Blogging from Sydney | Australia
Some past thoughts

A new, custom 2.78m desk for an eyefinity setup and more 

A few more illustrative photos are on Google+, for those who prefer the visual summary.

The problem

In the Christmas holidays of 2011, I realised something. I had a more or less standard 1.35m x 0.75m x 0.73m (WxDxH) study desk. It sucked.

Cluttered: Two PCs and a Macbook Air

So c. 18 Dec 2011, I decided to change that.

I think I needed something that could capture a few user stories well:

  • I have up to 3.15m to work with. Why not use it?
  • Potential for an Eyefinity / Surround setup
  • The full depth of the desk felt like wasted space (it's been a long time since CRT monitors were common)
  • I still tinker with my PCs frequently
  • I thought I could use the space far more efficiently, e.g. space under the drawers was barely used - an accessible shelf would be nice for say a few Raspberry Pi(s) and a game console or two
  • I'd grown used to having 3+ drawers
  • I don't care about a bunch of things like wheels or height-adjustability

Designing and planning the solution

Firstly, some constraints. Being six floors up makes taking things in through the window nearly impossible. That leaves the fire stairs and the elevator. Long story short, the elevator had the best potential - a little over 3m on the longest diagonal.

Early planning documents

Further 350mm is taken by a display for some of the trinkets I've acquired on my travels to places like the Great Barrier Reef, Coober Pedy, Lightning Ridge and Cradle Mountain. Hence we come to the first decision - the desk was to be about 2.8m long. Given that, I did some searching and there's really next to nothing out there that comes close, though the 2.4m kitchen benchtop idea is interesting. I had a choice:

  • Outsource it to a furniture builder
  • Capitalise on my woodworking prowess acquired primarily through my high school education, where I'd built a table out of radiata pine with a jarrah shelf and top. Though that was a Year 10 major project, and this was definitely going to be on a much larger scale...

I chose the latter and set about planning. The plans above capture the high level overview, but are missing many minor details. The devil is always in the details.

Details, details like drawers. Drawers make a table into a serious desk. They also add an extraordinary amount of complexity and intricacy. I wouldn't have gone forward with them if I needed to dovetail and build from scratch. Thankfully I discovered the BA[123]-M/W self-assemble drawers at Bunnings so I updated my plans to add some support rails.

BA3-M/W drawer between four posts and some rails

Iterative construction

Armed with my drawings and sketchup, I spent a small fortune on wood (though still a little less than three 24" Dell monitors cost) - cedar for the top (and drawer fronts I ended up replacing), and maple for the legs, lower shelf and rails. I chose cedar because it's a softwood and hence relatively light for the distance travelled (the jarrah used on my previous project made it heavier than it looked - even the removalists commented on it), and maple as something different to the arguably too common (though cheap and effective) radiata pine.

Left: Wood scouting. Right: Planning the dowel and biscuit locations for the 2.78m top piece

The other details all followed naturally from the above. For instance, given a need to go about 2.8m with a depth of about 600mm, I decided to biscuit-join three lengths (four pieces) of ~190mm cedar with a total end-to-end length of 8.4m. This also made my final depth closer to 570mm, which if anything has worked out even better, though practically quite close to the lower depth limit with my eyefinity setup.

Another point was the need to route many pieces to more easily achieve things such as the 8mm-rounded top, legs and rails. Using a router is always a challenge. There's consistently a need to test (the old adage measure twice cut once) - and plenty of offcuts went through it. The noise wouldn't be a problem back in a suburban house, but can be an issue in high-density urban living, generally restricting use of power tools to working hours. Fencing is a requirement too - indeed I'd often spend twice as long fencing as routing. However routing done right is almost always faster than chiselling.

Routing: Often complicated to ensure precision cuts and wood removed. Bottom left you can see a failed (and replaced) offcut being used as the rightmost supporting fence, part of the excavations to ensure the top fits snugly on the frame

Iterating on the design once I realised I wouldn't like the bare exposed rails
Unplanned, but expected: Chiselling out slots for the drawers

Frequent iterations (ctd): Replaced the prefabricated drawer fronts with cedar

Planning continued throughout the project, I remember a lot more doodles but just didn't have the foresight to take more photos

Final Results

Finished product

Designed to disassemble for transportation

Perspective: 2.64m back rail vs the height of my bedroom

The hidden stash works a charm at hiding things like power bricks and excess cable clutter

I'm loving it

A few things are still incomplete. My Logitech G930 broke, so I shall be looking for a new gaming keyboard in the near future. Sometime a little further off I'll be in the market for an affordable 4K TV, and the geeks out there will determine I'm not running a true Eyefinity yet (the right two monitors are running off the main box, I'm dedicating the left Eyefinity monitor to the Xbox 360 for now, and the leftmost monitor to my legacy Windows XP gaming rig). There are dreams of a watercooled project, subject to the many complexities of implementation...

Overall after a week with this setup, I am loving it. Well worth it for something that really nailed* what I wanted.

* ironically I used no nails, indeed the only pieces of metal in the entire solution are the drawer's rails, screws and handles. I'm not much of a metalworker, especially when it comes to MIG/TIG welding so I prefer to stick with my love of woodworking.


Graduation Congratulations!

A HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to everyone from UNSW who graduated with me tonight - in no particular order - Shaun Ester, Aditya Keswani, Alexei Doudkine, Stephanie Sandoval, Sean Charles Harris, Kun (Kevin) Liu, Alexander Eduardo Newski Rincon and Anoop Jayesh Mehta. And to anyone I've accidentally overlooked, or who's graduated at another time, congratulations to you too!

I wish you all the best in your future careers and every success you deserve after all your hard work, play and study.


P.S. I decided to post this here, for posterity. Because to be honest, I just have this notion I need to be in control of my data...



There are times I just love my job at mathspace.

Naturally being a recent graduate I have limited real-world experience, but I just can't imagine many other places I'd be cross referencing the output of a computational knowledge engine, something at which Google/Bing fare poorly, with the most efficient StackOverflow implementations for finding (relatively small in crypto terms) prime numbers. Awesome.


Sometimes I just have to tell it like it is...

...and that means I sometimes have an abrasive, impersonal, even downright harsh and insulting effect on people. I'm an engineer, I solve problems, I come from the real world and the real world doesn't care, it'll just steamroll over you, eat you up and let you down.

However, I do wish to apologise how for all the past and future wrongs I know I will commit because sometimes, I just have to tell it like it is.


P.S. It doesn't stop me feeling absolutely, utterly miserable afterwards. But bottling it up is simply too destructive in the long term. Rock vs. hard place.


One knows he/she is trying too hard when they feel bad about having to reject some brilliant job offers...

Just felt like saying it, because I am really torn up inside and will be for a while. I just didn't expect it and it's really hard to have to say no to cool and brilliant ideas and executions thus far.

Talk about crazy...miss 4 grad programs mostly in the final interview(s) stage. My first half year, moving, etc really must have destroyed me.

Then in the last month, with exams and thesis due, have had a 100% strike rate with 3/3 startup offers. Guess I'm a startup guy from now on out :)