DIY 19″ Server Rack for Home Servers and/or ESXi VMWare Lab

One of the pipe dreams of many a home networking geek, or those involved in the IT field is a server rack loaded with hardware at home. Although there are a number of potential pitfalls with this (higher electricity bill, Internet connectivity and speed, dynamic IPs, and more), many times, it’s simply the prohibitive price of the server rack and hardware itself that manages to put people off from this. CraigsList can be a wonderful source for old server racks, but sometimes, you’ll have to wait and shop for a good deal. I’m usually not that patient.

The solution? A little ingenuity, and some handy skills with wood.

Background for the D.I.Y. Server Rack

Working as a systems administrator, I’m a huge gear head, and love server equipment, programming, and tinkering. Having bought a new house in 2012, and opening up possibilities that I didn’t have with an apartment or rented house, like running CAT6 Ethernet to every room, and having a basement to build a server closet, sent me into planning mode.

The house was already running 3 separate desktops, two HTPCs (one of which was also a gaming PC for the living room, including several emulators (MAME, Dolphin, NES, SNES) and the family Steam account with ~200 titles), a central server housing the media (running Active Directory for everything with roaming profiles, a Minecraft server, a private WoW server, Subsonic for media sharing), a Netgear WNR3500L with DD-WRT firmware serving as a router, and a 5 port unmanaged Gigabit switch. The network was “flat” however, with no VLANs, and this was a good time to work that out also. Upgrading the switch, I’d also need plenty of new ports, so a bigger switch, preferably a 24 port Gigabit managed switch, would be the answer.

Considerations for the D.I.Y. Server Rack

When you’re doing anything home network related, it’s best to start with your underlying infrastructure first; in this case, the network.  Regardless of increasing wireless performance, 802.11n, 5Ghz, and “fat” channels, wireless is just not up to the task for a heavily used, media saturated network. If you’re adding a central server on board for roaming profiles, and central storage of files, pictures, and documents, you need to be wired more than ever. In addition, this would free up the wireless bands for the few wireless devices that we did have in the house.

The entire process of wiring the house will be detailed in later post, but the end result was two Gigabit Ethernet ports in every room, except for the living room, “office”, and master bedroom, which got four drops.  The extra drops would be used for additional later expansion, network Blu-Ray players, and so forth.

Four other considerations that had impact here were energy efficiency, battery backup, consolidation, and wanting to create an ESXi VMWare Home Lab and Home Networking Lab that would not only function as a lab, but
allow me to virtualize a few of the physical servers, like the central server that was functioning as the Domain Controller and File Server, and had no real need to be a physical box. Battery backup would keep essential stuff online, and consolidation would bring my scattered desktop towers into rack-mount configuration to save space. Virtualization would also help with energy efficiency.

The Plan for the DIY Server Rack

Many people don’t know that racks for audio equipment are interchangeable, at least in structure and design, with server racks. They both hold 19″ equipment, the hole spacing is the same, the angle iron used to make the racks is usually much thicker and sturdier than server racks, and as a final bonus, is much cheaper. Although the possibility was there to build the entire rack out of angle iron, I wanted something a bit nicer looking, something that was semi-mobile, and still open to encourage air flow (the basement would already be cool enough to promote a good environment). My final choice? Simple 2x4s.

For this particular build, and my needs, I decided on a 20U rack that would hold my gear, and give me room for expansion. A “U” is the measured height of a server case, and 1U = 1.75 inches. For the front plate, you have a total width of 19 inches, with 17.75 inches left for the actual server (the rails/ears take up .625 inches on each side).  Typical depth of a rack is 25″, however, I’d like some additional space for access to the back of the rack for cabling, so I’m adding some depth.

Server Rack Rail Dimensions

Server Rack Rail Dimensions

Servers come in configurations from 1U to 4U typically, and a 3U or 4U case will hold regular ATX power supplies, and take full height expansion cards. If you decide to go 1U or 2U, take this into consideration. Of course, you can purchase used, 1U or 2U servers (which is what I did for my ESXi nodes on my home VMWare Lab), but if you’re building your own boxes, then 3U/4U would be the best bet.

Final Rack Configuration for D.I.Y. Server Rack

Total ESXi VMWare Lab Statistics: 32 cores, 96GB RAM
Total Home Server Rack Space: 17U w/4U left for expansion.
My ESXi VMWare Lab Specs (Note: A work-in-progress, and may not be 100% accurate at the time)

Blueprint / Measurements for D.I.Y Server Rack

DIY Server Rack Dimensions

D.I.Y. Server Rack Dimensions

Material List for D.I.Y. Server Rack

Total Cost: $80.15

Tool List for D.I.Y. Server Rack

  • Saw (Circular, Table, or Radial; I have a Sliding, Compound Radial Saw)
  • Cordless Drill (Mine: B&D 18v)
  • Phillips Head bit (magnetic is a plus)
  • Drill bit (for pilot holes for the screw)
  • Paint brush for Minwax

Board Cut List for D.I.Y. Home Server Rack

  • 4 x 42-1/8″ (uprights for the 20U rails)
  • 4 x 27-1/2″ (“depth” measurement, front view of the rack)
  • 4 x 19-5/8″ (“width” measurement, front view of the rack)

Considering that the usual 2x4s are the same price whether they are 92-5/8″ (studs) or 96″ (2’x4’x8′), we’ll take the extra here and go 96″ (usually the cheapest variety of lumber since they are mass produced). So, you can make the following cuts (remember that the width of your saw blade, the kerf, is 1/8″ and I’ve added that in below):

  • 2×4 #1 = 2 “widths” (19-3/4″ x 2) + 2 “depths” (27-5/8″) = 94 7/8″ (~1″ waste)
  • 2×4 #2 = 2 “widths” (19-3/4″ x 2) + 2 “depths” (27-5/8″) = 94 7/8″ (~1″ waste)
  • 2×4 #3 = 2 “uprights” (42-1/4″ x 2) = 84.5″ (~11.5″ waste)
  • 2×4 #4 = 2 “uprights” (42-1/4″ x 2) = 84.5″ (~11.5″ waste)

Disclaimer: This was eyeballed for minimum waste, but may not be the optimal cut layout. Also, if you get standard studs, you’ll need 5 of them instead of 4.

