Movable TV MountAugust/September 2008
Background:For a long time I've been interested in moving into a loft apartment. I don't know why. I just figured it'd be pretty cool. When I moved to Helena, MT I found a great loft apartment downtown. From the moment that I knew I was getting the place I fantasized about rigging something up to allow me to raise and lower my television between the two floors.
The Problem:When I finally got there and saw the place, my mind went right to work. There are two metal building structure supports running vertically up the wall that is common to both floors. I knew right away that my fantasy could become a reality. Here is a picture that I took with my phone.
The solution:I started out measuring the building supports that I'd be utilizing. I drew up an initial plan for the apparatus. I figured out that the best way to do it would be to rig something up that I could just use a store-bought TV wall-mount. I had purchased a 2' x 2' board in GA for math purposes but it had been sitting in my trunk ever since. I figured that'd be a good thing to mount the TV to. It was at least a starting point. I figured that since my TV weighed quite a bit, I'd want metal supports for just about everything else.
I went to Home Depot to see what they had and maybe get an idea of what's actually possible. They weren't much help so I made a few phone calls to some friends that have always been good for ideas. I got some good advice and ended up going to Ace with a friend that was starting his own do-it-yourself project. While I was there I found a lot of items that I needed. I bought all of the major pieces of metal needed.
I updated my drawings and added key features such as the sizes of nuts and bolts needed. I drew up more detailed plans regarding the bar across the top that. The only un-repairable damage I needed to do was drill some holes in the building structure supports up at the very top. I figured that that was a price I was willing to pay for awesomeness that would be my TV mount. I picked up a dremel, 18V drill, and a set of tools from target. Almost everything else I got from the local Ace store.
The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was devising a counterweight for the entire contraption. I figured it'd be as easy as going into Ace and saying, "I need a 100 lb counterweight." I figured wrong. I ended up going all over the place and asking everywhere. The first thing always offered was, "how about a five gallon bucket filled with cement?" I didn't like that idea for a few reasons. First I didn't think that'd weigh enough. Second I didn't think it'd fit where I needed the counter-weight to fit. Third, it just seemed too ugly and obtrusive for my living room.
I called a couple friends and even my mother about it. I thought I had a solution when the idea of the counterweights used in old, vertically opening windows. I was kind of wrong. I found out that you can't just go into a store and buy those any more. When needed, they're custom made. I didn't feel like paying for some to be custom made. It was close to the right idea though. In the long run, I ended up at a sporting goods store looking at boat supplies. The only remotely close thing they had were anchors. The only one that I figured would fit was of the 10 lb variety and I didn't care to figure out a way to vertically chain a bunch together. However, the guy pointing me to the anchors brought up shot. BINGO!
I realized that I could fill a metal pipe with buckshot and it'd be almost exactly what I need. I grabbed a 3 foot pipe and filled it with buckshot. Almost an entire bag fit in it. I figured it weighed about 35-40 lbs. That ended up being enough for just the apparatus (no TV). So, I got an 18 inch pipe to add to the 3 foot pipe and I also got a 4 foot pipe to put next to that one. With the add-on and the extra pipe, i was able to use two whole bags of buckshot. So when you add in the weight of the pipes it's about 80-90 lbs.
I finally got the counterweights on and the TV on. All I had to do was wire it. I had a concern about the wires though. All of my devices were going to be downstairs so the wires would have to run up to the TV. However, when the TV would be downstairs, the cables would sag and possibly hang on the baseboard heater. That's bad. The solution came by muse in remembrance of my skiing days. I just needed a retractable cord. I found one being sold as a key chain at Ace. I attached the main part to the bottom of the TV and then pulled the cord out most of the way and used a zip-tie to attached that to the cords. Now, when the TV goes down, the cords get pulled up to the bottom of the TV so they don't sag on the baseboard heating.
