This is a guest post by Rob Griggs-Taylor. Rob is a 40-something Scottish bloke, married with three kids. He’s a petrol-head who also rides an old Honda motorcycle for fun, and has a love of gadgets. An Apple fan by preference, but happy to use XP at work. The only Microsoft product he really admires is Excel, which was invented by someone else and bought by MS… You can find out more about him at http://www.griggs-taylor.co.uk
If you’re any kind of geek, you’re going to have a variety of rechargeable gadgets around and each one of them is going to have a charger. There’s the mobile phone, probably an MP3 player of some description, maybe a digital camera, sat nav, video camera and so on. It’s likely that they’ll be spread around your house because you have to have electric sockets to plug them into, and they seldom appear in houses in groups of more than two!
My house was exactly like that. The time spent running around picking up the gadgets in the morning was annoying, and left things open to being missed if I was running late. I also found the sheer number of wires irritating, so I resolved to do something about it.
I’ve seen on sites like lifehacker.com that people have built charging stations into boxes from Ikea or similar, but this idea didn’t really appeal. For a start, UK mains plugs are surprisingly large and fitting a few of them into a box seemed like a recipe for overheating and perhaps fire without significant holes for cooling.
And then I spotted my computer cupboard. It had plenty of space for cooling around chargers, and was big enough to hopefully take all our gadgets.
Changes in our house had meant that the tower Mac that used to sit in it was now in the loft (that’s a whole other story…) leaving a big empty space. Inside the cupboard had a multi-function printer that was little used and an old HP LaserJet. Oh, and a whole load of other rubbish…
First things first. I emptied everything out and binned a lot. Then, I gathered all the gadgets together to make sure they would fit on the shelf that was left!
I wasn’t happy about putting the items onto bare wood (why are gadgets always so easy to scratch?) so I bought two sheets of Plastazote foam from eBay for £3. These were easy to cut to size using a long kitchen knife. [Tip: if you're as bad at cutting things as I am, make sure you have the smooth factory-finished sides on display and leave your rough cuts at the back!] These were glued onto the wood with some black gaffa tape along the back edge to help the strength.
Putting the sockets in was next. I wanted as many as possible inside the cabinet, and again trial fitted first. Two 6-gang sockets wouldn’t fit the width or height of the available space, so I mounted a 4-gang and a 6-gang. Simple arithmetic suggested that this wasn’t enough, so there’s a second 4-gang mounted on the back of the cupboard (not shown).
Ensuring they were level for neatness, I used a spirit-level app on my iPhone and a good ruler.
Once the sockets were in, I again test fitted all the gadgets. Success! Except that it was a bit dark inside the cupboard. So I had an idea. And, as is the way with these things, this took longer to do than anything else…
I wanted a light inside the cupboard, but not just any light. It had to be low-wattage and switch itself on when one of the doors opened. I scoured the internet for a kit suitable but couldn’t see anything I liked. A friend had fitted LEDs to his motorcycle and I wondered about using them, but they would require a 12 volt transformer and I really couldn’t be bothered trying to work that all out.
Eventually I came across LED strip lights for fish tanks and bought one on eBay. It has 24 moonstone blue coloured LEDs in a strip of flexible plastic and comes with a mains transformer. £6.50. Cha-ching!
It arrived, was mounted after some experimentation, and looked great. Only the switch to go.
Again I searched the internet with little success. Eventually I went to a local Electrical shop (I tried B&Q first but they were no help) and the guy there had exactly what I needed. I was going to cut the wire for the LEDs and insert the switch, but after advice from the shop proprietor I changed plans again. He noted that some transformers have special switches inside that detect a load and only work if there is one. The switch would act as a load making the transformer work all the time, potentially leading to overheating and failure. The recommendation was to insert the switch into a mains cable, leaving the LED setup completely as it arrived.
So, I bought some 2-core wire (no metal items and only a 5 amp load), a plug, a one-gang socket and the elusive switch for about £7 all in.
10 minutes with a couple of screwdrivers and some wirecutters had the whole lead made up. Plug it in, take a deep breath and hit the mains power.
A bit of tidying, some cable clips and it’s all done. Opening the left door of the cupboard switches the lights on allowing you to see all the gadgets in there.
Total cost – £16.50. Having all my gadgets charging in one place, hidden from the rest of the world? Priceless.