I organised a temporary place for my hobby when I moved the house. It quickly became a mess because it didn’t have any drawers or shelves there. So, finally, I’ve decided to build a decent place for my home lab. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it but I needed something very convenient to use. I decided to put it to the post, so people can use some of the ideas for their own labs.
The first thing I’ve chosen is the right furniture. I’m not going to use the place for any other jobs apart of electronics, so I don’t need a strong benchtop. For drilling press, cutting etc I have a separate place. So, I’ve decided to go with an ordinary office table. The corner for my lab has 2m wall and I want to use all of this. Also, I want to have two table drawers with as much sections as possible. I checked all shops that sell inexpensive furniture in the town and found out that the best solution is offered by IKEA. In addition to the table they have a double shelve with the same length. The drawers that come with the table have 5 sections each. Also, IKEA offers a pull-out keyboard table for $20 which saves space on the table by removing a keyboard and a mouse from it. The whole set costs about $500 and here are its catalogue numbers:
The lab has to have a computer. It is used for a lot of stuff like reading datasheets, quick search in the Internet, FPGA and microcontrollers design and programming etc. Also, it can be used with logic analysers and other measurement devices if you have any. As an additional benefit it provides some music in the lab as well.
I don’t want to move my main computer to the lab and I don’t want to spend money on the second decent computer, so I’m using an old laptop for this purpose. Its specification doesn’t matter a lot because I can always run heavy or time consuming tasks on my main computer through the remote desktop connection from my lab using it as a terminal. Its hard drive is not too important either, because I prefer to keep files on the separate file server in my home network that is backed up each day. I’ve hung an external 24 inch monitor on the wall under the table to save space and it is a good addition to 11 inch laptop display. External keyboard and a mouse are important, because the laptop is going to sit against the wall. Also, I had to make some holes in the shelf for the wires.
Sometimes I use VGA output in my projects, so I have an old 19 inch monitor for my experiments. I’ve hang it on the wall near my main monitor as well. For both monitors I’ve used cheap brackets that I’ve bought in dx.com:
They are very flat, but I wouldn’t hang something heavy on them. A 24″ monitor probably has the maximum weight for them.
My power supply unit is too big for the shelf, but oscilloscope and some other equipment will be allocated there.
For components storage I’ve bought two 44 drawer units in element14.com . They had a special of about 30$ for each with free delivery, so it would be a shame to miss. Each drawer can be divided on several compartments, but these dividers are a bit expensive, so I’ve bought a 1.3mm (1000 gsm) cardboard in my local stationary shop. I’ve paid $8 for two sheets of it which is enough to divide each drawer on 3 compartments. Each compartment is for one value of a resistor or capacitor. Non E24 standard values can be stored in one big compartment in labelled bags, because they are not going to be used often. The labels for the drawers can be purchased as well, but I just printed them out and laminated them. You can download my file with labels here and use it as a template if you want. It is the photo of the cabinets:
Another consideration is to have enough power points near the desk, because there is going to be a lot of equipment that require a power supply. Some equipment needs constant power supply. It is the computer, light etc. A usual 6 socket power board can be used for this purpose. Other equipment should have a separate switch, i.e. dev, boards, power supply units etc. There are some power boards on the market that have separate switches for each device connected to it. I’m going to choose a 6 sockets one like this:
A certain group of equipment, such as a solder iron or hot air gun, should have a main switch to turn it off from main power each time when the work is finished. It is important to have this option for safety reasons. This power board has to have a main switch with a bright light, so if you are leaving the lab you can see if you forget to switch it off. It will reduce chances of leaving a hot solder iron unattended. There are some a very nice power boards on the market that have a “master” socket and four “slave” sockets. The idea is that when a device in “master” socket is consuming power the “slave” sockets are turned on. But as soon as the “master” device is turned off and stops to consume the power, the “slave” sockets are turned off automatically as well. I’ve connected my table lamp to the “master” socket and the solder iron, hot air etc. to the “slave” sockets, so when I turn off the light all equipment is turned off as well reducing the risk to be left unattended. I use this board by the same manufacturer:
All three power boards are fixed to the side of the desk or on the wall, so it is convenient to use them.
Here is a photo of my lab: