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Ultimate Electronics Station Build

Christiana Craig / paint / 02 March 2022, 10:56:54
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One of the major goals for the new building was to have an area dedicated to working on electronics. This workstation needed to be large enough to hold all of our equipment, as well store components & tools, while also allowing us to have multiple projects happening simultaneously. It never fails I need to pause a project to wait on parts to arrive. I began googling and looking for workbenches. They ranged from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

I found the cheap ones were just absolute junk, and while the expensive ones were solidly built, they were just way too small to be useful without buying two of them. So, my choice was between spending three to four thousand dollars for two small but decent workbenches, or to spend two to three hundred and just build my own. This is The Geek Pub, and the choice is obvious! We’re building our own! OK. So, the first thing that I have to do is cut down this melamine sheet. It is really big, and it is taking up all of my work bench space! I probably wouldn't start with this normally, but since I need to clear my workbench off, I'll go ahead and just cut out all of the melamine sheet pieces and then we'll get to building the frame that it sets on.

Another problem is that I'm here by myself and these things are really heavy! They're made out of like MDF or particle board and then just coated with melamine. So there's no way I'm going to get these by myself on the table saw. I don't even have an outfeed table built yet! So that's going to be a problem! So I think what I'm going to do is just drop like 3 or 4 two by fours underneath this and then just use a track saw guide. Not actually a track saw, but a guide for the for a circular saw and just cut them that way. Not ideal but it'll be fine for what we're doing.

To raise and support the melamine sheets while I cut them, I placed a set of two by fours underneath each sheet. This will make sure they don’t crack or bend during cutting. I have this handy cutting guide for making straight cuts with a circular saw. Since the offset on my saw’s guide is 1.5 inches, I need to subtract 1.5 inches from my measurements when using it. Now here's a pro tip for you.

When you cut melamine board melamine is just a really really thin layer of material that's that's adhered to the top of some other material like plywood or MDF) and when the circular saw goes over it especially if your saw blade is even the slightest bit dull, it will chip out the melamine it will leave this jagged edge all the way down. One of the ways you can help prevent that is masking tape! So, just run a piece of masking tape all the way down your board right on the cut line and then rub it in real good and then when you cut the masking tape will help prevent the chip out. It's beautiful! The masking tape also has the added benefit of keeping the base plate of your circular from scratching your boards. For all this to work, it’s important you make sure the tape is well adhered. As I cut and stack components for projects, I also use masking tape to label each part.

This is incredibly helpful days later when I inevitably can’t remember what is what. If you’ve never used a circular saw guide before, it’s amazing just how clean of cuts you can get. And when working alone with big sheets it’s a life saver. I’ll leave a link in the description for where to get this one. Well, a few minutes later and I have a stack of parts ready to become my work surfaces.

With the tops finished its time to move on to making the legs. I am making this bench slightly taller than standard cabinet height as I want it to be comfortable to work at while standing or sitting on a tall lab stool. The legs are just sanded four by four posts that you can get at any hardware store. I cut six of them, four for the main table and two for the side table. I am going to put levelers on the bottom, so I used a speed square to find the center of each post.

I then used a punch to make a starting hole in that center location and then drilled down two inches deep. Each leg will get an insert nut. These nuts will self-thread and are driven with a standard hex wrench. Then I just screwed in the levelers! OK. So now that we have all of our legs cut and feet levelers drilled and ready to go, it's time to build the apron for the bench.

And with two by fours they are rounded over from the factory and I want to remove that round over because I want the two by four to be square and flush; nice and flush up against the table top; the bottom of the table top in the bottom of the shelves. However, on the table apron itself that goes around the bottom where your knees and your legs might hit I'm going to leave that round over but everywhere else I'm going to remove it. The table aprons are made from standard two by fours from the local hardware store, though I did spring for the better grade so I could get straight ones. This is simply a process of measure, mark, and cut on the miter saw… and repeat. Removing the round over is a double operation on the table saw.

