Build a triple screen stand for £25
29th Jul 2012 | 11:00
Why pay hundreds for a triple stand? Build your own!
Getting together what you need
Desks are rarely tidy places. If yours is like the ones at PC Plus, there are boxes, parts and old energy drink cans littering the space around the displays, which stand like gleaming beacons among the detritus. With even old graphics cards offering two if not three outputs, it's not unusual to have several displays on a desk.
Having your collection of monitors mounted on a single stand looks a lot neater and frees up desk space, but mounts, especially triple-screen ones, can cost more than the displays themselves.
When we came across this build from a few years back on the Overclock.net forums, it sparked our imagination. We scampered off to track down similar components.
One problem we stumbled into was that the piping used for the project appears to be industrial high-pressure kit, which is usually only sold in 6m lengths. While it's relatively easy and cheap to find the 45° elbow parts, it seems to be either impossible - or at least very expensive - to source the short connecting pipes, at least in the UK.
A possible solution we thought of was to use a metal pipe-based wire-routing conduit system. Again, this comes with affordable metal T-connectors and screw-in pipes, but we weren't convinced it would support the weight of a large monitor.
Strut your stuff
Finally, we came across a system called Unistrut. This is an industrial building system used for serious cable management and light structural work. Importantly, it's affordable, strong, has the necessary parts, and is widely available. The likes of B&Q and Screwfix don't stock it, but many building merchants do.
The main problem with buying Unistrut is that many outlets charge a premium for small orders. This can be as much as £20, doubling the cost. If you can, find a local seller. Otherwise try www.fix8.co.uk, which charges a reasonable £7.50 for delivery.
Our custom stand is made up of six parts: one 3m shallow slotted channel, two flat delta-T brackets and three homemade VESA brackets. The channel strips themselves seem to be available in 2.5mm and 1.5mm thicknesses, with the thinner option being a little cheaper. This should still be more than rigid enough, but doesn't seem to be stocked widely.
We imagine if you're trusting thousand of pounds worth of lighting - or even monitors - to support struts, you're not going to choose thinner supports just to save a few pounds here and there.
Alongside this, you also ideally need 14x 25mm M10 bolts, nuts and washers to make the stand. eBay is a good place to find cheap suppliers of bolts. You can get away with M8 roofing bolts instead, but make sure the washers you get are large enough that they don't slip through the slots.
You'll also need a pack of M10 38mm discs, also called repair washers, which are needed to stop even the large M10 bolt heads from slipping into the fixtures. These will work fine with M8 bolts, if you opt for those.
Additionally, to fix the monitors to the VESA mounts, you'll need to get hold of some 12 x 25mm M4 bolts. All of this should come to less than £30, including postage - a fraction of what a commercially built stand would cost. As long as you have a decent hacksaw and either a workmate or decent clamps, you won't need much more than a spanner and a screwdriver at your disposal.
One aspect of the stand you may want to consider changing is the base. Our functional design simply uses an additional bar with two angled supports bent to shape. It works, but for a more solid and less conspicuous finish you may want to consider bolting the bracket directly to the desk instead - Unistrut offers alternative brackets that can be used to fix conduit directly to a base. Alternatively, you can bolt your home-made contraption to a prettier-looking stand that you've sourced elsewhere, though our priority was building a low-cost stand that made best use of what we had available.
When we were first planning this build, the first option we tried was to cut up the arms and then bolt everything together using 45° brackets. While this worked, it did increase the total cost, since the number of bolts required rose dramatically.
During our planning, we worked out that if we kept the total required lengths of the support under 3m, we would be able to reduce our requirements to a single 3m length of Unistrut channel. Our rough calculations for this were 60cm for the main crossbar and 40cm for both the extended arms and the upright. This is for 24-inch displays, but you may want to extend this to 45cm arms. Even so, this amounts to 150cm for the crossbar, 90cm for the base and around 30cm for the upright, or 270cm in total. Just enough to get the job done.
1x 3m Unistrut shallow slotted channel £12
2x delta-T flat brackets £3
14x M10 25mm bolts, nut £2
14x M10 20mm washers £2
8x 38mm M10 discs £2
12x 25mm M4 bolts £2
1x 120 x 20 x 450mm plank £2
Now let's make it!
