Introduction: VR Cockpit Desk
I want to give VR flight sims a try this Christmas and decided to build a VR Cockpit Desk to help pass the time. It turned out to be a $300 idea with ~30 steps that took ~20 hours to build.
This design requires an office chair and is based on the shape of a F-15 and includes space for a PC, a keyboard drawer, and 2 cup holders.
Step 1: Get Some Stuff
- 1 - 4x8 sheet of 3/4" birch plywood ($50, smooth finish)
- 1 - 4x8 sheet of 1/8" white hardboard ($15)
- 1 - 4x8 sheet of 1/16" plastic panel ($20)
- 2 - 4x2 sheets of 3/4" birch plywood ($40, smooth finish)
- 2 - boards, 1x3-8 feet long each ($10 total)
- 2 - boards, 1x4-6 feet long each ($10 total)
- 1 - 24" x 12" black laminated shelf ($10)
- 2 - keyboard drawer 14" brackets ($20)
- 1 - pack of sandpaper, 120 GRIT ($5)
- 4 - shelf brackets, 7-1/2" over-under style ($10 total)
- 16 - nut/bolt sets (#8 x 1-1/4") with 2 flat & 1 lock washer per set ($5 total)
- 10 - Galv steel 3" angle bracket ($15 total)
- 62 - wood screws (#8 x 5/8") Philips round head ($10 total)
- 6 - 3" corner braces ($5)
- 10 - truss clips ($10)
- 2 - small L brackets ($2)
- 1 - 12' strip of vinyl moulding 1-1/2" x 1/4" ($10)
- 24 - wood screws (#8 x 5/8") Philips flat head ($5)
- 22 - deck screws, 1-5/8" long ($8)
- 10 - nut/bolt sets (#8 x 5/8") with 1 flat & 1 fender washer (1" dia) per set ($5 total)
- 4 - nut/bolt sets (#8 x 5/8") with 2 flat washers per set ($3)
- 2 - metal handles with 4" spacing ($6)
- 1 - model spray paint can (3 oz), Navy Aggressor Gray - FS36251 ($8)
- 1 - gallon of flat latex paint ($25)
- 1 - set of paint brushes/rollers - 1" brush, 3" & 9" rollers ($10)
Step 2: Get Some Tools
- Jigsaw with blade to cut plywood
- Cordless drill/screwdriver
- Drill bits - 1/2", 1/4", 3/16", 1/8", 1/16" and 1-1/8" drill bits
- Circular saw (optional)
- Tape measure
- Bubble level
Step 3: Cutting the Floor Piece (30 Min)
TIP - have the home improvement store cut off a 42-inch piece (red line)
Use a card table or bricks to get the plywood off the floor.
The floor piece is 42x34x24 inches. If you have a circular saw, use it to cut the 2 long sides. Otherwise, use the jigsaw to cut the 3 sides slowly. Also cut a tapered notch 4-1/2" wide centered along the front edge of the floor that is 5-0" deep and tapers to 2-1/2" wide. This notch is for one of the office chair wheels.
Finish the floor piece by sanding the rough edges.
Step 4: Cutting the Joystick Panels (1 Hr)
The joystick panels are located on the corners of the plywood sheet. The bottom edge is 8 inches and the curved outer edge is roughly based on a 40-inch radius.
To create the outline on the plywood, transfer at least 6 points from the grid then freehand the curve by connecting the points. Transfer more points to improve the accuracy. The straight sides are 21", 8.5", and 13.5" with a 1" edge on top.
Use a card table or bricks to get the plywood off the floor so the jigsaw blade won't hit anything. Cut slowly and stop occasionally to move the table / bricks to support the next part of the outline being cut. Avoid cutting the dashboard piece which is adjacent to one of the joystick panels. Cut out both panels and finish them by sanding the rough edges.
Step 5: Cutting the Firewall (1 Hr)
The firewall piece has a 24" edge and is 36" wide and 33" tall. It's based on an oval 38" tall with the bottom cut-off to create the 24" edge.
To create the outline on the plywood, transfer at least 10 points from the grid then freehand the curve by connecting the points. Transfer more points to improve the accuracy.
