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Shop Improvements: Building a Wire Spool Cart and Teardown Bench

It seems a lot of projects in the shop are making things for the shop itself. The latest creations are a wire spool cart and a teardown bench.

The spool cart was put together with some spare 1″ tube steel left over from our zombie defense fence project. The design is pretty straightforward.

Rods (spare pipe or conduit) sit in the notches and hold wire spools. The bottom is large and has a floor for CAT6 and other cables that come in boxes, or for other items that might not fit easily on a rod. Like most items in the shop, it’s on casters so it can be easily moved.

Next up was a more ambitious project: a heavy duty teardown bench. These are commercially available, but for the cost I was able to get super heavy duty materials: 1/4″ plate steel for the top, and 0.125″ thick angle and channel for the rest of the structure. I played with different ideas in Trimble Sketchup and settled on this design.

I got to work on the real thing and between the portaband and the MIG welder, knocked it out in a few hours.

The top surface is tilted at 3° toward the back, where it meets with a trough that tilts down to one side. All of the “wet” surfaces are seam welded.

At the end of the trough is a steel drain tube, to which a hose can be attached, or a receptacle placed underneath.

I lucked out with a standard auto parts store waste oil jug, which fits nicely below the tub. I put the bench to immediate use, tearing down a Miata power steering rack. These are the kind of jobs that normally end up with a huge mess, so I’m calling this project a success.

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Shop Improvements: Camera Mounts for the Corners

I whipped up some aluminum mounts for 360 security cameras, for mounting on the corners of our metal building. I had some scrap 0.90 aluminum sheet, so I used the brake and band saw to create some mounts.

The top support curve was actually a left over scrap from a race car splitter, which I trimmed to fit. I TIG welded the aluminum together and spray painted.

The camera is spaced off the building to give it a view down the sides.

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Miata Sim Rig: Wiring the Lights and Testing it Out

The rig in its new home.

When I built the frame initially, I went through the house measuring each door frame to make sure it would fit. However I failed to plan for the overall width of the dash, which extends several inches past the frame. After some creative tries to get it through the doors, we had to remove the seat and steering wheel.

Once in its place, I knew I wanted to get the lights working before I started playing with it.

Playing with the lights.

I had pruned all the harness connectors from the dash harness, so I connected a few up, starting with the dimmer and the fog lamp switch. I figured it would be an appropriate and convenient control to turn the lights on and off.

With some fussing with the multimeter, I finally gave in and looked up a wiring schematic. I was suprised to find Mazda went to a solid state dimmer, which sinks a varying amount current from the illumination circuit for control. I will stick an o-scope on it to see if it’s PWM or not, since I plan to upgrade the weak bulbs with brighter LED’s. With the switch wiring and color codes figured out, the rest was pretty easy.

I connected everything up first with Wago lever nuts. They’re a great alternative to twisty wire nuts for electrical work, and I routinely use them for temporary wiring and emergency-at-the-track bush fixes.

Wiring a mess. Those little things with orange tabs are “lever nuts.”

With everything wired, I gave it a shot. A few of the tiny incandescent bulbs are burned out and will need replacement.

The classic orange illumination of the 2001 Miata.

With the wiring tested, I went to work soldering it all together and tucking the unused wires into a semblance of organization. I used an old 12VDC power supply from a computer monitor for this project.

Lights all connected and wiring tucked.

And the results are once again awesome! The lights are pretty dim, as they are supposed to be. I may upgrade everything with LED later, but for now it’s pretty cool.

Illumination mostly working!

With that it was time to give it a test drive!

Setting up for its maiden voyage on iRacing using the Oculus Rift S

I’ll continue to add fine touches but for now it’s a pretty rad racing sim seat, with a coffee mug cup holder.

Coffee mug holder for the long commute
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Miata Sim Rig: Painting and Reassembly

Spoiler – it turned out AWESOME

The last big task before tearing it down for paint was to build a floor. I used 3/4″ plywood since it was available in the scrap pile, which is why it’s in two pieces.

I added another unistrut crossbeam, since this is where the pedal force will be concentrated. A with that, it was time to paint! I tore everything down to a bare metal frame and hauled it outside.

Spray painting the steel and staining the wood.

While I eventually plan to put carpet down as the flooring surface, I thought stain would look nice and seal the wood until that phase of the project.

More painting. Here you can see the structure I added to support the center console and shifter.

While the paint was drying, I set about cleaning up the interior. It had 20 years of skin oil, grime, and fast food particles stuck in every crack. When Simple Green failed to do the job, I got out the pressure washer.

The center console, cup holders, any anything else I could disassemble to bare plastic got the pressure washer treatment. I did not use it on the foam part of the dash since it would probably soak up water, and it is fragile from years of UV exposure.

Attaching the pedals to the freshly painted frame

Once I could tolerate the level of offgassing, I brought it in the shop and started reassembly. I mounted the pedals using M6 hardware from our hardware pantry. The hole pattern for the Logitech pedals is essentially random, so it took a while to measure and drill corresponding holes in the floor.

Detail showing how I mounted the shifter to some unistrut, which in turn bolts to the center console frame structure.

I’ll need to add a shift boot later. The one that came with the car was disgusting and beyond salvage. With the dash in place I started adding all the newly-clean controls and trim pieces. People keep asking “is the radio going to work?” … well… yeah. But later.

Assembling all the trim pieces.

There’s lots of potential for later add-ons to this. Working lighter socket, AC controls operating a blower out of the air vents, night illumination, and the radio hooked to speakers and connected to the computer via bluetooth. But all that’s later.

