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The Kobold's Cave

The main bench and work area.

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I was accepted to the University of Wisconsin Madison in May of 2011 to start in the September. This required me to move to Madison, and I had already setup sharing a house with my good friend Xiphos. He agreed to let me move into the basement of the house he was renting, and I had about 3 months to turn this area into whatever I needed.


All of my work areas have been named. I call this one the Kobold's Cave, inspired by an area in one of my all time favorite games, Hero's Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero. The Kobold's Cave had a really mysterious music that I had always enjoyed (hear the music here). I dedicated this area to the to blind Kobold, and hopefully revenge will be his.


Layout of the Kobold's Cave.

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Concept drawing of what the work area would look like.

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The finished setup.

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Plans began with Google Sketchup. I measured the entire basement and made a floor plan drawing. I would need work benches to hold my computers, shelve space to hold books, tools, clothing, ext., and a sleeping quarters. Unlike my previous setups at Park Place and the Garage, space was not an issue. The basement at Rodney House is 26'x22'. Naturally, much of the space is reserved (furnace, washer/dryer, ext.) I picked out area 8'x16' to comprise the Kobold's Cave.

Rodney House is a rental, so major modifications can not be made to the house itself. The basement allows a lot more options because it is unfinished. The ceiling consists of the open floor joists of the first floor. These make for good surfaces to attach support structure for the work area.

My standard arsenal of building material consists of 2'x4"x8', 4'x8'x1/2" plywood, and drywall screws. It is easy to construct just about any setup with these materials and have proved to be easy to install, and to tear down.

The floor plan is laid out in an elongated "G" shape. The main bench and my sleeping quarters make up the base of this shape. The left side and top consists of benches and shelves. This would be my 6th setup, and I've found this shape is the most ergonomics.

The benches stand 33" high for historical reasons—this is the height of three milk crates. In the past, my building has been in conjunction with moving in, and milk crates were my standard method for transport. It worked out well to make temporary bench space by stacking milk crates and setting plywood on top. Then, 2"x4" legs could be added, the milk crates relieved, and their content distributed in the newly build areas. Since I did not have to live in this area while building, such an intermediate was not required. However, I've become use to 33" being standard bench height and developed my plans with this height.


The windows around the basement are about 32"x12" and have no curtains. They don't let in much light anyway, so rather than put curtains on them I blacked them out with aluminium foil and foil-backed tape. This will makes the basement the same day or night.

Primary lighting in the basement consists of several clamp light fixtures fitted with colored compact florescent bulbs. I chose reds and oranges to give the area a warm feel. Around the perimeter of the work area are red LED rope light. I had used such a setup for my primary light source in the Dragon's Den. However, the walls in this room were white and much more reflective, allowing the rope light to provide more lighting. In the basement, it just isn't enough.

Two arm lamps are on a dimmer to provide work light when needed. And a string of incandescent rope light is placed under the benches, also on a dimmer. This turned out to be a disappointment—I didn't get the illumination I excepted. The last light source is a 4' florescent fixture fitted with two full-spectrum daylight bulbs. I normally use this fixture for photography, but it also makes a great work light.

All of the primary light sources are controlled from switches next to the computer (where I usually am located). All of the lighting except for the under- bench rope is on a master 2-way switch. This switch can be reached from inside the sleeping quarters. The second switch is located next to the stairs in/out of the basement. I found I had two lighted 2-way switches. No idea where they came from, but they were a welcome addition to this setup—the switches are easy to find.


Electrical distribution.

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I am pretty sure most of the basement is run from a single 15 amp breaker. This includes all the lights, the washer, and whatever else. I like to have a lot of power available, so it has become standard to run my own feeds from the breaker panel. I've done this three times in the past now.

For the Kobold's Cave, I installed two 15 amp circuits for myself. These feed two gang boxes and my sleeping quarters. Each gang box has two outlets, and each outlet is fed from one of the circuits. From those outlets are strung six power strips that make the face of the shelve above my main work bench. This makes available 36 outlets providing a total of 3,600 watts available to run whatever I decide needs power—that should do.

Sleeping Quarters

North entrance to the box.

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I have had an enclosed sleeping quarters that has served as my bed and main work bench since 1997. It's known to most people as "the box." The design requirements for this come from my finicky sleeping preferences. Any amount of light bothers me, as does most sounds. If I hear voices or frequencies in the standard talking range I can not sleep, and even the light from a single LED is enough to irritate me. So the box must be light tight, and add sound dampening. While light is not allowed in, air must be—in fact, it needs to be circulated. In August of 2008 I widened by sleeping quarters to fit a twin size mattress, so this is also required.

An enclosed wooden box keeps most light out by it's nature—wood is not opaque to visible light. The areas light does enter is through seams, and most doors. Seams are easily dealt with using caulking. The door is a bit more tricky.

The picture to the left shows the north entrance to the box, and the one I use the most. Under the bench overhang I have placed a power strip. It runs a box fan outside the box, and an entryway light. The switches to the right of the entrance are for the primary lighting in the Kobold's Cave, and the dimmer for the under-bench rope lights. Just below them is the keyboard shelve.

This sleeping box is massive compared to the others I have built. The bench top is 8'x6'. The inside sleeping chamber is 8'x4'. The bench height is the standard 33" and made of 3/4" flooring tong-and-grove plywood. I chose this to help light from entering from the gab created from the two sheets of plywood meeting. On top of the 3/4" plywood is an 1/8" sheet of hardboard, which makes for a smooth and hard table top surface.


Sliding door design.