Use a card table or bricks to get the plywood off the floor so the jigsaw blade won't hit anything. Cut slowly and stop occasionally to move the table / bricks to support the next part of the outline being cut.
Cut out a 4-1/2" diameter vent hole located 2" from the top edge of the firewall. Use a 1/2" drill bit to start the vent hole then insert the jigsaw blade into that hole to cut out the rest of the vent hole. A 120-mm PC fan can be attached over this hole later to improve circulation.
Drill 2 cable holes (1-1/8" drill bit) located 6" from the bottom edge of the firewall and centered 2-1/2" from the left edge for one hole and 2-1/2" from the right edge for the other hole.
Finish the firewall and holes by sanding the rough edges.
Step 6: Attaching the Firewall to the Floor (30 Min)
TIP - build this in the room where it will be used - it won't fit through doors full-assembled!
Use 2 large brackets and 8 sets of nuts/bolts/washers to attach the firewall to the floor.
Put a scrap piece of plywood under the small end of the floor and drill two 3/16" holes spaced 23" apart and 5" from the 24" wide edge. Drill two more holes 7.5" from the edge. Insert 4 bolts with one washer each from the bottom side of the floor. Install each large bracket with the lip facing out - add a flat washer, lock washer, and nut to each bolt and tighten all 4 nuts.
Set the firewall on the edge of the floor and hold it up against the brackets making sure the edges are aligned and the firewall is square with the floor (use level). Mark the 4 bracket holes on the firewall with a pencil then drill four 3/16" holes. Insert 4 bolts with one washer each from the back side of the firewall, place the firewall so the bolts go through the bracket holes, then add a flat washer, lock washer, and nut to each bolt and tighten all 4 nuts.
Step 7: Attaching the Joystick Panels to the Floor (30 Min)
Use 2 large brackets and 8 sets of nuts/bolts/washers to attach the 2 joystick panels to the floor. The picture shows 4 brackets but I removed the inner brackets later once I figured out how I was going to support the joysticks.
Put a scrap piece of plywood under the large end of the floor and drill two 3/16" holes spaced 28" apart and 5" from the 34" wide edge. Drill two more holes like the first two but 7.5" from the 34" wide edge. Insert 4 bolts with one washer each from the bottom side of the floor. Install each large bracket with the lip facing out - add a flat washer, lock washer, and nut to each bolt and tighten all 4 nuts.
Set one joystick panel on the edge of the floor and hold it up against the bracket making sure the edges are aligned and the panel is square with the floor (use level). Mark the 2 bracket holes on the panel with a pencil then drill two 3/16" holes. Insert 2 bolts with one washer each from the outside of the panel, place the panel so the bolts go through the bracket holes, then add a flat washer, lock washer, and nut to each bolt and tighten both nuts. Repeat for the second joystick panel.
Step 8: Attaching the Center Stringers (30 Min)
Use 4 angle brackets (3") and 16 wood screws (5/8") to attach the 2 center stringers (1x3 boards) to the firewall and joystick panels.
Start by attaching the short side of 2 angle brackets to the firewall - the top of each bracket should be 14.5" above the floor and flush with the edge of the firewall. Repeat by attaching 2 angle brackets to the joystick panels, also 14.5" above the floor.
To ensure a good fit with the 1x3 stringers, mark the cut lines by holding each board next to the two angle brackets and draw the cut lines parallel with the firewall and the joystick panel, then cut the center stringer boards. Install the stringer boards on top of the brackets, then secure in place with 2 wood screws from the bottom of each bracket.
See below for a close-up of an installed bracket ...
Step 9: Center Stringer Bracket Example
Step 10: Installing the Upper Stringers (30 Min)
Use 2 angle brackets (3"), 8 wood screws (5/8"), and 4 deck screws to attach the 2 upper stringers (larger 1x4 boards) to the firewall and joystick panels.
Start by slightly bending the 2 angle brackets wider than 90 degrees since the upper stringers are mounted with a slight flair. Attach the short side of each bracket to the firewall with the top of each bracket 29.5" above the floor and 3/4" from the edge of the firewall.
