OK, so you can go and spend several hundred pounds on a custom built deck stand, but if you are lucky you'll know someone is a bit handy in the world of the old wood work.
Before we go there, there are several criteria that should seriously be considered when deciding where to put your decks, before you go anywhere designing one yourself.
As a checklist we'll run down those I feel are important, most of which are founded from playing many different setups at differing heights for varying length of time and what is most importantly most comfortable and equally as practical. DJing is not a quick pastime taking hour upon hour of practice, especially if you are putting a demo together. You will need to stand for long periods whilst you practice like the DJ demon you are so comfort is key.
Custom vs. standard desk/table
This is about the first decision you need to make. Why would you want a custom built deck stand? A table is far cheaper and easier to get hold of. There is bound to be one you can put your decks on right now if you haven't done so already. The main disadvantages of a normal table (in the majority of cases) are as follows:
Differing build quality can lead to an unstable workspace once its taken the weight of two decent decks at about 12-18kg each plus your mixer. Thin legs and a wobbly top will not help reduce needle skipping etc. The worst party I was ever asked to DJ at consisted of a wall papering/decorating table made basically from 2 ply hardboard. Hopeless. Cueing the record made the whole table wobble inches either way making it a very unnerving experience. Are the decks going to slide off, is the table really bowing under the weight as bad as you think it is or is the worst of your worries going to be that you simply can't cue a record properly. This skipping and frustration would of course be made worse if you are using budget decks or even a deck that isn't calibrated correctly.
The physical height of a standard table is ergonomically designed so you can sit at it and do whatever it is you do with a straight back, with your shoulders square and where possible your elbows just above hip height. Any combination where these aren't followed will mean you will suffer fatigue of the muscles or back ache etc. Table tops are designed (even if you buy a table top and add customisable legs with height adjustment) at a maximum of about 90cm. If you stand leaning over a table for any period of time (twenty minutes will be sufficient) you will feel discomfort in your lower back, especially if the decks are pushed back away from the edge of the table nearest you. The more you bend, the more it will hurt. The straighter you can keep your back the more comfortable it will be.
So what type are you looking at?
If you are aiming to make a shelf to stand things on and put everything else underneath it, this is the easiest manufacturing method to do. All you need is some screws and rawl plugs, some wooden batons, a spirit level and some wood to create compartments should you so desire. This will also have the added bonus that it will not only put ends on the design but also have a double use as legs.
Why not just sit down?
Several good reasons. You will probably have had good old achy-back-syndrome by now and have probably tried this. You will soon realise that whilst adjusting the playing records and having to be all over the pitches of both decks (especially if you are using battle set up), the mixer and mostly to where your records are stored, planting your butt onto a seat will mean you are in effect stationary. Your lower body will be stuck but your top half will be reaching, twisting and stretching which in some cases can be worse than standing up. Flicking through records for your next tune can't be done in the most part as your vinyl storage will most likely be away from or underneath your decks. You will either need to stand up and move your seat or move away from the decks slightly to select your next record. DJing needs you to be mobile in some element or other, certainly enough for you not to warrant sitting down. You may find it best but I find that the seat I'm sitting on after three mixes will get fired out of the way for getting on my nerves!
You could just shove the decks on the nearest table, stand up and put up with it. Not everyone has the luxury of custom areas for their decks and I appreciate that more than most. Whilst at university I lived in several student houses each with differing spaces to live in. In one property my bedroom was so small I had a single bed and a three foot wide walkway down the side. The door to the room only just opened directly onto the end of the bed. The only place to put the decks was on the floor next to the bed. Two upturned crates and a plank of wood was enough to mean you could kneel with your legs under the mixer. Comfortable for ten minutes until your feet went dead due to being sat on. Hardly a great option but in times of need you have to make do.
I will say however that this severe discomfort dramatically reduced the time I spent on the decks and for the period of 9 months meant although they were there no more than ten or fifteen minutes could be spent at a time. This is when I started to teach myself scratching. Small and often is the key to scratching which worked well with this. I don't think I put more than 6 beatmixes together in a 9 month period.
Only got a table....any solutions?
There are things that you can do should you have to use a table for whatever reason. Instead of trying to raise the table height, just put the deck onto something solid to raise the deck itself not the table, a slightly different way of thinking. If you have flight cases for your decks take the lid, turn it upside down and put the deck on that. That will raise it a good four or five inches which is enough to considerably reduce the back strain by reducing the leaning over you are having to do. It won't eradicate it but will certain prolong the discomfort for a good chunk of time. Always a good move.
CDJ and/or Turntables
Sounds like a ridiculous point but there is no point creating a huge table/deck stand if you are never going to use turntables. If you are a DJ who uses both you'll need to consider this though. Ample space will be needed for two decks and potentially two CDJs. Depending on your current setup you may find you already have a method set up.