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This is the 5th generation of my sleeping quarters, and after a lot of trial and error, I found a setup that works well for the door. Like most of my past designs, the door is a sliding door. This sleeping box contains two doors, one on each side of the bed. They sits on 1" tracks between two 1/4" plywood and are made a 1/2" piece plywood. As it happens the 1" wood used for the tracks is actually about 3/4". The result is that the 1/2" door doesn't have a lot of room to move about in the track. Using 2" of overlap on the walls around the door prevents any light from enter the quarters when the doors are closed.

The image to the right labeled "Sliding door design" shows this setup with the front most piece of plywood translucent. When closed, there is at least 2" of overlap around the door. Light would have to reflect on some very sharp angles in order to be reflected inside. In reality, the door fits snug enough there isn't any gab between the sliding door and the walls. The one difference between the implementation and the drawing is the handle. I used a router to produce chisel sunken handles into the door rather than attach them.


Air plenums.

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The blower assembly.

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Front air plenum during assembly.

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Ventilation is important for a number of reasons. Naturally, anyone sleeping inside needs some air movement to stay alive. But the sleeping quarters also heats up due to body heat, and the humidity rises because of water vapor in breath. Heat isn't such a problem in the winter, but in the summer a nice breeze is welcome. In the winter humidity can be irritating if it get too high. So what is needed is a supply of air that can be varied.

One problem with ventilation is that it requires an open path for air to travel, which also allows light to travel. In past designs, I've tried various methods for keeping light out of the air vents—none of which worked very well. So with this design, I decided to try something completely different. Air would travel through in and out though a plenum that had deliberate curves. In order for light to travel the same path, it would have to reflect several times. The more times it had to reflect, the more it losses energy.

The plenums are part of the main support system. 2"x4" board take the weight from the bench top and distribute the load to the floor. Enclosing this area would make an ideal location for the plenum maze. There are two plenums, one in the front and one in the rear. Air flows into the rear from above. It travels down where the path splits in two directions. The air then travels upward and into the sleeping chamber through two vents. Light would need to reflect no less than 5 times in order to enter the sleeping chamber. The exhaust plenum consists of two openings, one on the inside of the sleeping chamber, and one on the outside. The maze on this plenum also requires light to reflect no less than 5 times to enter the sleeping chamber.

When constructing these plenums I assembled the everything without one face attached. I then caulked the edges and painted everything black. On the rear plenum, I placed caulk on all the maze baffles before putting on the outer wall. However, I was concerned I might need to get into the plenum at some point in the future—especially if I needed to add more caulk somewhere. The rear plenum would be up against a well, so there was no getting in it anyway. On the front plenum, which is were my head would be and the most light sensitive area, would be accessible. To close up this plenum I used felt weatherstripping so I could remove the front if necessary.

The results were that after the box was caulked and closed up it is so dark that sometimes my eyes hallucinate due to lack of stimulation. Sometimes I can wake up thinking I can see something outside of the box like I had forgotten to close the door. However as I regain consciousness, I note that not only is the door closed, but the covers are over my head, and the eyes are closed! When closed, I have never noticed a single visible source of light inside the sleeping chamber. I have, however, noticed light created by some pretty interesting things. After my eyes are adjusted, I can see the LED rope light (which is turned off at this point) flicker when I change the speed of the exhaust fan—the spark created by the switch adds enough RF to cause the LEDs to flicker ever so briefly.

Air coming into the sleeping chamber is supplied by 2180 CFM (cubic feet per minute, 3704 cubic meters per second) centrifugal fan. I've used this style of fan for years, and nothing else can move as much air or run as quiet. The fan has three settings on the unit itself: 1280 CFM, 1750 CFM, and the full 2180 CFM. I always add a fan switch which will further divide the speed. I found in my Cedar Rapids sleeping box design that placing the blower outside of the box helps reduce the fan noise, so much so that on anything but the high settings it can not be herd. I incorporated this concept into the new design and went one step further. The fan is suspended from a shelve that has no physical connection to the sleeping box. Only a cardboard duct connects the blower to the air inlet plenum. Thus, it is hard for any vibration from the blower to get transmitted into the sleeping chamber.


Inside the box.

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The bedding inside the box consists of three pieces of foam, two of which are memory foam. I had tried a mattress once, but it took too much vertical space and I prefer the memory foam. I sleep with up to 7 blankets, and 5 pillows. One of the blankets is an electric heating blanket, which is nice in the winter. The rest came from various sources, and rather than get rid of any of them, I just keep adding to the collection.

Lighting inside the box comes from a set of blue LED rope light that runs the perimeter. The switch for these lights is the second switch on the left side. The first switch, the knob, control the exhaust fan speed. On the other side is a switch for an outlet at the rear of the box. This was meant to control a heater, but I didn't end up putting one in. There is an outlet next to that. One of the outlets is for the lighting, and the other is always on. I use this for my cellphone charger and the fan. The fan is sometimes nice when it is really hot, but I generally don't use it.


Security isn't really something I worry about, but I designed the sleeping chamber to be lockable from both the inside and the outside. It is a very simple system. On the inside, holes have been drilled into the center support column, and into the closer door. A dowel placed in this whole prevents the door from being slide open. On the outside, a similar setup has been made. One difference is that the hole for the dowel is covered by a latch that can be padlocked. Should there ever be a reason to keep anyone out of my sleeping quarters, it is ready.

In the picture to the left, both doors are open. Behind the pillows can be seen the exhaust vent. Like everything else, it has been painted black to limit light.

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