Introduction: Desktop Power Outlet
One of the great annoyances of life with electronics is that many of them need to be charged. In a future world maybe we'll have an induction system in our houses and cars that allow these things to run and charge without hassle, but until then we must deal with outlets and power strips.
Often our power outlets are in inconvenient locations. Especially when you have a computer desk and it covers the outlet in your wall. This will definitely make your day when it comes to charging those little electronics we all wander around with, but it could be beefed up and used in your shop and garage for large 20amp outlets, both 120v and 240v.
Step 1: What You Need
You need stuff.*
* A power outlet and cover that matches it
* An outlet electrical box
* A wire clamp for that box
* Either a replacement cord for tools or a power cord for a computer or printer that you have lying around
Tools and things.
* A saw of some variety
* Screw driver
* Knife or wire stripper
* Paint, if desired
* A drill and bits
* Wood filler
* Finish nails or decorative screws
* Electrical tester
If you had a 3D printer, then you'd need much less stuff. Design and print your box and tada. Put a wire and outlet in it and you're off and running. You could even print the outlet cover and maybe even the screw to hold it on. Or just make it snap on to the box. And you'd likely not even have to paint it.
Step 2: Getting Started
Decide how you want the wire oriented as it comes out of the box you build. I just picked one of the knock-out holes on the back of the electrical box. Coming out of the back this way will let me choose whether I want the box to lay on it's side or stand up.
I choose to use an electrical box inside the wooden box because these things are generally approved by Underwriters Laboratory (UL) for safety. In the unlikely event that the outlet sparks I'd rather it not be in direct contact with wood.
Step 3: Box Construction
With the wire clamp protruding out of the back of the electrical box you'll need to compensate for it by making the wooden box deeper than the it protrudes. Once you find that measurement you can mark and cut your wood.
You'll notice in the pictures that I cut my wood with 45 degree angles at the corners. This isn't necessary, but since I have a miter saw I went ahead and did it. You can just as easily cut the pieces straight. It's actually easier to do it like that, but if you want to stain the box it won't look as nice as if you 45 the corners. And it'll impress people with how diligent and thorough you are.
I have an air nail gun, so that's what I used to put mine together. You can just as easily use finish nails or screws. It'll help to pre-drill for both. And just for added strength use some good wood glue in the joints.
You could inset the back of the box, but that would only be necessary if you're going to be staining it and trying to impress people with how diligent and thorough and utterly OCD you are.
Step 4: Shaping and Filling and Finishing
If you're going to do any shaping of the box it's best to do it before filling the holes and gaps. You can use a sander like I did or a router if you have one and are going for a very uniform look. Or a few wood files and sandpaper and the painkiller of your choice for your sore wrists and cramped palms.
If you use a sander you won't get uniform edges. I'm making this for me and will probably be the only one to notice it. I can live with some unevenness.
Use a wood filler that's close in color to your wood. This is really only important if you're stain it though. If you're painting you can use whatever is at hand. Fill the gaps, let it dry, sand it smooth.
Drill the hole for your power cord before finishing the box. If it happens to booger up the wood, you can sand and fill as needed. You'll want to use a bit as close to the size of the cord as possible for a good fit with little wiggle.
Spray paint, hand paint, or stain (if staining coat with a clear sealer).
Step 5: Wiring and Installing
Compensating for the protruding wire clamp leaves some space at the back of the box. Lucky for me mine happened to be the thickness of the wood I'd used to make the box. So I took a piece of scrap, put a little wood glue on it, and put it inside to fill the gap.
Thread the wire through the hole in the box and then . . . thread the wire through the hole in the box. The other box. Through the wire clamp. Pull out enough so that you can strip the outer black insulation back and expose about 3 inches of the inner wires. Tighten down the wire clamp about a half an inch before the stripped area begins (make sure it clamps down on the black outter insulation). Make it pretty tight so that you don't have to worry about the odd event of something pulling it out.
A lot of people get nervous about wiring electricity. There is really nothing to it. I often tell people that running electric wiring is like running extension cords and the only difference is at the end you have to strip wires and screw them into something.
Here it couldn't be more simpler. All outlets are pretty much the same these days. The brass screw gets the black wire, the silver screw gets the white wire, and the green screw gets the green wire (or in the case of it not being insulated, the bare copper wire).
Once you have the outlet wired, push the electric box into the wooden enclosure and screw it in to secure it. I had to pre-drill a hole for my screw. You might have to as well, but it depends on the kind of electrical box you have.
Now that that's done, screw the outlet into the box and put on your cover.
Step 6: Test and Use and Other Options
All houses should come with an outlet tester. Or at least people should buy one when they go house shopping. Make sure you get the GFCI kind so you can check that GFCI circuits are working too. They are a great thing to have and can be bought for less than $10. To use it, just plug it into your new outlet and check that lights indicate that they are correctly wired. If there is an issue take apart your outlet and check your work. Worst case scenario is that you find out that your wall outlet (and maybe whole house) is wired incorrectly.
You might consider putting little stick-on no-skid feet on your outlet so that it doesn't move too much as you plug things into it. I didn't, but you certainly can. Plug it in, put it in the spot of your choice, and never again have to bend and contort and stretch to find an unfortunately placed electrical outlet.
As several comments point out there are now several makers of power outlets that include USB ports on them (see photo). Be careful what you buy though. If you want to charge an iPad you'll want to get an outlet in which the USB ports are rated for 2.1 amps. This is from the Amazon description of the outlet pictured below:
"The Leviton USB Charger/Tamper-Resistant Receptacle is compatible with a wide range of electronic devices including, but not limited to, the following: iPad, iPhone (including iPhone 5), Kindle Fire HD, iPod, tablets, mobile phones, Blackberry, Android phones, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, Bluetooth headsets, digital cameras, Kindle, Nook e-readers, GPS, and many more. Note: USB Ports are not intended to charge two tablets simultaneously. If the devices' combined power requirements exceed the power capacity of the USB ports, the charger will automatically shut down to protect your devices. To charge two tablets use the high power USB port and the tamper-resistant receptacle."