Remember that time I built my office from scratch?

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When we first bought this house, the bedroom I work in was all closet. You’d walk inside and there’d be this massive closet, with what looked like could be more closet space before the closet and adjacent to the closet. It was basically a closet room, where the only thing out of place was where the previous owner decided to build the closet.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any of the photos of the giant closet, so this sketch of what it used to look like will have to do:

Obviously, my first task was to remove the monstrous closet so that I could actually fit a desk into the office area. An office just isn’t an office without a desk, you know? So once I was done with the demolition, hiring an electrician to move some outlets, and then doing some minor wall patching and painting, I bought some foam insulation to put behind the desk I was about to build, to hopefully muffle the constant strumming of my typing, as well as some of the music I’ll most-certainly be playing throughout the. (Unfortunately, the foam insulation ended up being a terrible sound barrier).

Bare wall before desk.

Directly after that, I got to work with the plans, and to tell you the truth they were pretty rough. The actually building of the desk took a whole lot of revisions, modifications, and compromises. One thing us n00bs always forget to consider is the amount of sanding that’s going to take place, especially when one of your compromises was to buy Aspen, instead of Birch. Aspen plywood, if you’ve ever attempted to work with it for shelves or desks… it not a good idea.


Aspen is a descent wood, but boy do you have to sand a lot. For some reason it forms this fuzzy buildup on it that takes forever to sand away to a smooth finish, and all I had to sand was a DeWalt Palm Sander that I borrowed from my brother-in-law. Note to self: get a better sander. It’s a good tool, but not for massive surfaces like an 8′ by 2.2′ desk.

Fortunately, I made it through and lived to tell the tale, and everything was coming together nicely. Below, you can start to see where the desk and the shelves come together. This was actually a really proud moment for me because right then is the moment that I realized I can actually do it.

Lessons learned from my last project, where I built these excessively massive shelves for the dining room, which are 8 feet tall and 9 feet wide [or 3(8’x3′) ]… anyway, I switched from using an oil-based stain to a water-based stain. Below, I’ve used Verathane Dark Walnut, Stain and Polyurethane. Not only does it look good, but it was fast and simple, and holds up to my everyday sketching and water glasses, and crazy projects. It’s all the awesome, without the stink of oil-based stains. I really thought the fumes from that other stuff was going to kill me, and the house reeked of the smell for weeks. You don’t get that with Verathane’s water-based stain/poly.

And below is the final product, with all my books and such actually being shelved!

While there’s definitely room for improvement in my design, I’m definitely happy with the results. One year later, my desktop has never been that tidy again.

  • Ken

    I DO remember when you built your office from scratch. And, I think you did a fantastic job. But, I’m only just now hearing about your tip on the water-based stain. Didn’t know such a thing even existed. Wonder if they have it here where I live? I’m going to have to check into that.

    • I was pleasantly surprised, too. After using Minwax oil-based stain on three gargantuan shelves that I built for the living room, I didn’t think I would live through another stain-athon, not to mention it took a couple of months for the smell to become tolerable enough to keep the shelves in the house. This Verathane stuff stinks for maybe two hours, but it doesn’t feel like your brains are exploding, cell-by-cell.