Custom Bubinga Uplift Computer Desk

Since moving into our current home four years ago I’ve had four different computer desks. Each one getting better than the last. Two standing desks and two sitting desks. The problem with each has been that I never really made anything that was convenient to switch between standing and sitting. One of the standing desks was actually built on top of a treadmill….that was a mistake. Walking and trying to use the mouse precisely is about as frustrating as walking barefoot through a rose garden.

There’s a definite benefit from standing while working that I’m currently not getting. While you can get a huge list of benefits from a quick Google search the biggest thing for me is that standing promotes a more active body and mind compared to sitting for long periods of times. Sitting for long periods of time makes it much more difficult to get active again when the time comes.

My current (before this desk) computer desk is a woodgears.ca wheelie desk and it’s pretty close to perfect. Its only downsides are that I built the top slightly too small and while the height is adjustable it’s not “on the fly” adjustable. Everything on top needs to be removed if I want to change the height.

With that said, it’s time to take that same cantilevered design and make a “forever” computer desk. One that should never need an upgrade. A desk that is ergonomically friendly, can be easily used standing or sitting, built to last, and of course it has to look great :)

This means item number three in my office remodel is a new computer desk. After some product and manufacturer research and quite a bit of time spent reading reviews I decided I wanted to try out an Uplift Desk. I contacted the folks at UpliftDesk.com and asked if they would be interested in trading the value of product for the value of a little bit of product exposure to my audience and for me to share my thoughts on it. They agreed and sent a 2-leg height-adjustable frame and some accessories for me to make my own wood top. Step one was to assemble the frame to make sure I had the correct dimensions in mind for the top.

This project is the only piece of the office remodel that will feature a solid wood panel. Visually, anyway. The rest of the wood in the remodel is covered in a white finish. So that means I want something visually striking. Something I have yet to work with before. That something ended up being bubinga.

Bubinga is a restricted imported species to the United States and relatively difficult to find. However, I stumbled upon a nice size stack of it for $5.50 per board foot….so I spent the last of my budget for the month and bought $700 worth. That’s crazy inexpensive for bubinga. The only other place I’ve seen it for sale had it priced over $15 per board foot. If I don’t use it all, which I don’t think I will anytime soon, it’s a great investment to resell. Woodworkersresource.com describes bubinga as “Fine grained. Hard and heavy. Takes a high lustrous finish. The wood works without difficulty except for gum pockets. Some logs are figured with a wavy, roey grain. Bubinga grows in Africa.”

Of the three boards on my workbench my goal was to get the entire table top out of the one in the middle. At this point I wasn’t sure if I could get the entire panel out of it though. I’m shooting for a 4′ long top and this board was around 10′ long. That means I can only get two full length pieces out of it. I did mill some sections of the board in the back just to make sure I had enough milled to complete the top if needed.

My only concern was surface checking. This one end had a check about one foot into the board from the end. This was the only defect that looked like it went through the entire thickness. There were also a bunch of surface checks on the rest of the board but it looked like they didn’t go down that far. This was confirmed later.

Step one of my milling process is always crosscutting at my miter saw station. Having a dedicated station that is setup to break down larger, and in this case, much heavier boards into smaller, more manageable size pieces has been such a treat.

These boards are slightly more than 2” thick and about 10” wide. While I can joint a board wider than my 8” jointer on my jointer I didn’t want to in this case. You can see from the picture the amount of twist this board had in it. It wasn’t an incredible amount but it would require removing much more material to flatten out the twist in its full width than if I broke it down. So I ripped the board in half at the bandsaw. It’s much safer to make ripping cuts on the bandsaw than the table saw in regards to rough sawn lumber. This is because if the board shifts as you cut it the board shifting into a bandsaw blade is much less dramatic than shifting into a table saw blade and potentially kicking back at you.

After rough ripping we made sure each board had two flat faces adjacent to one another at the jointer.

At this point I’ve got four interesting boards that are plenty long enough, over 2” thick, but don’t quite make up the 28” width that I was wanting for the panel. You can see another board in the top of this picture. It was about the same size and milled from the other board I started with but unfortunately the color was nowhere near close to matching. It doesn’t look too far off on this picture but when standing next to the pieces you could clearly tell the top board was much more brown and the lower four boards were much more red. It just wasn’t working. This is why it’s important to work from the same board as much as possible. Or if possible, work from the same tree. The colors and grain match much better if you are able to do so.

Luckily there was enough thickness to each of the boards to resaw them in half.

And of course the milling process continues by flattening two adjacent faces at the jointer.

Followed by planing the opposite face flat with the planer.

And finally, cutting the pieces to the final width at the table saw. Well…it’s a tiny bit more than the final width because I want to finesse the joints just a tiny bit. I’ll explain why next.

At this point I could technically glue the panel together. All of the pieces are milled square 4 sides and are at an oversized length. But with something that will be as visual as this panel, meaning it’s the focal point of my office and is something I will look at multiple times a day every day, I want to really make sure the joints are as perfect as they can possibly be.

