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Thread: My Big Fall Project_ 3D CAD / Music Production Desk

  1. #1

    My Big Fall Project_ 3D CAD / Music Production Desk

    My Big Fall Project_ 3D CAD / Music Production Desk
    Sketchup: Say Hello to Marine Plywood


    Fellow Creekians,

    For the last ten years, I’ve maintained four computers, two for work- one for architectural, industrial design and graphic design and another for rendering, analysis, and simulation. The third computer is dedicated to music: running a synthesizer, recording same, plus live music. Forth, is a system with the sole purpose of being the television engine: movie streaming services, DVD’s, and YouTube. I haven’t had cable service for more than twenty years.

    Too Many Parts: This totals a lot of computer gear and represents a significant duplication: 4-computer systems having 5- processors with 26 cores, a total of 174GB of memory, 5- graphics cards, 9 drives, 4- computer sound cards, two with MIDI I/O, 5-monitors, 2 isolation transformer power conditioners, and etc. The work computers have to be high performance, the music system has had a limited demand, so it could be grade C, and the television engine can be anything lying around.

    Time for a project!

    Buying More Parts: Improvements in computer components- especially faster, high core count processors, and faster cheaper Quadro workstation graphics cards it appeared possible to consolidate all the computer functions into one system. I assembled a Hewlett-Packard z620 out of new parts, based on a Xeon E5-1680 v2 8-core running on all cores at 4.3Ghz, 64GB of RAM, Quadro P2000 5GB GPU, Samsung SM951 M.2, Intel 730 SSD, and Seagate ES.3 drives. The Quadro P2000 costs under $450 and is faster than a Quadro K6000 - that was $2,400 new. My current dedicated music computer is an 2008 HP running a quad-core non-hyperthreading Core2 Quad Q6600- 4-cores @ 2.4GHz so the new one will be fast enough for anything I do and, importantly, all in one box.

    This z620 is a healthy level for demanding 3D CAD /rendering and well above the bare necessity for music. In the past music production computers were not extremely demanding. However, today, the sample sets can be vast. The Native Instruments Komplete 11 set is 256GB and a middle level music production system can have 2TB of samples.

    The world of synthesizer hardware and software has also changed substantially. Last week, the trusty Yamaha S90 synthesizer, which has more than 1,000 internal sounds- was replaced by a StudioLogic SL88 MIDI controller which works off of external, sampled sounds retrieved from in a computer when a key is pressed. The computer will have nearly 2TB of sound samples and the total number of sounds is something over 11,000 sounds. These sounds. which are in general keyboard and orchestral instruments may be extensively modified for effects. Anyone else here using Hauptwerk virtual pipe organ? This is the way so many movie scores are done and if properly done, it's difficult to tell it's all synthesized. The other “real” instruments around are very analog- and wood piano, harpsichord, and clavichord. Those are recorded to the computer through a vacuum tube microphone preamp.

    In summary, two complex functions- CAD and music equals a whole pile of parts, that need to work together in a small volume. I've designed a lot of houses with elaborate master baths, kitchens and media centers, etc. but for something this integrated, it's a tough design project.

    The analog instruments have to be in a separate place, but combining all the digital components to share one computer though presents the problem of how to have all these pieces in one place. It needs a super desk- a "PMC": Personal Mission Control.
    The problem is that buying a purpose designed desk is both expensive and typically very specialized:

    RAB Audio ProRak 61.jpg
    RAB Audio ProRak 61

    That’s very focused on working with digital music- and costs $1,200. I can’t say I find this design very appealing either. It’s neither starkly industrial nor excitingly high tech.

    And what if a person is thinking of more towards the $150 range?

    Design: I’m used to designing fairly large houses for cranky Angelinos, which are complicated machines -the house are too, but this desk required an especially detailed approach to integrate all the components.

    The governing task in this multi-purpose desk- really any desk- is ergonomics- locating the computer keyboard and MIDI keyboard at the right height from the floor. This has to be a condition of as close as possible, because the height for a musical and computer keyboard is ideally about the same. Of equal importance is accommodating all the components for both work and musical application in positions convenient to use. Besides the machines- and possible future machines such as a CAD digitizer tablet or amplifier and monitors, there needs to be a place to set sketches and documents. Functionally, arranging that the conversion from 3D CAD modeling system to musical composition/ recording /editing is ideally an easy, fast, and tool-free task. The desk also has to be disassembled to bring up a quite narrow staircase but without having to be knocked down to all individual parts. This was a bit like designing a convertible haute cuisine and fast-food kitchen all in one 7' cabinet. Because of work pressures, this also needed to be a utilitarian design in terms of ease and speed of fabrication and finish.

