steampunk workspace

There’s been a lot of blog linkage recently to steampunk computing modifications – steampunk keyboard one-offs, commercial keyboard offerings, laptops, R2-D2s, etc. I love the aesthetic, but I don’t really have the time (or cash) to fully modify my computing setup. Instead, when it came time to soundproof my 2nd story home office, and I had to remount my Ergotron laptop/monitor/keyboard arms, I decided to add some “steampunk” appointments.

Behold the steampunk Ergotron pole mounts:

More pre-construction, fabrication and glamour shots are available. Details after the jump.

First off, I want to give a big thanks to Ergotron, for making the only solidly built monitor / laptop / keyboard arms I’ve been able to find. These things are build solidly, to exceptional specifications, and put up with a fair bit of abuse. Really, if you are looking to set up some arms, you owe it to yourself to check out their equipment. What’s $200 when your ergonomic health is at stake?

I’d had the idea of having a sit-to-stand workspace for a while. Ergotron does offer some arms that have enough “throw” on them for sit-to-stand, and some single-units that hold both a keyboard and monitor together, but I felt they weren’t flexible enough for my needs. For instance, sometimes I want the keyboard out of the way, so I can use my monitor to play video games. So I definitely needed 3 arms (part #s 45-186-195, 50-193-200 and 28-096-200, if you care) and had to use the Ergotron-manufactured aluminum pole mount brackets (part #60-420-200) to adjust their height.

I ordered the arms, ordered the 1½” pole mounts, and thought everything would be fine…until the pole mounts came in. Turns out that 1½” copper pipe is not actually 1½” outer diameter – it’s 1½” inner diameter. The outer diameter is actually 1 5⁄8″ (the pipe’s wall thickness is 1⁄16″!).

A few emails back and forth with the nice people at Ergotron revealed that they don’t make a 1 5⁄8″ mount, nor can they custom make one. So it was off to the shop (basement) to modify the mounts. This involved first grinding down the mounts with an angle grinder, then sanding with some emery paper.

Unfortunately, even with sanding, the two halves of the mount still werea bit far apart from each other. With a lot of help from doozer, we constructed some ¼” thick adapter plates out of 2 pieces of 1/8″ stainless steel stock that matched the fixed hole pattern on the back of each arm to the new pattern on the mounts. Even trying to sand all of the mounts identically, there was some slight variation (a few thousandths of an inch each) – so each adapter plate is unique. To allow mounting of these with standard hardware, we soldered in place some countersunk screws. This way the plate can be screwed into the mount, and the screw studs that stick out can attach to the arm once the mount is slid onto the copper pole (at which point you can’t get to the back of the screw to hold it in place anymore). For this last step, normally the screws would go the opposite way through the bracket, so we knew we’d have exposed nuts. We used some brass acorn nuts to give a nice steampunky look. Finally, the threaded carriage bolt supplied with the bracket that mates with the adjustment lever was too short, so we bought some longer ones and cut them to size The original binding bolt is on the left; the new cut bolt is on the right. The black screw on the far left actually used to hold the two halves of the bracket together; with the solid aluminum adapter plate, these are no longer necessary. The finished result grips the copper pipe solidly, while unlatching with a single lever turn to slide smoothly.

Another frustration was mounting the poles to the wall. Turns out it’s very hard (impossible?) to find off-the-shelf 1½” threaded pole mounts in a black galvanized finish. So I had to go with 1¼”, which meant a bunch of adapters and elbows would be required. These then had to be soldered into place – I would have love to have brazed with brass for the aesthetics, but I presently lack an oxyacetylene torch. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried; the solder completely wicked inside the connection, so you can’t see any metal other than the copper. A simple matched bolt and barrel set through the fitting on each end prevented me from having to solder the apparatus while in place, and stops the 1½” copper pipe from spinning.

Finally, I’d just soundproofed this wall – this means I installed a fully floating drywall on top of resilient channel, itself attached to a second disconnected set of studs, filled in with rockwool soundproofing insulation. Because the wall is floating, you don’t want to attach anything to the wall into a stud if you can avoid it. (This will couple the wall to the stud, meaning you lose the sound isolation.) But you don’t very well want to hang 2 huge copper pipes, 3 heavy solid metal arms (with quite a bit of a torque arm), a 24″ Dell monitor, a laptop, and a classic IBM Model M keyboard that takes a fair bit of force just on a couple of hollow wall anchors.

The solution? 2 small holes in the drywall, backed by a piece of 2″x8″ connected to the studs, covered in 2 layers of drywall (to match the thickness of the resilient channel + drywall), and contoured to the rest of the wall using an elastomeric caulking (ok, I used GE Silicone II instead – shoot me.) The result is a solid support that is decoupled from the rest of the wall by a flexible substance, but doubled-up on the caulking. Judging from the difference in sound bleed-thru before and after the construction, I can qualitatively say that this solution hasn’t resulted in any sound bleed-thru – and recommend the technique to anyone else considering a similar dilemma. (Photos of the construction effort forthcoming.)

I may go into more detail on the soundproofing techniques in a future post. If you’re interested, comment here and I’ll bump the post up my priority queue.

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