The making of a rustic office desk

How I made myself a custom islander, Robison style table using locally harvested materials, and lots of patience in crafting an office table.

a year ago

Latest Post 30 years and counting by Victoria Esposito public

Working remotely requires some adjustments and it's not just about forgetting of shaving or being dressed from waist up 😄

Standard dressing code for WFH

It's more about to create a bubble where you can feel the ethos of being at the office and being visually in the zone that allows you to resist to random home noises and the proximity to the fridge and other reasons to do everything else but getting the job done. Quite literally.

I am generally super focused on what I do and it is not easy for me to get distracted while working on something for which I have given it a deadline. However, I did learn over time that when outside is crappy (Seattle rain?) I tend to over work and when it's nicer (The beach?) I tend to wonder and staring at the way the palms bend with the wind... that can impact productivity some may claim. Then you find out that an octopi has THREE hearts and nine brains and of the sudden... darn it! See how easy it can be to get distracted!!

Another thing I have learned is that if your "bubble" is too different from the rest of the environment around you, then you feel the need to blend with the larger space and therefore your gaze keeps going out of your bubble. Sort of the grass of your neighbor is always greener sort of analogy.

Since our new location, I figured of building an office space (my bubble) that naturally blends with the ethos of the Hawaiian life and style.

As every nerd, I had a requirement list:

As every time I need inspiration for creating something. I take a walk until I get so bored to death that the brain needs something to entertain itself and solves the last problem it was presented. I left home with my walking stick and the idea of building a custom desk.

Man with stick on Brick lane
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo / Unsplash

If you try out that approach to problem-solving, don't make the last thing to solve a recipe because you will get really hungry really quickly and want to go home sooner. Or worse how to correctly follow instructions for the perfect poop. Yah, those are first world problems that are better to not focus on during a problem solving walk... You are welcome.

I don't go for marathons, I try to strike a balance. In other words a decent workout effort vs the brain functions not impaired by the fact that the rest of the body is screaming mayday at every step. Seaside becomes a mega bonus to boost the mood on the way back. It's freaking steep.

As expected, the walk process delivered as usual and given that this place is a little heaven that speaks at you whether or not you are a good listener, I came back home with a clear plan on what to do.

I used a cardboard to model the shape of the desk and to model dimensions while seated on the office chair.

After shaving and dealing with the flimsy piece of cardboard, while using Victoria as my office mate human prop, I moved on the second piece that I wanted to evaluate.

The table foot that would hold the whole table. I didn't want to have four legs or something that was going to overwhelm the look of the table when seen from another perspective of who seated at the desk.

I scavenged a fallen branch from the backyard and after isolating the rotten and termites eaten part of the branch I was left with a going to be awesome Pinocchio. Hopefully, less talkative and more stationary.

I don't have, yet, all the tools that I typically have in our lab on the mainland, so I improvised for what I didn't have and deeply appreciated the ones that I had the foresight of shipping in advance when we moved.

After having used an electrical sander and then go through sanding with a manual tool, you feel that having a miniature of Tesla divinity statute to worship it like a new Saint, is the only logical step to thank the Gods above you.

After several hours of work with deep appreciation of the sightining from the improvised workshop, during occasional breaks, I managed to clear the piece and add some additional character using a craft drill.

I dug in some of the tracks the termites had developed to further highlight the nature aspect of the going to be foot for the table
The drill is for small craft work, not a match for this very hard wood but thanks to the termite efficiency I managed to strike a balance
the edge of the table are of a different wood than the rest of the build

I have not ruled 100% what type of wood is that I am using but according to a web guide, it's a close relative of Agathis robusta. I have large doubts that I narrowed it right correctly but for now, I will go with that... reluctantly I may add.

Bark and Leaves can help but mileage varies

The wood structure is fascinating and the sturdiness is almost of oak type. My carving knife had a hard time dealing with this type of wood! When I cut the bottom of the foot to match the height of the table, I used the leftover to make a coaster.

The principle should apply anywhere to reduce waste, but particularly on an island, everything should be recycled and in the most environmentally friendly way possible. So I made a coaster and shaped the natural holes of a rock to make an Apple pencil holder.

Stephanie, see that I do you the cups of your coffee shop?!

It was now time to focus on the actual table. It wanted to look "dated" but not so much that as you walk into the house you wonder if we had grandpa enforcing the furniture selection...

