Our simple network rack is an
easy project that can really clean up a home network installation. Just a few square feet of floor space now keeps our
cable modem firewall, Ethernet switch, server, wireless AP, KVM, monitor, keyboard and UPS neatly tucked away -- in a
(decently well ventilated) closet, for example. It's also built to support rack mount hardware of shallow depth, like a
router (the real kind) or network switch, so if you want to clear off that folding table in the basement, check out
For today's How-To you'll need:
- kitchen rack from Target ($30)
- 3/4-inch wide, 1/2-inch deep aluminum channel ($6.50)
- 11/64 drill bit
- m5 x 0.8 tap ($3.50)
- four 1-1/2-inch 1/4 x 20 bolts, washers and nuts ($1)
- m5 x 0.8 rack mounting screws (probably came with your rack mountable hardware)
We bought this rack at Target
for about $30. It's nearly the perfect width for adding rack rails. The posts of the kitchen rack are 18 3/4-inches
apart. A standard rack is about 17 3/4" wide. By adding 1/2-inch of rails to each side, we get a standard rack
with room for the mounting screws to co-exist.
mounting machine screws are metric 5mm x .8. The aluminum U channel is available in most hardware stores. Labeled as
3/4-inch plywood trim, it's 3/4-inch wide, and 1/2-inch deep. Industrial telco racks are much thicker, but there's
enough material for lightweight use.
aluminum is easy, we used a fine-tooth model saw, but a hacksaw will do as well.
Marking the channel for the
mounting holes is easy. We measured the hole pattern at our secret test facility. The spacing between the holes, center
to center, is 1/2-inch, 5/8-inch, 5/8-inch, 1/2-inch, 5/8-inch, 5/8-inch... Got it?
You can drill the 11/64 holes with
a hand drill, but we prefer the drill press. Clamping a board across the platform is an easy way to keep the holes
in uniform position.
Tapping the holes gets old using
a tap handle. The aluminum is soft enough that you can get away with using a cordless drill to tap the holes. Just take
your time and give the tap a chance to cool between holes. Your hands will probably need a break, so give them a rest
before moving on.
Drilling holes in the round
posts is the most difficult task. Place the open face of the channel against the post and hold/clamp it in position.
Drill the aluminum rail where you want the mounting bolt. Then use the rail as a guide to get the hole started on the
post. Using progressively larger bits will make it much easier to drill the 1/4-inch hole. It may be easier to drill
these holes before you assemble the rack. Just don't hold the rail right behind the area you're drilling. Take your
time and do the job safely.
When the first mounting
hole is done, flip the rail and bolt it up. On the aluminum side, we use a washer between the nut and rail to prevent
deforming of the aluminum. Don't worry if it's not quite square to the front of the rack. A large pair of pliers, vice
grips or channel locks can be used to rotate the post into the right position.
Tighten up the hardware with a
ratchet and a wrench. Go ahead and torque it down.
Once the rail has one bolt holding it to the post, placing a clamp on both sides of the rail and the post will
keep the rail centered on the post. Drill the lower mounting hole through the rail and post. Garnish with a second bolt,
washer and nut.
One rail down, one to go. For
mounting the other rail, be sure to measure and mark the mounting height. The lines on the posts are handy for aligning
it. Now that the rails are mounted, get ready to mount your hardware.
Install the rack mount tabs on your gear. In our case it's our Cisco Ethernet switch. If you need lots
of ports, these can be had off eBay
for decent prices.
The fit is pretty tight, but
ours came out just lovely using standard rack mounting hardware and our custom rails.
With our switch mounted, we
added some cable management clips that we dug up. The sliding shelf made a great place to mount our KVM. Up top is our
firewall, cable modem and console. The UPS and server live on the bottom shelf. The weight is a bit much for the
lightweight casters, but for occasional movement they'll do the job.
If you'd rather roll your own rack and
avoid all the drilling and tapping, Muscians
sells loose rack rails.