Using a Butcher Block Workbench as a Desk
My wife and I have been slowly upgrading our furniture over the years. Our original furniture was a hodge podge of free stuff and pieces you put together with an allen key. Furniture you assemble yourself is not beneath me. I'm just more picky about what I will buy now as opposed to when I was in my 20's and needed something cheap right now. Our desk situation had become unacceptable. When I bought our desks back in 2009, I hadn't actually worked in an office since the early 2000's. When I was working in offices, I also didn't pay much attention to what separated good office furniture from the junk offered at big box stores. After working a desk job for the last 5.5 years, it became apparent the cheap desks I bought in the past were inadequate.
What bothered me about the old desks? They didn't have very big desktops. They were maybe 36" wide and 24" deep. By the time I put my monitors on the desk, there wasn't much room for anything else. The desks had an integrated bookshelf on the side which seemed cool initially. After living with them for several years, I realized they didn't offer much usable storage space. The shelves also got in the way of my dual monitor setup. I had to buy a dual monitor stand to raise them above the top shelf. The monitor stand also had a huge base that took up even more space on the already small desktop. I wanted to have space to write. I also wanted to be able to put my camera on the desk without it being so close to the edge. My wife also couldn't use her work laptop at her desk. Whenever she needed to work at home, she usually ended up at the kitchen table.
I also realized after using my desk setup at work that I preferred having my keyboard on my desktop. I couldn't do that with my old desk since most of the desk surface was occupied by my monitor stand. The desk had an integrated sliding keyboard tray, but it made the keyboard too low for my liking. In order to have your keyboard on the desktop, the desk needs to be deeper. I've found 30" is the sweet spot for a non-corner desk.
I also kept my computer tower on the lowest shelf of the bookshelf. That worked for my old cases which weren't very tall. When I got new case, it was about a 0.5" taller than the old case. It fit on the bottom shelf, but just barely. It made taking the machine off the shelf for cleaning difficult.
Keeping our old desks clean was also difficult since desk and shelf surfaces were glass. Glass is a forgiving surface in regards to scratches and rings from wet cups, but it shows every smudge and speck of dust. Your cleaning job lasts about 30 seconds.
You also can't use an optical mouse on a glass surface. You have to use a mouse pad or some other non-transparent surface for it to work. Mouse pads get dirty and there isn't much you can do to clean them. You just have to replace them when they get too grimy.
To fix this, I decided I wanted something with a much wider and deeper desktop surface made of wood. I considered other materials. I'm not opposed to laminate surfaces when done correctly. If it's MDF with a non-patterned surface, like a matte black, or glossy white I'm okay with that, but I don't think those work as well in a home setting. It's a tad too sterile even for my utilitarian tastes. MDF is also not a very rigid material and can start to bow under heavy weights. I decided a butcher block workbench would be a good solution. It's a sturdy surface and is forgiving enough for everyday use. Even if you damage the finish, it can be repaired easily. From a purely aesthetic perspective, I think the patterns created by piecing the wood together looks good and it is an honest use of materials. You're not gluing a picture of wood to particle board. Also, there is usually plenty of space under a workbench so we could continue to use the filing cabinets we bought last year.
The next challenge was finding someplace that sold a bench in the dimensions I wanted. Finding a wide butcher block workbench on Home Depot or Lowe's is not a problem. Finding one that is also 30" deep is. The ones that home improvement stores sell are either 24" or 48" deep. Too shallow or too deep. Fortunately, I remembered the name of the place my old employer used to get workbenches and office furniture. Global Industrial supply had pretty much exactly what I needed. They offer a 72"W x 30"D x 29"H birch butcher block workbench. You can buy it as a kit or piece it together according to your needs. I ended up with a birch butcher block kit with black legs. The default color is gray, but I didn't think that was a good color for home use. The price was good too. The bench was only about US $280. That can vary based on dimensions and the surface material you choose. They offer a maple top that is much more expensive. While maple would have been nice, birch is more than adequate for our needs and it goes with our decor. We already have some birch plywood pieces, so it fits in with the rest of the house.
The bench works really well as a desk. I have plenty of space for my monitors, keyboard, speakers, and mouse. I no longer need to use a mouse pad and I can put my filing cabinet under the desk instead of next to it. The room seems much brighter now and the cable clutter isn't as visible since the desk surface is solid instead of transparent.
Assembly of the bench was easy. It uses allen screws, nuts, and some wood screws. The only extra tool you need is a power drill since you have to drill the bottom of the butcher block to attach the legs. I would recommend assembling the desk in the room where you intend to use it. I made the mistake of assembling it in my living room then trying to scoot it into my office. I couldn't move it down my hallway without scraping the walls. I didn't realize that until I was most of the way down the hallway and couldn't make the turn to get into my office. I had to disassemble it in the hallway to avoid scraping up my doorways. This is not the manufacturer's fault. It was poor planning on my part. I stepped on that land mine for you. You're welcome.
The build quality of the bench is okay. The legs assembled straight but the company logo was stamped on crooked. If you decide to use this bench in a visible area, don't assemble it with the company logo facing outwards. The butcher block surface is kind of inconsistent too. I bought two of these benches and one was flat while they other was bowed up a bit in the center. Also one looked really nice one side, but was full of knots on the other while one looked great on both sides. One other note about the butcher blocks is the surfaces were supposed to be treated with mineral oil. One looked like it had almost no oil applied while one had so much oil applied it felt tacky to touch. I'm not sure if one was sitting in the warehouse longer than the other or we got one that wasn't actually oiled, but the difference between the two was pretty dramatic.
I am going to wait for the mineral oil to wear away and evaporate so I can refinish the surface. If I were going to buy these again, I would have ordered raw butcher blocks and just finished them myself with Danish oil. Now I need to wait awhile before I can refinish it. it's not a huge deal, but I wanted to throw that out there if you were on the fence about getting one that was already treated with mineral oil or one that was completely unfinished. Either get one with a more durable finish or be prepared to apply your own finish.
Shipping was pretty easy, but it is not as cheap or easy as getting something shipped from Amazon. These are big heavy workbenches. I think the invoice said the whole shipment weighed about 300lbs. It also comes on a non-standard size pallet through an LTL carrier. It costs extra to have the pallet delivered to a home address because they need to use a lift gate truck. If you can have it delivered to someplace with a receiving dock, you can save yourself about $130 on shipping. You just need to have a truck to get it home.
Other than the inconsistencies with the surface and the sloppy logo stamp, I'm actually very happy with my purchase. The depth and width of the benches mean they work much better as a desk than some furniture that is sold as a desk. It's sturdy, durable, and even though it is a workbench, it works well as a desk in an office with modern decor.