If you use turntables only a point to consider is how many do you have now and how do you have them set up? Normal club style or Battle setup? Will you add a CDJ at some point? Will you upgrade your mixer at any point because designing a deck stand to house your two current turntables and your little mixer may not be big enough if you upgrade to a 19" mixer in the future.
Always try and design with expansion in mind. I though that I'd never want a CDJ but that has now changed since technology has advanced and they are now actually worth having. I currently wouldn't have anywhere to put one.
To accommodate one I'd have to turn my decks and run them in battle style but didn't actually ever plan on having to do that. I also don't particularly like that as the pitches are too far away as I mostly mix, only scratching a few times during a set. It doesn't make it really worthwhile for me. This means the deck stand itself was never designed to hold decks in battle style and isn't actually deep enough (from me to the back of the stand) to do it. The TT will sit but the feet are half hanging off the back which is somewhat precarious considering how expensive they are. Not really the things you want falling off and on to the floor from 3.5 feet up.
Material - Real Wood or use a substitute?
As we have said already rigidity is a key aspect - skipping needles are never a good thing to have happening when your spinning your tunes. Basically there are two options available to you. A proper hardwood or a manufactured "wood" such as Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF). Anything manufactured as a material will be weaker than proper wood. It is simply old wood crushed down into tiny pieces and then glued back together and pressed into sheets. It is because there is no grain to deal with, as you get in proper wood you will find it much easier to cut and shape. It is also cheap to buy and can be purchased in large sheets so relatively little cutting will be required. Your local DIY store will even cut it into the sizes you want if you ask them nicely.
Hardwoods such as oak and mahogany will be more resistant to bending and will keep your decided structure sturdy. Due to the natural grain in the material this adds rigidity as a natural property and if money is no object then proper wood is the way forward. It looks nicer, gives a more professional finish and is less likely to bend when stressed with weight for long periods of time. Acoustically it is arguably better as it will absorb more vibration rather than transferring any external sound/vibration through to the needle as compounded MDF will. Its molecules are closer together and thus vibration will transfer further through MDF than hardwood. How much this is true I couldn't say but unlikely that you'd notice I reckon.
The answer to this section can only be decided by you but there are distinct advantages to both wood and man-made materials. This pretty much depends on whether you are wanting a stand alone deck stand or whether you will create a shelf-type surface screwed to the wall at your required height. If that's the case then there is no reason why MDF couldn't be used. As long as the supports you use are very strong, a horizontally placed surface is unlikely to bend once you've put your decks on it.
If storage space important to you you need to decide what you will be fitting on/inside/under your deck stand before you go to B&Q and start buying chunks of wood. Will you house any of the following:
Vinyl - you'll need to be careful what you make your stand out of. Vinyl is very heavy. The more you house in the stand the better the support/joints will have to be. Without proper structural support MDF is likely to bend once you put records into it and proper wood will also require good jointing to maintain the surface being level. Either that or extra vertical struts in the middle of the design to offer some support in the centre.
CDs - How many? Can you just add a shelf in underneath the main surface to house your cds? How will you stop them sliding backwards and not remaining flush to the edge of the table. How will you make them stay vertical? You don't really want them all falling over like dominos once you remove one.
Headphones when not in use - The amount of times I've sat on/stood on headphones when I can't quite reach my record box with them on defies counting. This can be very costly! I really wish I'd incorporated this into my deck stand as the headphones always look untidy when the decks aren't being used.
Amp - You will need to leave holes in the back of your stand if applicable in your design, to ensure there is a method of getting the wires from the mixer etc. down through to the amp. It sounds obvious but once you've loaded all your tunes in you don't want to discover you need to cut out an extra hole for this purpose. If you are enclosing the amplifier in a section by itself, ensure you leave plenty of room around it for the airflow. Amps can get very hot so need this space to prevent them overheating whilst in use.
PC - you may find you want to record directly to your PC's soundcard. Is this something you can house within the deck stand to save space in your room. Where will the monitor screen go? If you are using flat screen technology you could have that above the decks (maybe use a wall mounted television stand?) and the keyboard on a rolling shelf. So many things to consider!! This is especially more prominent these days with the likes of Final Scratch and Serato playing more of a roll in the expansion of digital mixing.
Stability vs Manoeuvrability
As we've said if you are making a stand-alone product one thing to consider is will you need to move it at any point. If not why don't you use the shelf and wall option, much easier and more stable to construct. No? Okay mate - just checking. The advantage of stand alone is that if you move house you don't need to rebuild it all again. So if this is the case or you will use it at gigs etc. is it sensible to put it on wheels?
I know being a student for years and moving about this was key on my criteria when we built mine. The advantage is that you can wheel it from one room to another or move it should you drop something down the back of the decks. I recently moved house and the wheels made the job so much easier. Once stairs were navigated it was a doddle. It was totally worth it just for that.
