If you are anything like me you are probably short on space with no shortage of ideas for projects you would like to work on. Whether you are still in school (any school will do, middle school, high school, or university) or out in the working world there never seems to be enough space to fit all of the projects/tools/computers/work/clothes/... and all the things you need to live you life. The only way you will have the room to work on the awesome projects in your head for the next cool Instructable is if you make better use of the space that you already have.
I know what you are thinking, "That is easy the say, but how do I do it and not break the bank. What good is an awesome project space if I have no money left to buy the parts and tools to make them happen". I was in this exact predicament with you but my will to make a way congealed into this idea for the most versatile work area possible under $300 and I need to share it with you. Truth be told I only spent about $246 for the core desk elements which do not include the computers, books, and electronic test equipment.
On top of this small price tag it is possible to accomplish this project with out any tools except for maybe a $5 rubber mallet and a $2 tape measure which are not needed but make things much easier.
Above is a picture of how my workstation turned out. I know what you are thinking, "No way this guy actually does any projects on that bench it is too clean!", but I assure it has seen plenty of use, but I made sure to have it clean for the pictures so you could see everything clearly and not get disctracted.
The goal of this Instructable is to take you through the design and build process in a step by step way. I will talk about where I searched for and found the exact parts I used as well as outlining a number of options that you can choose from to fit your exact needs. These options are provided because what worked best for me might not be exactly what you need. With that disclaimer out of the way lets get started with this choose your own adventure Instructable to create your hobby-project happy place!
What you will need:
-Determination to make that imaginative dream a reality
-Tape Measure (From measuring stuff so you only have to cut once)
-Rubber Mallet (Very Useful for assembly and modification/tear down)
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Step 1: Picking the Right Foundation
I had been searching for years for my dream work space but could never afford or fit any traditional solutions. This is when it hit me that if I wanted a sturdy and adjustable workstation that I would have to think outside the box and explore options that do not contain the words "table", "desk", and "workbench" in their names. I have enjoyed this site for years and I am constantly seeing the coolest Ikea hacks. So I thought why couldn't the same sort of modifications be applied to a different canvas.
The revelation that I had was to use industrial shelving. This stuff is as tough as nails, designed to support 100's of pounds per shelf while being extremely adjustable.
You are going to want to look for a sturdy set of shelves. Most shelves are too flimsy, narrow, short, or unstable to accomplish our goal, but there are a number of great options available that are sturdy enough and have the right dimensions for our purposes. What are the right dimensions you ask? While the height and width are subject to personal preference or your particular space constraints the depth absolutely has to be at least 24" to create a stable work area. This will give you enough are to work in while keeping your space stable because nobody wants their demise to be their awesome new workbench toppling over onto them. With that all said I would recommend at least 60" wide and 60" tall to give yourself ample room to work and store things.
The set of links below show the best options I could find that are readily available.
Huskie Steel Commercial Shelving: http://www.homedepot.com/p/qv/202251082
Gladiator Steel Shelving Unit: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Gladiator-4-Shelf-77-i...
Gladiator Steel Shelving Unit: http://www.lowes.com/pd_494039-46-GARS774SZG_4294...
There are a number of Edsal options at Lowes that can be shipped to the store but they cost an arm and a leg and since you and I only so many appendages it is best to save them if you can.
Xtreme Garage 8'W x 6'H x 30"D 3 Shelf: https://www.menards.com/main/p-2697594-c-9926.htm
Xtreme Garage 8'W x 8'H x 30"D 3 Shelf: https://www.menards.com/main/p-2697598-c-9926.htm
Xtreme Garage 6'W x 8'H x 30"D 3 Shelf: https://www.menards.com/main/p-2697579-c-9926.htm
Xtreme Garage 6'W x 6'H x 30"D 3 Shelf: https://www.menards.com/main/p-2697577-c-9926.htm
Xtreme Garage 4'W x 6'H x 30"D 3 Shelf: https://www.menards.com/main/p-2697564-c-9926.htm
They also sell all of the parts by themselves to you can mix and match exactly how you like. I would encourage you to explore the options if you have a Menards near you!
Local Industrial/Commercial Supply stores:
There are a number of local stores that can carry similar shelving units that are worth exploring as well but the world is a big place and I could not begin to list them all.
I ended up going with the Huskie Shelves because they were a little bit taller, a great deal, and I had a coupon for Home Depot (full disclosure). I has originally planned on going to Menards since they have a wide selection of kits and they sell just the shelving pieces so you can make it exactly how you like it and not have to buy a shelf kit. Unfortunately this idea came while I was visiting the Midwest where Menards exists but back in Texas where I was living the closest Menards was hundreds of miles away.