Search for a spec
Tape measure at the ready, let's size things up
1. How high?
As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. The first job is to decide how high we want our monitors. We could bolt the backs of the upright and crossbeam together so it's height-adjustable, but for the stability the bracket should fix the backs of two struts together. Remember, the upright can be made shorter, but not longer! We're starting with a 35cm length.
2. How wide?
Another important measurement is the width of the central crossbar. If you want your displays to meet up nicely at the edges, then this needs to be close to the width of the central monitor. The 45º connecting pieces we're using include 1cm of give, so technically you can measure your display and take off 2cm for the entire width. Again, you can make these shorter afterwards, so be generous.
3. Really wide?
Less vital is how long you make the extension arms for the left and right displays. These simply need to be long enough to clear the far-end VESA mounts to which we're going to attach our DIY mounts. If you plan to upgrade to larger displays, you may want to make these longer. Even so, we think a 40cm length is more than generous, and should accommodate displays up to 24 inches.
Made in the UK
It's time to put our budget stand together
1. Gather around
A clear workbench is essential, so gather your pieces of Unistrut and clear the decks. We started with a basic hacksaw, but soon upgraded to a more substantial 300mm model, as the 2.5mm Unistrut proved pretty resilient and it was much easier to cut with a larger blade. The hole spaces are every 5cm, which means struts are best cut to multiples of 5cm. Ignore the angle brackets - these are surplus to requirements.
2. Careful cutting
Our original plan was to use the four-hole 45º brackets that are part of the Unistrut system. However, it occurred to us that the 2.5mm steel would be strong enough to hold the screens on its own, and if we cut into the sides of the Unistrut where we wanted our 45º bends, this would enable us to bend the struts and have a single length. This worked perfectly and saved a lot of hassle.
3. Make the base
To make the base, the middle section needs to be even in length for the delta-T bracket to be central. We'd suggest 30cm. For the arms we found that 30cm provided enough support to handle just two monitors, though you could also get away with 20cm arms if you prefer. Cut into the strut 30cm along its length, midway between two of the holes. Once cut, clamp the strut and bend to 45º.
4. Make the upright
The central height for the monitors should be around 30-40cm depending on your tastes, chair and desk height. This means the upright - minus around 6cm for the stand's width and half the upper beam's width - should be 25-35cm, sticking to multiples of five. Using one of the delta-T brackets, this can be securely fixed to the base. Use a spirit level to make sure it's fixed to the vertical correctly.
5. Add the arms
For the upper mounting arm we cut into the sides of the Unistrut, allowing 40cm for each side arm and 60cm for the central section. Again, the central section needs to be an even length to leave the VESA block centrally mounted. Before you start bending the cut arms, try folding the corner of a piece of A4 paper back onto itself to form a handy 45º template.
6. Attach the crossbeam
At this point it can be useful to have an extra pair of hands. Attach the crossbeam to the upright using the delta-T bracket, four M10 bolts, discs, washers and nuts. Screw everything together loosely and use a spirit level to make sure it's square and straight before tightening it all up. You should now have a solid, impressive stand.
On your mounts
With the stand made, it's time to attach the monitors
1. Making VESA blocks
The one conundrum we're left with is how to attach the monitors to our stand. We had hoped to use some leftover pieces of Unistrut, but this seemed too unwieldy. A simpler option is to cut 120mm square blocks of wood and screw these to the monitors via the standard M4 bolts. Two M10 bolts can then be fixed coming back out of the block, and used to secure each monitor to the stand.
2. Fixing the bolts
It's generally best to fix the VESA block to the stand first, so you can easily tighten the hidden bolts holding your monitors in place. We suggest sinking a washer-sized hole into the wood to provide more surface area and spread any load over the wood. Once secure, you can attach the M4 bolts through to the monitor. Use washers if you feel the load needs to be spread. A hard wood is the most secure option.
3. Central issues
With the central monitor there's the issue of the delta-T bracket getting in the way. The easiest solution here is to drill reciprocal holes to fit over these mount bolts using a 16mm spade bit, so the VESA block can still sit flush, while the mounting bolts will sit further apart. The VESA block will need to be 200mm wide. This could cause issues with some displays, but not if they're VESA compliant.
4. Alternative mounts
We spotted these too late to try them ourselves, but Unistrut also makes a U-shaped over-channel bracket (part number P4047). This would make for an alternative and potentially more secure mount, since using two would enable you to use four M10/M8 bolts to fix the VESA block to the stand, and the VESA mounting could then be slid along the entire length of the arm.