To ensure a good fit with the 1x4 stringers, mark the cut lines by holding each board next to the firewall bracket and the top of the joystick panel, then draw the cut lines parallel with the firewall and the joystick panel, then cut the upper stringer boards.
Mark and drill two 1/8" holes at the top of each joystick panel so 2 deck screws will go into the end of each stringer - slightly angle the holes to align with the slight angle of each stringer. Use the 1/4" drill bit to create a small countersink space for the screw head of each screw.
Install each stringer board by installing one 5/8" screw through the firewall bracket and then installing both deck screws and then installing the other 5/8" screw through the firewall bracket. See below for a close-up of an installed upper bracket ...
Step 11: Upper Stringer Bracket Example
Step 12: Cutting the Joystick Boxes (30 Min)
Use a card table or bricks to get the first 4 ft x 2 ft plywood piece off the floor. The joystick box side requires a 20-1/4" wide cut. The joystick box top is 12" wide at one end and 9-1/2" wide at the other. If you have a circular saw, use it to make the 2 cuts. Otherwise, use the jigsaw to cut them slowly. Finish the pieces by sanding the rough edges.
If you want to add cup holders, cut a 3-1/2" hole in the joystick box top using a 1/2" drill bit and jigsaw. The hole should be centered 12" from the wide end of the top and 3-1/2" from the edge. Sand the rough edges. Also cut 2 pieces 3-1/2" x 4-1/4" from scrap plywood to use as the cup holder bottoms.
Repeat with the second 4 ft x 2 ft plywood piece.
Step 13: Attaching the Joystick Box Brackets (30 Min)
Use 2 corner braces (3") and 8 flat head wood screws (5/8") to attach each joystick box side to a joystick box top.
Start by placing the side piece on top of the joystick box top aligning the ends and edges. Place each corner brace 5" from each end and mark the holes with a pencil. Drill a 1/16" hole about 1/2" deep into each mark and then install the wood screws into the corner braces and the top piece and then the side piece.
Repeat for the other set of side & top pieces and be sure to flip the top piece so there's a left & right box (instead of 2 left boxes).
If you cut holes for cup holders, draw a level line 1-7/8" up the side piece and aligned with the hole. Drill two 1/8" holes on that drawn line. Use the 1/4" drill bit to create a small countersink space for both screw heads and then center the cup holder bottom on the drawn line and secure it with two 1-5/8" deck screws. Repeat for the other cup holder bottom.
Step 14: Installing the Joystick Boxes (20 Min - Part 1)
Use 2 deck screws and 1 corner brace (3") with 4 flat head wood screws (5/8") to attach each joystick box to each joystick panel and the floor.
Start by drilling two 1/8" holes that are located 2" and 10" from the inside edge of each joystick panel. Mark and drill the holes from the inside then use the 1/4" drill bit to create a small countersink space on the outside of the panel for the screw head of each screw. Place the joystick box against the joystick panel with the edges aligned and secure it in place with the 2 deck screws.
Repeat with the 2nd joystick box.
Step 15: Installing the Joystick Boxes (10 Min - Part 2)
Check that the long edge of the joystick box is square with the front edge of the floor then place the corner brace 5" from the far end of the joystick box and mark the holes with a pencil. Drill a 1/16" hole about 1/2" deep into each mark and then install the wood screws into the corner brace to attach the joystick box to the floor.
Repeat for the other joystick box and corner brace.
Step 16: Installing the Lower Stringers (30 Min)
Use 4 angle brackets (3") and 16 wood screws (5/8") to attach the 2 lower stringers (1x3 boards) to the firewall and joystick panels.
Start by slightly bending two of the angle brackets wider than 90 degrees for the firewall side and slightly bend the other two angle brackets less than 90 degrees for the joystick panel side.
Due to the tight spacing, attach the brackets to the stringers first, then attach the stringers to the firewall and joystick panels. Do this by using one 5/8" wood screw to attach each bracket (long side) to each end of the stringer then test the installation and adjust the angle of the bent brackets as needed to ensure a good fit. Remove the stringer and install the 2nd wood screw in each bracket to secure them to the stringer. Repeat for the 2nd stringer.
Install both lower stringers using the remaining 8 wood screws. See below for a close-up of the installed brackets ...
