California man finds a new passion in building desks for at-home learners

Hansanuwat noticed his son had several fifth-grade classmates who seemed to be doing their virtual learning on a sofa, a bed or the floor. Without a proper surface to write or type on, they struggled to stay focused. Hansanuwat knew that millions of Americans staying home for work or school had forced a desk shortage; prices were high and delivery times had ballooned. So he posted on social media offering to build a simple desk for anybody who needed one, free of charge.

He expected a handful of responses and was pleasantly surprised that he received 18 in the first two weeks. Then somebody shared his post with a local news station.

“They aired the story and things just went nuts,” he said. “I spent the next two days not building anything, just going through the messages to get everyone onto a list of requests. Eventually I cut the list off at 250 desks and said ‘Sorry I can’t take anymore.’

“At that point, I realized there was no way I was doing this on my own.”

Three weeks later, there are 10 other builders. Most of them work out of their California homes, and some have no prior woodworking experience. Together they have constructed hundreds of desks, with Hansanuwat collecting a second wave of orders.

The first desk took Hansanuwat about three hours because he was designing it as he built it. Since then, there have been two redesigns. The set-up is more streamlined now, and it takes less than an hour for him to build. He also got the cost of wood down a few bucks from $16 per desk.

On a scale of hundreds, that’s a lot of money. Hansanuwat started a GoFundMe in mid-September to help buy supplies, and the support has been strong. He has raised nearly $10,000 so far. Hansanuwat said he’d need roughly $12,500 to make 500 desks: “It started slow at first … but we’ve jumped up quite a bit.”

Hansanuwat can relate to parents hoping for more organization in their at-home lives. Keeping students on-task can help that cause.

“If they have a space that feels like school, where they only go for school, that’s going to help them focus,” Hansanuwat said.

Some happy recipients have written him thank you notes.

“Thank you for the organizing desk, not just for me but for everyone else,” one student wrote. “I bet it took some time so here is a thank you note. Also stay safe.”

The desk-making remains a local operation for now. Hansanuwat said he has received requests from New York, Texas and Florida, but it’s too expensive to ship the desks. He hopes the operation will grow to where there will be builders in several states.

Hansanuwat wishes he could make his living doing woodwork but suspects he will return to the tech industry soon. He hopes that by that point the desk-making movement will be large enough to sustain itself.

It has been a strange few months, doing something completely different from his chosen career. But that has felt right, he said. When the world changed, so did he. He has never felt more motivated to work.

“Let me put it this way: In my technology job, it’s eight or nine hours a day — meetings, doing some code and that was my day,” he said. “Now, we’re talking about 12 hours a day, sometimes more. Constant working. I’m tired, I’m worn out, but I’m so happy.”

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