Recently I’ve been looking into a few ways to “professionalise” my HomeLab on the cheap, and one of those ways was to implement a rack mount solution. This article outlines my adventure and how I did it.
Before we begin, I will outline a few things here. To the right you will see the up to date product of my adventure as of the most recent edit. A hacked together server rack consisting of parts from IKEA and Bunnings Warehouse.
(Click to view full size)
1.0 – The Beginning
Before building my DIY Server Rack I was using a simple Lack table flipped upside down as a Lack Rack, on top of a warehouse rack from Officeworks. Note that we will be keeping the Lack table for this guide.
2.0 – The Gathering
I’ll summarise the shopping list here for anyone who wants to quickly review:
- 2x – Lack Side Tables – $25.98 – ($12.99 ea)
- 2x – 42 x 42 x 2400mm Pine posts – $36 – ($18 ea)
- 1x – Tarzan’s Grip Wood Glue – $6.90
- 1x – 50 pack of 8 – 75mm Wood Screws – $6.38
- 1x – 100 pack of 8 – 25mm White Button Head Screws – $11.74
- 8x – 40 x 20 x 600mm L Bracket – $41.60 – ($5.20 ea)
- 1x – 16 pack of 25 x 25mm Angle Brackets – $5
- 1x – 450 x 16 x 1200mm MDF – $12
- 2x – 1830 x 915 x 3mm MDF – $16
This brings the grand total to $121.60 AUD for an estimated 24U of rack space.
3.0 – The Construction
3.1 – Building the Posts
The Lack table legs are made out of weak particle board, and the inside of these legs are hollow. This would be a recipe for disaster if we were to try and mount any heavy servers or equipment onto these legs, uhm posts… So we are going to need to reinforce these.
The dimensions of the hollow space in the legs are 45mm x 45mm. As I live in Australia, 45mm x 45mm is not standard for timber. For you UK friends out there, 44mm x 44mm timber does seem to be standard for you, so a quick google search should get you on your way for finding these! So I had to make do with 2x 42mm x 42mm x 2400mm Pine ($18 AUD ea) from Bunnings to fill the legs and some Wood Glue ($7 AUD), and some 8 – 75mm Wood Screws ($7 AUD) to secure it in place.
First up was to cut the 2x 2400mm pine posts in half to make 4x 1200mm posts. Use a square and a saw (A hand saw is fine as this wood is soft to cut).
Next, we needed to remove the roughly 25mm of particle board covering the feet of the legs. Use a chisel and a hammer (or a large screwdriver and a hammer in my case) to carefully remove this cap. Make sure you get all the particle board out of the legs. I used a vacuum cleaner to get large chucks that stuck to the bottom out!
Once all of the particle board’s out of the legs, apply ample amounts of wood glue to the inside of the hollow cavity in the Lack leg and the bottom quarter of the pine, then slide the pine down into the hollowed out Lack Table’s leg.
Now yes, I am aware that we are going to have a 3 mm gap between the walls of the legs and the pine post. What I did to counter this was push the pine up against the most forward and inside corner of the legs, as these would be the parts that we are attaching the things to.
Making sure to pre-drill all of the holes to prevent splitting the wood, I secured two 25mm screws through the front face of the legs in to the pine post to hold the post in place, and then drove two 75mm screws through the bottom of the rack (top of the table) in to the pine post, securing the post to the Lack table. Repeat for all 4 legs, making sure to push the pine posts all the way to the opposite (back) side of the lack table legs for the back side of the rack. This should leave us with an upside-down Lack Table with four secured pine posts as extensions for the legs.
We will secure the front and back side leg pairs together in section 3.2 when we construct the initial rack mounts.
3.2 – Racking the gear
Now in case you haven’t noticed, the lack rack doesn’t have enough room for typical rack mounting brackets, instead the flaps of your equipment will line up with the wooden posts. So for this build I constructed resting mounts using 2*40x20x600mm L Brackets ($11.20), 4*25x25mm Angle Brackets ($1.25), and 16x 25mm screws ($1.88) for the servers to sit on, meaning that each server mount only costs a total of $15 per racked server.
