That Time I Built a $1,200 Desk for $120

In case you were not able to deduce what this post is going to be about from the title, it is about me building a desk. When I made plans to move back home after college, I wanted to set up a home office that would serve as an engine room to my productivity. I had a specific idea as to how I wanted it to look, and I began to scour the internet for a desk in the industrial style that I wanted. I originally searched for the desk on websites such as IKEA and Amazon, but after reading the book Cheap (a book that completely changed my life and inspired a goal that I will be sharing in a few months), I knew that I could not buy a cheaply produced desk from those websites in good conscience.

Once purchasing my desk from those sites was no longer an option, I began searching high and low for a good quality, ethically produced desk. After scrolling through what felt like hundreds of desks on Etsy, and I found one that looked exactly like the one that I had envisioned. But there was a small problem: the desk was listed at $1,200. It was a beautiful iron and reclaimed barn wood desk, but I could not bring myself to pay that much money for something that would hold my computer. So I decided that the only option would be for me to build it myself.

Once I came to this conclusion, I was filled with excitement at the prospect of building something myself; unfortunately, very few of my friends were as excited as me. After excitedly sharing my idea to build the desk that I had found on Etsy with my friends, I realized how little faith they have in me. The amount of times that I was told by people that it would never work and to just “give in and buy one from IKEA” was ridiculous. To think that my friends still doubt me after all of the goals that I have set and accomplished was quite a letdown. But not to be deterred, I pressed forward with the plan.

After looking through the photos of the desk that I liked on Etsy, I began to make plans for how I could assemble it. I first asked around to find people who were wanting to get rid of old barn wood. You would be surprised at how many people are trying to get rid of incredible, reclaimed wood for no cost, because it only took me a short time to have multiple offers from people who were giving some away. After picking up the wood, I headed to the hardware store to purchase piping for the legs of the desk. Since I was going off a photo and did not have instructions for how to design the desk, I spent about forty minutes piecing piping together in the aisle of the hardware store. Store associates kept slowly walking by the aisle and staring at me while I assembled the pipes like a deranged, puzzle-loving person. After much time spent familiarizing myself with all of the intricate pieces of piping, I paid the $120 for the pipes and wood screws and headed home to begin building the desk. The process is as follows:

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First, I had to wipe the boards down with a dry rag, because I didn’t want to lose the look of the old wood by sanding it. The sunglasses were not because I wanted to look like a WWII airplane pilot. It was just super windy, and sawdust kept blowing into my eyes.


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Next, I had to use a handsaw to shorten the reinforcing boards for the bottom of the desk. It was not my original plan to use a rusty saw from the 1940’s, but I did not have a power saw. Also, that somewhat manic expression that you see on my face fell away after I hand-sawed another two boards…


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This was what the bottom of the desk looked like after we had nailed one of the reinforcing boards into it. Unfortunately, I realized that the desktop was roughly three inches too short to fit with the piping. That meant that I had to go back to the place that I got the wood, dig through the massive pile of barn wood to find new pieces, cut them to the new size, load them into the car (which was not designed to relocate wood), bring them back to my house, and reassemble the new desktop. There wasn’t a photo of me during this process because I was not really feeling the whole homemade desk idea at that point.


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Thankfully, paint fumes came to the rescue! Here I am, high as a kite from spray-painting the metal pieces that I had assembled into the legs of the desk. 


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Once I had set my desk up, I knew that it was worth all of the snags along the way.


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And after I had built the desk, I decided to go ahead and build a bookcase, since I wanted a matching one in my office that could easily house my ever-burgeoning book collection. Disclaimer: the bookcase is not built like the Leaning Tower of Pisa; my floor just slopes. 


This was certainly a long and frustrating process, but it was completely worth it. I was able to set up my office with furniture that was exactly what I had in mind when I first decided to create a space that breeds productivity. This was not an official goal of mine, but I feel just as accomplished for having done it. And for all those people who doubted me, just know that I am writing this blog post in the office that houses a solid oak desk and bookcase that cost me a mere $120 to make. The moral of the story is simple: if you are worried about doing something that you have never tried before, just do it. Even if the process is long and hard, you will walk away a better person.

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