I recently decided that I wanted to build a media center PC. I wanted something that would be easy to use and look fantastic in my living room. After seeing a similar design elsewhere I decided I would try my hand at building a coffee table with an integrated monitor.
I tried to keep things simple as possible. I chose plans that were available for free online and modified them to fit the form factor I wanted.
I used tools I had available but these tools will vary depending on the plans you choose.
I used drills, a table saw, a chop saw, a pocket hole jig, a palm sander and a jigsaw.
Step 1: Planning
Like all projects you should always go in with a solid plan. Before picking out my table design I did a fair amount of research on touch screen monitors, touch screen add-ons for regular monitors and multi touch surfaces in general. I chose to use the Acer T231H for a few reasons. Its reviews were fairly good, it was a size I felt would work well and its corners are very square, making it easier to fit into the table.
I decided that I wanted to mount a mini PC under the table. I chose the Asus Eee Box EB1021. It is small, it has built in wifi, it comes with USB 3.0 and has HDMI output. It also comes with a VESA mounting bracket which made my life a LOT easier when it came to final placement.
Find the plans for your table. There are plenty of free and paid plans online. I chose this set of plans: http://ana-white.com/2012/05/plans/itable
If you decide you want a bigger or smaller table adjust your plans accordingly. I chose to make my table 3’ x 4’ foot with 18” high legs.
Draw out your table using the measurements you have decided on. Make sure you clearly mark where you want your monitor to sit and where you want to mount the PC. It is a good idea to wait until you actually have the electronics in hand so you can get accurate measurements. I modified the size of my table just slightly to accommodate everything I wanted to do with it. The more time and thought you put into this part the better your finished product will be.
Step 2: Supplies
Pick up the wood and hardware you need for the plans you chose.
Research your wood options. I chose to build my table out of pine. I chose it mainly for price but also because of the availability of other woods in my area.
When you are shopping for your wood make sure you choose pieces that are fairly straight and free of knots that look like they may fall out as the wood dries over time. Generally, if the knot has a black ring around it I would avoid it. Being picky with the wood you choose from the pile will save you a lot of sanding and wood filling in the end.
Step 3: Basic Assembly
Cut all of your pieces ahead of time and label them if you need to. Dry fit your cut wood to make sure everything will fit together flush.
Begin building your table according to the plans you chose. Luckily, the plans I picked made use of a pocket hole jig and assembly went fairly smooth. I was able to put the whole thing together in a day. Having an extra set of hands around for this part will make life a little easier.
When your table is assembled go over it with a palm sander. I used coarse sand paper at first to smooth out any bumps and imperfections and then went over the whole thing with progressively finer and finer sandpaper until I got it as smooth as I wanted.
Step 4: Cutting the Hole for the Monitor, Fitting and Making the Brackets
Measure and draw out the lines for your monitor. If you have a carpenter’s square around now is the perfect time to use it. Grab your monitor, put it on the table and make sure that the lines you drew were the correct size. Cut out the rectangle you drew with a jigsaw. Be careful not to cut the hole too big. It is better to cut it a tad too small and then have to recut than have to scrap your entire tabletop.. Dry fit your monitor to make sure it looks good. This is another fantastic time to have an extra set of hands around.
Sand the area around your jigsaw cut to keep things looking nice.
The next step is to build the bracket to hold the monitor in the right place. This step will depend entirely on the monitor you choose. The Acer monitor I chose had large flat areas on the back that worked great. The monitor I chose was an inch and a quarter thick where I wanted to support it. I built and mounted two L shaped brackets that would bring my monitor exactly to the height of the tabletop. While I was doing this I also built a bracket that would hold the mini PC in a place that was easily accessible, had plenty of room to run wires and where none of the air intakes/vents were blocked.
Now that all the wood is in place you can begin finishing. Do any final sanding if needed and then clear off as much dust as you can. If you feel it is necessary you can add a pre-stain wood conditioner to your table prior to staining. This is especially important if you are using soft wood and in my mind it is worth the 15 extra minutes you’ll spend applying a coat. The finish on my table was achieved by applying 2 coats of stain, a day apart and then two coats Minwax satin quick drying polyurethane.
Step 6: Installing the Computer, Power Bar and Wires
After the whole thing was dry I was able to take it inside and mount the computery bits.
I attached the VESA mount to the bottom of the table with 8 screws. It was a tad overkill but at least I can rest assured that the mount will never let go.
Next I mounted the actual computer and a power bar. I knew roughly where I wanted the power cable to come out of my table when it was finished so I mounted my power bar in a position that would best achieve those results. Next I plugged in all of my computer cables and ran them in a way that I thought would hide them the best when the table was upright.
I picked up a bunch of velcro cable organizers to keep everything in place. After I had a rough idea of where I wanted my wires to sit I stapled the velcro organizers in positions where they would best hold everything in place and and then and ran the wires through them.
After all of my cables (including the monitor power cable) had been run I flipped the table back over, plugged everything in and turned the system on for the first time.
Step 7: Powering Everything Up
Everything runs great so far. I noticed that the screen is fairly dark when viewed at extreme angles but that is something I am comfortable living with. I cut another board on a slight angle and if necessary I can use that to prop up the monitor on an angle for better viewing from the couch. I plan to cut a thin sheet of acrylic or plexiglass to protect the monitor when I have people over/when the system is not in use.
All together the project cost just over 800 dollars. I’m sure its usefulness will expand beyond that of just a media center. The size of the table itself lends itself well to any kind of board game night and no doubt the screen can be of use in any situation.