Desk Riser: My First Wood CNC Project



In recent years, I’ve grown more and more interested in building stuff myself. And it’s blatantly obvious that I’m not alone with this desire. DIY has become a buzzword across the entire internet – and beyond.

However, my experience with DIY is predominantly from setting up a neat little smart home system. That won’t be the topic of this post, however. I have other posts that I plan on writing about this subject.

Here, I want to share my experience with the first “real” DIY project I have completed, involving CNC routing.

The Idea

One day I suddenly got this idea just by browsing around the internet: something for my desk to facilitate easier charging and data transfer to my PC.

Like a lot of other tech aficionados, I have a lot of devices lying around on my desk. That includes primarily two phones and a tablet. All those devices want to stay charged so they’re always ready to be used.

Instead of having multiple cables just lying around on my desk, I wanted some way of organizing those cables. One idea is to use magnetic cable holders so that the cables are neatly arranged. Still, one needs a place to put these cable holders where they don’t interfere with the clean look of the tabletop.

Also, I wanted to try out wireless charging. Until now, I haven’t used wireless charging much apart from in my car. So, this project was the ideal opportunity to try out this newfangled way of charging my phones – especially since it allows for even cleaner setups.

Lastly, I love to take photos and videos with my camera. Thus, I need to regularly copy files from an SD Card or via USB. My tower PC doesn’t have an SD card reader, so I have to take my USB+SD hub out of a drawer on the other side of the room and connect it to the front panel connectors of my PC, leaving an ugly cable hanging around in the air for the duration of the file transfer.

So, to solve all these first-world problems, I wanted to build an accessory for my desk that boasts all the required features:

  • Possibility for organizing cables
  • a Qi wireless charger
  • a USB Hub
  • an SD + microSD card reader

In addition, it would be nice if the result looked aesthetically pleasing.

With all of that, I began drawing up a plan…

The Planning

It was a relatively straightforward process designing the desk riser. At the same time, maybe that was the biggest issue with the whole project.

I decided early on that I wanted to use some nice-looking wood. Later, I found some small acacia wood boards in a local hardware store. Not having much prior experience with woodworking or CNC milling, I just got to work designing something in Fusion 360. As a student, I got the education license a couple of months prior for some minor 3D Printing CAD. Apart from that, I hadn’t got a lot of knowledge about Fusion 360 or CAD in general.

Nevertheless, I designed something very close the final shape. The model consisted of five wooden planks: one top plank with cutouts for an LED strip, the Qi wireless charger, and a slot for hanging in various accessories, e.g. a phone holder (without wireless charging, but I gathered it would be useful for app development). On the right side, there are cutouts for a USB hub and an SD card reader.

Final CAD model of the desk riser

I already ordered most of the electronics during the planning process, namely the card reader, USB hub, and wireless charger, in order to perfectly adjust the dimensions to the parts I was planning on using eventually. Had I known that it would take several months until completion, I might not have ordered all of it yet. Still, I think it was good having the physical items for reference from the very beginning. For reference, here are the items I purchased (no affiliate links):

  • UGREEN 100MB/s SD / TF card reader:
  • EZDIY-FAB 5.25" USB 3.1 Gen 2 front plate:
  • No-name 20W Fast Wireless Charger:

The most difficult decision during planning was how to hide all of the ugly cable stuff. The USB hub would be on one side of the desk riser, but I didn’t want it to be visible when looking from the front – as would be the case when sitting at my desk. After various sketches, I incorporated two angled planks leading to a pointy end at the front. I think this design is rather elegant. It requires the least possible space that was necessary for the USB hub while still looking clean.

Don’t ask me why but I decided that a pointy angle of exactly 24.4° for the inner plates would be perfect…

Bottom view of the desk riser showing the Qi charger slot in the middle, the modular cut-out at the front (top), and the rail for the LED strip at the back (bottom)

The Search for Tools

And with that it was time to look for a way to turn the CAD model into a physical object I could put on my desk. I looked at various options, but none were really convincing.

There are various shops online to order a CAD model milled from wood. However, those are rather expensive, don’t allow for prototyping (except if you order the model time and time again, exacerbating the previous issue), and the selection of wood types is severely limited. Mostly, they offer wood that’s easy to process, such as MDF or similar, but that, in my humble opinion, doesn’t really look good.

So, I briefly looked into the option of buying a CNC mill for wood processing. Then I saw the prices and turned away again shortly after. I don’t foreclose the possibility of buying my own CNC mill in the future, but money doesn’t grow on trees exactly (especially not as a student, remember?).