Starting from there the first section of pine is visible from inside the Lack table’s leg, I secured the first 600mm bracket, making sure that the 40mm section is horizontal to the rack for the most amount of surface area. This aims to protect against the server sliding left or right and falling off one of the mounting brackets.
I then secured a 25x25mm angle bracket underneath the 40x20mm bracket to give it some reinforcement. (See my crude diagram)
Complete for the other side and you have created your initial server mounting point. Note that I have left the entirety of Lack Table’s legs length for 8U worth of UPS and Storage Servers as they weigh the most and I am happy to have them sitting on each other, you can feel free to start this process from the bottom of it suits you.
To expand upwards, measure out (x*U) + 30mm from the bottom of the originating server mounting point, where x = how many U the server in the below mounting slot will be, and U = 44.45 mm (1 3⁄4“). (We do it this way so we don’t have to put a server in there, measure, then remove the server to drill holes!
We are using the baseline of 30mm to make it easier to slide equipment in and out of these slots, but you can lower this to 10mm if it suits you, just know that it may make it harder to slide your servers in and out from.
3.3 – Building the shelves
To build the shelved is pretty much the exact same as the racking of the servers. My favourite part of this is it literally only costs you 1/2 of an MDF board ($6) + 2 x brackets of your choice ($11.20 OR $0.625) depending on your rated weighting of the shelf) + 10 25mm screws ($1.16) which means a single shelf can cost between $7.785 and $18.36 per shelf depending on your requirements. Significantly cheaper than other alternatives ($65).
Firstly, measure out (x*U) + 30mm from the bottom of the originating server mounting point, where x = how many U the server in the below mounting slot will be, and U = 44.45 mm (1 3⁄4“). (We do it this way so we don’t have to put a server in there, measure, then remove the server to drill holes! Repeat this upwards for more shelves.
Once the mounts are in place, cut your 1200mm MDF in half to make them 600mm deep and simply slide it in to the new shelve space. Done! You can also screw the shelves in on the sides through the L brackets if they are strips of metal with holes (which they are in my case).
3.4 – Direct Mounting
Now direct mounting using this setup doesn’t work the greatest. The rack is only 450mm wide between the posts, whereas most racks are 19″ (482.6mm wide INCLUDING the space for the rack mounting. Because of the smaller width of the unit the rack ears cover the front of the wooden poles, meaning direct mounting is possible for smaller equipment such as switches and short 1U appliances, though will not be able to support the weight of any servers.
I will be looking into a way to easily attach front and back rack rails, though this is not a part of this project yet.
4.0 – Cable Management
Cable management consists of power primarily running on the left-hand side of the rack, and network & KVM running on the right. In future when side panels are added, the void between the side panels and the shelves created by the poles on either side will house cables.
5.0 – Enclosing the Rack
To enclose the rack I used another Lack Table (with the legs hollowed out) and just slid it on over the top of the four pine posts. I didn’t use any adhesive as gravity keeps in it place, though I did screw a screw in for each leg so that it can be easily removed if needed.
For the side panels I cut 2 MDF 3mm sheets to larger than I need them to be and screwed them on the both sides of the rack. These will need to be cut down to size later, as they lip off the front and extrude off the back significantly which looks silly… I painted the side panels black with spray paint I had laying around, though I will need to paint the insides as well at some point, so I’ll go ahead and do all of that at once to save my labor.
6.0 – Completion
That’s pretty much is as it stands. I’ve had huge delays in this project due to the UPS I had recently purchased being faulty, and its replacement also being DOA… All in all, it took 3 UPSs and 4 months to get this to a point where I didn’t have heaps of junk laying around the room with servers pulled out and sitting on the floor. I’m glad it’s completed, even if I didn’t really achieve my goal of a professional build on the cheap. (Black spray paint incoming?)
If you have any questions about this please feel free to reach out to me, I’d gladly share any advice on this build with anyone.