Over the course of the past week, I built myself a new PC gaming desk. I sold my old desk before we moved, having anticipated moving to a new state rather than across town. Needless to say, I found myself unable to game with nowhere to set up my PC. Having felt rather handy with all the home improvements I have been doing, I decided a DIY PC desk would be the way to go.
I started brainstorming and sketching, trying to come up with something unique with an industrial/modern flair. I tried to sketch out some really weird leg shapes and decided nothing would really look the way I wanted AND be a properly supported structure. Eventually, I happened across a post on Reddit (I believe) that lead me to an Imgur album of a desk made using black iron pipe that turned out to be my inspiration. After a little searching online, I decided to aim for a standard dimension desk: 60 inches wide, 30 inches deep, and 30 inches tall. I was in the process of refinishing my laminate countertops using Ardex Feather Finish to give them a concrete look and decided a (faux) concrete desk would be the perfect industrial look. I also decided to suspend the PC shelf with cables for that modern feel.
HOW TO FAUX-CONCRETE
My girlfriend and I found the idea to do a faux-concrete finish (I call it faux because it is not a traditional poured slab of concrete, though it is technically a concrete product) over our ugly almond-colored laminate countertops in the kitchen after happening across a how-to on the Young House Love blog. I learned a lot from the process and decided to use my leftovers to make my desk.
The finish is done using Ardex Feather Finish (Henry Feather Finish if you get it at Home Depot) and skim coating the surface a few times. The process is simple, but requires a lot of hard work: mix a small batch and coat, allow to dry, sand, repeat. Feather Finish is fairly easy to work with, though it sets up fast, so you have to work in small batches at a reasonably quick pace (though you don’t have to rush). It creates a very natural light gray concrete finish. If you want it any other color, know that Feather Finish does not accept stain well (it just sits on top and no longer looks like concrete), so it must be mixed in when you prep the concrete. Feather Finish is mixed at roughly 2 parts mix to 1 part water (I usually go a little over 1; maybe 1 1/4 parts), and I eyeball the amount of stain I add (variations between coats helped the overall look, in my opinion).
I created the desk top by gluing and screwing together a couple pieces of 1/2-inch plywood cut to 60 inches by 30 inches. I also cut my PC and monitor shelves to coat. I did the first two coats of Feather Finish using a wide putty knife (6 inch, I think) for a thicker coat, so I mixed a bit more for these batches; probably around 16 ounces of Feather Finish, 10 ounces of water, and 1-2 ounces of stain (I used a dark slate gray stain). With the first coat, I found it rather difficult to coat the sides cleanly with a putty knife, so I switched to a paint brush for the sides on the second coat.
After each of the coats dried, I smoothed out the uneven and rough patches using 120 grit sandpaper on an orbital sander. This creates a lot of fine dust, so a mask is necessary. My goal was not a perfectly smooth finish, as the differences between the highly sanded and lightly sanded portions is part of what makes this look the way it does.
I mixed the batch for the third coat of Feather Finish using approximately half the quantity of mix, but with a little extra (proportionally) of water to make it a hint thinner. I did this because the third and final coat was meant to be my thin aesthetic coat, and a thinner mix made it a little easier to apply that way. After the third coat, I skipped the 120 grit sandpaper and went straight to the 320 grit for a very smooth to the touch finish. Of course, I went through sheets fast because I didn’t knock down the really rough stuff with a rougher grit first, but I was afraid of sanding through my thin coat. This gave it a nice smooth finish, but left some color variegation from my brush strokes.
To provide a general protection from spills and stains, I gave the desk two coats of 511 Impregnator and one undiluted coat of V-Seal TK6 Nanocoat X-tra Low Gloss. The 511 soaks in and provides resistance to liquid penetration from within, while the TK6 does a bit of that, as well as forming a thin layer to help protect from scratches. For my kitchen counters, I followed the TK6 instructions and did two coats, the first one being slightly diluted. However, this desk is not expected to see the same type of use or risk for acidic stains and such. I also passed on using a wax to protect the sealers like I am using in the kitchen. I applied both of these using a small dense foam roller. I did it in the backyard, so the layer created by the TK6 has little bits of stuff dropped by the trees above stuck in it, but it’s pretty minor and I just consider it character.
BLACK IRON SKELETON
I built the “skeleton” of the desk using 3/4 inch black iron pipe. My brother works for a plumbing and HVAC supplier in town, so I was able to get everything for a decent price. It would have cost at least double for me to pick up these supplies at a big-box store. My final parts list for this was:
- Round floor flanges – 16
- T-fittings – 8
- Elbows – 4
- 4-inch pipe – 8
- 6-inch pipe – 2
- 8-inch pipe – 2
- 10-inch pipe – 4
- 12-inch pipe – 4
- 24-inch pipe – 4
I spray-painted the pipe a flat black to give them a more even and consistent color. As you can see in the previous image, the floor flanges, t-fittings, and elbows are a lighter color than the pipe. Because I was hurrying a bit, I did not take the time to clean the pipe. Some of it was a bit greasy, and many had tape around the middle to secure part numbers, which left a lot of adhesive. Leaving all this on messed the paint finish up a bit, especially when I started piecing it together before the paint had fully cured, but I decided to go with it…for character. 🙂
I figured legs of black pipe would be heavy and unwieldy, so I assembled them in the office where desk was going. Assembling the legs was as simple as screwing it all together, at least once I remembered what my plan was because I seemed to have lost my sketch. I found that I frequently over-tightened the pipe, which made it difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to unscrew slightly when adjustments were needed.
Once the legs were assembled, I brought in the desk top and shelves and placed the desk top top-down so I could set the legs in place. I then measured the leg lengths and screwed/unscrewed as necessary to get them all to roughly the same length. I found at this point that I had over-estimated how much pipe length I would lose when the parts were screwed together, or perhaps I had under-estimated the length of the t-fittings. Either way, the desk height came out to approximately 31 1/2 inches, rather than the 30 I had planned, which is taking a little getting used to, but it is not the end of the world (probably just poor ergonomics).
Once the legs were positioned, measured and adjusted, and screwed in place, I flipped the desk and mounted the monitor stand on top. I made the monitor stand using the 6-inch pipe, which combined with the extra 1 1/2-inch height of the desk, made for a rather high monitor position. Though these images show the raised monitor stand, my current set-up has the black pipe removed and the shelf sitting directly on the desk for a little 1-inch boost. The 6-inch pipe was poor judgement; I should have only used 2-inch, though screwing on the flanges may have been impossible in that case, so I am still considering my options for the final iteration of the monitor shelf.
My last step before set-up was to suspend the PC shelf. I attached eye screws to the underside of the desk and the top of the shelf and then looped the wire through and secured with a ferrule. It was a bit of a challenge to get reasonably level, but not too bad. Then, I breathed a satisfied sigh of relief as I stepped back and admired the finished product (“yeah, I know I need to get a good set of wire cutters to trim off that excess,” I said to the judgmental cat).
So, there you have it: my DIY computer desk! If you have any questions about the process or want more on using Ardex Feather Finish, just let me know in the comments below, or contact me on Twitter.