Luckily, there’s a third option. Asking a friend for advice, I got pointed to makerspaces. I knew that something like that existed but until now, I didn’t really care to research one in my vicinity. Now, that changed. And thanks to a platform listing lots of makerspaces and open workshops in my home country, Germany, I found a makerspace relatively close by. It’s not exactly within the bounds of my home town, nor in the closest city (Cologne), but in the city next-door (Bonn, former capital of Germany).

This makerspace in Bonn is about 30 minutes by car from my home, which is not optimal. There’s definitely room for improvement, considering the gap between population density around Cologne and the number of makerspaces. But this articles is not intended to be a rant about the downsides of urban sprawl and car-centric infrastructure and all the negative consequences. In a perfect world, even urbanites would have access to workshops for building stuff without needing hundreds of square meters of living space to accommodate their own machinery. At least for me, the issue of driving to Bonn is alleviated by the fact that both my university and workplace are close to Bonn. That way, I don’t have to drive there solely to visit the makerspace.

Back to the actual topic at hand: After visiting the makerspace for the first time, I was impressed by all the fancy tools they’ve got. There’s definitely a lot of potential for amazing future projects, such as laser cutting, milling metal, and more. I was ready to immediately get to work with the wood CNC router.

However, the makerspace has the policy that everyone needs to be instructed by a more experienced member before being allowed to use advanced machinery, including the CNC router. As I didn’t know anyone in the makerspace yet (or so I thought), I was reluctant to ask for help (social awkwardness and so on).

But it turned out that a work colleague of mine was a longstanding member of the makerspace and took main responsibility for the CNC mill. He was ready to help me get to know the router. And that turned out to be very positive for progressing with the project.

The Action

With the extensive aid of this fellow maker, I was able to get to know the overall operation of the CNC machine. This was definitely very useful as I had no experience whatsoever regarding CNC or milling.

Surprisingly, however, the first ever attempt at milling the top board was a success. Having configured all parameters for the CNC machine together, the milling process went rather smoothly. Although the mill made some worrying, high-pitched sounds, likely because the wood was quite hard and thin pieces of it were vibrating rapidly, the final result was as good as perfect. After a bit of sanding the edges, it looked pretty much ready-to-use.

The only minor issue was that I didn’t take the width of the USB-C plug for the wireless charger into account when designing the model in Fusion 360. Consequently, the cable wouldn’t fit into the milled channel correctly. Obviously, this was not the fault of the machine but rather user error – as usual. Luckily, a bit of sanding was sufficient to widen the cable channel enough to fit the plug.

It would have been great if the project had continued in this relatively straightforward manner. That shouldn’t get to be, however…

A couple of days later, I tried to machine the next part which would house the USB hub and SD card reader. To accommodate them, there would need to be very small, granular openings to fit the individual ports perfectly. Therefore, I wanted to mill the 18 mm plank to about 1 mm around those spots and cut through completely for the ports themselves. So far, so good. Having compiled the g-code for the CNC machine from Fusion 360, I set to start the mill.

Perfect fit: cut-outs for the USB and SD card slots

The sounds very really screechy, though I didn’t worry too much about it initially as it was similar to the first time. However, the mill went much deeper than expected – and apparently much faster than it should. It went into the MDF board underneath the actual board to machine and after a bit of even more worrying noise, the cutter jumped out of the holder. Naturally, I aborted the milling process. I still don’t know for sure what exactly went wrong, but it probably was a combination of milling settings that were too fast and the cutter not being fixated correctly.

After a couple of days of post-traumatic recovery, I decided to give it another try with more conservative cutting speeds and ensuring that the cutter was screwed in correctly. Also, I adjusted the CAM paths in Fusion 360 to reduce the dive depth to at most 5 mm. But, after some promising initial layers, the very same thing happened again.

It was only after a third attempt, under the watchful eyes of the fellow CNC maker, that the second board was finally done. And this time, just like with the top board, the results were as good as perfect once again. There’s definitely much room for me to learn the optimal milling settings…

For the remaining parts, I initially considered to use the CNC machine as well. However, while that would have been possible, it seemed to be a little overkill. The left board is just a simple rectangle, and the other two boards are rectangles with two angled edges. So, I resorted to more “traditional” woodworking tools, meaning a disk saw and a belt sander.

The only issue was that I decided to use an angle of 66° at the one side and of 24° at the other side of the board. The disk saw may only go up to 45° angles. That ruled out the simple solution…

Here, there was another incredibly helpful tip from another maker, who recommended sawing small wooden triangles with the angle I desired. With these, I could prop up my actual board and sand down the edges using the belt sander until the angle is reached. It was so simple but at the same time genius.