    Drafting: This is a very good project for my old nemesis Sketchup. The quick 3D modeling means a lot of variations can by tried out, viewed from every angle, and the assemblies exploded. The 2D drafting is problematic in my view as everything in Sketchup is a 3D object. There are few 2D drafting tools and it lacks some of my AutoCad favorites such as: line offset, fillet, and chamfer. Sketchup does have very easy extrusion and modifications, a planar offset. The problem with Sketchup is that it’s so easy to use- initially- that it leads one into playing with it and a casually drawn model acquires horrendous problems and falls into pieces trying to sort it out.

    Sketchup drawing accuracy, as is the case for all kinds of CAD, is variable, and can be set, but the ultimate precision in Sketchup is limited as compared to AutoCad, Solidworks, Siemens NX, and Rhino. The angle and dimensional precision is adjustable, which I do to .000 degrees for angles (= Window > Model Info > units > Angle Units > Precision) and dimensional accuracy can be set to 1/64" (= Window > Model Info > Units > set precision to 1/64"). While in that settings menu I also check the box next to: “Enable length snapping" to 1/64".

    While 1/64" while fine for most levels of woodworking, it’s not close enough in some necessary related realms. There are a lot circumstances- where there are machined objects, for example: the diameter of a bolt, or in terms of clearances in machined objects, the placing of guitar frets, for which 1/64" is a very coarse measurement. I would want guitar frets to be at least notated at a very high accuracy even if It couldn’t be fabricated within the expansion /contraction variation of the neck so as to avoid any accumulated errors. Line segments in Sketchup, I think, in arcs and circles have to be 1/16th minimum, meaning that snapping tangents is very chancy. Still, it can work for small scale projects needing a fair degree of precision.

    For the desk project, Sketchup is quick to develop the model and is a good way to visualize and layout each part. Each part can be drawn as a dimensioned component that is automatically updated throughout the drawing when it’s changed. A lot of layers helps too. In the example of the desk, the keyboard, computer, printer, monitors, chair, the room & etc. can turned off to work on the desk itself. With furniture and cabinet design, I like to have a kind of room to set it in, an environment to give it scale. Also, Sketchup has a quirk in the 3D model navigation that if the object is floating in space, trying to navigate a view can suddenly send the view a half mile away. Sketchup users will know how frustrating this trait can be, prompting the need to switch from the arrow cursor tool/mouse button orbiting to the Pan tool (little hand icon) to avoid the wild flights don’t happen when there is a reference background.

    The Design: After fussing off and on for days, the solution though is relatively similar in layout to the production desk design: two vertical end stands with shelves for the computer, MIDI keyboard, interface, printer, printer paper, future amplifier, and a platform for the monitors and future monitor speakers. Connecting the two end stands is a platform to set the MIDI keyboard and 5" above that, a desktop for the computer keyboard /mouse.

    Computer & Music Desk_open and Closed_9.15.17.jpg

    Computer & Music Desk_Desk _Bare_Closed_9.15.17.jpg

    The panel that the computer keyboard sits on the top of rectangular panels and slides back to make the MIDI keyboard accessible, the computer keyboard is relocated to sit on the MIDI keyboard, and a music stand slides in at the computer desk level.

    The Logitech amplifier / subwoofer sits under a longitudinal, removable bracing panel. This is not an elegant solution, but the placement is actually quite good from the phase coherence standpoint. Anyway for recording and editing I use closed headphones (Sennheiser HD600). The power conditioner (OneAc 11Amp) nestles behind a shortened shelf below the printer shelf, and the network switch is beneath the CPU and has a cut-out to access the connections. When I had two and sometimes three computers plus two printers and a link to other systems, it’s surprising how often I unplugged and replugged something. This may well acquire a separate audio system- a two channel amplifier and bookshelf speakers for monitoring and playback. The left-hand upper compartment next to the SL88 would have that amplifier in it.

