Well, I think our little home office upgrade project is finally finished (for the time being).
Before I started working at home, I used to spend a lot of time on my feet at work, despite nominally having an office job. Self employment, on the other hand, has led to long hours sitting in front of the monitors. There are a growing number of studies and mounting evidence that sitting for extended periods of time is bad for your health. We live in an increasingly sedentary culture, and the internet is fast accumulating articles on how bad that is for our health, and how working any physical activity into our daily routine improves health and productivity. Even just standing for a few hours a day rather than sitting has been shown to provide significant benefits. Neither Kevin nor I needed these studies to tell us that sitting all day is bad. Other than it being obvious, we could feel it, and didn’t like what we felt like after a day in the office.
There was also the fact that my home workstation was not really up to the task of supporting full time work. I used to overlook its deficiencies when my office only saw casual use after work and on weekends, but after several years of trying to work full time from a tiny, overcrowded space with poor ergonomics, it was time for a change. Both Kevin and I now have sit/stand desks from Geekdesk, and we LOVE them. The desk is motorized, and goes up and down (or to pre-set positions) at the touch of a button.
Quite the upgrade after years working from this:
Everything about the new set up is better. I’m no longer cramped; the new “office” uses space much more efficiently, and now I have a lot more desk space. Two monitors vs. one is a huge relief and allows for much better productivity. All of the ergonomics are better, which makes me physically feel better. The monitors are at the right height on adjustable mounts. The desk is down low enough so I’m not all hunched up using the mouse. These improvements mean my neck and back don’t ache at the end of the day. My mouse and keyboard are now wireless so there are no cords to tug or get in the way. And of course, I can stand up whenever I feel like it and keep working.
Now that I have the option to stand, I never want to go back. I’ve had this desk for a few weeks now, and over the course of the day I am probably standing half the time (I find I stand up and sit down several times throughout the day. I try not to do either for too long). The change in position feels good at the time and helps keep me focused and on task (productivity boost), and the difference in how I feel at the end of a full day of working at the computer is distinct. I don’t need a study to tell me that this is better for my health, I can feel it.
Again, first world problems? Definitely. But I love that my desk goes up and down at the touch of a button.
Kevin got in on the action before I did, which of course prompted a severe case of “me too” office renovation that followed quickly after.
Geekdesk offers two styles of desktop to go on top of the motorized frame, which is available in two sizes. Kevin and I both got the largest size frame (Geekdesk Max) with the programmable presets (the most expensive, naturally), and opted not to purchase the desk top, but to provide our own.
Thus came my introduction to woodworking and finishing. To make his desk, Kevin had a slab of walnut cut and joined to form a really large 72″ (6 ft) x 35″ surface. He left the live edge on the front and back, and then sanded and finished it with Danish oil, and then several clear coats of polyurethane. The result is pretty much awesome. (See pics above and below). The only downside was that sanding and finishing is pretty labor intensive, and his desk top took over the garage for several weeks.
I liked his desk so much, I decided I could handle the finishing project, and chose to make a very similar top for my desk. The dimensions are smaller, 60″ x about 30″ (I don’t have as much room in my little corner for my office), and I chose to finish it a bit differently. Its hard to photograph, but in the pics above and below, I tried to show the differences in the finish. Seeing and touching the finish in person makes the differences much more clear.
While polyurethane is a popular finish for furniture, I wanted to try something a little different. Polyurethane is nice, but it looks to me like the wood is encased in plastic. Another finish that people often use on floors and wood counter tops is Waterlox. Waterlox is an in-between type finish that splits the difference between finishes that soak into the wood, like Tung Oil or Danish Oil, but don’t offer much protection, and polyurethane, which creates a protective coat on top. Waterlox is tung oil based, but has resins that create a hard finish (that’s also food safe when cured.) The result is that the wood feels and looks more like natural or oiled wood, but has more protection and creates a nice working surface more like polyurethane.
My desk took over the garage even longer than Kevin’s, and I spent hours upon hours with the orbital sander, prepping the surface for finishing. (It would have taken less time, but I had to do some learning along the way, and thus had to sand my first coat of Waterlox off and try again. The second time around turned out beautifully.)
If you compare the two pictures, you can see that the poly finish is much glossier, and “thicker” on top of the wood. The Waterlox finish is less glossy, and will dull even more over time (this is what I wanted, however there is a high gloss version of Waterlox). Waterlox brought out the color and grain of the wood really nicely (and very similar to the Danish Oil), and now that its finally cured, I love it. (Waterlox has a really long cure time. I discovered it really hates moisture. I was finishing during the worst part of the summer, and humidity was at 80%. It will never cure in these conditions(hyperbole, but not much). I had to dehumidify the garage, and it took several weeks to finish.) After comparing the two, I’m not sure which I finish prefer. They both look and function beautifully.
So there it is. We replaced and re-arranged nearly all of our office furniture, including new shelves on the walls and file drawers. I don’t know why it took three years for me to fix my office situation to make it more comfortable and efficient to work, but it did, and its entirely worth it. Just in time too, as right now we’re busier than ever.
Edit 9/9/2013: Pics from when Kevin was finishing his desk top back in March/April:
Pic of the walnut slabs used to make my desk (this was in May 2013):