A shelf and keyboard mat for my desk

· sewing · geekery ·

I was thinking the other day that I am incredibly grateful that past me (back in September last year, which seems about a decade ago) decided to take the plunge and buy a proper sit-stand desk. Like many people, I’ve been basically living at this desk for six months (though I’m very lucky to be able to work from home), so it has been fantastic to have a good, ergonomic setup which allows me to change position throughout the day. It doesn’t make endless Zoom meetings any more bearable, but my body does thank me at the end of the day.

I’ve made a couple more tweaks recently to improve things further: I’ve added a home-made desk shelf and a felt/cork keyboard mat.

My desk has to accommodate two different setups though the day. When I am working, I connect my work computer (a Macbook Air) to the monitor via a thunderbolt cable, and the monitor is connected to the keyboard. I keep the lid closed when I’m not in an online meeting, and I used to slide it under the Ikea bamboo monitor shelf you can see in the pictures here to give myself a bit more room. When I’m fooling about on the computer in the evenings and weekends, the laptop gets put away and the thunderbolt cable connects the Mac mini and the keyboard to the monitor. When I wanted to clear the desk surface to write, I could slide the keyboard and Magic Trackpad under the shelf instead (if my laptop wasn’t already there), but this left the Ergodox wrist rests on the desk and in the way. I could move them as they are not stuck down, but I use them as a way of marking the position that is most comfortable for each of my keyboard halves. So if I move them, I have to spend a good few minutes adjusting everything back into the correct alignment. As a consequence, I’ve always been reluctant to move them, and opted to just work around them when I needed the desk surface for writing.

Now this has to be the most trivial of all trivial problems, but it was a trivial problem that I could see how to fix myself. I have long admired the Grovemade desk shelves and desk pads. They look as if they are well made from good materials, but shipping to the UK would be prohibitively expensive, and the dimensions of both the shelves and the desk pads weren’t quite right for my setup. I realised that I could construct something similar myself, partly by upcycling my old desktop.

My old desk was an Ikea worktop made of beech wood, with some Ikea legs screwed on. We re-used the legs, but the top was sitting around taking up space and waiting to find a use. I certainly wasn’t going to throw it away because the wood is lovely and substantial, but I couldn’t find an obvious use for it as an intact piece. I realised that I could cut a plank from it widthways, and use some other bits to make legs to support each end of the plank. Since the old desk was about 6 cm wider than my current one, it would overlap by 3 cm each side, but otherwise fit quite well. That would enable me to move my speakers and Raspberry Pi DAC on to the shelf, and have enough space underneath to place my Mac mini, and slide my keyboard setup — without disturbing the placement of each half — on a keyboard mat, thus leaving the desktop completely clear. Finally, since the monitor is on an arm, there would be space on top of the shelf under the monitor to place the Macbook Air when I’m working.

Last weekend, Mr. Bsag helped me cut up the desk top. We only have a DIY-level jigsaw, and it made heavy weather of getting through the 3 cm thick, dense beech wood top. At times, we were burning our way through rather than cutting, which is why it took two of us! We got through it though, and managed to cut pieces out for the legs too, which was a bit easier, being shorter cuts. I sanded it all down, attached the legs with brackets, and applied a generous coat or two of Danish oil to bring out the finish on the wood and blend in the newly cut edges. Since I made it myself, I could carefully position the legs so that they sit just outside the desk grommet holes and don’t block them. Neither of us is very good at carpentry, so it is not top quality work (don’t look at the back edge of the shelf in particular…), but it is solid and looks good from where I sit, which is basically all I worry about.

The next job was making the mat. I prototyped the size and shape I wanted with a bit of card, and then cut the mat out of 2 mm thick wool felt and cork fabric 1, and sewed them together with my trusty Singer 201K on the treadle. I wanted it to look like it belonged on this desk, so I cut the front edge in a curve to match the curved edge of the desk. I had originally thought that I would place the cork side uppermost, but actually I like it better the other way around. The felt is warm and soft to the touch, and the cork provides just enough friction that the mat does not slip around, but not so much that it is difficult to slide across the surface under the shelf when needed. As a finishing touch, once I had got everything positioned where I wanted it, I marked dark grey dots on the mat at the front corners of the wrist rests with a Sharpie so that I would be able to re-position them precisely when I need to remove them for cleaning. As the front edge of the mat matches the curve of the desk, the mat as a whole is easy to position correctly.

I’m pretty pleased with how it all looks and works together. The shelf gives me a lot more space and provides a cleaner look than the Ikea monitor stand, and the desk pad makes it so much easier to move the keyboard off the main surface when I want to write in a notebook. As a side effect, it also damps down the sound of my typing so that it is just the sound of the keys themselves rather than the reverberation of the whole keyboard unit on the desk top that you hear.

  1. Cork fabric is an amazing thing, and great for making bags and pouches. It is actual cork sliced very thinly and laminated on to backing fabric. I’m going to use the rest of the felt and cork fabrics to make a couple of cases for glasses and sunglasses. ↩︎