Refer to my blog post, Pet Peeves Persecute Productivity, for the why of this project.
As I checked my sources for office supplies, I realized that replacing my office chair mat was to be a larger hit to the budget than I could afford. Reviews for many of the products were not encouraging, and higher quality mats commanded even steeper price tags.
What is a chair mat? What problem does it solve? Here are my thoughts.
- Must enable the movement of the desk chair.
- Must lie flat and not create a trip hazard.
- Must perform under constant use. Think years of life not months.
- Must not cost as much as the desk chair.
- Should protect the floor.
- Would be nice if the mat is visually appealing.
I opted to make my own. Invest some time browsing DIY chair mat solutions. Decide the features that appeal to you. Shop for materials and adjust expectations to match the budget. Consider the ease of transporting materials. Ask, “Do I have the skills to create the mat?
This design is simple and required only two cuts to the base, cuts which could be completed with a hand saw though I chose to use a jig saw. Note your application may require adjustments to these dimensions. I have a large desk with 40” between the legs and needed 1’ of mat extension under the desk. Those parameters determined the size of my panel.
I planned to use a 4’ x 8’ sheet of ½” MDF until I attempted to pick up the panel. The product was too heavy for this application. I found a 5.0 mm hardboard utility panel at Lowes. Think plywood with minimal voids. The 4’ x 8’ sheet was lightweight and easy to maneuver. My apologies to users of the metric system but I had no clue how 5.0 mm maps into what we call the Standard system. Doing the math the sheet is 0.19685, just under ¼” and should be perfect for a mat over my Berber-style carpet.
I asked Lowes to cut the panel into 5’ and ~3’ pieces to save myself some time. Most building materials stores will do a cut for free and their panel saw makes short work of a cut that might be difficult for the DIY practitioner. I tossed the pieces in my truck and headed home only to have a strong gust of wind lift the panels. Rule Number 1 of hauling – Secure the load. Always. I knew that but tried a short cut. After the panels were securely laced using ties I continued homeward through the drive-thru to grab a sausage & egg biscuit.
After two quick cuts my 4’ x 5’ panel was ready.
Peal and stick tile in 12” x12” blocks seemed like a great choice. I was not particular about the color or pattern as long as the design was reasonable. I required 20 such tiles and found a box of 30 on clearance at Home Depot (under $7!). And I loved the look.
Some DIY chair mat designers chose laminate flooring. One person described using ¾” solid wood scraps from a family flooring store. Those options will entail more work and possible specialty tools like a table saw. I’ll see how the tile holds up over the long term but for now that’s my choice.
I started at the bottom left of the panel and worked to the right finishing one row at a time. Match the edge of the tile to the edge of the panel.
Vinyl tile is brittle. Take care to keep the tiles aligned. Once the glue contacts the panel removal can be difficult. Removal without damaging the tile seemed impossible. I broke two tiles trying to pry them up and shift their position.
I’ve been told no DIY project is complete without a blood sacrifice. The edges of the tiles are sharp and will slice fingers.
Only two tiles required cuts. Cutting vinyl tile is probably an art and perhaps a few YouTube videos would offer tips. I scored gently with a sharp utility knife and metal straight edge. Once the cut was deep enough to allow the tile to flex I bent the tile and sliced through much like cutting sheetrock. Watch your fingers and other body parts.
Note I was working the in the living room and used a scrap board as a cutting board.
My tile had arrows printed on the backing. By following those arrows and applying tiles in the same orientation I ended up with a pleasantly repeating design. Doing a dry run and laying tiles in the desired order before peeling any of the backs may also be helpful in some cases.
The cost for my chair mat was $22 not including the sausage & egg biscuit. Construction and installation and required an hour.
My chair flies now.
Updated August 17, 2017
I’m at my desk a good part of the day six days a week with much rolling back in the chair to retrieve books from my shelf, to stretch, or to roundup the occasional stray pretzel or cracker crumb. The DIY chair mat has held up very well under this heavy use, and I prefer it to any store-bought plastic mat I’ve ever owned.
The only issue I have had is the mat does slide backward over time as the chair is rolled. With my usage I see about two inches of shift in a two or three week period. I have to move the chair to vacuum every week so I push the mat back into place at that time (when I remember). The movement in no way affects functionality. Another solution would be to secure the mat to the desk with “L” brackets and I do not want to do that.
After a year and a half of service a small worn place has appeared where the tile has crumbled from use. In a quick (30 min) repair I replaced four tiles, and the mat looks as good as new.
This mat was an experiment to save money. Now that I know the design works if I make another I will opt for a higher quality tile. As I indicated I found this box of tile in the discount bin.