[CQ-Contest] Desk design

Jim Smith jimsmith at shaw.ca
Wed Aug 18 00:59:09 EDT 2004

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 

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 

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 

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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