    There are a total of 23 components. The dimensions are contrived so that all the parts are made from one 1/2" and one 3/4" sheet of Oak or Birch plywood or marine plywood:

    Computer & Music Desk_Parts Exploded_9.15.17.jpg

    Because each part is a separate component that can be copied and shifted about, it’s possible to see how some further adjustments based on the layout can decrease the number of cuts. No, this diagram is not showing the allowance for the width of the cuts. This demonstrates another useful feature of Sketchup is that through the setting up of parts as components, separated onto layers provide a way way to make quick studies of special aspects of the project. This is the first run at the cutting layout:

    Computer & Music Desk_Cutting Layout_9.11.17,jpg.jpg

    This is designed to be built with the minimum tools: a small diameter circular saw, drill, screwdriver, and belt sander which makes the rounded lower edges of the vertical stand side support panels and will clean up the inevitably wobbly cuts and intersections. I should mention that about all my woodworking- historic keyboard instruments- has been with hand tools except for drills.

    Computer & Music Desk_Subassemblies_Exploded_9.15.17.jpg

    One fussy aspect of the drafting is the way to lay out the triangular cutouts on the vertical support panels so they can be made efficiently and cleanly without a lot of cleanup / finishing. As there are 4 panels with 2 cutouts, there are 8 cutouts and each cutout has three curved connections between the sides of the triangles so there has to be 24 accurately placed 2" holes that meet the straight sides of the triangle as tangents. This is an exercise in geometric layout- locating the centers for the 2" diameter hole saw accurately is not obvious. This was done by drawing the right triangle. Then, one line 1" (= the drill bit radius) and the next 2" from the vertical side. The 1" line will the horizontal location of the drill bit center and the 2" line (the 2"= the drill bit diameter) where it intersects the hypotenuse will establish the vertical center location by drawing a line perpendicular to the hypotenuse starting from the horizontal location to the intersection of the 2" line.

    Computer & Music Desk_Panel cut outs_ Layout_9.15.17.jpg

    One aspect of this project that more time than the desk itself to draw were the various components that had to be to scale: computer MIDI controller, interface, printer, monitors, network switch, speaker system, and etc. This was necessary but turned out to be more time consuming than drawing the desk.

    Computer & Music Desk_KB Computer & Etc Components_9.15.17.jpg

    The printer and monitors were from the Sketchup 3D Warehouse that was very close to the Samsung laser printer I use but most of the components, including the lamps, I drew. the Studiologic MIDI controller was the most time-consuming, but given that the entire project is based on it so a good fit was essential. Of the 8.2MB total file, the keyboard is 7.5MB. Still it had to be in scale and depict the correct key height.

    All in all, I spent too many hours on the drawing, but we all know that wonderfully wise, old wood-workers’ saying: “Measure three times, draw seven times, write a book about it, saw once or so, and sand down to fit.”

    Anyone with alternative materials, building techniques, and finish suggestions is very welcome.

    Alan Caro
    Last edited by Alan Caro; 09-16-2017 at 6:54 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Southwestern CT
    Very very cool and thought provoking. Nice drawings and great example of how to illustrate a solution.

    What is the method of connecting the various parts? I suspect you've put a fair amount of thought into that and simply didn't draw. I'm just curious what the mechanical connections are, and if you expect to use some sort of tenoning system which might seem natural for this type of construction. It would be nice if it were able to be knocked down in some simple way. The "vanity" panel is the only part providing shear strength. Of course it is likely all that is necessary. But if omitted the unit would fail. I also immediately thought about mobility and how you might adapt wheels.
    "the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools. Confucius

  3. #3

    Dewobbilization Efforts

    Bill Adamsen,

    I'm very glad you brought up the issue of connections and lateral stability, exactly the most important remaining concern.

    The structural idea was that this was built in a series of demountable sub-assemblies so it could be moved by one person- me- and up stairs and around corners:

    Computer & Music Desk_Subassemblies_Exploded_9.15.17.jpg

    That does mean that the two vertical end base units need to create a fairly rigid pair of boxes. My idea is that this is done simply by screws into the edges of the horizontal components - which are 3/4" - and gluing with Titebond or similar. The main lateral brace, that also ties the two end units together is the vertical panel in the back. The full width horizontal piece which is the platform to set the MIDI controller and the sort of superstructure where the monitors set with metal dowels and held in place by friction + gravity. In a sense, the two vase nits are set in place, the MIDI desk is placed on it dowels, the desktop units the short horizontal end surfaces plus their paired vertical supports towards the inside are placed on their dowels- to the 4 (blue) vertical, cut-out pieces of the base units. Then the superstructure sits on it's dowels into the short desktop panels.

