Chair-mounted Desk and Joystick

Finished chair!

tl;dr – finished chair-mounted desk for joystick mount.

I play Star Citizen a lot. ( It’s a new space-sim online multiplayer game still in alpha with six degrees of freedom when piloting space craft and fully simulated Newtonian physics. It’s being made by Chris Roberts, the creator of Wing Commander. Check it out if you’re into that sort of thing. ) You can play it with just a keyboard and mouse, but other controls are much more fun and immersive. I needed a more ergonomic solution to using my Joystick and Throttle. Leaning over my desk wasn’t comfortable and couldn’t be done for any real length of time.

My solution was to put desk “wings” on each side of my chair. I’d mount my HOTAS to them and use the right one as a mouse pad, too. The basic design used galvanized pipe mounted to my chair as support for the plywood desk wings.

List of needed supplies:

  • Chair
  • 3/4″ Galvanized Pipe (10 foot length, cut down and threaded to needed pieces)
  • Galvanized Pipe elbows
  • Floor flanges
  • 1″ Aluminum square stock
  • U-bolts
  • Longer bolts for seat
  • T-nuts and matching bolts
  • small bolts and nuts for mounting joystick
  • 3/4″ Birch plywood
  • Wood stain (Dark Walnut, canned)
  • Polyurethane (satin finish, canned and spray)
  • Sand paper (80 grit, 120 grit, 220 grit, 320 grit, 400 grit)
  • 0000 Steel Wool
  • Beeswax polish (super awesome, saved the day).

My chair is a Black Friday special I bought for $70 in 2014. The pipe I bought at home depot for around $18. They offered free cuts and threading (provided it wasn’t too excessive). Considering a 12″ length of pipe was $10, it was a much better deal to buy the 10′ length.

The first night I cut the aluminum square stock to length. One long section to be the mounting support, and one smaller section to keep the seat even. I placed the square channel between the seat and the mounting plate on the chair base. I drilled holes in the square stock and ran longer bolts through it, connecting the seat to the mounting plate, holding the square stock snugly in between. I mounted galvanized floor flanges to the square stock using u-bolts. I needed to drill out and clean up the screw holes of the floor flanges a little bit, though. The casting process didn’t have tight tolerances, so the screw holes weren’t always uniform or the proper diameter.

Night 1 - front view.

A view from the front after the 1st night of work. Not much to see from this angle. You can see one pipe support sticking out the front.

Night 1, under from front.

A view from under the front. You can see the square stock between the seat and the mounting plate, as well as the u-bolts holding the floor flanges in place.

Night 1, under from side.

A view from the side, showing both pieces of square stock and a better view of the u-bolts

Cuts

Safety first, kids! Don’t grab the inside of the floor flange while you try to drill out the screw holes. It torques a bit and those threads will cut you. Thankfully this wasn’t very deep, mostly surface scratches.

On the second night, I decided to move the longer, support piece of square stock back to the rear position. I also took the chair to Home Depot earlier in the day to measure out how high I wanted the support pipe and have it cut and threaded right there. 10′ lengths of pipe were roughly $18, while 12″ lengths were $10 each. Cuts and threading were free, so it was a no-brainer to buy a single length and have it cut down for all the parts I needed.

 

Night 2, view from front.

View from the front of the chair on night 2. Note the pipe is now mounted at the rear of the chair.

06 - Night 2 under from front

View from the front, underneath, on night 2

07 - Night 2 under from side

View from the side, underneath, on night 2. Not Blood. The red stuff is part of the protective coating they put on the pre-cut threads on in-stock pipe.

08 - Night 2 under from side angle

View from the side, angled slightly, underneath, on night 2

The 3rd night was spent at the lab. I cut the birch plywood into rectangles, clamped them to the pipe supports, and marked a rough outline of how I wanted the wings to be shaped, then cut with a jigsaw. After this, the wings were able to be mounted without the chair’s arms getting in the way.

