Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Desktop Shelves

Updated shelves as of January 2022. The AL-80A
Amplifier is just off to the right side, on the desk.
Setting up my shack in my first home, in 1986, I needed to stack equipment. My operating position was a finished door on top of two filing cabinets, something that I used in my previous apartment. While the table was big enough, shelves were needed to easily access all my equipment. 

I came up with a design using 1x12 lumber. There are three shelves, one 1", 12" and 22" above the tabletop. I chose these heights because it allowed me to slip my paper log books and other operating aids under the bottom shelf -- under the bottom row of gear. 

I bought a stack of 1x12 boards, borrowed a friend's table saw and cut the pieces to length. I laid them on edge on the cement floor of my garage, glued the edges and pieced them together with wire brads. Everything lined up OK -- the result was pretty square.

35+ year old shelving unit, before
it was removed from desk
The shelves were 48" wide ( 8 foot boards cut in half ), and had two uprights under each shelf. These shelves worked for several decades.

Over time, I noted problems. The upright supports limited the equipment I could put side by side, because only so much would fit. And the lowest shelf was problematic -- it meant my computer was in front of the shelf -- which meant my arms hung off the desk, with my forearms resting against the edge of the desk. This caused a lot of fatigue when contesting. Plus, I had stopped using paper logs back in 2006, so there was no reason for the lower shelf.

Micro-shack, before I moved.
I liked the layout I had back in the micro-shack. The desk surface was small (just a couple of inches wider than 5 feet), and the primary equipment sat on the desk itself, with other gear on a shelf. This meant I could re-position my gear at will. Best of all, the computer could be front and center, with my forearms resting comfortably on the desk itself. 

After 35 years, the requirements came together. I needed a shelf unit with two shelves. The first shelf would be 12" above the desk, and the second shelf 22" above the desk. This left more than enough room to slide a 15-17" laptop under the bottom shelf. The shelves could be a little wider, to accommodate more equipment. Because my copper pipe grounding bar was a little more than 53" long, I opted to make the unit 52" wide. 

I liked having the AL-80A amplifier on the right side of the desk, canted slightly to make the controls accessible, and allow for good cooling airflow. With a 52" wide self unit, this meant about 8" of unused desk space on the left-hand side. That was fine. That part of the desk is right next to a wall, and I don't put equipment that deep -- usually that's where my headphones and operating aides end up.

The bottom and top shelves would be separated by two uprights, with openings of roughly 17" on the left and right, and 15" in the middle. Under the bottom shelf, there would be no uprights. Instead, to keep the shelves from bowing, I used a piece of 1x4 as a sheer web at the back of the unit. 

Here are the component dimensions used:

  •   top (1x12) - 52” 
  •   shelf (1x12)  - 50 1/2” 
  •   ends (1x12) - 21 3/4” (2) 
  •   separator (1x12) - 10” (2) 
  •   shear web (1x4)  50 1/2” 
I bought the requisite 1x12 and 1x4 lumber, but didn't cut or assemble until later. This was unfortunate, because the lumber cupped a little bit as it dried out in my basement. This made the pieces a little harder to fit together. I used the same construction technique I used before -- glue and wire brads. 

And even though I put the pieces together on my very flat workbench, a little bit of twist was introduced in the bottom shelf. It doesn't quite line up in the front like it should -- something I'll be looking at for the next 30+ years. I considered busting it apart and starting over, but I decided it would do as is. 

Assembled unit with
grounding bar installed
I intended to stain it and seal with polyurethane. However, I found that my stain had turned into a solid mass of jelly and was unusable. Instead, I applied three coats of polyurethane. The resulting finish is quite handsome.

The shelf unit is relatively light and quite sturdy. I'm sure it would support my weight, but I didn't try. The copper pipe grounding bar fastens to the 1x4. I use small hose clamps to attach wires to the grounding bar. This ensures that all gear is properly bonded to ground.

I'm very satisfied with the end result - plenty of room for gear on the desktop, with other gear on shelves at a handy height. The bits and pieces of equipment are slowly coming back to the operating desk, and I'm being careful in deciding what goes where -- it can get awfully cluttered. 

I do love having a lot of space for computer gear on the desktop. I've had as many as three different laptops all running at the same time on the desk.

Now I've got to finalize where everything goes. I've already decided I need to move the P3, and the KK1L antenna switch matrix is going to end up on the basement wall on the Single-Point Ground panel.

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