My kids really wanted a computer. Mostly for Minecraft but for other reasons too. Their older step-brother bought a new computer so I decided to see what I could do on a reasonable budget with his hand-me-down.
Step 1: Gathering the Materials
I had bought a telescope many years ago that eventually acquired a defect that pretty much made it impossible to use. I saved all the parts but bought a new one (pictured in the next step) that I moved to a different location. I used the old tripod as the base for the new workstation. I went to Home Depot and bought a 2' x 4' piece of 1/2 inch Russian birch plywood. It is exceptionally strong and the edges are attractive in their post-cut state (a little sanding might be needed to soften any corners).
Step 2: Down to the Nitty Gritty
I covered the middle bearing with plastic wrap to avoid getting grease all over everything. I used a carriage bolt hammered through the hole I drilled in the center of the triangular piece. A washer was required on the bottom before I placed the nut. The keyboard trays are cut 1 ft x 2 ft and the triangle is 2 ft long on all three sides. This is the footprint of the tripod.
I had some L-brackets left over from an old fence. They're old and quite solid (not like the ones in the hardware stores these days). The brackets need to be mounted with their top sitting level regardless of their orientation. I chose 30" from the floor as all the tables and desks in the house were at that height. The top triangle is at about 35" off the floor.
I used a carpenter's square to figure out the fancy cut on the front edge of the keyboard trays. I put a flat bracket underneath to stabilize the joint and filled with wood filler. Once the trays were in place I put a piece of 1"x2" across the back and used mini-L-brackets to attach it to the tripod and the underside of the tray. You can see it in the pictures on the next step. The trays feel very sturdy even when I'm using the keyboard so it should stand up to them fairly well.
Step 3: Mounting the Computer and Dealing With the Wires
Any modern computer that can support two monitors as an extended desktop can be configured to work as two workstations. I used softXpand to achieve this with Windows7 but Ubuntu and other Linux distros can be used for free. At $30 I felt the program would accelerate the setup so I deemed it a worth-while purchase. I started by working with the existing windows but soon learned that was the wrong decision. I performed a recovery to factory default and all the previous problems evaporated. I recommend that you flat-line windows from the start (should you wish to try).
I attached a 1"x2" along the back at the bottom and then used a 1"x4" which I notched out before attaching. This is so I can still adjust the height using the tripod. It also allowed me to remove the center tray. I needed that in order to get the computer case in there. I used a foam ball to provide front support to avoid pinching the case which would be hard on it due to unavoidable movement of the desk. I dropped one short screw through the bottom of the case into the 1x4 in order to ensure it wouldn't float away. Once I cleaned all the dust out of the inside, I purposefully turned the air pathways out into the open side rather than up against the wall.
2 keyboards, 2 monitors, 2 mice, 2 headsets (as requested by the kids), a DVI-to-VGA converter, & a wireless USB NIC. Cha-ching, this is definitely not a budget friendly project. I figured two mini-laptops would have cost me $600-700 minimum and I think I've spent $300-400 so far.
In terms of cable management a little thought, Velcro straps and black twist ties can do a lot. Try to avoid a lot of tight bends and never cinch tighten straps when two wires are involved. Avoid putting power wires together with signal type wires except for short runs of a couple of inches. When they are together in parallel cables tend to leak which propagates as noise on the line or worse, premature loss of equipment.
Step 4: Final Thoughts and Finishing Touches Not Yet Done
Judging from the hugs I got, they like it just fine. It takes up a surprisingly small amount of floor space, is easy to sweep under and makes supervising computer use very easy. I haven't run into any games or apps that won't work with the split desktops but apparently it can happen. There are work-around(s) so I'm not too worried.
I think I might put some black paint on the bare wooden parts that I added to the tripod below the keyboard trays. I'll stain and wax the plywood to bring out the beauty of the wood. The final addition might be a small UPS so that I can unplug it and move it to a new plug without having to reboot.