You’ve probably seen those make-over on a dime shows where some highly creative individual takes some old worn out end table, strips it down, buy’s about $5 in hardware, repaints it and two minutes later, voila! …This is not one of those five-dollar stories.
The assemble it yourself particle wood L-shaped desk I’ve had for about 10 years was finally getting too worn out and crowded. So I decided I needed a real executive desk. Something large, rectangular, ornate, menacing to on-comers, but more importantly something with lots of space for me to work with two computers and lots of paperwork. Me being the creative type, and cheap, decided it would be cool if I could build a large rectangular desk and simply add some ornate creative styling to it. I could have gone down to the local hardware store and bought some wood, but again, I’m cheap. With my job I have a lot of connections to grocery stores and sometimes they give away the wood pallets that all their freight comes in on. I figured I could gather enough good wood from the used pallets, and that the beat up wood would be a great start for creative inspiration on the look of the desk. Shabby sheik.
I did a web search to see what is out there for reclaimed wood and pallet wood furniture. I found immediate inspiration from James Higginson’s posting on his build of a $5 picnic table made from pallet wood here. James does a great job at showing what he did at each step along the way and I was confident I too could do this desk idea of mine. Then as I’m looking over James’ pictures, two things dawn on me. Number one, I don’t have the skills to actually build anything and number two, the only tools I have are a set of screw drivers, a hammer, and a skill saw from the 1970′s. A far cry from what I see in James’ photo’s.
Now before you tilt your head and say to me “awe, now come on Gary, you can do it.” No, no I can’t. You see God gave my dad the ability to make things with wood and he gave my older brother the brains to build a company that he can hire people to build things for him, and my sister married someone who not only can build stuff but wire it for electricity too. And my little brother, well we’ll just say as of this writing he’s building a small house, renovating a bathroom and helping to build a brewery. Me, I write.
I don’t build, I don’t measure things and cut them let alone assemble them into something recognizable. I even drive my wife crazy when I cook because I only choose to cook things pre-made or cook something based more on taste than measured ingredients. Even growing up all my friends could read a tape measure or fix a car. Not me. I just don’t have that gift. My neighbors can build things, some of them even have jobs that entail building things. When I die, one of the first questions I’ll ask God will be “did you sneeze when you were making me? Because you obviously left out the male pattern ‘build’ gene with me.”
However the good news is that the answer to the question about if God ever laughs is yes. He laughs at me …whenever I try projects like building this desk. I’m pretty sure God snorted milk out of his nose, doubled over and fell off of his throne from laughing so hard when I started this little adventure of mine. And Jesus was doing his best not to move, sitting cross legged trying not to pee his robe, shaking Heaven from his stilted giggling while the Holy Spirit has his head in his hands trying not to hyperventilate. I hope there are bonus points for being God’s court jester.
Anyway, the initial thought was that this would be a two weekend project once I collected enough pallets. One weekend to tear the pallets apart, the other to assemble the desk based on James Higginson’s basic layout and of course $5 for hardware. Well it took two weeks to collect 17 pallets. And during those two weeks I found this from Funky Junk Interiors where they claim it only took $3 in additional parts. And the way they did that desk had the boards over the top of the frame, which for me meant I could hide my inability to actually make a right angled frame. Brilliant! Hide the flaws! I loved it. I’ll be combining both styles. Or so I thought.
After collecting all the pallets, it dawned on me that my little hammer wasn’t going to cut it for the breaking down. I say “dawned on me” because well I actually tried it, and maybe it is just me, but I seem to have collected pallets built by Thor. These things were glued, screwed and tattooed by some super being and my dinky little hammer wasn’t putting a dent in releasing anything Thor had hammered in. I had to buy a Crow bar for $7. And this is just the beginning, I’m starting off $2 over what the highest of these furniture builders are posting.
Five weekends worth of pallet break down and I’m finally past stage one. Two dollars over budget and five weekends into a two weekend project. And I still haven’t settled on a design because in between weekends I found this from Far Out Flora. Wow! They stained it! What a concept! Now I have to do that.
The working plan was to frame it like James did, sand down the boards like Funky Junk did, set the boards hanging over the frame like Funky Junk did and now to stain it like Far Out Flora did. It’ll be beautiful.
Ok, I go back to James’ site and look at his framing. He did a few things I can’t do. Well a lot of things I can’t do. But, I’ve got something even better than tools and skill. I have Dave from Art Effects Framing and Five Dollar Frames who I’ve known for years and if anyone can do a perfect right angle with a miter joint it’s someone who does it professionally and sells framing all across the U.S. So I called Dave up, told him what I was doing, and after he stopped laughing agreed to help. I brought the chosen pieces to him, told him what I wanted and in a blink of an eye he had cut and framed it all into one giant rectangle. I’m pretty sure Dave could have assembled the whole desk in a matter of minutes, but I didn’t really know which way I was going to go with the desk.
