The Great Ham Radio Desk Project

For the last few years I’ve used a folding table, bricks and a piece of light shelving for a make-shift ham radio desk.  I finally decided that I needed something that was a little more permanent and a lot sturdier.  After searching for commercially available alternatives and being less than thrilled by what I found, I decided to build my own desk.  That presented a bit of a problem as I am hardly the master woodworker.  So, I was left with finding an “easy” alternative that provided the two essentials I was looking for: a lot of surface space and a raised shelf that covered the entire back of the desk.  I also wanted to make sure that this desk could handle the weight of large and heavy pieces of ham gear.

After much searching and thinking, I finally arrived at a solution.  While not inexpensive, it has left me with a perfect desk for my ham radio needs.  Here’s what I did.

My journey started at the local Home Depot where I purchased a solid core door, measuring 32 inches wide by 80 inches long.  This solid door is 2 inches thick and VERY heavy.  For the raised shelf, I bought a nice long piece of pine board measuring 11 inches wide and 1 3/4 inches thick.  This is all very sturdy stuff, but the real dilemma was how to build it into a functional – and safe – desk.  The solution presented itself in the form of galvanized conduit with threaded ends.  I purchased several lengths of 1 1/2 inch diameter pipe for the legs, and five pre-cut 8 inch long and threaded 3/4 inch diameter galvanized connectors for the risers for the shelves.  The expensive part of the project was buying the threaded flanges to connect to the legs and risers for the shelf.  The large flanges are secured to the underside of the desk to attach the legs.  The smaller flanges are attached to the top of the desk and bottom of the shelf to attach the risers for the shelf.  I used stainless steel wood screws to secure the flanges to the wood.  This was a LOT of screws (60 in all)!

But the biggest dilemma was how to get the legs cut and threaded?  I don’t have the equipment to do this and was not sure how to proceed.  I knew I wanted the desktop to be 30 inches high (I had a two drawer file cabinet that I wanted to just fit under the bottom of the desk and a keyboard drawer to be mounted to the bottom of the desk) but no way to create the legs from the pipe.  Home Depot came to the rescue when they told me that for no charge they would cut and thread the pipe to my specs!  I was thrilled and about two hours later I was home with five large cut and threaded legs.  They also cut my shelf board for me, even though that’s one part of this project I could have done.  The only downside to the pipe is that a lot of oil was used for lubrication while they cut and threaded the pipe.  Needless to say, this was a bit of a mess that had to be dealt with along with removing some sticky labels on the pipe used for the risers.  I scrubbed each pipe (including the risers for the shelf) with a rag drenched in WD40 to remove the gummy labels.  My wonderful wife then washed each of the pipes with hot water and soap.  They were as good as new!

After all of the parts were ready (and dry!), I decided to first stain the shelving and table top.  I selected Minwax Early American stain and gave all of the exposed surfaces several coats.  After the stain was good and dry it was time for assembly of the desk!

I mentioned above how heavy this door/table top is.  My ham shack is upstairs in our house and I doubted my wife and I would be able to carry the finished desk up the stairs from our garage.  So, I attached the flanges to the bottom of the desk in the garage and we then carried the desktop up the stairs to the shack.  We brought the rest of the pieces upstairs and assembled the desk in the shack.  This amounted to screwing the legs into the flanges on the bottom of the desktop and screwing a flange on the bottom of each leg to make a “foot”.  I then screwed the smaller flanges to the bottom of the shelf and screwed the riser pipe into each.  Next, I screwed the bottom flange to the riser pipe and placed the shelf with attached risers and flanges in place on the desktop.  It was then easy to screw the shelf down to the desktop by securing the bottom small flanges with screws (Note:  I drilled a small pilot hole for each screw.  This made the wood screws go in much more smoothly).  The final touches included mounting the Office Depot keyboard drawer and purchasing two large clear desk pads to protect the wood top.  I then spent about four hours putting all of the equipment back in place, running wires, etc.

Here’s a photo of me and Wally the Wonder Dog admiring our work before the equipment was put in place (click on the photo for a larger version).  Note that I placed a fifth leg in the center of the table top and a fifth riser at the front of the shelf for extra support.

Here’s a photo of the completed desk from the front (sorry about the fair quality photo).

Finally, here’s the desk with the equipment replaced.  I will add a link in the near future to show the current station, as some of this equipment has been replaced.  Update:  Here’s the current configuration.

This was a fun and enjoyable project that resulted in a new desk that is sturdy and functional.  Not only will this desk last a lifetime, but I bet you could hold a square dance on it!  In hindsight, I wish I had made the shelf about an inch or so higher, but that’s not really a big deal.  I’m considering adding another shelf or half-shelf, but that’s for another day.  Now, on to the next project!

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7 Responses to The Great Ham Radio Desk Project

  1. David Kiefer KD8KOR says:

    What a great idea you have !!! I came across this surfing the web . Im in the middle of building a radio room in my garage I just started putting walls up and I wanted to build a nice desk . You should see what im using now hahahaha.. 73 hope to catch you on the air sometime

  2. Rick says:

    This is great! I am buying the parts tomorrow, at my local Lowes. Thanks for posting. Would be happy to hear of anything you would do differently today.

    Rick, W9RWR

  3. Bill says:

    Rick –

    After using this desk for a while, I realized that I needed a larger top shelf. Instead of removing the old shelf and adding a new larger one, I simply added a second shelf identical to the existing one, spaced about an inch apart from the original shelf. The one inch space is designed to allow wires and cables to pass through. I will update this post in the near future with photos and a longer explanation of the new set up. The only other thing I would change is to have better access for wires and cables at the back of the desk. Despite this small issue, I continue to love this desk and find it perfect for my needs.

  4. Bill says:

    The latest update to the top of the desk. An additional shelf is now added in front of the original, with an inch between them.

  5. Bill says:

    And a side view showing the added second shelf and new under-shelf lighting.

  6. k4wam says:

    Bill where did you get the flanges for desk project and what size’s ???

    thanks Bill (k4wam)

  7. Bill says:

    The flanges came from Home Depot. They have all sizes depending on the diameter of the pipe you are using for your desk or shelf.

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