The wood of the tabletop is glue-filled compressed cheap postwar IKEA wood quality. A recovered piece of wood from a furniture we got rid of. Therefore it was imperative to have some edges around the surface that were more in tune with the beautiful table foot.

I found a very long branch of the what Hawaiians call Monkey Pie tree, looked for the most straightforward part of it, cut in a few pieces to cover all length of the table, and painstakingly carved a track that would allow the edge of the table to fit the created rim in the wood.

This was perhaps the most tedious part of the whole process, I used a table saw to make the initial path, and my wonder crafty turbo awesome wife used a scalpel to remove the excess.

Naturally, where there's Victoria and a cutting tool there's Victoria and grinder to sharp. But that's another story for the next time.

Some parts of the branch were so curved that I couldn't make one straight piece and I had to resort to creating a joint spot but nonetheless, I made it look like that was intended. I made then the tracks tight at the bottom and a bit lose on the other side to allow a cable to go through. Like a monitor or a charging cable. Surprisingly it worked!

A few days later... The rims were done, more sanding and staining were the next objective in life. That's the level of commitment that woodworking requires...

I didn't have a torch to apply some burning effects but I figured that would have been too much out of its pure-nature looking style so I wasn't too hurt by the missing tool.

I upcycle a table that we inherited when we got this new home. It was already proven by time so with a bit of sanding love, some random intentionally made scratches using a sharp rock, I got the look I was aiming for.

More varnishing, more drying time, more sanding with fine sandpaper, and mostly more seaside sighting with the occasional Scarlet's visit, investigating if I was doing everything right.

It was time for the first testing phase, finally, I installed a base to place flush the tabletop against the wall and on the other, the hard-worked table foot.

I mixed some sawdust and wood glue to close the holes created by the screws

If you haven't dealt with finding a stud in a wall where you actually need it, then consider yourself either blessed or if you have found one, a potential lottery winner.

I was very pleased by the initial outcome

I placed some items to simulate where cables could potentially go through so that I could create escapes holes for the in/out wiring. Once the whole project is completed, I will hide those cables with stretching nylon cable wrappers.

The height was a tad too high, I adjusted it and that's from where the coaster idea came from. See... thinking walk can't solve everything 🤓

While I was doing the footrest, Martin called to check in on how things were going with my new island life. As some of you have read, we didn't receive the most welcoming entrance so he wanted to know if all was going okay.

I told him that the few people I have run into were super nice and a kid that I crossed paths with told me that the local robotic team was kicking ass. You can imagine that as an AI nerd how exciting I got into the conversation. Those kids are BEYOND awesome and truly shine the fact that ingenuity is multicultural by nature and sparks harder where family values are fostered at the best.

They are competing at a worldwide level. As soon as time allows, I want to investigate if I can figure out a way to get some AI experts in my field to donate them whatever they need to further fuel their growth.

However, the whole conversation was derailed not by the encounters but by the fact that the phone kept autocorrecting my reply to Martin's question "what are u doing?" to what I wanted to say "I am milling some wood" with "I am milking some wood".

martin's clearly on his knees

We then start laughing our ass off because we start finding more broken ways of using Apple's gift of auto-correction achievements.

There's nothing more joyful and rewarding than building something and laughing while you are making it. I enjoyed my time with Vickie while we were carving the tracks, I loved how the thinking walk opened up conversations and made me discover something so close to my line of Artificial Intelligence work and definitely, the call of a lovely friend that turned into a burst of hysterical laughter lasted over an hour.

The biggest treasures in life are the ones that come organically, like a fallen branch that becomes a furniture addon, a call of a concerned friend in the midst of making something creative, and the help of a wife that loves me like Scarlet loves the bed. And there's nothing that Scarlet doesn't do for some bedtime. So that's a LOT.

Life of a cat...Sunday every day. Full employment and with benefits.

I still have some work to do on the table to wrap it up but I am looking forward to more walks from home to the beach in search of other problems to solve. If you are local, don't hesitate to join me in those walks, the most challenging problems are often solved by a small group of strangers that are in for the same driven force, unity.

If you are remote, I am sorry but there's virtually no cellular signal for where I walk, I am looking into options. So for now my usually walk-and-chat-with-friends is on hold until either teleporting is invented by my colleagues at NASA or this so much marketing praised 5G starts delivering on its promises...

As always, have a bLife. I got a table to complete.

Mario Esposito

Published a year ago