Portable Craft Center




Introduction: Portable Craft Center

I have an endless number of hobbies that I do in the basement, garage and a room upstairs. Sometimes, I would like to be working on them in the living room where the best music and large screen TV are. I decided to build a compact craft cart tailored to some specific hobby needs. The hobbies I wanted to address were: vinyl sticker preparation, electronics, wood carving - both power and hand carving and glass engraving. The basic goals were to keep the cart compact, not too obtrusive and as self-contained as possible. A friend of mine called it a compressed makerspace. That was the goal.

This project was designed with my specific needs and based on parts I either had around or could get cheaply. I would encourage anyone to use this Instructable to harvest ideas but not follow step by step.

An early decision is that I wanted to use neodymium magnets to hold things onto the cart wherever possible. That would let me reconfigure the cart to match the current hobby. That meant using steel but I wanted to minimize the machining of the steel. That lead me to equipment racks.

Step 1: The Cart

I wanted the cart to be portable, take up a minimum of floor space and to be tiltable. I find that working on projects can give me a back ache when hunched over a bench. I chose the equipment rack format since I could get standard rack accessories cheaply. I bought mine from http://www.mcmelectronics.com/ but they aren't carrying them anymore. They are available on ebay for about $30 plus shipping. The model is Stellar Labs 555-13835 Portable Pa Equipment Rack. It is a 12U rack with 1U being 1.75" and takes standard 19" wide equipment. It is load rated for 100lbs.

Step 2: Dust Collection

Through some ebay scrounging, I got an array of 120V fans made for cooling rack equipment. Since I wanted to mount them parallel to the face of the rack, I fabricated some brackets, starting with some right angle brackets, cutting one leg shorter and drilling them so the mounting holes at the rack and fans lined up. I mounted the brackets to the bottom of the rack holes to minimize the interference with the mesh covers. I still had to notch the covers where the mounting screw heads were, but that wasn't too bad.

I took a furnace filter and cut it in half to cover the fan area completely. I taped up the one cut edge, added a pull tab, and glued 1/2"x1/2" foam insulation strips around the filter. I used RTV glue for the bottom layer since they didn't stick well enough to the fan assembly. I built up layers until it was high enough that the top panel would press against it, assuring no dust leakage. If you look carefully, you will see that I left a small gap on the left and right sides for the part of the mesh panels that stick down.

I bought some 4U vented panels from MCM for about $15 for the pair. http://www.mcmelectronics.com/product/555-15468 The advantages of using these panels is that they are quite sturdy, already vented and are steel so magnets will attach easily.

Step 3: The Work Surface

Now that I had a steel backing, I wanted a smooth surface for my non-dusty projects I bought a cutting mat and cut it down to match the work surface. Not too surprisingly, these are not easy to cut. I found that my bandsaw was the right tool for cutting it. I bought a box of 50 1/2"x1/16" neodymium magnets from Amazon. I glued 3 evenly spaced along the top of the mat so that it is held in position. It is thin enough that the magnets will hold through the mat onto the steel mesh work surface.

To glue the magnets, roughen one face with sandpaper in addition to what they will be glued to. I used 30 minute epoxy, putting down a blob and dropping the magnet into it, roughened side down. I tried to orient the magnets so that the poles were all in the same direction and would be attracted to my magnet strip at the top of the worktable (more on that in a minute). Just as an aside, keep the magnets apart, especially once they get glue on them. Otherwise, you will have epoxy all over yourself trying to get them apart and in place before the glue sets. I'm not just guessing here.

Referring back to the image of the completed work surface from the previous step, you will see that the top vent has a magnetic kitchen knife holder screwed to the top. I mounted it so that it is removed with the top cover and doesn't interfere with air flow. The purpose is to keep tools from rolling down the table into my lap. Very important for carving tools.

In the photo, you can see some magnetic toy pieces that I can use like push pins for holding things to the work surface. I am going to turn some wooden ones with stronger magnets so they will hold better through the mat.

Step 4: Add More Rack Modules

Referring again to the top view of the rack, at the bottom I added a 1U box that used to be an obsolete network switch that I gutted. I used an angle grinder to open up the front and then filed the edges. I duct taped any holes in the bottom. I then glued a piece of hose along the bottom edge for my arms to rest on. The purpose of this is to catch any larger chips before they slide off the table. A vacuum can be used to clean it out.

Above the magnetic knife holder on the vented area I put a 1U power controller. I got mine from MCM on sale but you can get them on Amazon by searching for "rack mount power center". There was some spare room in the left hand side so I mounted a halogen lamp and velcroed the power supply to the first switched outlet on the power center. I could have used an LED gooseneck light but I like the intense task lighting from the halogen - it lights my work without lighting up the rest of the room. I used an industrial velcro to keep the supply from falling out - great stuff.

Next, I put a 2U rack box that I gutted and trimmed. I lined the bottom with a thick foam so any tools dropped in would be cushioned. Then I took some 1 7/8" (outside diameter) PVC pipe and cut it so that it fit snugly into the 2U rack, trapped between the lip and the foam. This made holsters for the power tools and keeps smaller tools from falling over.