Step 17: Lower Joystick Panel Bracket Example
Ensure the outer edge of the stringer is flush with the outer edge of the joystick panel.
Step 18: Lower Firewall Bracket Example
Use the upper two holes in the bracket. The upper stringer edge will NOT be flush with the firewall edge - the lower edge will be flush with the floor edge.
Step 19: Cutting the Desk Top (10 Min)
This is a tricky piece to cut and install because it needs to be matched to the space between the upper stringers and the keyboard drawer needs to be installed before the desk top is installed. My desk top ended up 30-1/4" wide and 14-3/4" deep with the back edge of the desk top 25-1/8" wide. This depth should be enough to mount a racing wheel and still have space behind it for a monitor.
Cut this piece from the leftover section of the 4' x 8' piece of plywood using a circular saw or jigsaw (go slowly). Finish the piece by sanding the rough edges.
Step 20: Installing the Desk Top (1 Hr)
Install the desk top using 6 deck screws.
Using a level, mark a line that is 29-3/4" above the cockpit floor on the inside of each upper stringer. Extend the line to the front and back until it gets to the edge of the stringer. When it's time to install the desk top, this line will match the top edge of the desk top.
Using the level again, mark a 2nd line that is 29-3/8" above the cockpit floor. This line will be the centerline for the 3 screws that will be used to attach the desk top to the upper stringers.
Test fit the desk top between the stringers - it's okay if there is a small gap (1/8") at either end because the stringers will flex some when the screws are tightened. If the gaps are larger, sand down the edges until the gaps are no bigger than 1/8".
When the fit is good, mark the location of the front edge of the desk top by drawing a line through the 2 lines marked on each upper stringer. Now mark the 3 screw holes by marking the lower line at 2" and 7-1/2" and 13" from that front edge line.
Drill the three 1/8" holes from the inside of each upper stringer. Use the 1/4" drill bit to create a small countersink space for each screw head on the outside of each upper stringer.
Before installing the desk top, attach the keyboard drawer to the bottom of the desk top by first mounting the brackets and then the keyboard shelf. With the tight spacing and the shelf 24" wide, the mounting brackets need to face inward with the mounting holes centered 23-3/4" apart. The holes are spaced from the far edge of the desk top 1-1/2" and 2-3/4" for one bracket and 12-0" and 13-1/4" for the other bracket.
Drill 1/16" partial holes for each of the 8 mounting screws. TIP - to avoid drilling through the other side of the desk top, place a small piece of tape on the drill bit about 1/2" from the tip. Attach both brackets but don't tighten the screws completely.
Hold the keyboard shelf in place to check the bracket locations - the front edge of the shelf should align with the front edge of the desk top. Adjust the bracket locations to ensure a tight fit, then remove the shelf and tighten the screws to secure the brackets. Re-check the spacing with the keyboard shelf and adjust the brackets again if needed.
Hold the shelf in place again and mark the 4 holes. Drill 1/16" partial holes for each of the 4 mounting screws. TIP - to avoid drilling through the other side of the shelf, place a small piece of tape on the drill bit about 1/2" from the tip. Attach the shelf with 4 screws.
Finally, install the desk top by holding it in place against the upper line and inserting the front screw through each upper stringer. To help get the first screw in, temporarily insert 2 screws on one side and rest the desk top on them, then align the other side and install the front screw. Now remove the temporary screws and install the other front screw while holding the desk top in place. Check that the desk top is still aligned with the upper line and insert the center 2 screws and finally insert the back 2 screws.
Step 21: Installing the Joystick Panel Handles (optional)
These handles help move the VR Cockpit Desk and help the person seated in the office chair pull it into gaming position. It's much easier to install these handles before the body panels are installed.
First, drill 2 mounting holes (3/16" drill bit) in each panel centered 2" down from the joystick panel edge and spaced 2-1/4" and 6-1/4" from the inside edge of each panel.
Then attach the 2 handles using the screws included with the handles.
Step 22: Cutting the Body Panels (1 Hr)
Have the Home Improvement Store cut the white 4x8 panel in half.