Note: If I could do it all over again I would pick the Xtreme Garage 8'x6'x30". (In fact I might still try!) The beauty of using a shelving unit is that if you get a different desk or you want to use a larger shelf you are not stuck with a clunky desk. No! You have a great set of shelves that you can use somewhere else or you can sell to recover the purchase price. There is no way to lose.
All in all I budgeted about $200 for my shelves but with enough shopping around and a coupon or two you could get a steal at around $170.
Note: While you may be tempted to buy the cheaper sheet metal shelves that are down the isle I implore you to not sell yourself short by getting something that is not as stable or safe. This project will last you a life time and it can be easily dissembled and survive the trip if you ever have to move. (I moved it from Texas to Denver where I am now with no issues or damage. I actually even adjusted the arrangement when I set it back up because I wanted to try something new)
Once you have decided which shelves to go with we can progress to the next adventure of deciding how you configure your Hobby Project Happy Place to exactly what you want and need! That is after you get it back home! Hopefully your seats fold down or you are able to have it delivered because it can be a bit large. It was a sight to see with these shelves sticking out the back of my Honda Civic. ( I will post pictures once I find them)
Step 2: Deciding What Kind of Work Area You Want!
Now that you have picked out the shelving foundation upon which you will build your dreams you next need to decide what your dreams actually look like. This can be a lot harder than people might think. You are not starting with a simple desk where all you get to decide is where you put you monitor or your stapler. However with this challenge comes great opportunity and I know that you will do a great job translating you dream workstation into a reality, but first an important question.
What height you do want to work at? It does not matter if you have great space if you are hunched over because you desk is too low or you lose feeling in your fingers because your desk is too high.
We all know how you can lose track of time when you focused on making you next project and as a result having your work area be at the best ergonomic height is important for you comfort, health, and productivity. The image above gives you how your body posture should be. The key is to keep your joints at right angles. See how whether you are sitting or standing your arms should be at right angles and when you are sitting your chair should be such that your knees are at right angles as well.
I personally have my desk set at about 30.5"-31", but I am 6'4" tall so your height might be different. One way to find the right height for you is sit down in a chair that has your thighs parallel to the ground right next to the wall. Once you are seated next to the wall hold your arms out at right angles next to wall and place some tape of the wall to mark the height of your arm. Then take a tape measure to measure from the floor to the tape marker on the wall to determine your proper desk height. The other is to run the same test only use the upright support for the shelves and count at what notch your correct desk level should be.
Once you know the right height for your desk you need to find out which mounting holes you will use for the shelf braces. Take into account that there will be a 1/2" - 1" board that will be on top of those cross braces to serve as your desk top, but we will get into selecting you desk top in the next step. You may also need some further adjust since the shelf frame work will probably only move up or down in 2-3" increments so a thicker desktop may be needed.
Now that you have the work area figured out you are going to have to figure out how to best use those remain shelves! The most practical is placing a shelf above the desk area. I have mine set so that the distance from the top of the desk to the shelf surface is 29". This gives me enough space to work while having the shelf at a great level with my eyes when I stand so I can see everything I have on it. This shelf is great for books, parts, desktop computers, or anything else you can imagine. It also gives you a great place to hang some work lights. Selecting the perfect working surface and work area lights will be covered in steps 3 and 4.
Maybe you work on bikes or you want your work space to be a standing work space. The same type of measurement used for the sitting desk works for the standing desk except you are standing with your arms bent instead of sitting. If you choose to stand at your desk you will probably have to forego having two shelves above your work area like I have in my configuration since it will be up higher and you will probably need more space between the desk surface and the shelf above especially if you are working on tall projects such as a bicycle.
Now that you have the height of your desk and the upper shelf figured out the personalizing your station commences. The sky is the limit. I am going to cover a few of the basics that anyone might want to implement to make the most out of their work space in this step but future steps we will look into other space saving ideas.
Step 3: Picking the Right Work Surface for You.
Picking the right work surface in the next step in personalizing your work space to your exact needs. However this step might have you worried because you are thinking, "I do not have a saw or a place to cut a anything to fit in the shelf that I picked out." This is where you local Home Depot or Lowes or other hardware store can come in handy once again. I would recommend perusing the lumber isles of these stores to find the perfect work surface for you and once you ahve that figured out I will cover how you can get them to cut it for you.