And that was pretty much it. In addition, I sanded down all surfaces, glued them together, and applied some wood oil to give it a slightly shiny, high-quality finish. At least the woodworking stuff is hereby concluded.

Afterwards, the only thing left to do was to mount and connect all the electronics. I designed and printed some mounts for the SD card reader, the USB hub, and the wireless charger, respectively. Those allowed me to mount everything without any glue. It might have been easier to just glue everything in place (just like the wooden parts), but I just needed to continue using my relatively new 3D printer (that I actually bought during the duration of this project). Also, I think it’s more elegant this way. Okay, the LED strip is glued nevertheless.

View from below at the LED strip and the almost invisible Qi wireless charger, held in place by two 3D printed clips

I had to solder a few cables together to have a single 5V power supply for the USB hub, the addressable WS2812B LED strip, and the controller for the aforementioned strip. But that was not too hard compared to all the other stuff I had to do.

The Result

And that’s it. The desk riser is done and now shines in all its glory on my desk. I’m really, really satisfied with the end result. It just goes to show how much emotions play a role when doing something yourself. I could have just bought any desk riser thingy on Amazon and put it on the desk, but it simply wouldn’t have been the same. I’m only able to appreciate this thing because I know how much time and work went into it. Also, it just fits my wishes perfectly.

Admittedly, ordering an off-the-shelf desk riser from Amazon would have been much quicker. There’s one thing that didn’t wholly come through in my tale of how I built this thing. Overall, it took nearly 4 months from start to completion. To be fair, there were a couple of multi-week breaks because of illness, Christmas, and, of course, the mental breakdown after being shocked by my failed CNC attempts.

Everything works exactly as I imagined. The SD card reader is plenty fast, the USB hub as well. I have a much cleaner setup now, as I forced myself to tidy up everything once again. Previously, there was a lot of stuff accumulated on my desk which I now came around to put in their proper place. Now, I just hope it stays this way.

The Qi wireless charging works pretty well so far. I just need to put my phone roughly in the center of the top plank and it starts charging.

The modular slot at the front leaves ample room for future ideas. I have printed a simple phone holder with a cutout for a charging cable. It doesn’t look too bad, but I still want to try to add a premium finish to it. Maybe make it matt black or brushed aluminium? Also, I’m thinking about designing a tablet holder, so that all my devices, from notebook to phone, have their proper place. (You can catch a glimpse of my 3D printed notebook stand on the left of my desk.)

Phone holder in the modular slot at the front. Ideal for mobile development!

Some other ideas include an improved audio setup. As you might have noticed in the pictures, I’m using a GoXLR Mini from TC-Helicon as the audio interface for my microphone and also as output to the speakers. Unfortunately, TC-Helicon has announced that they’re not continuing software development for the GoXLR series. There’s a growing open-source community around it, but I’m still a bit bummed by the limited capabilities of the GoXLR. At the same time, I love the ability to control the audio volume with physical sliders. So, I might build my own volume controller and upgrade to an even better XLR interface. In that case, the space underneath the desk riser could be the ideal spot to put these controls. But all that is TBD.

Conclusion & Advice

That concludes this post about my personalized desk riser, my very first real woodworking project. As already mentioned, I’m very satisfied with how it turned out. I hope to have given you some inspiration for a project of your own.

There are definitely plenty of learnings I take away from this project. Firstly, I probably won’t use such an oddly specific angle of 24.4° again when a more straight forward angle of 45° or even 30° would be fine as well. Secondly, I wouldn’t include the holes for the wooden plugs in the model for the CNC mill. It would have been much easier to the drill the holes later on. There are tools to assist with applying the same hole distances to two pieces, but they only work the other way around for T joints, as in my case. So, in short, I made it a lot more difficult for me than strictly necessary.

This article is definitely far from a build guide. But I’m sharing all the project files and the exact products I used, so it would be possible to recreate it. However, this experience is more about creating something that perfectly fits my own needs and requirements. Those might look totally different for you. I encourage anyone to just start doing something they’ve dreamed of.

That said, it is extremely helpful having other people guide you in when using new tools. Makerspaces and similar places are perfect for that. You get to know new people and it becomes much easier to realize your project compared to trying to gather everything from YouTube tutorials. Not that they don’t have their merit as well, but videos can’t adapt dynamically to your personal difficulties. In addition, I’m glad to answer any questions in the comments or via mail!

On to the next project…!



Desk Riser: My First Wood CNC Project