It’s a given that everyone sets their jointer fence to 90 degrees to the outfeed table. But what if you’re off by just a tiny bit. Maybe half a degree. It might not be noticeable in softer woods as when the joint is clamped tight the wood can compress and you’re still left with a tight joint. That might not be the case with really hard woods that don’t compress much under clamping pressure. For these situations I like to use an opposite face jointer method.

Lets just say that you think your jointer fence is set to 90 degrees but it’s actually set to 89.5 degrees. In the following image you set the show face of each board against the fence of the jointer. The resulting angles will be the same but in opposite directions. The blue tape is exaggerated but it represents the .5 degree error in the fence setup. When the boards will move so that the jointed faces are flush. This will result in a panel that isn’t flat. Again, this is exaggerated for demonstration.

The solution to eliminating the possibility of a fence position error is to joint the boards with opposite faces against the fence of the jointer. So in the following image I have a yellow crayon X marked on the top face of the left board and the same X marked on the bottom face of the right board. If this fence position error exists the angle will be in opposite directions and therefore will be parallel and the joint will seat absolutely perfectly. Seamless. Keep in mind that this might mean you will be jointing in the uphill direction on some boards which will result in tearout. The tearout is sometimes eliminated with a helical or spiral cutter head. If you’re using a straight knife cutter head you will probably be better off jointing as normal so you maintain the downhill direction.

Each board got one more pass through the jointer with the marked X facing out and with the jointer set to a very shallow cut.

To prevent the boards from sliding around while gluing I used biscuits.

To help keep all of the pieces aligned during the glue up we used #10 biscuits. Quite a few of them actually. And between the biscuits and having all of the clamps adjusted and ready to go the glue up was pretty uneventful. Which is exactly what you want.

The center two boards are actually a bookmatched pair that unfortunately had a crack in the board before we resawed it. This means both pieces have a crack that needed to be filled. I thought I had some slow set epoxy on hand but as it turned out I didn’t. So I used some 5 minute epoxy and heated it up slightly to make it a little more runny. To get more of the epoxy into the crack I had Jeremy use a shopvac on the bottom surface to suck as much epoxy into the joint as possible. And because I was working with fast setting epoxy it wasn’t the prettiest job…but it worked.

The next day I used the heat gun again to slightly warm the cured epoxy and then a plane blade with a push stick to pair away the epoxy on the surface. This actually worked surprisingly well.

The panel is wider than my table saw crosscut sled so I used a straight edge and a circular saw to square off one end. And as you can see I’m not a big fan of tools without dust collection. One of these days I’ll get a track saw that has integrated dust collection…

Then the panel is easily cut to final length with the table saw.

Bubinga is a hard wood….a really, really hard wood. If I started with 60 or 80 grit sandpaper to clean up the panel and remove any mill marks I would be there all day. Instead, I started with a cabinet scraper and a card scraper to even out and smooth the surface. It’s MUCH faster to remove material in the form of shavings than in the form of dust.

The cabinet and card scraper will do a great job of smoothing the material but it’s difficult to get every square inch of the panel perfect with a scraper. So I followed that with 180 grit sand paper just to make sure the entire surface was an even texture.

Part of me wanted to leave a square corner on the desk because I tend to like straight lines and corners more so than curves but I figured it would be best to round over the corners. To do so I used a homemade radius jig that was cut out on a friends CNC machine. It’s just a piece of plywood with two plywood stops glued and nailed to the side.

After multiple light passes with a flush trim router bit the CNC cut radius is transferred to the bubinga panel.

Every time I use this router I get questions about the dust collection so here we go. It’s a Bosh Colt router with the factory edge guide attachment and a shopvac attachment hacked up and hot glued to the fence. It’s not pretty but the dust collection it provides is great.

To break the edges slightly I used a 1/2” round over bit and set the depth so that it wouldn’t cut a full roundover. Instead, with the profile cut from both the top and bottom of the panel I was left with a really nice bullnose profile.

I’m using a water based polyurethane on this project. Any time you use a water based finish you should use a damp rag to raise the grain first. If not the water in the finish will raise the grain and leave you with a rough finish. I left this clip in the video in real-time so you could also see how much air circulation I have with my air cleaner cart. Within about 30 seconds the water was already dry. This is a good indication of how fast the finish will dry.

With the grain raised and fuzzy a single pass with 320 grit paper in a sander will get rid of the raised grain.

Finally I’m ready to finish and this step was actually pretty exciting for me. In my previous two projects I used a solvent based lacquer that stunk up my shop and my house for days. In this case I was able to spray the water based poly inside and not worry about any crazy fumes. I ended up spraying just two coats because I think I sprayed the first coat on a little too thick.

Installing the Uplift Desk hardware is pretty straight forward. Nothing crazy. First the legs are secured to the panel through mounting slots. Of course, the panel is upside down for this step.

Then the keyboard rail is installed the same way.

Once the keyboard tray is added the shipping locking pin can be removed.

A bump stop is added to prevent the keyboard tray from sliding out of the track.

