Tuesday, August 4, 2015

LackRack - A Cheap Living Room 19" Rack

I needed space so I decided to expand my desk. While I was entertaining several ideas about how to best do that, I also happened to measure some of my existing furniture. My first discovery was that some compartments in my old Ikea bookshelf have dimensions that are suitable (more or less) for 19" equipment. My second discovery was that the very same is true for the Ikea LACK tables. And my third, and quickest, discovery was to find out that I am not the first person to discover that: Like for most things on the internet, there already exists a community around the use of LACK tables as 19" racks, and the official name for this purpose is ( - wait for it - ) LackRack. Apparently first seen on an IT related event, LackRack quickly gathered a small fanbase in the DIY server/network and music scenes, due to is cheap price, availability and flexibility.

However, for my LackRack  I pictured several features that differed from the standard solutions yone finds on the net: a total height of about 90cm would very well fit to my desk space, wheels could add spontaneous flexibility in my gear arrangements, the 19" part also should be as flexible as possible, a part (besides the 19" section) dedicated for storing cables would be a nice bonus. On these grounds, I decided for a two story solution: The upper part would be comprised of the already mentioned LACK table (7,99 Eur), the base would be a LACK side table on castors which I found in mint condition for almost half the price (15,- Euro) on classifieds.

Slight inconvenience with the LACK tables, but I guess that with the cheap price, is that the legs are mainly built from cardboard and hence are hollow except the top and bottom 5 cm. Since I wanted to fill my rack top to bottom and therefore the screws will need to be able to support some weight, screwing the modules directly into the table's legs consequently was not an option. However, I did not like that idea in the first place, since it also decreases any later possibilities to rearrange modules (at least I assum that the screw holes wear off over time). Instead, I opted for continuous rack rails which can be fastened in the solid sections of the table's legs, and which allow me to freely manoeuvre my gear around at a later time. Adam Hall had some in his portfolio (10,- Eur), that perfectly matched my needs, are used with standard M6 screws, and were quickly sawn to an appropriate length of 38 cm:

For optical reasons, I painted the rail's inner sides black, and then put all parts together:

A very flexible, 90,5 cm high, two compartment 19" rack for 30,- Eur, that might not be suitable to be carried from live act to live act, but does not need to hide in the living room.

Continue reading on how a central power supply with lights complemented the new rack.

LackRack - Power and Lights with a modded T.Racks VM-100

This time it will be all about adding a power strip and lights to the LackRack.

A quick word in the beginning:
This blog post is not intended as a tutorial, I wrote it for pure documentation purposes only. 
Do not try this if you do not posses the required technical knowledge and skills. 
The voltages we are dealing with are life-threatening, and improper handling/assembly can further cause heavy damage to property including the risk of fire.

Having said that, I wanted the power supply for my rack to serve as a power strip and to provide a single on/off switch for all the gear. Rack-mountabilitiy would be considered a big plus, and optional light would just be the icing on the cake.

While there are several commercial products that satisfy these needs, constructing a rack out of cheap parts, and then spending a fortune on a reference power conditioner just felt wrong. Furthermore, electricity is absolutely stable where I live, so a simple 19" power distribution strip would do the job without the necessity of a true power conditioner.

Roaming on classifieds again, I found a T.Racks VM-100 that fulfilled my requirements and met the price range I had in mind. The T.Racks VM-100 is basically exactly what I have described above: it is a 19" power strip that bears eight IEC power connectors on its back, has two dimmable lights that can be extended/retracted, has a central power switch with a 10A fuse, plus it sports an additional fancy looking LED volt meter. While I can imagine that the voltmeter can be quite handy in on-the-road conditions, in my home it really just looks fancy. Unfortunately it looks fancy all the time, because it displays the available voltage even when the power switch is turned off. Again, this might be great for gigs, but turned out to be an annoyance in my living room.

Opening the VM-100 quickly revealed the reason for this behaviour:

T.Racks VM-100

As seen in the zoomed picture, the white and black cables (which are the ones that drive the voltmeter) are connected pre-switch:

Pre-switch voltmeter

However, a quick rewiring connected the voltmeter post-switch and post-fuse, and readily solved that issue: the device is now pitch-black when turned off, and only unfolds its full fanciness when being switched on.

Post-switch voltmeter

Not being sure if 10A will be enough to drive all equipment (at the time being they are sufficient), it would be great to transform the volt meter into an ampere-meter, but that is a mod for another time.

Anyway, since a lot of my stuff has wall adapters, I also changed a standard power strip to an IEC version and connected it to the T.Racks:

Schuko version
IEC version

And here is the LackRack in its full glory now:

Hint: a glimpse of one of my next projects is already seen underneath the VM-100 :)