I went with a white melamine covered 3/4' particle board. The benefits of this is that it is ready to go as soon as you get you get it back to you work shop here is a list of pros and cons:
-Water proof surface is easy to wash and lasts a long time
-White surface makes it easily to find those pesky small parts that seem to float away mid-project
-Both sides are coated so when one gets too grungy from solder burns or scratches you can flip it over and be good as new!
-Black and white contrast between the surface and shelves is good looking!
-Particle board center be a little flaky resulting in some edge and corner crumbling (I have not had any real problems here though)
Scratched and burns can be visible (This just shows that you are using your bench)
You could otherwise go with a ply wood surface or possibly a solid piece of cabinet wood and leave it how it is, stain it, or finish it in any way you please.
Now that you have your surface selected you will notice that they tend come in 4'x8' sheets will not fit in your car or your shelf. This is where these stores come in handy once again. They usually off cutting services so this is where you break out your tape measure to make sure you can have them cut the board to the exact size! Remember when you are having them cut the board that you plan to have this one board do multiple things. Out of one sheet I obtained a full work bench top and two partial shelf to help cover the wire frame that typically comes with these shelves. The picture above is how I had them cut my sheet to make sure that no piece was wasted!
This cut worked really well because it gave me a desktop that covered the full width and had some over hang on both the front and back to let me clamp my monitor stand on the back and allow me to pull my chair up close and under the table in the front.
Having this shelf cover all the way to the back is nice because it is at a height where I can reach all the way to the back. I can store things such as parts or tools in the front for easy access and than have my cache of books in the back. The fact that this shelf does not go all the way across is also a plus since it make it easier to fit my computer tower on this shelf. The particular case that I have has on air intake on the bottom of the case so having the case on top of the wire frame provides the best airflow conditions imaginable.
This shelf goes all the way across but is not deep enough to cover the whole shelf. In spite of this it works great because without a stool I can only reach the front of the shelf anyway so that is primarily where I store things. This leaves the back for long term or larger item storage. Maybe you want to put your ski/snowboard equipment back there when you are not using it!
Step 4: Finding the Right Mood Lighting for Your Project Area
I have really enjoyed the light bar that I picked up from https://www.superbrightleds.com/. They fit well between the shelf wire racks and the boards you put on top.
One of these will do a great job of lighting up the whole area: https://www.superbrightleds.com/moreinfo/aluminum... However inn my pictures you can tell that I am using a flexible LED strip. This is temporary. I had one of these LED bars that worked great but it got lost when I moved so I am having to make do but I have on replacement on the way!
I should note that I have appreciated the flexible LED strip (purchased on eBay) and how it adds some fun extra features. It is such a plus that even after the light bar arrives I will simply use both. The flexible strip is full RGB capable with a remote so I can turn on my lights from a distance, change the color, intensity, and even play with flashing patterns. Who knows this flashing patterns might come in handy for you next party.
My new LED bar came in the mail today and it is dazzling in both how good it looks and how bright it is! Pictures coming soon.
Step 5: Setting Up Your Computer
While you may have other plans for what your new workstation will do my work and hobbies are very computer centric so having my computer next to my work area is important. I enjoy working on electronics which has me designing PCBs and writing embedded code which has motivated a dual monitor set-up.
There are a number of ways to set-up your monitor in your workstation. While most monitors come with attached stands the versatility or using an after-market monitor stand is easy to appreciate. It allows you to place things beneath your monitors and not have to worry about those things to move your monitor closer. It also quickly facilitates configuring one of your monitors in portrait orientation for some intense internet reading, paper editing, or furious amounts of coding.
There are a number of places to get articulated monitor stands but if you have just performed a cursory search of the Internets and office supply stores you are probably saying to yourself, "That would be nice but I am not spending $100-200 on a monitor stand!".
Fear not! Just as the goal of this guide is to walk your through how to make the most of a small space it is also focused on doing so in a small budget. With that in mind I unveil the best deal in cabling and office configuring material I have found, Monoprice! The exact monitor stand that I have which would have cost over $100 is less than half that here, http://www.monoprice.com/Product?c_id=109&cp_id=10.... I have had this stand for 3 years now and it has stood the test of time with two 23.6" monitors hanging on it! Highly recommend! You can also use this site for managing your cabling needs for your computer and home theater.
I have my desktop up off the floor on the upper shelf to keep it away from all the dust and dirt to whirls around because of the wood floors in my room. This position also keeps the monitor and power cables all short. As you can see in another picture I have a laptop on the upper shelf as well. This is an example of how you make this set-up work great with a laptop as well. I am currently exploring how to best route both computers through to the two screens and the keyboard and mouse for a reasonable price. I will be sure to update the instructable once I have something figured out.
