Monitor stand for retro computers

In the 80s, when all-in one computers like the Amiga 500, Apple IIc, Atari 520 and 1040ST, and Tandy 1000EX and HX were popular, monitor stands helped us keep our systems organized. It’s hard to find a monitor stand from the period now, but there’s an acceptable modern substitute, or you can make your own. If you make your own, you can make it suitable for 8-bit systems as well, letting you stack your disk drives next to a monitor with the system unit underneath.

A suitable modern retro monitor stand

monitor stand for retro computers
I built this stand for my Atari 800 out of lumber, since no commercial stand was suitable. It made the system much more usable.

Newegg sells a Rosewill monitor stand that’s very suitable for retro machines like an Amiga 500. The width and height are about right, and the sides are open so you can reach a side-mounted floppy drive. That’s a necessity for the Amiga 500 and 1200, Apple IIc, Atari 1040ST, and Tandy 1000EX. The black color is a better match for modern equipment, but doesn’t look bad with most retro systems.

If you wanted a better match, you could paint it. Rust-Oleum Satin Fossil looks reasonable with an Amiga 500, and Rust-Oleum Satin Smokey Beige looks reasonable with a Tandy 1000 or Amiga 1200. Rust-Oleum Satin Stone Gray is a fairly close match for the Atari ST and XE.

At 23.62 inches wide and 10.24 inches deep, there’s enough room above to accommodate a CRT monitor and external disk drive. And if you have an under-monitor power station, the height still works reasonably well.

The Rosewill stand will also work for many earlier systems like a Commodore 64 or 128, TI-99/4A, Tandy Color Computer, and Atari XE or XL. It’s a little short for an Atari 400 or 800. Just put the keyboard where it feels comfortable, and put the disk or tape drive(s) next to the monitor, opposite the side with the speaker.

Making your own retro monitor stand

If the Rosewill unit doesn’t quite fit your system, or it costs more than you want to spend, you can make your own. That’s certainly a period-correct option. A lot of people made their own stands in the 1980s, whether it was to save money or because they couldn’t get one that worked right with their system.

I ended up making my own because I didn’t know about the Rosewill unit at the time.

About $10 worth of lumber will give you enough wood to build four stands. If you’re willing to glue more pieces of wood together, you could use 2×4 or 2×3 lumber for the top.

Choosing and cutting lumber

For the top, I like to use 1×6 or 2×6 lumber. I had some leftover 2×6 lumber around so that’s what I used. The advantage of 2×6 is you can mount a power strip to it very easily along the back and conceal it. Cut two pieces the width you want. I found a 22-inch width works well for my Amiga 500 and Atari 800 setups.

For the legs, 2×2 lumber works well if you want open sides, and it lets you get whatever height you want. For my Atari 800, I cut two lengths of 2×6 to 11 inches to match the width of my top. I didn’t need open sides, and 2×6 sides gave me the clearance I needed for the very tall early Atari 8-bits. For any other system, cut lengths of 2×2 to the height you want. About 4.25 inches tends to work well for most systems.

I have a miter saw, which makes getting straight, square cuts easy. If you don’t have a miter saw, you can use whatever saw you have. Use a carpenter’s square clamped to your workpiece to help you get a straight, square cut.

Assembling your stand

Glue the two lengths of 1×6 or 2×6 together to make a top 11 inches deep. (A 2×6 is actually 5.5 inches wide. Lumber is rounded up generously, like hard drive sizes and CRT monitor dimensions.) If you use Tightbond wood glue and leave it to dry six hours, you can get by without clamping. If you have clamps, about an hour is sufficient.

Corner clamps help you to get the legs or sides perfectly perpendicular to the top. But if you’re careful and don’t disturb the work for six hours, you can get by just gluing the sides or legs to the top and let the weight of the top hold it tight.

Finishing your stand

Sand the edges to knock off any splinters, and you’ll probably want to give the top and the sides a once over with some sandpaper as well. Then you can prime and paint it to match your system, or stain it to match your desk.

If your lumber has markings on it, you can sand the markings off with 60-grit sandpaper. An electric sander helps, as those marks can be pretty deep.

Setting up your stand

I passed up this ancient acoustic coupler modem in the fall of 2019. It would have looked fantastic with my Atari 800.

Once you assemble your stand and finish it to your liking, it’s time to set it up. The system goes underneath, then set your monitor and disk drives on the top. If your cables are longer than you need, double them up and then tie them together with a cable tie or wire tie. Plug in your mouse and whatever other controllers you use.

You can outfit it with display pieces too. A modem is a good example. There’s not much you can do with a modem these days, since many of us don’t even have an analog phone line and there aren’t BBSs for us to call anyway. But if you have a period-correct modem, set it on top of the disk drives. It’s not useful but it looks good. I see modems at estate sales fairly frequently, and have passed up some very cool modems in the past. I’ll try to remedy that in 2021.

Having monitor stands helps us to keep our old systems more organized and functional, but it also gives the opportunity to make them display better.

I also find having a stand makes it easier to swap out a system when I want to. My Amiga 1080 monitor works with an Apple IIc, so I can just swap the IIc in for my Amiga 500 when I want to use it. I could even keep the external disk drives for both machines in place and just hook up whichever drive I need. I just hang my other systems on the wall when I’m not using them.

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