To mount the wings, I marked the position of the screw holes in the floor flanges and drilled small pilot holes. From the top, I drilled down about an 1/8″ with a spade bit to counter-bore the T-nuts. Then I enlarged the hole for the bolt and hammered in the T-nuts. With counter-boring, the T-nuts ended up flush with the plywood. The bolts had a tapered head that mated well with the floor flanges on the pipes.

With a more stable platform, I further refined the outline of the wings and cut again with a jigsaw. I rounded the corners with the sanding wheel. I made a used a copy machine to get a scale image of the bottom of my Warthog joystick and used it as a guide to drill mounting holes with a drill press. I also drilled a large hole centered underneath the joystick to run the USB cable. One of the mounting holes was off by a slight bit. Lance loaned me his file set to correct the problem.

Suraj was kind enough to help me set up the router table to round the edges on both sides of the wings and the joystick cable hole. I then sanded down both sides to get rid of any marring from careless handling. I started with 80 grit and worked my way up to 400 grit (In retrospect, this may have been excessive and hampering to staining).

09 - NightMorning 3

View from front, night 3. Wings mounted, joystick mounted, delta throttle loosely set on top. (The Delta Throttle is a work in progress. It is functional, but not complete. I built the original design to prevent any added complexities to troubleshooting. Now I’m working on designing a larger handle capable of holding more buttons, as well as a slight redesign for an improvement in build quality and durability. Right now it’s a bit squeaky and rickety.)

 

10 - NightMorning 3 under from side

View from side, underneath. Mounting point for left wing to pipe support.

11 - NightMorning 3 top from side

Left wing, night 3

12 - NightMorning 3 top from side

Right Wing, night 3

13 - NightMorning 3 bottom from side

View from underneath right wing. Note joystick mounting screws. USB cord has not yet been run through hole to prevent interior connections from getting jerked loose.

I brought the chair back home to stain and seal. I first used Min-wax pre-stain to treat the wood, then applied a coat of Min-wax Dark Walnut stain. I waited a day, then applied a second coat. I then put 2 coats of polyurethane on with a brush on each side, sanding between coats with 400 grit sandpaper. I was having trouble getting the top coat to be perfect though. I used a spray can for the final few coats on the top, which helped some, but the top coat still wasn’t perfectly smooth and sanding clouded up the finish.

A friend of mine, Jack, recommended using beeswax. I used that in conjunction with 0000 steel wool and the results were astounding. Steel wool on its own was okay, but adding the beeswax made any imperfections just seemingly melt away, leaving only a smooth finish behind.

 

Aluminum square stock is held between the seat and the mount that connects to the center stand. I replaced the bolts that would normally hold the chair together with longer ones that run through the square stock. Two u-bolts hold a floor flange to the square stock as a mounting point for the galvanized pipe. The plywood is held to floor flanges by machine screws and t-nuts.

14 - Night 5 - Right Wing with flash

Right wing, night 5. Stain complete.

15 - Night 5 - Right Wing no flash

Right wing, night 5. Stain complete.

16 - Night 5 - Left Wing with flash

Left wing, night 5. Stain complete.

17 - Night 5 - Left Wing no flash

Left wing, night 5. Stain complete.

18 - Night 7 - Right Wing bottom

Right Wing, underneath, night 7. Polyurethane dripped a bit and left some ugly marks. The steel wool and beeswax cleaned these up very quickly.

After staining and sealing, undid all the pipes, applied loctite, and then cranked them all down as tight as I physically was able. A pipe wrench helped immensely, though it did leave marks on the metal. I may try to grind those down if I ever decide to paint the pipes. For now, though, they don’t bother me, since they’re only visible on close inspection.

20 - Left Wing Flash

Left wing, final product

21 - Left Wing No Flash

Left wing, final product

22 - Right Wing No Flash

Right wing, final product

23 - Right Wing Flash

Right wing, final product

24 - And done

Done!

Many thanks to Suraj, Lance, Daniel, and everyone at FamiLAB for the help, facilities, and brainstorming!

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