The power brick should have been installed before the keyboard rail but I was able to slide it under the rail and secure it with a screw.

And finally I installed the button and memory pad about 1/2” from the front edge. The rest of the items can be added when the desk is in place.

This desk ended up being pretty heavy. I didn’t weigh it but it was a little nerve-racking bringing it in by myself. But I was excited to get it in place so there was no way I was waiting for an extra set of hands.

Here’s some pics of it in my office. First, the keyboard tray. By lifting up on the front of the tray you can change the elevation of the tray from several inches below the track to several inches above the track. The angle of the tray can also be changed by rotating a knob where my left hand is in this picture. The tray rotates several degrees down in front and a few degrees up. Plenty range of motion to dial in something comfortable to the user.

One must for me was to add casters to the bottom. These are the larger heavy-duty casters but I could probably have gotten away with the smaller, office style casters. I chose the larger, heavy-duty casters just for long-term durability and so that they would easily roll over small pieces of dog bone of a pebble that the dogs bring inside from time to time. The main reason for casters in general is actually because of my dogs. We have four dogs and they stay in my office when the weather isn’t great outisde and every night. Anyone with dogs understands the endless supply of dog hair that gets everywhere. Being able to easily roll the desk away from the wall every day to sweep behind it is a must for me.

I’m using a 27” 4k monitor. I’m not sure its exact weight but the monitor arm handles it with no problems. It allows pretty much any monitor position you can want and has two cable troughs to help with wire management.

To keep the rest of the wires tidy they included a wire management kit. It’s a trough that secures to bottom of the desk on the back side and allows easy access for wires on the back only. It also comes with a power bar with a generous sized cord and a flexible wire sleeve. Because I’m putting my computer case on the cabinets next to the desk I ended up having a long display port wire, a USB extension cable, and the power bar wire in the flexible wire sleeve.

And of course the control pad allows for push button height adjustment. There are also four programmable buttons to lock in common heights. #1 for sitting, #2 for standing, and I suppose 3 and 4 for anyone else that uses the station. And of course there are the regular up and down buttons to move it as needed.

The folks at Uplift Desk also sent a motion stool for me to use. To be honest, I had a “uhhhhh…ok?” moment when they said it would be included. I just didn’t think I would use it. It’s been for days between installing the desk in the office and shooting the outro to the video and one more day after that that I’m writing this article. As it turns out I like the motion stool so much that I ditched my char completely. It’s much different from a traditional no-back rolling stool. It’s generously padded and it rocks and moves with your body much more than a rolling stool. Hard to describe, really. The bottom is weighted so it won’t tip over. And it also extends upward so you can somewhat lean on it while standing. Just to take a little weight off your feet and remain standing.

So in conclusion I’ll say that the Uplift Desk frame met my expectations…which after reading the reviews and doing some research was pretty high. The ease of switching between standing and sitting is effortless. The desk allows you to really dial in the correct ergonomic position for your body. Nothing feels flimsy or under engineered. It has all of the features I want with the keyboard tray, wire management, mobility, monitor arm, and I was able to add a personal touch by creating the top panel myself. And most surprisingly, the motion stool actually got two big thumbs up from me.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. I have been using an Uplift for over a year – pecan top. I really like it. It is solid. Height adjustment is smooth and quiet. I researched different makers for a couple of years and am glad I settled on the Uplift. What set them apart is that they offer numerous solid hardwood tops. My pecan is beautiful.
    I enjoy and learn from your videos. Made a workbench using some of your techniques. Keep it up. Thanks

  2. We’ve had the Uplifts at work for about 2 years now. It’s nice to be be able to stretch your legs, but the manufacturer overlooked an important detail; wood expansion. Our tops are made from reclaimed Mesquite hardwood and despite their age, they still move a lot. So much so that we heard a huge BANG one day and the head of one of the screws had sheared itself off, shooting across the room. It’s definitely worth taking a few extra minutes to elongate the outer screw holes with a Dremel or rat tail file.

    https://imgur.com/a/dSAjUcQ

    • Derek Carr….I love that desk! While I like Jay’s super awesome top, its not very practical for my needs. You’re design is great and gives me some inspiration. Do you have anymore shots? Also, I’m guessing the wood panel in front of the desk is part of your design and the height of it is the height of the desk when standing…is that right? Some great inspiration. Thanks for sharing Derek…and Jay!

  3. Great project! Now I’m inspired to build my own :)

    At first I didn’t think I would need a rolling version like yours, but then realized how easy the cable management can be. No more crawling around on the floor trying to get everything cabled up nicely, you can just roll the unit out and reach everything.

  4. Muy buen proyecto, felicidades, me podrías aconsejar sobre la marca Chicago Electric por favor, del 1 al 10, qué calificación le das? Muchas gracias por la respuesta.

  5. Treat yourself, get a track ball to replace your mouse. For detail work they are great. Also if you try the treadmill they tend to reduce the wiggle, a friend has shaky hands due to his age and could never make the mouse work for him so we got. Him a track ball and he loved it.

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