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Operating Furniture

Aug 17th 2011, 01:52


Joined: Apr 4th 1998, 00:00
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This is a topic that doesn't get a lot of ink at ARRL, except a passing mention in the Handbook. Maybe there's a new book title here: Furniture for the Radio Amateur. Specifically, what are some good designs for do-it-yourself operating desks? What are some good sources of appropriate ready-made furniture?

At ARRL, I believe Ed Hare and friends built the furniture in the Staff club station W1HQ. They incorporate ready-made wooden drawer pedestals. So Ed's an expert. There are very nice desks at the operating studios of W1AW, too. When I was a kid, I bought a cheap hollow door and mounted wrought iron legs on it. (Cheap, but none too sturdy for my SX-111 and HT-20.) At the moment I'm using a very old Steelcase office desk, but I want to upgrade.

What I'm looking for now in the ultimate desk:
    [*]60 inch width (maybe 72 inch)
    [*]Shelf (moderately strong, for smaller equipment)
    [*]Strong and rigid, can hold up to 200 lbs. (Lots of equipment)
    [*]Preferably on wheels to allow ready access to rear connections without pulling boxes.
    [*]Reasonable facilities for AC, RF, DC and computer cabling.
    [*]Steel construction for strength and grounding safety.
    [*]Provision for computer tray beside or under desk. Provision for LCD panel mounting.

That's a lot to ask, but there are vendors selling laboratory and computer room furniture that seem to come close. You can check for one. Hint: not cheap.

What is your experience with desks? Have you built or installed something interesting?

Martin Ewing AA6E
ARRL Technical Advisor
Aug 17th 2011, 04:29


Joined: Apr 4th 1998, 00:00
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I have an old wooden office desk with a nice large top. I have enough depth for the equipment and my keyboard in front of it. It is the classic with the integrated drawers on each side and pull out leaves above each drawer set. There are a couple of drawbacks to the design. Since it has a built-in modesty panel, feeding wires around back there is not the easiest thing to do especially since it as against the wall. Second, the drawers limit positioning of my legs and feet during longer operating things can start to feel cramped. Last fall I had another ham who owned a lumber yeard build a shelf that I could put a second monitor on over the rig and put the smaller rigs and other stuff on. That helped a great deal for separating the equipment a bit.

Years back when I lived in Enid, OK I became good friends with another ham who was wheel chair bound. His shack was an enclosed porch on the east side of his house where he had a permanent desk constructed with inclined shelving for the radios. It was wide open underneath the desktop so he could roll up to any spot and reach what he needed. It also left plenty of room to move one's legs and feet about. Looking back I should have provided a small foot rest to allow stretching out my legs for those couple of hour stints in the chair.

When it comes to an operating desk there is no such thing as too much room either on top or underneath.

73, de Nate >>
Aug 18th 2011, 02:05


Joined: Apr 4th 1998, 00:00
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Hi. My shack desk is fairly simple. Its a 6 foot kitchen countertop supported by a 2 drawer file cabinet at each end. There is nothing unique about it, though I have not heard or read about using the frame of a premade plastic closet drawer as a shelf. A photo can be seen here:
The two file cabinets have been replaced with better quality ones from a place called The Stuff Store. They seem to sell a little bit of everything, most of it used. A friend picked me up two nice steel file cabinets there for a very good price. They are not the same color, but they work well. There are 3/4 inch holes drilled along the back od the desktop so wires cab be routed easily.

The whole shack desk is about to be moved to another room. Once it is set up there, routing the wires under the desk neatly will be a project. I could add a shelf fairly easily, though I am not a very good woodworker. Alternatively, I could get some more drawer frames similar to the one in the photo.

Years ago, I had a custom built desk (96 inches long by 38 inches deep with 2 shelves. It was made to fit a walk-in closet.
It was not pretty, but it served its purpose. You can find many pictures of shack desks on the net. Look around and get some ideas.
Sep 1st 2011, 18:28


Joined: Sep 15th 2010, 17:46
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I would like to support the the Idea of a new book title; or maybe a series of short pieces in QST or on the website about well thought out an well built ham-shack furnishings. My current operating position was built by Ford but I'm not planning on living in a steel sided apartment above a bar forever (God willing). I would appreciate help in planning my next shack.

Ideas on Portable operating furniture wouldn't be bad either.
Sep 3rd 2011, 02:49


Joined: Apr 4th 1998, 00:00
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Here's a resource that may help; you can purchase a quality desk riser at:

The quality is excellent, and when added to a desk or table of your choice, makes for a pretty good operating setup. 73, Ron.
Jan 8th 2012, 17:54


Joined: Apr 4th 1998, 00:00
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How high should the desk be...from the floor to the top of the operating desk. Is there a standard height?
Jan 9th 2012, 03:48


Joined: Apr 4th 1998, 00:00
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Interesting topic!
My own situation is that my 60" x 32" desk in my spare bedroom/office/shack is a cluttered mess and I need to do something drastic... so I asked my wife. She was happy I asked and introduced me to a friend of a friend who designs custom furniture, primarily for yachts.

After she got over the initial shock of ham radio equipment and monitors on my desktop, she had an excellent suggestion - logically divide the room to use one wall for radios and computers, leaving the rest of the room for a chair and a futon.

The wall designated for ham radio and computers is 11' long, 9' ceilings and has a large window near the center that's 4' wide, but 42: off the floor.

The designer sketched a simple cabinet and shelf combination that goes is built from office cabinets - very much the same product as kitchen cabinets and available pretty much wherever you'd buy kitchen cabinets. I carefully measured and took the sketch down to the Big Box store and we put together a bill of materials to execute the drawing.

We were careful to allow for removable panels in the wide foot well so that I can hide my computers and provide a means to ventilate equipment heat into the attic through a closet.

I'm starting with the lower tier - I'm going to install lower cabinets to start, then a custom countertop that's 33 inches deep with a 3" wide cable trough built in the back edge. Then, another countertop 10" above the first, so that it is just underneath the window, that continues across to bookshelves and cabinets that go on either side and across the top of the window.

Cabinets are available in stock sizes with fillers on one end to give a custom appearance, exactly like "custom" kitchen cabinets are done.

If I had ordered the least expensive cabinets and countertops, I could have done this wall for about $1k, I spent more than a bit extra because I live in a humid location and wanted a higher quality wood.

Six to eight weeks for delivery. I'll post back as the project progresses.

To answer WJ9Q's question, my desktop height will be 31". Standard is between 28 and 32" - it really depends on your working height in your office chair. My desk surface ill be 31" high with a pull out keyboard tray at 28".

So, for less than a new transceiver, you can have a nice built-in office!


Mickey N4MB
Jan 9th 2012, 23:09


Joined: Apr 4th 1998, 00:00
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@WJ9Q Normal office desks are 29" above floor level, and that seems about right to me for operating. The problem is that equipment wants to be at "eye level", some inches higher. Or, if not higher, at least pointed upward to your face. Most radios have bails that don't quite aim the rig high enough. I built a little riser, about 2 inches high, for my rigs. It sits on my desktop and seems to help, and it gives you space underneath to put papers, etc.

@N4MB - Sounds fascinating, would like to see photos or designs!

73 Martin AA6E
Dec 27th 2012, 22:17


Joined: Apr 4th 1998, 00:00
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Total Posts: 0
Most of my "shack" desks have been pretty ugly. Not being rich, and not good at woodworking, the best that I can say is that they were sturdy and served their purpose. Several of them were built to take advantage of small available spaces. The current desk described above is the best looking one I have had. I may add a shelf or more modular units, and work on making the wiring not visible.

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