Having it on wheels is a great handy function but in itself could bring what is potentially a fairly large problem - you may lose some of the rigidity you have planned into your design. Ideally you want as big a surface area as possible between the top surface and any vertical supports (decent brackets, plenty of screws and glue etc.) , and also as much of the stand as possible touching the ground. This will allow the weight of the stand and its contents to be more evenly spread onto the floor and is less likely to allow bowing to occur as a result. Sticking one wheel on each corner will mean all the weight of the stand will have to be transferred through these four points only. You are going to need some seriously built wheels to take that kind of weight for a long period of time.
I found that industrial castors were the way forward (similar to these you'd find on a supermarket trolley which were purchased for me through a merchant traders, not your average DIY shop. The castors all the local DIY shops had were small and poorly built and without being rude wouldn't have lasted five minutes. The ones I used were huge in comparison (about 5" wheels) and turned out to be the most expensive part of the whole design. Its great though as found that there was also the option to buy one as a locking wheel. Just click the tab down and that secures the stand in place on the floor. That and the weight of all the vinyl in the stand means its rock solid. When I want to move it, click up the tab on the locking wheel to release it, shove the whole stand, move it to where I want then lock it down again.
A design implication when using wheels:
I would also recommend you don't just put a wheel on each corner like I did. I get some slight bowing in the centre (using MDF) meaning the feet of the deck have to be adjusted to account for this. If I was remaking I would add another two wheels to the centre of the stand to support the structure so use six wheels rather than four.
Secondly, just remember that when using wheels in the initial design you will need to factor this extra height in to the final height you require the decks to be at. I had to sacrifice a shelf for my amp (I kept the two rows of vinyl instead of having one row and an amp shelf). If I'd had two rows of vinyl and the shelf for the amp and the wheels, plus the height of the deck itself standing on the top of it would have meant the platter height of the TT was at about 120cm. Too high and not comfortable for me!
Remember that the surface height where your decks or CDJs will be are the point where the feet sit. You need to add several inches for the physical height of the decks themselves between the top surface of the stand to where the actual turntable platter height will be. This is of course unless you.....
Straight shelf or Sunken decks
.....opt for a flush surface. This would mean instead of plonking your decks on top of whatever you build and just leaving them like that, instead you cut holes in the top surface of the stand with an internal shelf a few inches below (the height of the deck). The deck then sits on the shelf but the top of the decks sit snuggly in the hole you've made making the surface of the stand totally flat. Not only does it look great it also offers protection to the workings of the turntable. It would mean its impossible to (in a very drunken moment) knock the TT off the desk for example or stop it sliding about if it's sat on a relatively shiny surface. Instead, it would be built into the stand itself. Lovely. A bit more technical to make but depends on your skill level I guess. It is worth considering when designing the height for the TT internal shelf that you have the legs about half way in when you measure from the feet up to the platter height. Once you have put all your heavy vinyl on the shelves below you may find due to the floor itself or whatever means the stand isn't perfectly level when its finished. You still have the scope to then individually set the height for each TT individually using the feet on each to ensure it is level without ruining the flush look you have created.
The same flush effect can be done for the mixer too - not only would it look odd that you'd sunk the decks but not the mixer but would also make the a little awkward to use. Your cross fader would be at a different height to the platter. That'd be weird.
One final thing on countersinking your mixer - there is rarely a standard size to mixers - you need to ensure you use the same sized mixer forever otherwise when you go to put your new one in the old hole it probably won't fit and there will be gaps.
A possible solution would be to create a mid section which would be removable - you could then simply remove this piece of wood/MDF and replace it with a new section. You then cut another hole for your new mixer drop it in the newly cut hole, rewire it and that's it. Job done!
Another option would be to make a cradle to hold the new mixer in that is fully adjustable so any mixer could be used and held in the same hole. Technically far more difficult to make.
If you are into rack mounting equipment this would make things easy as you would be using a standard size mixer (probably 19") throughout your setups so even if you upgrade this would cause you no real issues in the future. You only need to cut one hole then!!
Remember if you are doing this wiring the thing in will mean you need access from the back. You won't be able to have leads already plugged into the deck then drop it in the hole as there won't be enough room around it. You'd need to drop the TT into the hole then connect up your wires. The same applies for the mixer.
OK I could crap on about this all day but the main points to remember:
Table or standalone?
Height of decks should be 90-110cm depending on how tall you are (and how much more you are likely to grow if you a re a budding youngster!)
Decks - battle style or normal? Ensure it is deep enough should you want to change at a later date and our design can incorporate both.
CDJs - will space for these be needed?
Storage needs? What you will use it for?
Size of space in room you have to play with? Are you restricted by which way the door to the room opens for example?
Design features - which are most important to you
sturdy, strong, durable, long lasting, well constructed joints, support, thick natural materials=stronger design, aesthetics - is looks more important to you than functionality?
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