Another problem with devices is that the remotes wouldn't work upstairs because of lack of line of sight. I tried to fix that by picking up a pair of Radio Shack Wireless Remote Extenders. However, It turns out that my neighbor has the same cable box and a similar remote extender. That meant that I could change his channels and he could change mine. Not exactly good, specially when it comes to pay-per-view. His extender is a different brand, but after looking at the specks for several of these devices, it appears that they're all the same electronically.
I removed the antennas, hooked a phone cord to the devices, and plugged them into the phone jacks (I don't have a land line). That just turned the phone line into a huge antenna. I disconnected the phone cord and replaced it with a shielded coax cable running directly from one to the other. Still not isolated. I dismantled a CAT-5e cable and used the wires to create a mesh around both ends. Still not isolated. I covered that in electrical tape leaving a hole for the IR to get in/out. Wrapped that nicely in aluminum foil. That didn't work either. I then picked up some 1/2 inch square mesh from Ace. I used that and crafted a wire mesh that conformed to the shape of the devices. I used some wire to hold it together and even soldered some parts of it. I then wrapped that in electrical tape, again leaving the hole. I thought I had it this time. I thought wrong. The last thing I tried was to make a cube around the device using the mesh. It turned out pretty cool looking but didn't do it's job. He could still change my channels.
So I have given up on those things. I've ordered a do-it-yourself wired remote extender from Ramsey Electronics. It's gotten lots of good reviews and it'd be good to get some electronics practice in. I'm confident that this will work perfectly for me.
There are a couple issues to work out though. First of all, between the friction and the counter-weight, the entire thing is perfectly balanced. That is to say, without securing any lines, the TV doesn't move up or down on its own. However, it seems really heavy when I want to lift it upstairs. It goes downstairs fairly easily but I have to push it down. I think this comes from the small "wheels" I used on the inside of the building structure supports. I think it also comes from lack of grip on the outside wheels as well. I think they are often not spinning when I pull the TV up. I'm going to get some of those small, fat rubber bands to glue onto them to give them a sort of tire. By the way, those rubber bands seem to be called "broccoli rubber bands." I searched lots of stores looking for them and they're very hard to find. I'll have to get them through an on-line purchase.
Here are some pictures of the finished product
What I learned:I learned that those small fat rubber bands are called broccoli rubber bands. A lot of people knew what I was asking for but the only one that seemed to remember where they came from was my mom. Go mom!
I learned that metal is a pain in the ass to drill through but that a cordless drill could do all the work. It just takes a lot of battery charges.
I learned that dremels aren't very good at cutting through thick steal. Hacksaws, on the other hand, are VERY good at cutting through steel. One of my major holdups with the project was trying to figure out a cheap way to get all my metal cut. I finally decided to give a hacksaw a try and it worked great.
I remembered how to tie a bowline. Okay, that's not really learning something, but hey, at least all those knots tied in boyscouts helped with something.
I learned that 80-90 lbs is heavier than I remember it being. I need to get back into the gym. I'm a puny weakling now. Okay, so maybe I'm not puny, but the other part's true.
Finally, I learned that projects like this aren't nearly as hard as you think they'll be. The biggest barrier is getting the proper tools. Once I had the tools, everything just kind of happened. I had drilled a couple of the needed holes but I put the rest on hold while I tried to figure out the easiest way to cut the metal pieces. It sat for more than a month, possibly two before I decided to give the hacksaw a try. Once I cut the pieces though, it took less than 2 weeks to finish it all.
My neighbors will be glad to not have the construction sounds coming from next door any more. I tried to watch the time and not do loud work after 10:00 PM but I forgot a couple times. The worst was when I was trying to bore out one of the main load-baring bolt holes up by the ceiling. I had the bar up there but there was one hole that just barely didn't line up. When I'd run the drill, though, it would rattle some of the parts of the bar that I hadn't tightened down yet. Add that to the fact that I was drilling into the building and the sounds were just kind of going everywhere. Yeah, I accidentally did that one night at 11:30. Oh well. Most of the time i was good about it.
Now that it's done, though, I'm not sure what I'm gonna do. Maybe I'll put the final touches on that sudoku solver.
Here are some More Pictures if you're interested.
page last updated September 2008
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