The simplest way I have found is to remove one eighth inch from each side. Run each board through the table saw, flip, and do the process again. You could also do this on a jointer and planer if you have one, or you could completely skip this step. I moved all the boards over to my assembly table and started the process of laying everything out. Everything is connected together using three-inch wood screws.

In this case I am using the Torx style heads as they are much less prone to run out as compared to slotted or Philips style. This is optional, but I decided to put leg braces on the ends of the bench just to help keep everything aligned. Sanding these components is also optional. We’re not making fine furniture here, but I did want to remove any roughness and burrs so the paint will look better and so that it will be comfortable when my legs rub up against it. I chose a grey paint from Sherwin-Williams called “Light French Grey”.

It seemed like a nice contrast from the white melamine. I’ll just use a small paint roller to apply it. After pouring the paint I always use the roller to sop up any paint running down the side of the can. OK. So some of you are frantically typing in the comments right now.

And what you're saying is “Oh my gosh you have an HVLP sprayer! We've seen it all your articles! Why aren't you going to spray this?” Well here's the reason why. The reason why is something of this size and of this intricacy; and what I mean by that… it's not just a big flat wall or a big flat area. It's all these little cut ins and things like that. By the time I set up the paint sprayer and set up a big barrier around all of this too. Because remember, paint spraying is very messy.

The spray and the overspray goes everywhere. So you have to put some kind of curtain up, and all of that. By the time I do all of that and get ready to paint I could be finished with the roller. So that's why I'm going to use the roller and I'm just going to knock this out real fast. Some people think that painting with a roller causes an inferior job.

And that’s just not true. If you use a high-quality roller, and a high-quality paint you can get very good results. Good quality paint has a self-leveling agent that will level the paint and remove roller and brush marks as it dries. However, if you buy the cheapest paint and cheapest rollers, expect cheap results. With the main table finished, I went to work on the side table.

This is mostly an effort of repeating the main table, sans two leg posts. I’ll have a set of plans, including the sketchup file for this in the article description. With those plans you can put this side table on the left or right side, or you can completely omit it. And of course, we need a little more sanding and a couple coats of paint. Since David was in the building today, he helped me move the workbench bases to the electronics room.

This was a big help. Moving the bench down the narrow halls and around corners required a little juggling and tilting the bench on its side, but we made it! The side table was quite a bit easier to move. To attach the side table to the main table, I used three-inch pocket hole screws. Again, we’re not building fine furniture here, we’re just building a work bench. Though I have seen pocket hole screws appearing on some expensive furniture lately, and I do not like the trend.

Pocket hole screws will be more than strong enough for this build, but you can certainly use something stronger if you choose. OK. So the melamine comes from the factory with a bare edge and they make something called edge-banding that you can use. It just irons us like a sticky glue on the back of it and just irons on. I never think that turns out very well.

It just never lines up right and there's always a little gap you can see and then it winds up peeling off years down the road or months down the road. So there's some ways to get around that and one of them is for example you could just put on… I've got this just some strips of Walnut that I have left over from another project. We could put those on the edge and that would make it look really nice. But this is not fine furniture. It's just a work bench for the studio and for doing electronics on.

It's probably going to get beat up over the years and so it's not fine furniture. I'm not going to do that. But what I am going to do is use T-molding! And I have an absolute ton of T-molding from arcade projects. So I'm just going to use the router and I'm going to cut a 1/16th inch slot down the side of it and we're going to slap on some T-molding and it's going to look awesome! It's going to be really durable. It'll last a long time and I don't have to worry about it.

The other thing that I'm going to do is the far corner of this is still squared and boxed off. It’s just you know it's a sheet of plywood that we cut down and if I round that over it will make it a lot easier to put the T-molding on because I won't have to join two edges. And the actual real reason is every time I walk into the room I don't want to bang my hip into that really sharp corner! And so we'll start by cutting off the corner will round it over just going to use a paint can and then they will put on the T-molding. I get a lot of comments about using fancy tools. Funny enough I have a fancy tool to make circles and I never use it.

