In case you were wondering, some of the parts to make my groovy Rough Riders were sculpted by Rob at Curious Constructs.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

DIY Hobby Desk

-AKA Colonel Ackland's Sanctuary
'The Discussion'
For many of us, Growing Up has meant that we have had to face discussions with our partners about having models and a hobby space in the house. It's one of those things that isn't really about winning or losing but is about striking the right balance so that 'life' works. 

My Previous Hobby Spaces
When I first moved out with my wife (then girlfriend) we had a tiny two bedroom unit. Our second room was our everything space -Office, Study, Computer Room, and Hobby Area. While it was small it worked well for us as a shared space. We would use it together most evenings, doing separate things but not being in different rooms. 

My old desk, sitting in my shed out of the way.
After we got married and moved into our house, our much larger rumpus room became this shared space and all was good. My wife, who is a teacher, has shelves filled with teaching things and a desk, I have my model desk and a cabinet with some painted up miniatures, and we had a computer and a TV - basically all of our evening and weekend activities.  Looking to the future, my wife kept saying that this room would be a great place for kids to play in. I agreed but liked the idea of keeping it a shared space for everyone in the family.

Refacing 'The Discussion'
With the arrival of my New Toy (our baby boy) it was clear that a desk covered with sharp dangerous hobby tools and models in the corner of our 'shared space' was not going to cut it. My old desk was big, ugly and frequently very untidy - as I my wife reminded me regularly. Recently, after a plumbing disaster, the room was cleared of all its furniture, so it made sense to re arrange it ready for kids. And so this prompted the inevitable talk about moving all of the 'little men' into my shed (which is where 90% of my models already are). It was a fair argument but I had one thing against it. When I was a kid my Dad's hobby was his ride on steam trains.
One of Dad's Trains
This was awesome but it meant that he was always in his shed. After he would be away at work all day my older sister and I would follow him in and 'help' - which generally meant hitting things with hammers. The thing is, Dad's shed was far too dangerous for little kids and on more then one occasion we would hurt ourselves. My argument is that I don't want to spend my free time locked away from my family in the shed and I don't want little ones following me into a place filled with dangerous things. But I completely agree that my old desk isn't going to work. What was needed was a 3rd solution; a compromise. A smaller desk that was safe, neat and looked OK in our shared space. On top of this my wife added a further almost impossible condition; what ever I did it had to cost less then $100 AU (so with current exchange rates that's around 90 USD, 60 GBP or 70 EUR).

If money had not been an issue I would have got a nice roll top desk like these:

But there was no way that I could get something like those given the budget. Even the most beat-up roll top desks at second-hand furniture stores and online were way out of the budget. If I wanted to keep a hobby space inside I was going to have to be creative!

My Creative Solution
Close to giving up, I found this tucked away in a second hand warehouse: an old organ case. The organ had been removed so it was just the case, and who would want an old, empty organ case...?
The price had been reduced from $159 to $69. I measured it and look interested but not too interested. I left, drove home and then went back an hour later. "Still keen?" the shopkeeper asked. "Oh, I don't know" I said opening my wallet. "Would you take $50 for it?"


Got it home and gave it a clean up. 

 Inside there was a space for the keyboard, but luckily I could slide the back forward to use it as a temporary desk.

I wanted a small cabinet on top to store/display a few models, so I disappeared into my shed and knocked up a wooden box (see below). Unfortunately I didn't take any progress photos. The size was dictated by two glass sliding doors and shelves that I had salvaged from an old wall unit. The sides, top and bottom were 10mm MDF and the back was 5mm MDF. All the wood was salvaged offcuts that were just lying about in my shed, so it cost nothing but looked pretty rough. I decided a good coat of paint would fix that. The black gloss paint set me back $30 (leaving $20 in the budget). In the photo below it has had one coat of paint and has been sanded ready for the second coat.

I also found two spot lights in my shed, so I fixed them to the inside top.
(I know, my shed has lots of useful things stored away in it!)

Proof that it was all 2nd hand wood - the back of the cabinet was once part of my sister-in-law's year 12 art piece. I saved it from the rubbish bin a year or so ago. "MDF board would have to come in useful for something!" I had thought at the time.

Other stuff I found in my shed were some kit MDF paint stands that I never got around to building. I thought they would make a great addition to my new desk. The Dremel made putting them together easy work. (They came from Miniature Scenery if anyone is interested.) 

I wanted to put them in my new cabinet but they would not all fit. After some measuring I cut one to make a half sized paint stand.

And glued it back together again with PVA wood glue.

All three paint racks drying.

Next I replaced the desk top with a new piece of MDF to utilise all the space inside. None of my offcuts in the shed were large enough so I splurged on some new board. The board cost $12 (only $8 remaining in budget) . Also, notice that the speaker front at the bottom has been removed.

Back in the shed I removed the front support between the legs. I wanted the black cabinet to match the desk so I painted a black strip onto the arms, legs and the top of the stool.  

Then back to the cabinet. I had two FW DKoK maps and I thought one would look good inside the cabinet. 