A trim panel to hide the ugly side.

With the seat mounted and everything snapped in place, I got to take in the final result:

It came out AWESOME!

The “ready to play” result came out better than I’d hoped. It looks and feels pretty comfy! I will note I ended up taking it apart later to bend more of an angle in the mounting plate for the wheel.

The cup holders are a nice bonus to all this. It also won’t look nearly as ugly as the first try.

The “back” of the dash.

The back side is pretty ugly and won’t exactly look at home in a living room, so it will need some beautification later. Next challenge: getting the whole thing inside.

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Miata Sim Rig: Building a Frame and Mounting the Controls

With the dashboard and center console removed from the Miata, it was time to cut it down to a more manageable size. It has to fit through a door after all.

The skeleton of a Miata's dashboard and its attached center console, clamped to the top of a metal work bench.

I used a 5″ metal cutoff disc to sever the internal frame and cut off the passenger side of the dash. I also trimmed the top of the dashboard to make it flat and shorten the overall length.

The remains of the dash after trimming.

I had to remove all the various instruments, buttons, dials, and trim pieces to get the dash out. I’ll add it all back in later.

I’m planning to use the steel frame inside to mount the whole thing.

As I trimmed I started to plan where trim panels would go, and made clean lines for them. I also retained the steel dash bar, since everything mounts to it, and it would make a good anchor point.

A rectangular steel frame on the ground, with the miata dash board set on top of it roughly.
The basic frame and dash layout.

I made some measurements and decided to once again use Unistrut for the base frame. Unistrut is versatile, and allows adjustment and repositioning, so it’s perfect for this application.

The Miata’s dash skeleton mounted to the Unistrut frame.

After painstaking measurements, tack welding, hammering, and more welding, I had the Miata’s steel dash frame built. It has to support the forces I’ll be putting into the steering wheel so it needed to be rigid. I measured the height of the frame relative to its donor car’s floor to get the position just right.

The dashboard skin placed on to see how I did. The frame interferes with a part I hadn’t planned to trim so I had to get creative on how to make it look right.

I also attached wheels to the frame, which made it much easier to work on. With the height of the dash set, everything else started falling in place. I decided to use the original seat from the car as well. It’s comfortable and matches the interior.

Seat, center console, and dash loosely in place.

I pressed forward and mounted the seat. I used the original seat mounts and sliders, but took them off to bend the angles flat for mounting. I used a full size strut for the front and a half size for the rear, giving it a slight tilt like the original mounts had.

I decided to use the original steering column mount points to mount the controller. To do this, I used my brand new tool, the Swag Offroad press brake. The 1/4″ steel plate I used was overkill, but it was laying around the shop and would be nice and rigid.

Putting the Swag finger brake to work. It fits in a standard Harbor Freight 20 ton press and handled the 1/4″ plate with no problems.

The controller steering box is big, so it spaced out from the dash much more than the original wheel does. In my race cars, the wheel is spaced out from its original position by several inches, so it puts the wheel in just the right spot. I used a piece of strut to provide a spacer between the mount point on the dash frame and my plate.

The mount plate for the wheel, mounted to the original steering column points.

I later put more bend in the plate to put the wheel in the correct position. I made a simple mount out of strut scraps for the shifter. It’s mounted to a small frame, also strut, that I built to support the center console. You can see it in later posts.

The shifter mounted to the center console frame.

With a few more details, it will be ready for paint.

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Miata Sim Rig: Repurposing a Miata Dash to Make an Awesome Sim Racing Rig

I have dabbled with sim racing for a few years as a way to practice and fill gaps between real track events. I started like most, with a simple Logitech pedal/wheel/shifter set, clamped it to the computer desk and went driving.

This is an ergonomic disaster. The wheel starts to move, the shifter is in the wrong place, the pedals slide on the floor, and a rolling computer chair will just roll backwards when you step on the pedals.

A computer racing wheel controller attached to a desk, with three monitors in front of displaying a view from a race car.
A basic sim racing setup with the controllers attached to a desk, and several monitors providing a wide view.

When the Oculus Rift VR headset came out, fellow sim racers raved about its immersion and use within the game. Stereoscopic vision let you perceive depth and elevation change, as well as rotation of the car – plus, no need for elaborate angled displays! Untethered from the need for monitors, and frustrated with the process of attaching a wheel to the desk, getting a non-rolling chair, aligning everything, and then suffering through poor ergonomics, I set out to build a crude “sim rig” for use with VR.

A chair mounted to a metal frame on wheels, with a corded steering wheel and pedal controller attached.
The first sim rig – crude, but better.

The first iteration was a unistrut frame along with a steel tube frame for the wheel. Many people make similar frames with PVC pipe, wood, and other hardware store supplies. The seat was an inexpensive “racing” seat from the Summit catalog with adjustable sliders, and I just bolted everything together. I started out with the intent of improving the mounts and ergonomics, but it soon became apparent it would need a total do-over to get the results I wanted. I had focused on small form factor a little too much and it was uncomfortable and difficult to get in and out of. It worked pretty well for a while though.

Then along came the $135.00 auction gem. A 2001 Miata, bone stock, with some minor front end damage. A perfect candidate for a future race car and the price was right. Fast forward a few years and we finally moved into our new shop. I started the teardown of the white Miata, and decided to jump on a project I had thought about for years: using the actual interior of a car to build a sim racing rig!

The interior of a white convertible car, viewed from above, missing its roof. There are no seats or carpet inside.
A new race car being born, but first I’m going to repurpose its dash board!

We have more space at the house now, so I’m going to build for awesome-factor!