I just find something round and trace around it. I’m using a jigsaw blade that cuts on the down stroke. This will prevent chipping the melamine. This type of blade does have a tendency to kick back though. So keeping downward pressure on the jigsaw is a good idea.

Using a trim router with a 1/16” slot cutter, I created a slot for the T-Molding to go into. To attach the tabletop to the base I am going to use pocket hole screws again since there are no worries about grain movement with particle board. If the tops were real wood, I would use slotted brackets to account for wood expansion and contraction. I placed pocket holes about every 16 inches. Of course, its critical to use the right length screw here so that the screws do not go all the way through the tabletop! Ahh… it’s T-Molding time! You guys know I love T-Molding.

I started by cutting the T-Molding on a 45-degree angle. This is so we can start where the main table and side table join. By making 45’s this will create a very clean seam where the two section of T-Molding meet up. I find that using a rubber mallet really helps get the T-molding seated without a lot of work. If you are a premium member, I have an entire article on T-Molding tips and tricks you can read.

Those 45s make this joint go together like magic! Sometimes I find a wood block helpful for when the mallet won’t get into tight places. Now its time to make the test equipment shelves. I started by making the two side panels out of some left-over melamine from the tabletops. If you don’t have any leftovers, some three quarter inch plywood would work great here. OK.

So earlier in the article we talked about how we were going to remove the rounded edges from the aprons that go on the table. For the shelves we're also going to remove the rounded edges but we're going to remove it from both sides. The reason we didn't remove it from the bottom side was because we thought “hey you know you might be putting your legs into the table might be banging into it the rounded edges actually would be sort of a nice thing to have.” So we left the bottom ones on these. Though we're going to cut it off at the tops and so you can kind of see what that difference looks like it makes it really kind of square and nice and so these will make really good shelf braces. These types of operations are when I really wish I had an outfeed table! That’s a project I really need to get around to doing! Since we’re taking the round-over off on both sides of the board, our two by four will be reduced from three and a half inches wide to about three and a quarter inches wide.

Yep two by fours aren’t actual two by four inches. You can see the result speaks for itself though. Super nice square boards. Again, the shelves are built exactly like the table aprons. Just some three-inch screws.

I did place some center braces on the shelves though. Not for support, but just to make sure these long spans stayed aligned during the assembly process. Two by fours are notoriously crooked, so I find that using clamps and speed square make alignment and final fit much easier. OK. I get asked in the comments all the time what these little painters pucks are called.

They go by many names, but the ones I have are called bench dogs and I’ll put a link below. Rockler also sells some called bench cookies. Either way, they’re a life saver for finishing work and I can’t recommend them enough. #notsponsored We’ll be using the same pocket hole attachment process for the shelf tops. Since the front of the shelf sides are exposed particle board, we’ll also need to route those out and install T-molding.

If you were using plywood here, I would still use T-Molding to hide the edges. I attached the side panels to the shelves with four screws while keeping it secured and aligned with clamps, of course taking proper care to select the right length of screw. This will be much cleaner looking than screws from the outside. OK. So here's a little pro tip when you when you have multiple shelves or something like that that you're trying to install.

A lot of people have the tendency to measure which is of course a good thing) measure and then mark a line with a pencil and then hold the shelf in place while you put the screws. Now there's a problem with that and that is you're never going to get aligned correctly and it's super hard. Like you gotta have two people to hold it. You have to have one person on this end one person on that end. There's a simpler way.

So what we did is the distance between this shelf in this shelf is 12 and three quarter inches, and so we cut blocks of scrap lumber. This is just some scrap half inch MDF that I had laying around. And we'll put those here and will put two more on the other side and then the other shelf will just simply lay on top. Then nobody has to hold it. We don't have to measure.

It will just line up and will be perfect. Shoot some screws in and we're done. So that's what we're going to do! These types of techniques are really good to know when you work alone a lot. You have to learn to work smarter, not harder. And many times I can’t afford to wait for someone to come help me.

Once you finish, you can just slide the spacers out and toss them back on the scrap pile. Speaking of working alone, working with pine has one nice advantage. It doesn’t weigh much. That makes it easy to move by myself. I need to drill holes from the bottom of the tabletop to attach the equipment shelves.

