Designing a Better Workspace: Planning a DIY Desk/Work Cart

Designing a Better Workspace: Planning a DIY Desk/Work Cart

Having moved recently I found my old Ikea Expedit desk would not work in the new space(no dedicated office!).  As such I felt this would be the time to get a desk that would best fit the space and my work style. The catch? I plan to build this myself(most likely with some help). Building a desk will not only allow me to get exactly what I want, but also get something that has more utility and features and better fit the small space I have available than what a traditional desk can do. 

So, if you are wondering what computer I am wrote this article on, I am used my Toshiba Satellite while my all powerful desktop takes a break(as well as my electric utility bill). The good news is that I would still recommend this laptop to anyone.  It’s not only low cost but also powerful and upgradable tackling any of my routine tasks with ease(yes even running Linux Distros as a VM and Netbeans).  The bad news is that my desk space still looks like this after moving in almost a month ago…

Trevors_PC_Space_20150516
(Yes, there are two towers shown, but one is an old PC that will become my home server one of these days.)

Yes, it looks like clutter(anti-minimalism?), but the grey cabinet(Ikea Alex drawer unit) is empty and most of the small items(things in boxes as well) you see will be stored in there. The drawer unit is rather heavy so I haven’t loaded it down again as I would need to empty it to easily move it.

So, this wall(to the right in the image) in the living room is all mine for a work space.  I have about 36 inches clearance to the couch arm.  However, most doorways are a maximum of 36 inches wide, making a desk that wide would probably mean it wouldn’t fit through.  This combined with the main doorway being further to the right means that to use my desk and allow ample space to enter the room I have hard limits in all directions. So how am I planning this desk?

Desk Type: Sit, Stand, Adjustable, Mobile?

So, currently I am mapping out the basic plans.  Being that I currently do a lot of computer work and numerous studies have shown how bad sitting is for prolonged periods of time, I am opting for a standing desk(although I find nothing wrong with traditional desks).  As nice as having the best of both worlds, the mechanics involved and the additional work and research I would need to add a proper adjustment system(one where I don’t have to remove everything from the top to adjust) I decided I would go for a non-adjustable top.  Although I think I may modify my desk later to add this feature in once I do more research and brush up on my building skills.

The last question was is it important that it can move easily?  The answer for me is absolutely!  We moved furniture around often enough at our last place that I don’t want to be tied to a single location. Also, picking a work cart style would allow me to work on other projects and move my desk to more opportune areas if needed(say the middle of the room).

For your own desk you want to think about what would be your most ideal set up. Do you want to be on your feet?  Have a large open area for projects? Do you need it to fit a particular space or function?  Answering these questions will help you determine what desk you want to build.

How to Size Your Desk

I had done some of my own research previously but continued with even more online research as well. Without having built my desk yet I can still say that I find the rules below as a good gauge for designing a good desk.  I have worked on enough desks that I also know what I want, and it seems to match what I found online.

Depth

From my own experience I know I need a deep workspace to hold my keyboard and mouse, pen tablet and drawing supplies readily available as well as not on top of each other.  A rule I read in numerous locations online was 6-12 inches deeper than what you can comfortably reach.  For me this is 32 inches.

However, this isn’t to say a shallow desk is bad.  If you do not regularly need space for working with paper or other items then feel free to make it as shallow as you need.  The whole idea is to make it fit your needs as best as possible and not everyone needs a deep desk(or has space for it).

Width

Ok, so this probably depends mostly on what you do with your space.  Someone like myself who uses multiple monitors obviously needs more width than someone with only a MacBook Air. For productivity and project work, I like a wide desk to spread things out without getting things stacked or too cluttered.  I will be making my desk 5 feet wide so I can just reach each edge while standing as well as allow for that entry way space.  Having worked in smaller spaces before this should be adequate.  One rule I read online was that the width should be as wide as you can reach outward with a single arm.  So this does fit that.

Again, if you do not need the space, don’t take it.  Chances are it will easily fill with clutter and ruin your designated workspace.

Height

For comfort while standing I hadn’t looked much into it before.  However, the internet was here again to save the day.  The rule for height is that the top of the desk should meet your elbow, allowing 90 degree angles for your forearms to upper arms when typing.  For me I measured this with a tape measure and then built a stack of storage tubs and other items and tested it out to ensure it would be comfortable.  So my magic number is 43 inches, which allows me to easily rest my arms on the top surface as well as feel natural standing.

As for sit down style desks, you can consult the internet but the rule is that while using your keyboard your arms should be at a 90 degree angle.  Also, you legs are to be 90 degrees as well.  So the best way to do this is to sit in your office chair to meet these two requirements and have someone measure the heights needed.

Making Plans

Once I figured out what style desk I wanted and what heights I needed, the next step was to plan it out.  The simpler the design the easier it should be to construct so I am planning a simple cart style. I always like to have drawings of things to reference so I chose to map out all the measurements on paper to get an idea of how to assemble it as well as the lengths of wood needed. I suggest you do the same as poor planning will result in a sub par product and wasted materials.

Feel free to hit up your local lumber yard or home improvement store to get an idea for what materials are available.  I am sticking with simple lighter duty items as it won’t be holding too much weight.  What dimensions you need greatly depends on your use. However, don’t be afraid to build lighter.  From my research 2×4’s, although sturdy, can be extreme overkill depending on how much weight you expect it to support.  If you are still confused, search online or ask your local handyman for help.

As of this writing I am still working on finalizing my plans, and once complete I will purchase all my required parts and start building. I can’t wait to have my new desk cart completed so I can start using my main PC again. I will be documenting the build and my plans once complete so stay tuned for more in the coming month!

~Trevor

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