Making the Maker Cart

For a while now I’ve been wishing I had some sort of a portable cart / box / cabinet / work-surface “thing” that I could move around the house from location-to-location as we tend to do projects “in-place” whenever and wherever the mood strikes. And as our projects have grown in sophistication, it gets to be a pain to be constantly lugging and dragging parts and stuff around from one place to the next. So, over time, the idea for the “Maker Cart” began to materialize in my mind– but you know, as a “round tuit” project for ‘someday’…

TL;DR Here is a link to the build log with photos

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Recently the urgency for the cart pushed its way to the forefront as Mason and myself have found ourselves temporarily re-located to a different city for some months due to  health reasons. So I quickly drew up some sketches and looked around in the workshop for whatever I had enough of to get started with– a rush project if there ever was one!

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The goal of the cart is fairly simple– to provide a portable work space / platform to haul around parts, test equipment, etc., and give us a place away from the Project Room to work. It’s been mostly constructed from 80/20-style “V-slot” (Openbuilds) aluminum extrusions that I have leftover from previous projects. Kind of expensive, I know, but time was of the essence for this build… so damn the expense and full speed ahead!

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I did up the basic box in CAD (Fusion 360) so that I could play around with shapes and sizes without having to actually cut anything. Once I got a general feel for what I wanted, I went out into the workshop and started cutting pieces to size. I used the end-to-end method (which Mason is modelling for your viewing pleasure) to connect the extrusions on top and bottom rather than make two long and two short pieces in order to maximize the material.  I wanted to utilize the entire amount of stock for a square base, which turned out to be 540mm (about 21-1/2 inches).

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Both boys helped me with the build and came in extremely handy many times to help hold, brace, screw stuff on “from the other side”, etc. They are both old-hats, well-versed in the ways of aluminum extrusions!!

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The general idea of the space includes some drawers for tools and supplies along the top-right, some room for power supplies or whatever along the top-left, and a semi-hidden compartment behind the drawers to fit small computers such as Raspberry Pi’s, Odroids and the like for server / services facilities on the cart. One “service” in particular is running my ‘Bitscope‘, which is a really neat digital data analyzer for not much money.

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The bottom is presently undifferentiated space and meant to hold parts, materials and such. I have a lot of work cases, see-through compartmentalized boxes and such for toting around parts and pieces. I toyed with the idea of building a “mounting guide” for the boxes, but decided (so far) not to do it because I can fit more into the cart ad-hoc without it getting in the way. So that may be a future improvement. Or perhaps some sort of “peg” system that would permit the functionality without getting in the way. 

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On top is a wooden work surface which has been cut in half and swings open to provide access to the ‘hidden’ compartment in the back– yes, I know, the frame is still open, but it will eventually get real side panels to close it up. And there is a very nifty pop-up surface bolted to the side which about doubles the available work area as-needed.

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I put heavy-duty 5-inch wheels on the bottom. Originally I had them all swivel but changed my mind and put two fixed wheels on the back instead. I figured this would improve its tertiary (quaternary?) function as a press-into-service dolly / hand-truck. I think it has helped in that regard, but I think I may swap the swivel wheels back at some point. I think they work better for negotiating interior spaces. 

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On the back of the cart I vertically-mounted a couple of v-slot extrusions to act both as bracing, a place to (eventually) put a handle to help roll it around, and (soon-to-come) an “electronics shelf” to hold the scope and other stuff above the work-surface to maximize it for other stuff. The uprights also serve as a convenient spot to bolt-on the monitor arm and a full-size (24 inch) touch-screen monitor. I’m really liking the monitor… I think I will add another on the other side at some point.

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The cart is not yet finished though. Partly due to time considerations– I cut the panels quickly out of cheap plywood the night before we left. They are not yet attached but just press-fitted into service. I haven’t officially made the drawers yet either, though I have mounted the slide hardware for them. I had a small flash of brilliance milliseconds before I left the house and grabbed a couple of walnut boxes I had acquired for a different project and realized if I looked at them differently, they could become cheap drawers!! The size was just about right and they’ll do for now until I can get some real drawers made later on.

Finally I added some great big lug-rings all around to make it easier to lash the cart to things, such as the inside of the car to keep it from careening around and bashing into things. As an after-thought I also added a handle on the front. At some point I want to rig up a little “U-shaped” extension near the base so that I can pull it out and have a little bit of a ledge so as to carry extra cargo or a suitcase or something. That would be very handy, but I ran out of time and that was a “nice-to-have” so it got tossed overboard for now.

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The rest of the design will simply be evolution. I have made the general idea of what I wanted so now the rest will occur organically as a consequence of using it. Discovering things that aren’t quite right and adjusting them. Thinking up improvements and ways to add functionality as the need arises. I can already tell that it is going to come in extremely handy for our mobile & robotics projects as it will allow us to follow the robot and less of the other way around. 

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Can it be improved? Almost certainly and without a doubt. However, I love it already. It’s a little bit taller than I had envisioned. I originally wanted something that would be helpful and useful while I was sitting on the floor or a stool doing stuff with the kids. It grew out of necessity to approx 30-inches height, at the top of the work surface, so that’s a little taller than I had in-mind. It’s also slightly taller than is comfortable while sitting on a couch, though I note it is at the same height, ergonomically, as many (most) office tables and/or kitchen / dining room tables. So it’s not overly tall.

I would also like to shoe-horn in some sort of a keyboard holder, either a swing-arm or fixed, so it will be more convenient from most positions, and also to be able to fold out of the way when not needed. So there’s still some more to do and get done, but I wanted to share with folks what it has already become and maybe spark some ideas for other projects! 

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Here is a link to the build log thus far. Lots of pictures but (currently, perhaps thankfully 😉 short on commentary!

 

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