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Re: [CQ-Contest] Desk design

Subject: Re: [CQ-Contest] Desk design
From: Jim Smith <jimsmith@shaw.ca>
Date: Tue, 17 Aug 2004 21:59:09 -0700
List-post: <mailto:cq-contest@contesting.com>
When I moved my shack from the 2nd floor to the new one in the basement I spent some time thinking about the ergonomics. First of all, I find that the things I pay the most attention to are the monitor and the keyboard. I have also found that the monitor on top of the rig arrangement sucks big time, as several experiences with stiff necks at the end of a contest told me. Also, the people who made those L-shaped secretarial desks with the part that the typewriter goes on at a lower level than the main work area knew what height the keyboard should be off the floor. So, I got one of those desks with a left hand "return", as that part of the desk where the keyboard sits is called at an auction. Left hand means that, if you are sitting at the desk using the main work surface, the keyboard is on your left.

There is, of course, no room on the return for both the keyboard the monitor. You don't want the monitor on the main part of the desk because you'll look like an owl during the contest as your head swivels back and forth. Here's how I solved that problem and the back of the rig rat's nest as well.

First of all, I don't have a lot of gear and accessories so this won't work for everyone.

Imagine the desk shoved into the corner of the shack, right spang up against both walls. Now, if I sit at the desk facing the keyboard I'm looking at a wall about 18" in front of my nose. Well, actually I don't see a wall because I cut a floor to ceiling opening in it about 22" wide. I do see 2 walls, each about 30" long, one on each side of the opening and receding away from me. i.e. it's like looking into a closet which has no door. Well, actually it does have a door at the back which opens into the basement.

Next I installed 4 floor-to-ceiling tracks for adjustable shelving, 2 on each wall. These are the ones which allow for shelves to be adjustable in 1/2" increments. The shelves are about 22" wide and 14-1/2" deep and are made of 3/4" particle board.

The first shelf is about 4" off the floor and holds power supplies, a deep cycle battery and a charger for it (actually an old Heath LV power supply).

The next shelf is about 21" off the floor. That puts it about 6" below the keyboard feet. Guess what goes there? Yup, the monitor. a 19" NEC FE950. This arrangement makes it possible for me to look at any part of the monitor or any part of the keyboard without moving my head. My neck is ever so grateful.

The next shelf is about 41" off the floor. The 2nd monitor, an NEC 17" 5FGp, sits there, running off the same computer. All of a sudden I have enough screen real estate for WriteLog RTTY with bandmaps for 2 TNCs. I do have to move my head to look at that one so the main WL stuff is on the 19" monitor and the secondary stuff on the 17".

Flanking the 17" on either side and standing on end are 2 PK232 TNCs. Standing on one edge on top of one of the PK232s is an IC25 2m rig I use for packet. Well, it isn't hooked up yet but it will be. Sitting on top of the 17" monitor is the control box for the AlfaSPID rotator.

The next shelf is at 59". It holds an old HP analogue frequency meter, an old Heath phone patch and an old HP AC RMS VTVM. Why the HP gear? I didn't have anything else to put on the shelf and I wanted it to look like those pictures in the magazines with all the gear that you can't figure out what it's used for. Impresses the hell out of the newby contesters that I train.

The top shelf holds 3 patch panels, 1 for phone lines, modem and phone patch. The other 2 are where all the audio lines in the shack terminate.

Oh yes, the radio. It sits on the main desk work surface on my right, angled for maximum convenience. On my left is my old 75A4. There really isn't enough room on the return for it so the front feet sit on the return and the back feet sit on a bookshelf which juts out of the wall and butts up against the desk, making for a nice, cosy operating position. The Ham-M control box sits on top of the A4.

What about the rat's nest? I bought some wiring duct, the kind with the plastic fingers with spaces between them for wire breakout. I installed this about 5" above the main desk and running from the right edge of the "closet" with the equipment stack, horizontally along that wall and then down the wall behind the radio and other stuff I haven't mentioned. At the "closet" end it runs horizontally along one wall, far enough to clear the rear of the shelving and then up to the patch panel shelf and along the shelf. All the audio and computer cables run through this duct. Every audio line terminates at the patch panel. So, I've got various cables coming from the back of the rig and from the other unmentioned stuff which enter the wiring duct and come out wherever they are supposed to. It took 500 ft of shielded (Beldfoil) wire to do this. I couldn't believe that such a simple station could consume so much wire.

To connect an audio output to any desired audio input, I just plug patch cords into the appropriate holes in the patch panel. I've got 4 AF line transformers on the back of one of the patch panels so, if I need isolation, I just patch the offending audio line through one of the transformers.

So I've got a neat and, I think, ergonomically sound installation which is very flexible. I never have to go behind the rig to move cables around. When I take the rig to Field Day, I just unplug everything. When it comes back, I just plug everything in again. If I'm playing with some piece of gear that's not a normal part of the station and want to connect it to, say, one of the PK232s, I just plug its audio in and out into the appropriate jacks on the patch panel.

I haven't got control lines like PTT wired in yet but that'll happen.

The audio patch panels are the Behringer Ultrapatch Pro. They give you 48 single ended 1/4" jacks on the front and the same on the back (which makes changing the layout very easy - no unsoldering and resoldering wires to solder tags). Every pair of jacks on the front has a slide switch so you can set each pair individually to parallel, half-normalled, normalled or open. This determines what happens when you plug a patch cord in. The simplest thing I can say about this is that it gives you a huge increase in flexibilty over patch panels which don't have this feature. The jacks are all isolated from the panel and each other so as not to give you ground loop headaches. Oh yes, they're dirt cheap. Something like $80 CAD. They're available in the larger music stores.

But, what about getting at all those wires at the back of the patch panel and the other gear on the shelves? That's why there's a door at the back of the "closet". I just open it, walk in and do whatever I have to do.

What about heat with those 2 monitors in that confined space? That is a problem. I fixed it by arranging a fan at the bottom of the closet to blow air up. I also monitor the temperature of the top of the 17" monitor. The fan seems to cool it down well enough.

Some time ago, I won a 706 (that's why I have 2 patch panels). Now I can do SO2R. (Maybe I should say that the station can now do SO2R.) Haven't figured out yet where to put it. Will probably move the 75A4 out and put the 706 in its place. Sure hope I master SO2R before Kelly does.

73 and hope this is of some interest

Jim Smith VE7FO

Kelly Taylor wrote:

This thread reminds me of my first attempt at building a desk in the latest
QTH. I used edge-jointed pine planks (pine shelving, like at HD) and a table
saw and created a desk top hutch that raised the radios off the desk enough
to allow for keyers, paddle, etc underneath.


Casual guys seem to like that arrangement, but I found it just too hard on
my elbows to tune the radio with the tuning knob off the table like that.
Circular saw ended that experiment pronto. Since then, I've always kept the
radio on the main table surface and my elbows have thanked me time and

I've left raised radio cubicles on the end for little used stuff, like a 6m
radio and a rarely adjusted transmatch. The bonus is a tower that keeps the
amplifer RF deck in the clear for ventilation yet within easy reach for

A shelf over the radios holds the monitor and DX Doubler. I've resisted the
urge to stack the radios for the same elbow protection reasons as above.

The only problem with my arrangement is having to reach over the friggin'
keyboard to adjust the radios. A later update will put the monitor at a
better eye height between the radios with the radios on either side and the
keyboard directly in front of the monitor.

Now, if I could just master that SO2R thing...

73, kelly

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