 PVA wood glue painted across the inside. 

One of the maps glued into place.

I painted the paint racks black and sat them inside the cabinet. With my alterations they just fit snugly.

And here it is sitting on the desk.

Next I wanted to add an Aquila to the top of the stool. I printed one up on my computer and cut it out from a piece of silver card. The card cost around $3 so that left only $5 in the budget.

 I glued it on and gave it a varnish to protect it.

And here it all is sitting together in my corner.

Being that the stool is a proper music stool I have extra storage space under the lid. 

The roll top desk will keep little fingers away from sharp objects.

 I have a shelf for a few books under the cabinet. 

The paints are at a handy eye level when sitting at the desk. Admittedly these are not all of my paints but it is ample space for the ones that I use regularly.

The glass shelves give me a little extra space to store and display a few finished models or I can pop in a few mini's that I am working on to motivate me to finish them off! For the time being a few Praetorians are on display.

So that is where I got to. It isn't completely finished.
I still wanted to add a silver Imperial Guard emblem to the top of the cabinet.
And I was going to ask the very talented Headologist if I could stick some of his art on the side of the cabinet. I was thinking his nifty triage paperwork.

Or his page on Imperial Navy Tattoos.

Or maybe a hook to hang my pith helmet. 

Or maybe a mix of everything?

The only other stuff I ran out of time to do was build a few MDF equipment racks for inside the desk and give the stool another coat of varnish to protect the top. With all my time now focused on the baby they will have to be jobs for another time...

All in all I'm pretty happy with it. I get to keep a hobby space inside and it fills all the necessary requirements. Not bad for a cheap DIY job coming in at $95 - gotta love having a shed full of random useful stuff!


  1. That is simply inspiring stuff there. Really nice work. I'm more than a little envious ;)

    1. Oh cheers mate. It was surprising how quickly the whole thing came together. Considering the time spent at a hobby desk I should have knocked something together years ago!

  2. That is so awesome! Great Work!

  3. Mate that's genius. Bravo for a job more than well done.

  4. If there were a Golden Demon for hobby desks you would win hands down! Amazing work!

  5. That is a great looking setup - awesome work, man!

  6. Looks great mate - you managed the conversion well. My mam had a peak in my spare room where I hobby it up and made a comment about it being unsafe for the little one once she gets a bit bigger - the missus has been agitating to move me out to the shed for years - I might need to show her this set up and look to do something similar where I can cover over the dangerous stuff.

    1. Best of luck! Those discussions are always tricky!

  7. Wow. That is an excellent desk !

    I now have my garage back - we had a friend staying between houses and her stuff basically filled the garage and meant that a lot of domestic stuff (like putting glass in a large blue plastic tub for recycling) had gone out of the window. So with her stuff gone I have been able to (amongst other things) collect all of the glass for recycling from every knook and cranny it'd been stuffed into in the four months.

    Moving on, I now have my acres of hobby space back and now have enough room to move things around and therefore be able to tidy up.

    I will outfit the hobby space with some spare kitchen worktops I kept from last years kitchen refit, but that's pending a couple of other jobs.

    1. Kitchen worktops should make sweet storage and hobby space, that’s gotta be a win Zzzzzz. It does feel really good to clean up the hobby space.

      Here in South Oz we get 10 cents for every bottle and can that we recycle so it doesn't fall by the wayside. There is nothing like drinking a free beer after doing the recycling. Do you guys have a similar system in the UK?

    2. Ha, not anymore ! Now it's just 'green' to do it. Plus they won't take glass in the other waste streams, so it's a 'have to'. It won't be too long before we go down the European route and start legal procedures on people who won't comply.

      With my new cleaned area, I can now work on two things at once without one getting on top of the other. So it's all good for production here at the minute.

  8. You sir are brilliant! That table looks really good. Thanks for sharing and don't be surprised when you see others starting to copy a bit of your work!

    1. Ha ha, I hope people do. It was fun to make and who needs a mega expensive limited edition apocalypse box when you can make some custom stuff yourself. Cheers Argos

  9. BrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliantBrilliant.

    I'm seriously impressed.

    And doesn't successful haggling just give you the best buzz?!

    I'm all about budget restrictions at the you'll see in my next post...

    1. Thanks Drax, I gather you like it :)
      Any successful compromise is always good but in this case it doesn't feel like a compromise at all, its all win!
      I think I will still take your advice about getting in early with the no touching rules.

  10. BLOODY HELL. Utterly blown away sir, that looks like the dog's proverbials....

    Apologies for the month late reply, have been out of the loop completely. Damned real life. Of course you can use my artwork, I'd be honoured sir!

  11. Incidentally there's better quuality ones here:

    And one of my (many) projects this year is to re-do the triage stuff in hi-res with a few tweaks

    1. LOL, we don't hear that expression around here too often so it made me chuckle. Thanks for letting me use your art, they are truly awesome. Oh and sorry also for only just getting around to replying!! :P

  12. I love it! I think I can talk my wife into this one!

  13. Looms great and very practical!