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How to Make an HDD Storage Rack From Wood for External Hard Drives

My aim with DIY projects around the home is to look for innovative space-saving ideas and save costs on materials by recycling.

Wooden HDD storage rack.

Wooden HDD storage rack.

Step-by-Step Guide to Make a Wooden HDD Storage Rack

This is a step-by-step guide for a custom-made storage rack designed and built to hold a bank of six 1TB portable hard drives. This is to provide a storage solution for home videos and photography on your home computer.

However, with a bit of imagination and basic DIY skills, anyone could adapt these ideas for their own design and build their own storage rack for electrical equipment, or with the addition of shelves, redesign the storage unit for holding DVDs and CDs, etc.

My son recently graduated from university with a Degree in Broadcast Media, and he is currently launching his own business enterprise in multimedia productions (photos and videos). Not only does he require expensive camera equipment and all the associated ancillary equipment, but he also requires expensive computer hardware and software and lots of data storage space.

Obviously, it will take time for him to acquire all the portable drives he'll need for his business enterprise, but the object of this DIY project is to create a custom-made rack with sufficient storage capacity to meet his short and medium-term expectations.

The Planning Stage

Establishing What Is Required

The first step was to discuss with my son, in detail, exactly what his current and medium-term requirements are, e.g., anticipated needs over the next three years.

It was also important to look at where the rack is to be situated to see what space is available, observe the décor of existing furniture, consider cabling, ventilation to dissipate heat, practical issues in access for easy use and any obstacles that may get in the way. And, of course, take all the appropriate measurements.

Having discussed ideas and agreed on the design and finish, I proceeded to make the equipment rack as detailed below.

Whether to Buy or Make Your External HDD Storage Solution

Obviously, another consideration is whether to buy an HDD storage rack off the shelf or design and make my own. I opted for the latter simply because I have plenty of scrap wood to work with so I could make the storage rack for nothing; and for any modest DIY enthusiast, it's a fairly straightforward project, especially if you get the design right to meet your level of expertise and fit with whatever scrap material you may have in your shed or workshop. It can also be fun doing the project, with a sense of achievement at the end. Even if you have to buy some wood, you should still be able to make it quite cheaply.

However, if you don't fancy making your own external HDD storage rack, as described in this article then you may wish to buy one of these HDD storage solutions.

Selecting Suitable Materials

In This Example: Recycled Wood From an Old DVD Rack

For this project, I will be using recycled wood, some of which will be from an old DVD rack that had recently been replaced; the DVD rack being made from floorboards (21mm - just under an inch) is ideal wood for reuse in such a project due to its thickness and strength.

Initially, I considered making the whole rack from floorboard wood, but as will be seen later, only the sides will be made from this wood, with the top and bottom being made using recycled plywood.

The equipment rack is designed so that the external hard drives will slide into place using the 6mm (1/4 inch) groves built into the sides of each hard drive. Initially, my thoughts were to use 6mm plywood for the runners, but I did not have any suitable plywood to hand. Rather than buying a small sheet of it, I considered other options, including 3mm plywood, for which I did have a spare.

However, in the end, I opted for thin strips of laminated flooring which I had spare in my home DIY workshop; not only is the laminated flooring the correct thickness (6mm) but also being made from MDF would be an ideal material to use as runners to firmly support the external portable hard drives.

Measuring and Cutting the Side Panels to Length

Wood Preparation, Dismantling, De-Nailing and Removing Old Screws

The first task after selecting the wood required for this project (an old rack) was to dismantle what was left of the old DVD rack, taking any visible screws out, knocking and prying the pieces apart and removing nails with a claw hammer; being careful not to be too reckless and damage the wood I was in the process of salvaging.

The next step, using a sharp pencil and square, was to check the wood for squareness, mark a clean square line near the end of the wood, make a clean cut with the electric miter saw and smooth any rough bits with sandpaper.

Having squared off one end, I was then able to measure the required length from that end and, with the square, mark a straight line at the correct distance, then double-check the measurement before cutting.

Finally, the two side panels were cut to the correct length with the electric miter saw, and the cut edges were quickly smoothed with a bit of sandpaper.

HDD storage rack side panels.

HDD storage rack side panels.

Measuring and Cutting the Side Panels to Width

With the Right Side Panel Narrower to Give Easy Access to Back Switches

For adequate ventilation and to allow easy access to the back switches on the right-hand side of the bank of hard drives, the side panels needed to be less deep than the top and bottom. Also, the left side panel requires a stop to ensure the hard drives go back to the required depth and no further, with the right side panel being slightly less wide to enable easy access at the back to reach the power switches when required.

Not having a suitable fixed bench saw to cut wood width, I normally for longer pieces I clamp the wood to the edge of the workbench and use a circular saw with a saw guide to cut the wood width, repositioning the clamp saw when I reach them. However, as these pieces are too short of using the circular saw, I’ll carefully use the jig saw instead, taking my time to cut a straight edge and smoothing out any irregularities with an electric sander afterward; alternatively, a wood plane would do an excellent job at straightening and smoothing the edge.

The excess piece I cut from one of the panels was subsequently glued and pinned to the back edge of the panel to act as the stop for when the portable hard drives are slotted into place.