    This does seem a recipe for the wobbles, but a couple of years ago when I needed to setup for two computers and four monitors in hurry, I used a 6'8" hollow core door on plastic sawhorses for a desk. These elements are only held in place by friction and seems amazingly stable. The 36 lb. MIDI keyboard though does present a new lateral, moment component so I've decided that I might fabricate and assemble everything in the way described and then I could add additional stabilizing elements in place. The first ones would be vertical, longitudinal panels on the back of the vertical end base units in the same structural lines as the large lateral panel. The panel behind the computer though would need to be heavily cut away for air flow and access to connections.

    I've designed so many houses in seismic zones in CA, I'm always thinking of lateral rigidity, but took a more improvisational attitude with this desk.

    Alan Caro

  4. #4

    thank you for the article. ironically, i'm in the middle of replacing my old computer for an updated version that i can run inventor 2016/17 on. when looking at ALL the options, it was mind boggling!!
    BUT, along comes your article referencing 3D. hence, i think i'll build one around your decision. i was having a hard time deciding which processor and which video card.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Southwestern CT
    Alan ... is your plan to send the drawings out to have them CNC cut? I think that is the way today's generation is likely to do their woodworking. In fact, with drawings like yours, there is little chance of cutting something too short!

    Are you planning on screws, knock-down hardware or something else for the assembly?
    "the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools. Confucius

  6. #6

    CNC, Hardware?, and the Wobbles

    Bill Adamsen,

    CNC: I have been wanting to do a CNC project and I admit, the prospect of 25 parts, the 8 panel cutouts requiring 24 perfectly placed 2" holes in the seems very tedious. and I admit I am concerned for the precision of the holes for the subassembly locating dowels. On these narrow end surfaces I believe I might measure twice and drill once- at an 84 degree angle. Also, all my tools except for a hand drill are hand tools- even my planes are wood, so anyway I'm going to have to buy a circular saw and straight edges and clamps to create guides to set up the angled cuts. Many good reasons to do this on a CNC. However, my one friend with a CNC system- a fellow Creekian- is not currently not set up in his new shop, but yes, this is a natural for CNC.

    Hardware: My ideas for hardware has been all over the map and I welcome suggestions. My current idea is to glue together the sub-assemblies which would use small, diameter, slightly counter-sunk lag bolts to clamp - I'm looking for some neat stainless or black anodized- the vertical end units and the later stiffness panel would only have the lag bolts- removable, so it could be demounted. I think he panel would only ever be mounted when building and then again in situ, so the lag bolt hole threads should? survive in marine plywood for two or three assemblings- if that's a word- without loosening up. This is not my ideal approach and I'd like to hear arguments on that subject. The main continuous horizontal surface (on which the MIDI controller sits) is then set by using closely fit metal dowels, so that is a kind of gravity /friction connection. The same goes for the "superstructure" assembly that supports the monitors. The connections are more casual than I'd like given the potential for poor precision in placement.

    If it has any wobbles- they'll be lengthwise, and I'd add glued and bolted lateral panels to the back of the end units. I've also considered making the current vertical lateral panel full length and a kind of upside down top hat shape (taller in the footwell, shorter on the ends) and I might do that anyway.


    "No matter what your wealth, power, and friends may be, the cheapest things in life are free." Alan Caro

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Southwestern CT
    Knockdown hardware for plywood panels. I'm sure you can get some good suggestions here. For inspiration I'd go to ... perhaps Lee Valley or Woodworker's Supply. Easiest would be screws carefully countersunk, or perhaps cabinet screws like the GRK Pheinox in stainless. But that is not going to be really knockdown. For true kd, easiest to install (single axis drilling) would be threaded inserts, though I would be skeptical of holding over time. Drilled dual axis cam fasteners would be the way to go but requires precise placement. Perhaps placement could be part of your Sketchup file? Can't wait to see what you choose! (in other words, I have no idea or experience in what I'm talking about)
    "the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools. Confucius

  8. #8
    Bill Adamsen,

    Interesting ideas. For me this is a case of over-choice. At the moment- for the removable ones, I'm thinking of black anodized hex bolts with coarse threads (more like a lag bolt) and shallow heads, very squared off faces (no shoulders) and sitting in flat-bottomed countersinks.

    I had had threaded inserts in mind earlier, but that would need all the panels to be 3/4" so that's adds another debate.

    But larger diameter brushed Stainless might be the thing for the permanent ones that are really a way to clamp the shelves for gluing. Actually, the same as for the removable is probably the answer

    I always find choosing hardware - especially when visible, quite difficult.

    Alan Caro

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