how-i-build-my-electronics-workshop-part-1

How I Build my Electronics Workshop (Part 1)

Lab Build

It all started in summer 2015, that is I decided to convert my garage into an electronics workshop. The garage has never been used before and had been empty for some time, this would be my second workshop over the years.

Introduction

The previous workshop was a converted garden shed that has since been destroyed. I was itching to do something and had a huge interest in electronics and 3d printing. I needed somewhere I could work without distractions, not have to worry about clean up, was free to make a mess and organise my equipment. With this build I tried my best to document everything so I could write this blog.

garage-before-work-started

Preparation

The first part was relatively painless, the garage had bits of carpet stuck to the wall for car door protection and had several random screws left over from some old shelving. After clean up and removal of the unwanted screws, I wanted a nice bright shop so a good paint job was the first task. It took several coats and over several weeks to finish.

painting-electronics-lab

Next of course was to improve the poor lighting, I added four more standard tubes, wiring these into the existing circuit made my head spin! Partly due to the extra wiring feed from the light on our ground floor, as the garage taps into the ground floor sockets and lights circuit. The lights had a real bad flicker, I purchased some electronic starters to improve this and it also improved the start up time from cold. I wasn’t sure whether to go with LED lighting at first and thought it could be an improvement made in the future.

adding-extra-light-electronics-lab

Simple Bench Build

Once the lights were on, I gave the floor a nice new coat of garage floor paint to brighten it up a little and hide my messy paint drips. With a nice bright garage I needed a bench to help with conduit installation. I first went with the same approach as Dave Jones from EEVBlog - How To Build An Electronics Work Bench, but Dave used pine where I used timber and MDF. The result was too wobbly for a workbench but was fine as a temporary solution to do some conduit installation.

To fix the 3 by 3 legs to the bench top, I screwed angled brackets to the MDF, in hindsight this wasn’t a great idea because the MDF board wasn’t strong enough and under weight strain the bench top would start to bow. Dave uses a much stronger, thicker wood, but this was all I could afford in my price range.

making-simple-bench-electronics-lab

At the top of the bench I used 1 by 3 inch timber to give the bench a little stability, I didn’t bother with the bottom since by this point I was already rethinking the design.

making-simple-bench-electronics-lab

making-simple-bench-electronics-lab

Conduit Installation and Wiring

For my work area I wanted to put 6 sockets equally spaced around the walls where I planned to build my benches. Being a bit of a perfectionist I opted for galvanised steel conduit rather then using standard 4 way extensions and sticking them to the wall. I also wanted the extra safety of having an extra garage consumer unit, it probably doesn’t make any difference having it since the supply is fed from the house consumer unit, but in my mind having an extra fuse between me and 240 volts is always a good thing. It will also allow me to add an isolation transformer in the future with is generally good practice.

The conduit diameter was 20mm conduit so I could use 4mm cable for the wiring which would allow 32 Amps according to the ratings. Starting with a rough guide line to workout the height, my benches would be roughly 900mm, so I marked a line at 1100mm where sockets would go.

Temporarily fixing my conduit vice to my bench with some clamps, I later purchased some bolts that worked out better and started cutting pieces to length. Once the piece was the correct size, I then used a 20mm die to add about 5-10mm of thread depending on how accurate my cuts were. Cutting the pieces to the correct length is easier said since the overall length had to include the thread for the coupler.

conduit-installation-electronics-lab

It was too cold in the winter and had to wait for warmer weather in the spring to carry on with the conduit installation where I left off. Attaching the conduit to the wall with conduit saddles was a little bit trickier than it should have been due to the poor quality saddles purchased, I had looked all over for better quality ones but at the time most suppliers had none in stock. These bad quality ones made the alignment along the wall terrible, the cheap thin cover would warp and snap if not careful.

The feed into the socket would come from my consumer unit, I marked out where the original socket wire came into the garage, I later discovered this to be a mistake, and attached the consumer unit above.

conduit-installation-electronics-lab

When I had a couple of pieces attached I could then add a two-way socket back box and coupled it through the side with a brass bushing. This process of cutting the conduit pieces to length, threading the ends and bridging with sockets continued until I had a continuous piece of conduit all around my work area. I also wanted to replace the old plastic double socket with a steel one.

conduit-installation-electronics-lab

Now I originally assumed the feed came into the garage from the bottom, through a hole in the wall where the wires originally tacked on with cable grippers. When I replaced the socket I realised that the feed came into the garage from the fuse spur. This might seem blazingly obvious, but this mean the fuse spur would turn off all ground floor sockets, even the ones in our utility room the other side of the garage wall! Since we never turned it off, we never even knew! I solved the problem with a oversized adaptable box, only size I could find that would look ok. The last piece of conduit was an almost perfect fit, by that time I’d mastered it.

conduit-installation-electronics-lab

Once the conduit was finished it was time to run some wires, as I said before I opted for 4mm tri-rated cable, in hindsight maybe should have increased the conduit diameter to 25mm, because getting the wires in and around was a challenge and due to the razor sharp socket back boxes, my fingers were shredded. The trickiest part was getting the wires up and through to the consumer unit.

wiring-up-electronics-lab

wiring-up-electronics-lab

The last job was to wire up the sockets and connect the consumer unit up to the feed into the garage from the house.

wiring-up-electronics-lab

If I was going do this again I may have made some improvements, firstly a thicker conduit or even a trunking, with a single conduit branched off to the needed socket might have been a better solution. My conduit vice was a cheap one from eBay if you’re not careful you can mark the conduit with little force. All in all though the result is a nice finish to any workshop hiding the wiring away and protecting it from wear and tear.

lab-complete