Above that is a rod that was part of the original cart. I took the bottom one off but left the top one so that I could hang tools over the bar.

Step 5: Start Adding Accessories - the Back

Any flat surface is just an invitation. I velcroed on the charging station for my cordless screwdriver which can do some minor drilling. I store my multimeter there but it is held on with two magnets so I can easily move it to the work surface. I used a whole lot of velcro to stick my Proxxon power unit on. It supplies power to a lightweight engraver, Dremel-like tool and a sander. I also have a 'third hand' tool on 3 magnets. These things are amazingly useful for holding wires while tinning them, keeping things from moving and keeping fingers from burning.

Below that, I suspended a small vacuum cleaner that is always ready to do an end of day cleanup. Across the bottom legs, I put a shelf that holds small project and tool boxes, making it easy to reconfigure how the cart will be used that day. The brown box is my portable hand carving tool kit.

Step 6: More Accessories - the Left Side

I drilled two holes and mounted a pegboard screwdriver holder. Pegboard hooks come in different sizes so measure yours. Keeping with the magnetic theme, I have a kit of bits for the cordless screwdriver and a tape measure ready and waiting, stuck to the vertical upright.

Another important accessory - I added a cup holder. It was a cheap one from the automotive department of a department store. I didn't want my drink spilling with the tilting table top.

Step 7: Still More Accessories - the Right Side

I added a soldering iron stand to the top right corner. This is another tool you don't want rolling into your lap so it deserves its own stand. I prefer the brass tip cleaners so there is one on magnets in one of these pictures.

I put another pegboard rack on this side. This one is easier to hang wires, files and other tools on. The bag that is hanging has my oscilloscope probes and battery. In the very first picture you can see my scope made from a module from http://www.gabotronics.com/ Hindsight says that I should have bought a completed scope from them and not the module, but it was fun putting it in an Altoids can. The blue thing at the top is a small heat gun for heat shrinking wires and softening vinyl. It is sold as an embossing tool at craft stores for around $20.

I would like to add a glue gun but am concerned that they tend to drool a bit when hot. Right now it is in a separate case.

Step 8: We All Need Our Vises

I took an old speaker magnet, drilled and tapped a hole in the top and mounted a vise on it. The tricky part is not getting metal filings stuck to the magnet when you are doing this. I put the magnet in a sandwich bag and put masking tape over the area I wanted to drill. I drilled and tapped through the tape, which cut cleanly and didn't wrap around the bit. All of the chips were on the outside of the bag. I taped over the hole and turned the bag inside out, trapping all the particles on the inside.

Step 9: Getting a Little Crazy

Since some of what I do involves Raspberry Pi computers, I was looking for an excuse to put on on the cart. I found two reasons. First, I put a USB digital microscope on a Noga repositionable arm on the left side. I had to make an adapter for it to mount on the 1/4"x20 Noga screw. I mounted the Pi on the right side with a magnet and velcoed the USB hub on it. I used an application called guvcview for capture and display. In that first image (I like that image) you can see the magnification. The frame rate is only about 15fps so it would be hard to carve using it but it is great for inspection.

Since it needed USB power and the 7" monitor I chose also needed power, I used tie wraps to put a power strip along the right hand rail for the two computer oriented wall wart supplies. I used a wireless keyboard with integrated touchpad for the user interface. You can see it on the table in the Step 3 photo. There is also a wifi module on the Pi so it can access the internet.

There is a Linux application for connecting the oscilloscope that I built to display on the computer screen. I will be adding that soon.

Step 10: Summing It Up and Future Plans

Having a vinyl cutter is great. Things get labeled. The cart needed a name.

Future plans. I need to label the power switches. Some are obvious when you get the right one, others not so much, like the soldering iron.

I want to put another gooseneck arm with an magnifying glass on it to do fine work. Maybe the heads will be changeable.

The glue gun needs to be part of the cart.

I would have preferred adjustable height but it is about right for sitting on my couch.

Someone suggested motorizing it so it could park itself in a corner, but that might be just a bit of overkill. Maybe.

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    6 Discussions


    5 years ago

    Hmm 100 lbs. exceeded ?


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I would guess about 60-70lbs, including the cart. I can easily lift it off the ground but wouldn't want to lift it high. That includes the storage boxes, vacuum and Proxxon power supply.

    Pi Thief 00
    Pi Thief 00

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome project!! It is amazing how you fit so many tools on one table.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks. I have to add some hand tools but have used it a few times and am pleased with it. I'm sure it will evolve over time.

    That's so awesome, the table definitely looks like it has a lot of what ever crafter could need or want! Any plans to take it somewhere fun?


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks. Interesting thought. I hadn't considered it going anywhere other than a corner. When I take a craft somewhere (like carving), I bring a portable box with the tools. It isn't light... maybe 50lbs. It might go to a few maker faires to show off. Hmm, maybe I should talk about it at the NYC faire next year. Thanks for the idea.