To make sure those holes are in the right places, I just created a template with masking tape. That way I won’t make any mistakes and there are no pencil lines to remove later. With the templates in place, I just moved the shelves back out of the way and drilled the holes. Then I just put the shelves back into position, removed the masking tape, and ran the screws into place from the underside of the bench. As with the tabletop, I rounded the corners of the shelves and covered the exposed areas with T-Molding and then attached them with pocket hole screws.

I added a 10 socket power strip to the front of the middle shelf to power all of my test equipment, and any projects I am working on. I then drilled some two inch holes into the table top and shelves and added some plastic cable gromets so we can cleanly route power, network, and HDMI cables under the table. I added a project mat on the tabletop for a clean work surface. Added my oscilloscope and bench top power supply to the shelf. And then and electronics microscope and monitor to the left side of the bench.

Of course, we also need a soldering station, solder sucker, and a set of helping hands! And no electronics station would be complete without a comfy lab stool to sit on! Ahh yes! I am a happy guy! Alright! Well welcome to the new electronic station and room at The Geek Pub! I am so excited that you're following along with us on this journey! Before we end the article I just want to take a quick second and explain a couple of things that you guys might be frantically typing questions in the comments. And the big one probably is “Why build this instead of just you know buy it buy it off Amazon?” Well you can buy these off Amazon. No doubt. For probably about the same price or even less than I spent on building this… you can buy an electronic station off of Amazon for about $250 and it's horrible! You would not want it! I wouldn't put anything that I cared about on it! I mean tops are like cardboard thin. It's made out of this rickety sheet metal.

It's not stable. It's horrible! Trust me when I say you don't want those. Now look, they make some really nice electronic stations like U-Line sells some. There's some other distributors out there that sells some really nice ones. If you want to spend $2000, $3000, $4000 you can definitely buy a really nice electronic station.

Now if I wanted one this size and I wanted to buy it from U-Line it would cost me about eight grand 'cause I have to buy two of them and bolt them together! And that's just a no go for me. I needed a lot more space and I didn't have $8000 to spend. So I built this entire electronic station for a little less than $300 and that's with today's ridiculous lumber prices. And so I'm thrilled with it! Now look again it's not fine furniture as I mentioned a couple of times. It is just built out of pine and you know particleboard coated with melamine and some T molding.

But you know I mean you could build it certainly much nicer. If you wanted to use Oak or Poplar or any other you know lumber that you wanted it you know it was a little bit higher quality. You know you could probably for five or $600 build the same station nicer if that's what you wanted to do. So there's definitely ways. It is a far cry from four grand! So that's number one.

The second thing is I kind of want to point out is I built this station specifically for my workflow. So I have you know inevitably I'm working on a website article or an article about something for The Geek Pub. If I'm repairing something I almost always find out I don't have a component I need to do the repair. So I have plenty of places up top to store projects that are not finished while I'm waiting on a part to come in. I can move on to something else and keep working.

The other thing I did is I set this up as a kind of a website workflow which not everybody might do. But I have a new addition the electronics microscope and I'll be able to see what I'm working on with this monitor and you know in the past I had to dig through the camera and try to get it set up on top of whatever I'm working on and focus on the macro lens working. It's always a huge pain in the ass but I don't have to do that anymore. I've got a dedicated electronics microscope that's got a monitor for me but also over here I have a Mac mini with a black magic Thunderbolt capture device setup and so anything that I'm that I'm working on the microscope I can also simultaneously record. Which is going to be beautiful and make it so much easier for me to make my articles.

So you might not need you know a set up like that if you were building the electronic station for you I do have a link in the description for the plans. If you want to build this yourself and it has all kinds of options. So you can have the side table on the left. You can have it on the right. You can not have a side table at all.

You can have one shelf or two shelves. How ever you want to build it. And so those plans are available in the description if you want to build your own station. Well I think that about wraps it up for today. If you're not pin itd, please do and I'll see you in the next article!.

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