Place a smooth edge from one of the 4x4 panels against the bottom edge of the cockpit and bend the panel around the center and upper stringer. Have someone hold the panel in place, then trace the outline of the cockpit on the panel using a pencil - this will be the cut line. Duct tape can also be used to hold the panel in place (see example below). Mark L or R on the panel then cut out the panel using a jigsaw. Finish the piece by sanding the rough edges.
Repeat for the other body panel.
Step 23: Body Panel Tracing Example
Trace the outline of the cockpit onto the body panel.
Step 24: Attaching the Body Panel Brackets (30 Min)
Attach the 10 truss clips to the upper stringers using 20 wood screws (5/8").
With the tape measure hooked onto the edge of the firewall, mark each upper stringer at 2", 11", 20", 29", and 38". For the first 2 marks, add a mark 1/2" down from the top edge of the stringer. For the center mark, add a mark 5/8" down from the top edge, and for the last 2 marks, add a mark 3/4" down from the top edge.
Mark the holes for each clip by aligning the top RIGHT corner of each clip with the marks for each clip (see pic). Mark the other stringer by aligning the top LEFT corner of each clip with the marks.
Partially drill 1/16" holes about 1/2" deep into each of the 20 hole marks then install the 10 truss clips using the 20 wood screws (5/8").
Step 25: Adjusting the Body Panel Brackets (10 Min)
Use pliers to slowly bend each bracket down. The bracket closest to the firewall should be bent roughly 45 degrees to align with the shape of the firewall. The bracket closest to the joystick panel should be bent roughly 60 degrees down to align with the shape of the joystick panel. The other 3 brackets should be bent so that they gradually transition from 45 degrees to 60 degrees.
Repeat for the brackets on the other side.
Step 26: Attaching the Body Panels (1 Hr)
Use 10 sets of 5/8" nuts/bolts and 10 sets of flat & fender (1") washers to attach the 2 body panels.
With the tape measure hooked onto the firewall end of the right body panel and about 2" from the top edge, mark the panel at 2-5/8"", 11-5/8", 20-5/8", 29-5/8", and 38-5/8". Add a second mark 2" down from the top edge of the panel for each of the previous 5 marks.
Also mark 3 holes 2" from the bottom edge of the body panel and spaced 4" from each end and the 3rd in the center.
Drill all 8 holes with a 3/16" drill bit.
Put 1 fender washer on 1 bolt and insert the bolt through the first panel hole and the first bracket and add a flat washer & nut but don't tighten it yet. Repeat for the last panel hole and bracket and then for the other 3 panel holes and brackets (again, don't tighten the nuts).
Position the panel so the top edge is just above the edge of the upper stringer then tighten the 5 bolts. Check the fit of the panel along the edge of the joystick panel by bending the panel down to the bottom stringer. It's easier to do this if the floor is propped up on one side (see example pic below). If the panel edge isn't parallel with the edge of the joystick panel, loosen the body panel bolts and adjust the panel, then tighten the bolts and check the alignment again.
Once the alignment with the joystick panel and upper stringer are good and the 5 bolts are tight, put fender washers on 3 deck screws, bend the body panel down, then secure the body panel to the lower stringer with the 3 deck screws.
Repeat for the left body panel - remember to measure the 5 holes from the firewall end of the panel.
Step 27: Body Panel Lower Screws Example
Floor propped up for lower panel screws installation.
Step 28: Cutting the Dashboard (30 Min)
The dashboard fits flush against the desk top and is a tight fit between the upper stringers. Adjust the jigsaw blade to get a tapered cut to match the tapered angle of the upper stringers. Also cut the curved edge with the slanted jigsaw blade.
Measure the back edge of the desk top - it should be close to 23-3/4". This will be the width of the dashboard base. The base height is 3-1/2" and then flairs 3/4" on each side so the dashboard will rest on the upper stringers. The total height of the dashboard is 10" and the curved part can be free-handed to roughly match the curve of the firewall.
Cut out the dashboard and check the fit - sand where needed so that the dashboard slides into place and fits flush against the desk top.
Drill a cable hole (1-1/8" drill bit) that is centered 6" down from the top edge. Finish the piece by sanding the rough edges.
Step 29: Installing the Dashboard (10 Min)
Use 2 deck screws to install the dashboard.
