Using a Butcher Block Workbench as a Desk
My wife and I have been slowly upgrading our furniture from the early poverty hodge podge of free furniture from our parents and stuff you put together yourself with an allen key from a big box store. Furniture you assemble yourself with an included allen key is not beneath me, but I'm a little more picky about what I will buy now as opposed to when I was in my 20's and just needed something cheap right now. Our desk situation was becoming unacceptable. When I bought our Z-Line desks back in 2009, I hadn't actually worked in an office setting for an entire day since the early 2000's. When I was working in offices at that time, I also didn't pay very close attention to what separated actual office furniture from the junk you usually buy at a big box store. I've been working at a desk job for the last 5.5 years and it became painfully apparent how inadequate the cheap desks I bought in the past had become.
So what bothered me about the old desks? Well they didn't actually have very big desk tops. They were only maybe 36" wide and 24" deep. By the time I put my monitors on the desk, there wasn't much room for anything else. There was also an integrated bookshelf on the side, which seemed cool when I bought the desks, but after living with them for several years, I realized they didn't offer much usable space. The shelves actually got in the way of my dual monitor setup. I had to buy a special stand to raise the monitor above the top shelf. The monitor stand took up even more space on the already small desktop. I wanted to have space to write and put my camera on the desk without it being so close to the edge. My wife also was not able to 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 dominated by my monitor stand. The desk had an integrated keyboard slider, but it made the keyboard too low for my liking. In order to make having your keyboard on the desktop work, the desk surface needs to be deeper. I've found 30" is about the sweet spot for a non-corner desk. If you have shorter arms, you can probably get away with a 24" deep desk.
I also kept my tower on the lowest shelf of the bookshelf. That worked for my old cases which weren't too tall, but when I got my Lian Li case, it was about a .5" taller and while it fit on the bottom shelf, it was super tight. It made taking the machine off the shelf for cleaning more difficult.
Speaking of cleaning, the desk and shelf surfaces on our old desks was glass. While glass is pretty forgiving surface in regards to scratches and rings from wet cups, it shows every smudge and speck of dust. Your cleaning job lasts about 30 seconds once you start doing things on the surface. You also can't use most optical mice with a glass surface.
To remedy this, I decided I wanted something with a much wider and deeper desktop surface made of wook. I'm not completely opposed to laminate surfaces id done correctly. If it's particle board with a picture of wood glued onto it, no thank you. 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 and pragmatic tastes. I decided a butcher block workbench would be a good solution. It's a good sturdy surface that is pretty forgiving. Even if it is damaged, it can be repaired pretty easily. From a purely aesthetic perspective, I think the patterns created by piecing the wood together are pleasing to the eye. Also, there is usually plenty of space under a workbench so we could continue to use the filing cabinets my wife bought us as a Christmas gift 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 the 30" deep sweet spot is. The ones that home improvement stores sell are either 24" deep or 48" deep. Too shallow or waaaay too deep. Fortunately, I remembered the name of the place one of my old employers 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. I ended up with a birch butcher block kit with black legs. The default color is gray, but that's also a little too sterile for home use. The price wasn't bad either. The bench was only about US $280. That can vary based on dimensions and the surface you get. 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 worry about a mousepad and I can put my filing cabinet under the bench. The room also seems to be much lighter and the cable clutter isn't so visible since the desk surface is no longer transparent.
Assembly of the bench is pretty easy. It's just allen screws, nuts, and some wood screws. You do have to drill the bottom of the butcher block to attach the legs, but that was pretty easy. Just take your time lining up the legs and drill to .75" deep, then use the screws to attach the top to 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 thinking I could just scoot it into my office. This is a big desk and won't be able to make it down a narrow 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 essentially disassemble it there to avoid scraping up my doorways. This is not the manufacturers fault, it was just poor planning on my part. I just 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 actual 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 some more so I can refinish the surface. This is not the fault of the manufacturer, but if I were going to do this again, I would have ordered a raw butcher block and just finished it myself with some 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 finish a raw surface.
Shipping was pretty easy, but it is not as cheap or mindless as getting something 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 really happy with my purchase. The depth and width of the benches mean they work much better as a desk than some furniture that is actually marketed 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.