Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Something to Stand For!

In the past year or so, I have been  doing a lot more illustrations. It is great to have the work, but I have been finding myself sitting in a desk chair for hours at a time. Of course, a smart man would get up and stretch once a while- maybe even just move a little. As a result I was getting fat and out of shape, my legs were aching and as I worked at this very non-ergonomic desk my shoulders would hunch up and then my back would hurt.
See what I go through to do my work!
Anyway, instead of being a fat, crippled martyr for my work, I decided to switch to a stand up desk.
Here is some science on the subject. Click Here

After a bit of research and looking around for desk that would fix my dilemma, I decided to build my own. I found an online resource to determine the correct height. Click Here
I determined that my desk needed to be around 42 inches high. I could have probably just made the desk I had tall enough, but I don't do things that way.Thought I would post about this wonderful part of illustration process in case you wanted to stand up with me. Let's all stand up.

I was a cabinet maker for a while and am fairly handy, so I thought rather than build something ordinary, I should make a fine piece of furniture. A few years ago a friend sold his parent's house and was cleaning it out. He and his wife gave me a few things that were just going to get thrown away. Being a pack rat, I took it all and hauled it home.
Here is photo of my lovely wife after helping me get the prize out of my van. She immediately said, "Why the hell do you need a old Organ?" At the time I honestly did not have any idea, but I still needed it!
There is a reason I have never been able to park my van in the garage.
This beauty is an A.B. Chase pump organ from the 1880s. A close up view will show the rough shape it was in.
While the bulk of the wood was salvageable, all the innards were ruined by a combination of dry rot and being stored in a basement. So, I carefully pulled it apart and saved all the parts I could. Just taking this apart without doing damage was a chore. The inside organ parts had to be thrown away, but all the panels and decorative parts ended up being used in other places.
Of course the organ is not high enough for a stand up desk so I had to figure out how to make it about a foot taller. Raising it in a pleasing way took some time and a lot of sketches.
I finally realized the panels from the top were about the right size and would match the sides.

I used 2x4s to make the base for the panels. Using different woods was something I regretted later. Early on I thought it was in such bad shape I would have to paint it. If I had know it would finish up so well I would have found walnut for all the added parts.

The decorative foot on the front was removed and dropped down to the bottom. Now I needed to fill that space somehow. Those two spindles you see leaning at the bottom of the organ were off an old chair I found in the garbage, they were cut to fit, drilled for dowels and filled that space like they were meant to be there.
After I got the height issue fixed, I just needed to start putting a desk inside the box. I added a shelf at the bottom and the desk top. A drawer fit in the space where the keyboard used to be. I had a set of drawers from an old priest's wardrobe I got out of a abandoned convent.

Here it is with all the parts pretty much in place. I realized the shelf space at the top for the monitor would not work, so I had to cut the top of the organ so it would not be right in my face. I also wanted to fill in the bottom under that shelf and decided to reuse the parts where the organ pedals used to be. It would just be a shelf at the bottom (turns out it makes a good foot rest). There were also some decorations from those parts I wanted to use for the drawer.
With the top cut to make room for the monitor I need a header piece- it probably had one originally. I got a piece of walnut and sketched a few designs based on other organs I found online. I settled on the one above. I carved designs in the blocks that matched the simple designs in other areas.
You can see the drawer front now has two inlaid blocks I salvaged off the top of the foot pedal bracket that got cut off when I added it below the shelf. They added a nice design and also covered holes in the drawer front from old handles. The sheet music rest became the drawer pull (unfortunately while it is a pretty drawer pull, it also catches dust, eraser bits, crumbs and beard hair).
I had realized while building this that the old shellac finish came off pretty easily with scraping and sanding, so rather than paint it I could stain it. Since I used pine, birch, poplar in other areas I would have to do some creative staining to get it all even.

It stained up pretty well actually. The areas that were lighter got a brushed on tinted polyurethane to even it out.
Those weird looking things on the outside of the organ just to the left of the drawer were originally supposed to hold candles. While I will not be using candles I did use one of them to clamp a desk lamp to.
Here it is today in full use.  Keyboard and mouse on the top can be pushed back out of the way if needed. The computer and scanner/printer are on the lower shelf. You'll notice on the tablet screen that I am coloring the art I did for Rethem.
I mounted my digital tablet on a telescoping arm which allows it to be moved out of the way or be pulled over for drawing. I can use the monitor to display reference or for watching Netflix while I work.
One part I am still working on is the "analog" drawing desk. Currently I have a panel under monitor shelf that I can pull down for sketching and drawing. It works pretty well. I may move it above that shelf so it is a bit higher. I will then add flat file storage under that shelf. I will post an update when I figure it all out. Below you can see the board put away and pulled out. I'll stain it like the rest when I'm finished.

I am pretty happy with the desk. I will say for about two weeks after switching to standing I thought I had made a terrible mistake. My feet were killing me and it seriously wore me out. I eventually got used to it. Now I think my posture is improving, I have less knee issues and shoulder pain and it keeps me more alert.
My only regret is that I wish I had made the desk top a bit wider deeper so I had more room.

My set up is in the basement next to two south facing windows, so I get some good light during the day. I am glad I'm kind of hidden away since a stand up desk mixed with music can result in a dance party at any moment. Some New Order just started playing on the online station I am listening to and things got a little crazy.


  1. That is totally, totally COOL.

  2. Thanks. Despite the reality, I feel very important standing behind this desk.
    It would be easy enough to build one not this fancy if you are interested. There is a lot of info on the web about these.

  3. looks awsome! when can I come by and take it home!

  4. Just because this was in your Grandparents house Joe, give you no right to it.
    I will let you stand behind its glory if you ever visit.

  5. AH HA! a formal invitation! you fell into my trap prepare for a visit!

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