8 August 2012

A budget minidisc storage rack

For the past few years I have run my main music system from computers, but recently, in search of an even easier life, I have resuscitated my collection of minidiscs and now play these as well.

Like Betamax, minidisc is a superior technology that lost out, in part, because of Sony foot-shooting. Only with the advent of the last mainstream recorder in Sony’s line, the MZ-RH1, was it possible to get the digital data off a minidisc. Then there was Sony’s reliance on Windows and the woeful SonicStage software, about which the less said the better.

Some while ago I made a couple of minidisc storage racks. There must be millions of minidiscs out there; accessories are now hard to come by, and if, like me, you are still a fan of the medium, you may be in the market for a rack. It is easy to make and the materials are cheap. The plan given is for a rack holding 120 minidiscs, but should be adaptable to other quantities.

To the woodworking tyro this plan may seem more daunting than it is. Your only problem, if you’re not used to the tools, is the need for accuracy. Take your time and, above all, think what you’re doing!

Cutting list
(all dimensions in millimetres)

6 mm thick MDF (medium density fibreboard):

335 x 75 (2 of these)
308 x 75 (2 of these)
296 x 75 (1 of these)
163.5 x 75 (4 of these)
9 pieces of MDF in all


347 x 308 (1 of these)

You’ll also need some 12 mm or 15 mm panel pins; use the rustless ones if possible.

In Britain, MDF comes in various sizes. A sheet 6 mm thick, 4 feet by 2 feet (so much for metrication!), costs about £5 and will provide enough for two racks of the kind described. As for the hardboard, the same size sheet will cost about £2.50, but you can often pick up offcuts in DIY stores or woodyards for next to nothing. At time of writing, £1 = $1.60 US or so. When cutting or sanding MDF don’t inhale any of the dust as it’s nasty stuff.

Tools, etc., needed

Workbench of some sort, preferably with vice
Saw-horse of some sort
Millimetre scale, preferably a long Perspex ruler
Sharp pencil
Try-square for marking right-angles
Sharp handsaw
Sandpaper (80 grade or finer)
Lightweight hammer
Pliers or pincers in case you make a mistake with the panel pins (optional)
Fine bradawl (optional)

How to make it

1. Mark and cut a strip 75 mm wide from the edge of the MDF. Remember to allow for the thickness of the saw itself when cutting; be careful which side of the pencil-line you cut. Also, try to keep the saw-blade vertical so that the cut edge makes a 90 degree angle with the surface of the MDF. (Tip: if using a 4' x 2' piece of MDF, cut the strips from the long edge. It’s more economical and you’ll get more of the machined edge in your finished pieces.)

2. Repeat [1] until you have enough 75 mm wide strips of MDF to provide all 9 pieces you need.

3. Figure out the best way to get your pieces from the strips (calculator handy here), then mark and cut them one at a time, using the try-square to get a 90 degree angle.

4. Sand the edges of the pieces until they look neat. Make pencil-marks to indicate the edges that look best: these will be to the front of the rack, and so exposed to view.

The 335 mm pieces make the top and bottom of the rack; the 308 mm pieces the sides. The sides enclose the top and bottom, and the 296 mm piece makes a central divider. The four 163.5 mm pieces are shelves which are suspended between the central divider and the sides. Each shelf rests on 4 panel pins. It’s easier to knock in these pins before assembling the rack. Careful measurement is needed.

5. Choose which 335 mm piece will be the top and which the bottom, and mark them accordingly.

6. Choose which 308 mm piece will go on the left and which the right, and mark them accordingly.

7. Mark which way up the 296 mm piece is to go.

8. Make the following pencil lines using the ruler and try-square: (a) On the inside of each 308 mm piece, 100 mm from the bottom and 200 mm from the bottom. (b) On each side of the 296 mm piece, 94 mm from the bottom and 194 mm from the bottom.

9. Gently tap two panel pins into each of the lines you made in [8]. They’re for the shelves to sit on. It doesn’t matter exactly where along the line they go; about 15 mm in from each side is about right, but you’ll need to stagger those a little in the 296 mm piece as they’re opposite each other. Don’t drive the pins in much deeper than 5 mm or you’ll go right through the MDF. Keep them as vertical as you can. If your fingers are clumsy, hold the panel pin in a pair of needle-nosed pliers to keep it steady. It’s a good idea to make an indentation first with a fine bradawl or some other sharp-pointed tool, so you can seat the point of the pin precisely on the line. If it’s off, the shelves will be crooked.

You should be left with a total of eight pairs of pins in your 308 and 296 mm pieces.

10. Pin the sides to the top and bottom. The pins need to go vertically, about 3 mm in from the 75 mm wide edge, so that they enter the edge of the MDF (of the top or bottom pieces) in the middle. If they’re too much off, the MDF will bulge, or the point of the pin might even emerge into daylight. If this happens, pull the pin out and try again in another place. Two pins, each one about 20 mm in, will be enough to make each join. If you can clamp the construction in a vice, so much the better. Tip: start each pair of pins off (just knock them in about 4 mm) before offering up one piece to another.

11. Measure the internal width of the frame you have just made and make a pencil mark on the front edge of the top and bottom at the dead centre. Using the try-square, draw a line across the top and bottom. Offer up the central divider so that it’s exactly in the middle – the pencil marks will be at the centre of its front edge. Make sure the edge of the divider is flush with the edges of the top and bottom. Pin it into place, using 2 pins through the line on the top and 2 through the line on the bottom.

12. Cut the back from your piece of hardboard. Sand the edges until they’re neat.

13. Using panel pins, fix the hardboard back in place, smooth side facing the front. Mark a pencil line down the middle of the hardboard so you can pin accurately through to the divider.

14. Put the four shelves in position to make sure they’re horizontal. If they’re a bit out, bend the pins up or down as necessary.

15. Paint the rack. The MDF and hardboard need to be primed first. Don’t bother to paint the rear, unless it’ll be seen. If you used plywood instead of MDF you could varnish it, but then you’d see the “sandwich” of plies at the edge of each piece, unless you bead or veneer them. To get a more professional look you’d need to use solid wood and wax or French polish it, make proper joints for the whole construction, and so on: which would defeat the object of making a budget rack.
The weight of the discs keeps the shelves in place. The dimensions allow the disc-cases to stand closely enough to look neat, but loosely enough to be easily withdrawn, with enough space above to allow each disc to be selected for withdrawal.

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