

I then bolt the foot to the leg.

I then use a flush cutting bit on my trim router to make the feet match the leg, then run a roundover bit on the edges. Delrin/acetal machines like butter, even with woodworking tools. I use 1″ thick Delrin/acetal for heavy furniture feet, since it allows me to countersink the 5/16″-18 bolt heads more than 1/4″ (zero chance of the bolt heads contacting a floor for the next 75 years), while still having a lot of Delrin/acetal grabbed by the bolts. It’s not cheap, but it is fantastic for this application. If this were going on a wood floor I’d round over the countersink edges, but it’s going to live on porcelain so there’s no need. When I first used these kind of feet on the desks, I used 4 bolts. But 2 is plenty.

I have more than once considered UHMW instead, mostly for the cost saving. But it doesn’t machine quite as nicely, and it’s also not terribly dimensionally stable over temperature and humidity. Of course, neither is wood, but oak sealed with shellac and polyurethane doesn’t move much. And importantly, all of the weight is sitting on the feet. I don’t want them to squish over time. My desks are REALLY heavy, but the feet have held up beautifully. Honestly, if your design affords it, I can heartily recommended Delrin/acetal for feet. But even if you don’t use Delrin/acetal… replaceable feet are awesome. Here they’re on square oak 4x4s, but Delrin/acetal is also easy to lathe if your leg ends are round.

The top also has threaded inserts in the bottom, and the base pieces bolt to the top via countersunk 5/16″-18 bolts through the stretchers from underneath. The next picture shows one of the bolts (washer not shown) threaded into one of the inserts, and an insert installed into the bottom of the top.

The next picture shows the deeply countersunk holes in one of the top stretchers (the bench is upside down here). This is from before I glued and doweled the base pieces together.

The left part of the base is doweled and glued (Titebond III) together, as is the right leg assembly. It looked like this after assembly.

The bench is heavy even without the drawers (I’d guess about 75 pounds), but the Delrin feet allow the bench to glide easily on the porcelain floor when desired.

I am one of those people that likes really solid bench seating and bedding. Something that doesn’t flex or squeak, at all. And doesn’t move unintentionally but can be moved easily as needed. And can be disassembled/reassembled should it need to be carted up/down stairs. And fits the intended space exactly.

Objectives met.

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.

Making my own office furniture: part 6

I continued making filter panels for the under-desk rack. The frames are 3/4″ wide solid oak, with a recess cut in the back to hold the screen. The screen is 22 squares per linear inch (484 squares per square inch) 316 stainless steel. It’s supported by 1/4″ square galvanized mesh, just to make it more difficult to damage the stainless steel screen when vacuuming them clean. The screen and mesh are held in the recess with a bead of hot glue which won’t be visible.

Below is a picture of one of the side panels. Obviously I’m not looking to keep fine dust from passing. I don’t want a lot of restriction. I just want to keep things like pet hair and the like out of the fans in the gear in the rack. The stainless steel screen is 70% open.

I’ve finished assembling three of the four filters. I need more stainless steel screen to complete the final filter. It’s McMaster-Carr 9230T51.

Making my own office furniture: part 5

One of the desk bases is complete. The second one is built but needs stain and topcoat.

I’ve been working on the top for one of the desks. ┬áAs a reminder, here’s the desk design from SketchUp.

The base of the top is 3/4″ oak plywood. Above that is a piece of 1/2″ BCX plywood underneath the porcelain insert. The border of the top is 1″ thick solid oak, with four 5/16″ diameter oak dowels at each joint. The border sits atop the oak plywood. Hence the total top thickness is roughly 1.75″. Solid oak trim pieces cover the edges of the oak plywood.

Below is a picture from when I was testing the fitment of the porcelain insert. ┬áThere’s a 3/16″ gap between the porcelain and the frame. ┬áThis is to allow for flexible grout or caulk, since wood isn’t dimensionally stable compared to porcelain.

Yes, that’s a big piece of porcelain. Nominally 30″ x 60″. It’s 6.5mm thick. It has a PEI rating of 5 (the highest rating), so it’s unlikely that I’ll ever scratch it. If it’s good enough for commercial flooring, it’s good enough for my desktops. The design is a marble look, and I continue to be amazed at how far along this stuff has come in 10 years. It’s pretty, and zero maintenance (unlike real stone). Plus it’s manmade; it doesn’t involve carving up the planet. And I can move it by myself.

The downside… my desk base doesn’t meet the deflection requirements for tile or porcelain. That means that until the desk is in place, I will likely not install the insert. And I’m not going to use thinset to set it, since it’d likely just crack. I considered Ditra, but I don’t really trust it to hold the porcelain if I ever move the top later. While I love Ditra, I’ve never tried it in an inverted situation which might occur if two people are moving the top. Plus thinset would make the whole thing even heavier. Note that the porcelain alone is 38 pounds. I’m guessing that the whole top will be more than 80 pounds. My intent at the moment is to use Loctite PL Premium MAX to adhere the porcelain to the plywood. I may change my mind, but I think it’s my best option.

At any rate, I’ve installed the frame on the plywood base with TiteBond III and many cabinet screws from underneath. I also pin nailed and glued the trim pieces (not seen in picture above), which are clamped and curing.

High art?

I ran across this on a list of top desks for 2021.

My first thought was “Dancing banana animated GIF meme.”. I haven’t looked up the designer nor their inspiration. But to be honest, it doesn’t matter. He/she could tell me it came from their muse. What matters… happenstance or deliberate, it’s an inanimate object that mimics an Internet meme that mimics a piece of fruit that mimics a dancing human being. Is it high art just by the number of shoulders it’s standing on? Or just a good example of “All creative work is derivative”? Can I call it anthropomorphic? Why not?

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Or on the shoulders of dancing bananas.

Not my style of desk, but bravo! Whimsical yet functional.