Right now I am talking with a KVM switch company to determine if their Displayport+USB switch can support two 1920x1080 displays since the required data rate is only 70MBPS faster than what is needed for the published limite of 2560*1600. This would allow me to pass a single Displayport signal for the monitors and the USB port for the keyboard and mouse. After the KVM switch I will use a Displayport to dual DVI converter to get my two screens in extended mode.
Displayport to Two DVI: http://www.thruthewireusa.com/Displayport-to-2-DVI...
If you have another solution I would love to hear it! This set-up should provide maximum flexibility and reuse of equipment saving both money and space!
Note: After looking working through the components and talking with a KVM switch company I have decided that the equipment is too expensive. (it would have been over $300). I have opted for a free option of using a remote access software to work on the laptop from the desktop that is sitting only 10" away. Currently I am using Chrome Remote desktop but I am on the search for a better option that will let me use more screen real estate.
Cable Managment is that last thing I will touch on in this step. I must admit I did not try very hard. What I have done is use the channels in the shelving frame to route the cables out of the way. I am planning on ordering a few other cables from my favorite site Monoprice.com to take the cable management to its crisp, clean conclusion. It will take some planning but I will update this instructable with additional information and pictures once all the cables have essentially disappeared!
Step 6: Configuring Your Project Area
How the project area of your desk turns out is entirely up to what hobbies and projects you hope to work on. I have a penchant for electronics which dictates my equipment and how it is configured.
Being as the goal for this guide is to help you have more space to live you life and work on your projects it is important to make the most of the area you have for projects. The commercial shelving that we are using as a base for the desk should come with wire racks that serve as the base of the shelves. These racks can be augmented by simple hanging shelves like the one I obtained from Home Depot to effectively double the space that I have for my electronics equipment.
You can also incorporate small component cabinets for your parts and projects in what space you have.
Step 7: Adding a Closet!
Sometimes a person has even less space than they would like and really need to pack a lot of their belongings into a small area. If you are a hobbyist that has only one room maybe you are sharing a house, studio apartment, all the other rooms in the house are taken and you need to make the most of what you have here is one idea.
Using the existing mounting holes in the shelf frame work you can add clothes hanging rod and extra shelf to one or both ends.
Living in the Rockies and enjoying snowboarding and motorcycling leaves me with a lot of jackets and other clothes that do not work well to hang with my other clothes. Having an extra 30" of hanging space for these clothes is a huge blessing and a space saver because it gives me closet space that I did not otherwise have.
This addition was very simple. All you need to do is pick up 2 or 4 heavy duty shelf and rod support angle brackets, about three feet of 2" dowel and some nuts bolts and washers for mounting in the existing holes!
All in all this 3' closet only cost $14! Both sides would only cost $26 since i have enough mounting hardware leftover to do the second side and only need the brackets and the dowel.
Shelf bracket: $4 each
Mounting Hardware for 2 brackets: $2
#10-32 x3/4" Bolt+Nut 8 count
1/4" Washers 12 Count
Dowel: $4 for 3 feet
You can also look into garage wall organization systems that allow you to hang a variety of hooks (even hang your bike!) and move them as needed. The upright portions of the desk can serve as the mounting studs and you can have more hanging space than you know what to do with!
Step 8: Let You Imagination Run Wild
By now you can see that the only limit to how awesome you make this space is your imagination and possibly your budget.
Maybe you have further books and need more project and component storage space? There are a large selection of component drawer systems available for you to select the perfect one for you.
You might do more 3D printing than 2D printing. Remove the brother print I have next to the computer and put your favorite 3D printer in a place of honor so you can check on its progress anytime while you are working but it is out of the way enough that you know it will not be bothered.
Maybe you went with a 96" wide shelf unit instead of the 77" I went with. (Full disclosure if I were to do it again I would probably get a wider unit so I would have that much more space for activities) Right now I have a computer station and an electronics station but if you had an extra foot or two that would be enough space to add another hobby. You could also segregate your hobbies by shelf like you can see in my electronics area but my end goal is simply more test equipment. Maybe you put your electronics lab on the the hanging shelf and your mechanical tools on the working surface.
I digress. The options are limitless but for both of our sakes I will end this here. Please post your comments, suggestions, questions, and pictures of your setups below also do not forget to vote every one is appreciated!
I have a few ideas how this could be taken even further such as designing a collapsible bed that could be hidden underneath the desk for those extreme space savers. Let me know if you are interested in see some of these ideas come to life and I will tack on a few more steps!
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Small Spaces Contest