While I’m letting my creative juices stir a bit. I knew that I still wanted to stain the desk the same way Far Out Flora did. So I went ahead and stained the top boards brown. And of course since this is me building the desk, picking the color of stain alone took me a week. I decided on Ipswich Pine 221 from MinWax, $5 for a half pint. And Ebony from Cabot, $10 for a pint, for the frame. During the staining of the top boards I spilled the stain and had to go buy another one, $5. I ran out of Ipswich Pine 221 and did not look closely at the stain number, ended up buying and using enough of Ipswich Pine 109 before realizing it, $5. Then bought the right Ipswich Pine 221 to complete the top boards, $5. …$37 so far if you are counting.
I decide to alter course again and go with how James set his boards inside the frame and flush with the top. Which puts me in a dilemma because again, I don’t have the skills to copy what James did. But I have another secret weapon that is also better than tools and skill, my old neighbor Allen. Allen tried to move away from me a few years ago but that failed, I still annoy him with fixing my problems. I can’t count how much he’s done for me over the years. Everything from plumbing, engine repair, misc. household items, electrical, and now desk building. I’m fairly certain he regrets every time he answers the phone and its me calling. There will be special mercies given to Allen and his wife in Heaven for having to deal with me. I think God will take a deep breath, snicker, and say to Allen “whatever you did for the least of these…” and wave his hand for Allen to enter Heaven. Then God will look over at me and burst out laughing again.
When I called Allen and told him what I’m attempting to do he too had to stop laughing just long enough to say he’d help. Since I can’t cut the pallet wood like James did because all mine have nails in them, Allen tells me to buy some strips of wood and come on over. Straightest wood strips I can find, $25. …$62 and rising, this ain’t no $5 desk.
I had every intention for Allen to just show me what to do and then let me do it. But Allen knows better than to leave a new born babe in the woods and point it towards home and expect it to actually survive. During all the measuring, figuring, thinking and what not associated with construction Allen looks over at me and says “you didn’t think this through very well did you?” To which I bravely answered, “well, I…, and…, well no, no I did not.” Allen set me up so that all I had to do is go buy some L-brackets and finish the very last part that Allen was ok with me finishing, $4.
Both Allen and Dave strongly suggested I not try and sand down the top boards for various reasons such as the boards are actually curved now because of the way I pulled them away from the pallets, which means I’d have to sand them down to nothing in order to have a flat surface. And the fact that I don’t have a sander, and I’m too lazy to even attempt that by hand. I end up with buying a large piece of glass through Dave who can get me custom made glass through his Art Effects Framing. Why custom made? Because I didn’t check what a standard size executive desk measures to be. I just created the size I wanted, 43 inches by 66 inches (which for those of you like me, that’s three feet seven inches deep by five feet six inches wide). The tempered glass, $195. …$261.
Three cheap 2×4′s to transport the glass safely in my truck to my house, $8. …$269
I know what you are thinking, I could have just bought a desk for that. And yes I could have. But I’m a glutton for punishment it seems. And it continues.
My wife asks me “so what are you going to do for legs.” To which I replied “I have no idea.” She suggests I use the four plaster columns in my office holding up a table between two book shelves, then get two book shelves in the table’s place. Great idea. Book shelves, $50.
I took the left over Ebony stain and brushed it onto to the plaster columns. Which by the way turns out to become glossy when it dries on plaster. So four can of flat black spray paint, $8. And two cans of spray can protective sealer, $10.
All told with other miscellaneous items like brushes and such the final bill was $375. This is definitely NOT a $5 reclaimed wood desk AND I didn’t really build it, Dave and Allen did. I just painted it and wrote the story.
So now would you like to see it? Let’s look at the pictures:
Here’s where it started. Pallet dismantling.
And here are some shots of playing around with the layout of the boards
Staining the boards…
Destroyed more than one brush.
Seeing how the color contrast is going to look. And if the column’s will work or not.
Before we get to the final part, you should see the “before” pics of the desk/office.
Now for the install.
And finally… (pre-clutter)
I don’t know about you but I think Dave and Allen’s desk turned out just fine. Despite my intrusions into the building of the desk, I’m pretty proud of what they did.
There’s more to the story of this endeavor, but that’ll be for another day. If you want to see a few more pics, I’ll put some up on my Facebook page. Now if I could just sell a few books to cover the cost of this non-five-dollar desk, that’d be great.