Knowing when to give in

I think one of the things I’ve been fairly good at since I started the shop is knowing when it’s the better course to make a purchase, versus trying to make something. Most often this means jigs, helpers, fences, etc. However, for what I think is for the first time, a project I had been looking forward to do was shelved entirely.

-No woodworking involved with this post. I’ll have project talk coming along in a few days.-

My job, my real job, is working at home on a computer. Because it’s my money-maker, I’ve put some money into it: Self-built PC, dual screens, decent chair, nice little 2.1 speaker setup and a bunch of different cables and cords for all my gadgets. The thing it wasn’t was organized, or big enough. Any drinks I had needed to be at the edge of the desk as to not block my view. The one drawer I had in the desk was stuffed and not efficient. One of my speakers was hidden behind a monitor and effectively muted. I could list other problems real or imagined for a couple of paragraphs, but the picture should be sufficient.

What I needed was a different desk. I had always thought that I would be making it one day, but it turned out I needed it sooner than my schedule would allow something from the shop. The plan was to make this grandiose desk in a Craftsman style with lots and lots of cable management and storage space. There were three problems with this in the end: it would take forever to make, it would cost a couple thousand to buy, and either way it wouldn’t fit with the room. While I wish I had this nice dark library/study that I work in, the reality is that I take up a corner of my master bedroom, the only place in our house that I both have the room to use and it quiet enough with kids. Our master is twice the size of comparable houses in our neighborhood, thanks to an addition put on the house about a decade ago by the former owners. Without that addition, we never would have bought the house.

My plan of a Craftsman desk squashed, I looked at alternatives. All the desks I saw at stores were either flimsy, overpriced, or both. The obvious answer then was to look at Ikea. The current desk is an Ikea Mikael that we have had for many years, probably about eight or so. Ikea has a reputation for being flimsy and overpriced, but I can’t really agree, at least not all the time. The Ikea furniture we have (mostly from our beginning years, when we wanted stylish and on a budget) has held up spectacularly. Our entertainment center and bookcases and this desk were the extent of our major purchases, and are rock solid. Some of that helps by putting it together properly and not moving it around a lot. The other thing that helps is the furniture that is essentially a box with bracing, as is the case with almost everything. The bookcases are decently designed, but the desk is an absolute rock. The cable management is just a piece of particle board to hide the wires from the front, but it ties the whole desk together. Really well done, and I wish I had taken a bit better care of the top so that I could get some money out of it now. Veneer and moisture don’t mix well.

I took a couple of trips to the Atlanta Ikea to see if there was anything I would like. My criteria was a bigger desk, and that was about it. After the trips, and a lot of looking on Flickr at various setups, I chose the Galant desk with A-legs in white. The white contrasts nicely with my grey walls, and the desk is huge. I probably could have come up with something similar for cheaper, but it wouldn’t have been as easy or as quick. The desk’s frame and legs are metal, which means I could replace the top at any time with just about anything. I like that my tower is now well ventilated, and off the floor. I added a shelf to raise the monitors up to a more comfortable level and have some storage underneath for my laptops. I was going to go with a six-inch rise to accommodate my speakers, but it was too much. Right now it is sitting on four pairs of soft play blocks, to get a good height without having to constantly be cutting things. I’ll replace those at some point with real legs, but they work great for now. I have loads of room for all my toys, and the real thing I have to sort out is junk storage. Paper boxes are doing the trick right now. When I make the real legs for the monitor stand, I’m going to make them tall enough where I can cram an Xbox under for some game playing when my workload is light. It’s certainly not right now.

I did make another change, and that was location. Having the screens in front of my window was putting my eyes through hell, especially in the afternoon. The sun beats down on that window the second part of the day and it was making me very tired. I shifted the desk over to a wall, with a different window just off to the side, and the original window at a perpendicular angle, which is recommended. Today is the first day I’m working a full day with this setup. I also added some bias lighting in the form of two small desk lamps, positioned behind each monitor. I’ve worked with this late over the weekend, and it’s a great addition. Highly recommended. I went with lamps so I can pull them out from behind the monitor for room lighting when not working.

This long post just to say I got a new desk? Sort of. I do think it’s important to look at projects and be honest with ourselves. If it’s something where it isn’t worth our time to build, we shouldn’t be ashamed to purchase it. I’ve made do with a lot of shop made items, and in certain instances I still would rather go spend the money to get a product. Perhaps it’s due to my construction of it, perhaps it’s due to how it looks or functions. I have a shop bandsaw fence, but I still want the Kreg version. If you’re short on time, don’t waste more of it building a jig when you can buy one for about the same price. If you’ve got the time, then it’s a different story.

There will come a day where I have my own office space in my home (or an adjacent building), and I will want to have something custom. For now, however, a trip to the land of chipboard and meatballs took care of my needs nicely, fairly inexpensively, and most importantly fast. Stylish was a bit of a factor as well. Buying the desk and a few other storage items at a store can buy you some time until you want to sink some serious time and money into a project of this scope, like it has for me. I will post pictures once everything finds a home, both before and after.

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