Why I Missed Derby Tonight

Refinished DeskI had a plan, it wasn’t a perfect plan, it wasn’t a well-funded plan, but it was mine and I was determined to see it through.
                                                                                —Syne Mitchell

About ten years ago, Eric made a desk. it was an adventure, his first in furniture making. He started with a commercial desk that had an ergonomic base (ie: you can turn a crank to raise and lower it.) The original desk was designed for CRTs, and thus was in the shape of a triangle, taking up a lot of office space. With the advent of flat-screen monitors, there was also a lot of wasted empty space in the back.  So he bought a solid wood table top from Ikea and carved it into an L-shape, rounded the edges with a router (I had no idea the man had router skills) and painted it black.

Then he went to put in on the base and realized that he’d built it upside down.  The reverse had ugly metal channels in (to reinforce the table it was originally designed for) and there was much gnashing of teeth and wailing.

Eric recovered his equilibrium and filled the channels with black fimo and glow-in-the-dark stars, turning a mistake into a design opportunity.  And for ten years, it was his desk, as in wooby, as in pride.  Then he decided that a standing desk would be better for his lower back.  So, having had such an adventure with his first desk mod, he only bought a pedestal, and created his own top which is a three-dimensional work of art.  Go bug him at his blog to show you pictures.

Of course, this made his black desk redundant. He talked about getting rid of it, but how can you part with something like that? At about the same time, I’d started working at Amazon where, because of a funny historical event, everyone uses a door desk.  This is a desk made out of 4x4s and a cheap wooden door bought at Home Depot, I kid you not. Programmers use these, executives use these, and I’ll be very suprised if Jeff Bezos himself isn’t sitting behind one of these.  It’s a symbol of the frugality and ingenuity that’s made Amazon.com sucessful.

Unfortunately, it’s also a desk that works great if you’re a 6′ tall guy, not so great for a 5’6″ tall woman. I found it darned uncomfortable.  So I asked Eric if I could have the ergonomic black desk. Away it went with me to Amazon…where the offices are small and filled with people.  Another issue is that Eric is not a big believer in pilot holes, meaning that once I got the desk to work, I could only screw in 2 of the 8 screws that hold the desk to the base.  Imagine a wobbly desk where my monitor was always in jeopardy.  Imagine a large L-shape in a small room and coworkers having to practically limbo to get into a position where they could see my monitor and watch me give a demo.

This went on for about two months, then tonight I snapped. Fifteen minutes before I was due to leave work, I was under my desk with a screwdriver, wearing a business casual black dress, uninstalling the desk top. I told my coworker Gayatri, “I think you got one of the wierder office mates at Amazon.” She laughed and said that she liked it, as she never knew what I’d do next, and that she admired my initiative.  Still in business causal, I left work, carrying an enormous L-shaped desk top with me.  As luck would have it, I walked by the product manager for the technology I document. He was in the middle of a hall meeting, and actually missed a beat when he saw me walk by. I just grinned, cause seriously, what else could I do?

I brought the unsatisfactory desk top home, and after a very long and tiring day went after it with circular saw, drill, belt sander, mouse sander, hand sanding, and a final coat of Wood Beams from Goodies Unlimited. There’s power in wearing overalls.  Within a half hour I’d gone from exhausted, to having a pretty darn good time.  Watching the black varnish that Eric had put on melt away into the orginial wood grain was rewarding, as was smoothing the fimo into a glossy inlaid strip. The whole project, reshaping, sanding, and waxing took about 2-1/2 hours.  And now I have a desk top that works with my office, that I can attach firmly to the base, and looks and smells wonderful. Ironically enough, the strip of black fimo even makes it look a bit like an antique door.

I didn’t realize I was working on a blog post, so I didn’t take any before or in-process pictures.  But here’s the end result, ready to be installed when I go into work tomorrow. I wasn’t able to get off 100% of the black lacquer that Eric used with the tools and time I had available (remember, I need this desk top to get work done in the morning) so I went for an antiqued look, bringing out the natural look of the wood and letting the black highlight the grain. By going with what was there in the piece, I was able to finish quickly, and ended up with something you’d pay extra for at a store like Restoration Hardware.

Happy surprises:

  • Kai helped me wax the top, and I’ll be able to think of both him and Eric as part of this desk when I’m at work.
  • The Wood Beams is food safe and smells divine, I’d been saving it for a special occasion (for the past 10 years or so) and just realized that if I didn’t use this up and buy more, the artist who makes this might go out of business.
  • The way the grain goes everywhich way, and is highlighted by the antiquing and the way delights me more than I thought it would.
  • It’s done!  This project that had been hanging over my head for months and a daily irritation is now finis!
  • I like sanding now much more than I used to. Is that a sign of maturity?
    I even like the rough-hewn nature of the cable port (below).

Rough hewn cable port

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