Top and Bottom Panels

Initially Pine But Later Replaced With Plywood

The top and bottom panels were measured and cut in the same way as the side panels, ensuring each piece was square and any rough edges smoothed with sandpaper. The pine initially chosen for the top and bottom was the same thickness as the side panels, 21mm (just under an inch) but as the project progressed, I became increasingly convened they were too thick and just didn't look right (aesthetics); it made the whole rack look too boxy.

So I decided to replace them with some scrap plywood that was only 12mm (1/2 inch) thick and, for added strength, a 3mm (1/8 inch) piece of plywood at the very base to act like a rabbet joint.

The biggest problem with making an open box that doesn't have a back to hold it square is stability in that the corners will be inherently weak and prone to movement, making the box a parallelogram rather than square. If you do carpentry as a hobby or profession, then dovetails would be the ideal solution as being the strongest joint that would hold the box firm and square.

However, if you just do woodworking for home DIY or as a hobby rather than carpentry (which is a skilled hobby or profession), then a simple butt joint isn't going to be suitable for this type of construction. You'll need to use a simple, straightforward joint that is suitable for the job, such as using corner blocks, dowels or (as in this example) a rabbet joint; see photos below.

As I had already made the top and bottom, I used these as templates to cut the new pieces from the plywood; so, this was just a minor alteration that took no more than 10 minutes. Before using the plywood, I squared it off using the handle and back edge of the saw as a square, which, being at right angles, makes a perfect square for marking out larger pieces of wood.

Top and tail eqipment rack.

Top and tail eqipment rack.

Routed Channels and Fitting the Runners

The Same Technique Could Be Used To Make Channels for Support Shelves

If you were to adapt this construction for shelving instead of runners, the step-by-step process is almost identical; the only real difference is that instead of making a thin strip to fix in each side, you'd just make a shelf to go across the full width of the cabinet.

In order to make and fix the runners for this rack, I needed 12 strips of wood (in this case, MDF cut from some spare laminated flooring), each strip being 10mm (just under an inch), of which 5mm would be sunk into the side panel. I would also need to accurately cut the grooves to slot these strips into.

As I would need to cut 12 identical grooves rather than individually mark and cut each groove separately, I decided to take a moment to knock up a jig that would help to cut the grooves more accurately. Measuring, marking and cutting the grooves without a jig would not only be more time-consuming, but there would also be a real risk of greater variations in the location of the grooves, causing the hard drives to stick and jam on the runners.

Making the calculations and all the measurements to get the jig just right can be a bit fiddly if you're not used to making jigs, and you'll need to do a few test cuts with the router and jig on some scrap wood to double-check you've got everything right, making any final adjustments as appropriate. However, it is worth the time and effort because once you've got it just right, the jig makes the routing out relatively easy and quick and quite accurate without too much effort.

The whole purpose of the jig is that it guides the router precisely where you want it for each cut, moving the jig down to the next marked line to make the next cut until all channels are complete.

Once the 12 channels were cut (six on either side at equal spacing), I cut 12 strips of MDF from some spare laminate flooring with a circular saw and saw guide set at 10mm (just under an inch). I then stacked them and cut them to length in the miter saw. Then it was a simple case of running a little wood glue in each groove and pushing the strips in; as the strips and the grooves are the same thickness (making it a tight fit), no further fixing is required as once the glue is set the strips will be firmly fitted in place.

Wood channels and runners.

Wood channels and runners.



HDD Rack Assembly

Sand and Clean, Assemble and Finishing Touches

Now all the pieces are cut and ready for assembly, now is a good time to give all surfaces a good sanding down with an electric sander and a quick wipe over with some white spirit to clean off the sawdust.

It’s at this stage (once the white spirit has dried) that I also like to give all the wood surfaces a quick rub with some teak oil on a cloth. And once that’s dried, rub in a little bit of beeswax using a fine-grade wire wool (steel wool), and a few minutes later, buffing up with a soft cloth.

Then it’s a simple case of assembly with glue and nails or screws and ensuring it’s all square by either checking all corners with the square or measuring from corner to corner (diagonally) and then repeating with the other two corners; if the two sets of measurements are identical then it’s all square. In this case, once glued, I pinned it with wire nails from a nail gun; although for larger structures, using screws does give a stronger fitting.

Let the glue set overnight, then the following day, round off the corners with a sander, wipe off any surplus sawdust, and touch up any newly exposed wood with a touch of teak oil before giving the whole unit a final was and polish.

I do have a wax and polish kit (containing a wide range of wood colours), which is quite useful for repairing minor scratches in wood, but over the years, I’ve found that teak oil is very good for healing wounds in freshly cut timber. It’s particularly effective on oak as it brings the fresh wood back to the same rich colour as the finished oak surface; so you might find it useful to keep a spare bottle handy; you only need to use it sparingly, so it goes a long way and lasts a long time.

HDD storage rack rear view: Rear view of the HDD storage rack.

HDD storage rack rear view: Rear view of the HDD storage rack.

Electric Sander or Wood Plane?

To Smooth and Straighten the Edges

Dependant on the job in hand you can use either an electric sander or a wood plane (often handheld rather than electric) to straighten and smooth edges to wood. A crafts person and carpenter would tend to use a plane as their first choice; a DIY enthusiast doing woodworking (rather than carpentry) may turn to the electric sander in the first instance.

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kopox on November 24, 2012:

very nice idea :) thank you for share.