With the dashboard in place, mark the line where the desk top hits the dashboard. Remove the dashboard and mark that line 5" from each end and 3/8" below that line - this will be the location for the 2 deck screws.
Use a 1/8" drill bit to drill both holes and then use a 1/4" drill bit on the other side of the dashboard to create a countersink space for the screw heads.
Install the dashboard and ensure it's flush against the desk top then secure it by installing the 2 deck screws.
Step 30: Cutting the Dashboard Hood (30 Min)
Use the picture above to re-create the outline at one end of the 4' x 8' plastic sheet, then use scissors to cut it out. The curved pencil line near the yard stick should also be cut out - this edge will be flush with the firewall edge.
Slightly loosen the first 3 panel bolts on each side and then insert each hood edge about 1" down between the body panel and upper stringer. Check the fit to ensure the back edge is flush with the firewall and the front edge is in contact with the top of the dashboard. If additional trimming is needed, mark the cut lines then remove the hood and trim with scissors. Replace the hood and check the fit again.
Step 31: Installing the Dashboard Hood (10 Min)
Once the fit and shape is acceptable, tighten the body panel bolts to secure the dashboard hood in place.
Step 32: Prepping the Canopy Frame (30 Min)
Use the 2 small L brackets, the 1-1/2" wide moulding, and 4 sets of nuts/bolts (5/8") with 2 flat washers per set to assemble the canopy frame.
Start by flattening the 2 small L brackets as shown in the picture above. Cut a piece of moulding 61" long and mark the 2 bolt holes on each end of the moulding by aligning the ends with the long end of each bracket.
Drill the 4 bolt holes, then insert the bolts with 1 washer each through the holes and then the brackets and secure with a washer and nut for each bolt.
Step 33: Installing the Canopy Frame (10 Min)
Hold 1 bracket against the upper stringer 3" from the end - the bracket edge should be resting on the stringer (see picture). Mark the top hole of the bracket - repeat for the other bracket.
Drill the two partial holes 1/2" deep with a 1/16" drill bit then attach 1 bracket to the stringer using a 5/8" wood screw. Carefully bend the moulding over to the other stringer and secure the other bracket with another 5/8" wood screw.
Step 34: Painting the VR Cockpit Desk (3 Hr)
The paint formula in the picture above is matched to the FS36251 Navy Aggressor Gray that is used on the F-15C. Many of the earlier pictures show wood that has been painted with a white primer but it's not really needed now that all-in-one paint is available (paint & primer combined).
To make the cockpit easier to paint, remove the dashboard hood and both body panels. Spray paint the 10 fender washers (1") and 10 screw heads that are used to attach the body panels.
Use the 3" roller and 1" paint brush to paint the cockpit body and frame. To save time, just paint the areas that will be visible.
Use the 9" roller to paint the underside of the dashboard hood and the inside of both body panels. After all the panels dry (30-60 min), carefully flip them and paint the top of the hood and the outside of both body panels (white side) using the 9" roller in the horizontal direction (front to back) so any remaining paint lines will be horizontal lines.
After everything has dried thoroughly, carefully re-attach the body panels (see earlier instructions), and then install the dashboard hood. Inspect the fully-assembled cockpit desk for paint scratches or nicks and touch-up where needed.
Step 35: Optional Eye Candy / Stickers
The stickers were designed from scratch using PowerPoint then printed on either clear or white label sheets (8-1/2 x 11) from an office supply store. Use an X-Acto knife to cut out the stickers and use a level and pencil to mark the sticker locations.
The paint on the body panels will peel off easily so apply the stickers lightly and once the alignment is good, smooth them over so they stick well. If paint does peel off, apply touch-up paint and wait for it to dry completely.
The thin black line around the canopy edge is automotive pin-striping from the auto parts store.
Step 36: Ready for Take-off !!!
Attach the HOTAS controls to the joystick boxes using Velcro strips or the mounting holes on the bottom of the controls. Install the other PC components using the cable holes at the bottom of the firewall for the power cord and network cable.
Finally, boot up the PC to verify everything is working correctly, get a drink, and put on that VR headset - it's time to go fly !!!
Photo - https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/F-15_take_off.jpg