Custom DIY Studio Rack & Workstation Tips, Tricks & Ideas

Materials

  • Prefer 3/4-inch plywood to MDF or particleboard – especially where you’re fastening the rails – because plywood holds screws much better and it’s much more resistant to sagging.
  • Remember that 3/4-inch plywood is actually 23/32 inches thick. Most other sheet goods are 3/4-inch exactly.
    Prefer steel rails to wood (or milk crates!)
  • I’ve found great deals in the past on long rails, which don’t sell very well at music stores but also don’t stand up very well to a sharp hacksaw!
  • You can save a lot of cash on the wood if you’re planning to paint instead of stain. Look for “paint grade” sheet goods as opposed to “cabinet grade”.
  • You local lumberyard may have a better selection of sheet goods and grades, which can translate directly into a cost savings for you.
  • Remember that plywood grain follows the length of the board, and often one surface is higher quality than the other. Layout your pieces so that the nicer side is exposed. Grain should typically run vertically along the longer edge of the piece, and the grain should flow from piece to piece. (In other words, the grain directions should not be perpendicular where tow boards come together.
  • Have the boards milled professionally, or if you use a table saw, use a plywood blade with a high tooth count and cut slowly.

Ergonomics & Design

  • Office desktops are typically around 30 inches high, which can be uncomfortably high if you’re in a typical chair and doing a lot of work with something placed on top of the desk (like a mixer or keyboard). So, consider the height of the equipment you’re working and the chair you want to use with when planning the height of your base cabinets and desktop.
  • The keys of a grand piano are generally about 28 inches from the ground, so if you’re planning a desktop for a keyboard controller, subtract the height of the controller from 28 to get an ideal desk height for your controller.
  • Not all LCD displays can be viewed from all angles, so test out your gear at a variety of angles to see if you should build in an angled rack.
  • Some gear manufacturers do not recommend mounting their gear at an angle, so check your user manuals!
  • Google recently acquired a tool called SketchUp which is free and may be useful in designing and visualizing your workstation.
  • Allow easy access to cables if necessary.
  • Plan for cable paths by installing gutters, drilling holes, etc, so you can run all the cables you need to run.
  • If you’re building around your gear, remember that cables occupy space, too! Be sure to allow room for them to extend beyond the back of the rack, or in front of the rack if you intend to mount doors.

Construction

  • Before you cut any wood to make racks, be sure the rails you have are compatible with the internal width you plan to use for the rack gear, and adjust any measurements on your plans accordingly. (e.g. 19″ might work, but 19.125″ might work better.)
  • To adjust the measurements on design plans, you can usually just find all occurrences of the dimension you want to adjust, and adjust them accordingly. For example, everywhere a plan says 19″, change it to 19.125″. Good plans should allow for this type of adjustment.
  • Install support for extra heavy gear, even if it’s installed in rack rails, which typically only support the front of the gear.
  • Build the furniture in pieces that will fit through your halls, turns, and doorways (!!!) and assemble in place if necessary.
  • Don’t be afraid to modify the plans to suit your needs!
  • Use dado and rabbet joinery if you have the tools and skill. Or if you use butt joinery, be sure to use dowels or biscuits. The strongest dados are cut down to a ply grain that is perpendicular to the dado groove. There’s no need to reinforce glued dados with screws.
  • Use fresh wood glue.
  • Always use safety gear, including eye and ear protection. If you’re cutting MDF, use a respirator as well to protect your lungs from the urea formaldehyde that is released when MDF is cut or sanded.

Finishing

  • You might find it easier to pre-stain the wood before you start cutting and assembling it.
  • Apply edge banding before assembly.

Got a tip?

Submit your own tips by commenting below!

  1. Heidi’s avatar

    As an alternative to dowels and biscuits, the Kreg jig (pocket hole jig) works extremely well and is nigh unto idiot-proof. You get the same strength as a dowel but only have to predrill one side of the joint…but you absolutely MUST predrill ALL your screws before beginning assembly.

    Also, for those wishing to paint instead of stain: I’ve had good results with plywood edges filled with plain old wood filler and sanded smooth. Just be sure to let it dry well before sanding.

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  2. Joey’s avatar

    I have a desk in mind that no other desk has ,and I have seen over 1000 pics of them ,it includes a corner section that wil be the most difficult part of the desk ,just getting the angles right ,also I’m on the fence about slants or straight racks on the top,,,some desks have like 30 deg slants ,I think that is to much for top racks ,so I going to try like 10 or 11 deg ,but unless I recess the back I will lose the bottom 1 or 2 rack spaces,and how would I get a nice high gloss on the top from paint? I have seen something called polyester glycerin,I think that’s what it is and it looks just amazing,but u have to get the mixture right and put it in the sun to dry,,,,I don’t know,,,thanks ,Joey

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