Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hacking Ikea: Keyboard Shelf=Model Railroad Control Station

Ikea Summera keyboard shelf=Dunes Junction control center
I recently acquired my first DCC control system, a Digitrax DCS51 Zephyr Xtra. For my tiny layout, the capabilities of this system was a perfect fit.  But I had a hard time figuring out how to incorporate its physical form into the layout, particularly retracting this compact DCC system under the layout when not in use .

I thought about various hinge and drawer arrangements.  I especially liked what the Model Railroader magazine crew did with its N scale Salt Lake Route project railroad last year: that layout's Digitrax Zephyr slid into a drawer in the layout fascia (link requires a password). But I didn't want to alter the 1"x2" grid framing foundation of Dunes Junction or append a (relatively) massive box or drawer to the underside of the layout.

I shied away from a hinge, partly because I didn't want to eat up space on our pantry shelves to accommodiate the swing of a hinged panel, and partly because I didn't want to drill holes or otherwise void the warranty of the Digitrax Zephyr Xtra with double sided tape, velcro, or the like.

Meanwhile, at my workplace, I recently noticed a mouse pad-sized platform on an extension arm mounted to the underside of my desk. Mouse pad-sized is also Digitrax Zephyr Xtra-sized, so this appeared to be a possible solution for retracting the DCC system under the layout when not in use, but unfortunately, a quick web search showed that these 'ergonomic mouse shelves' cost in the hundreds of dollars!

But that same web search turned up the Ikea Summera pull-out keyboard shelf, a paragon of spare Scandinavian styling priced at a reasonable $9.99.  I rushed to my nearest Ikea store with tape measure in hand to look at the Summera shelf in person.

(An important note here, if you've never ventured into an Ikea store: you aren't allowed to rush, because the Swedish overlords of cheap, stylish home furnishings have engineered the store so customers may only can meander slowly through a highly controlled labrynth, the walls of which are formed by every piece of merchandise offered by Ikea. Also, if you are visiting an Ikea in the Metro Washington area, our 24-hour rush hour will similarly prevent 'rushing'.)

All digs on Ikea and the Capital Beltway aside, the Ikea Hackers web site offers a continuous feed of ideas for using Ikea products for something other than their intended purposes--I know that others have successfully used Ikea book shelves for layout benchwork, and I suppose there lots of other ways that Ikea stuff can add value to model railroading.

I bought the Summera keyboard shelf and mounted it to the underside of the layout with two scraps of 2"x2" lumber.  When it's pulled out, there's enough room there for a beverage and an instruction manual (necessary cuz I'm still trying to figure out this DCC thing). When the shelf is pushed in, the Digitrax Zephyr Xtra is snuggled up under the layout, allowing unobstructed access to our pantry shelves. When I eventually apply a fascia to the front edge of the layout, it will have either a cutout or a hinged panel to clear the DCC controller.

But the best part: it was only $9.99. And it doesn't look too bad.