 Steps for D.I.Y. Home Server Rack

  1. Make cuts on 2x4s (see above for cuts)
  2. Assemble top and bottom “square frames”
  3. Attach uprights to bottom frame (use a square to make sure these are square/level)
  4. Attach Rails, making sure they are flush again the bottom frame, and square along the edge.
  5. Attach top square frame
  6. Stain (this is optional, but easy and makes it look nice)
  7. Attach casters to bottom of server rack.

Some pictures of the various steps in the construction:

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Frames

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Uprights

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Uprights

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Fit Testing

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Fit Testing

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Ready to Stain

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Ready to Stain




D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Fresh Stain

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Fresh Stain


D.I.Y. Server Rack: Battery Backup

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Battery Backup


D.I.Y. Server Rack: Bottom Servers

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Bottom Servers


D.I.Y. Server Rack: Cable Management

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Cable Management


D.I.Y. Server Rack: Front Shot

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Front Shot


D.I.Y. Server Rack: KVM

D.I.Y. Server Rack: KVM


D.I.Y. Server Rack: 10x32x3/4 Machine Screws

D.I.Y. Server Rack: 10x32x3/4 Machine Screws


D.I.Y. Server Rack: Side Shot of Servers

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Side Shot of Servers


D.I.Y. Server Rack: Gigabit Switches

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Gigabit Switches


D.I.Y. Server Rack: Bottom Servers

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Bottom Servers










  • NJP123

    Can we haaz more pictures please! Maybe of some 1u servers on rails. You have the best guide on the web for this type of project btw!

    • Thanks for the compliment. The lack of good guides was what made me do this, and I’ll get some additional pictures up this weekend of the rack in full use. I don’t have any 1U servers to show off in it, but I have a couple of 1U 24 port switches, a 1U cable organizer, and a 1U keystone blank, so you can at least see some 1U stuff in it.

      • Pictures have been updated with quite a few new ones. Forgive the state of construction, as I’m re-doing my cable management.

    • New pictures are up!

  • Killer-admin

    Wow and i just paid 300 bucks for a rack that i dont really like any more, the really sad part is that i have all these parts in the garage/shed (-less casters, -minwax, -rack rails)

    i also suppose Angle Iron could be used in place of the rack rails.

    • Angle iron could definitely be used as a replacement for the rack rails, as all they really are is angle iron with holes in them. Since I had just moved, and didn’t have all my tools, I didn’t have a drill press, or I’d have probably used angle iron and just drilled the holes myself. This definitely worked out cheaper/better for me than buying a pre-made rack.

  • AVTech

    This is a nice rack and I made one similar to this. One question….on the rack rails I know one side is the 10-32 tapped holes but what side did you fasten to the wood, and what size screws? Also what screws are needed for the untapped holes on the front?

    • The rails should have a wide side and a narrow side. The wide side should be untapped, and that is what fastens to the wood. As for fastening it to the wood, all I used was 1-1/2″ sheetrock screws … one every 3 holes.

      • alexcue

        Old article, but this comment (and article in whole) really helped me build mine. Thanks so much!

      • David

        Don, in your pics it appears the wide side is the front where the equipment is mounted. At least it looks like that to me from viewing your photos. Were these rack rails you used that wide in the front/mounting portion and same or wider on the sides that are mounted to the 2×4’s???

  • Where did the rails come from? Did you consider using square hole rails?

    • The rails came from an eBay supplier: they are simply audio equipment rails, which have the same centers and same spacing as server rails. I did consider using square hole rails, but the problem is that they are only available from specialty houses, and they command a specialty price, as well as special attachments for the screws to use the square holes. Finally, the audio rails are actually more sturdy than the square hole rails that I found, and were 1/4 the price. Therefore, I went with this. In addition, all I needed was a box of 10 x 32 x 3/4 inch machine screws from my local hardware shop.

  • You caught me just as I was updating this morning! New pictures are up. Am in the middle of re-doing my cable management, so pardon my dust, as they would say.

    • Adam Woollett

      Have you considered hunting for a bigger UPS? Those tiny APC’s (I have a couple) only run a desktop for about 3 minutes! Craigslist might have a rack mounted APC 3000XL somewhere? Then you’d have 30 minutes runtime and hopefully a NIC management card too.

      • Actually, that black BackupsPro runs my ESXi nodes and has the external battery pack. Without the pack, I get 14 minutes of solid runtime, and I’ve tested that. With the pack, I get almost 45 minutes. I think that’s pretty good runtime without looking for anything else. Not really sure why I’d need more than that, especially since I have a natural gas whole-house generator. The other beige 1500 only runs my switches, modem and router, and gets around 30 minutes also. Appreciate the suggestion, though.

  • bala

    does the width include space for sliding rails also?

    • No, this is designed as a screw-only rack. Standard 10×32 machine screws hold the servers in, and I use 3/4 length, although I’m sure 1/2 would work fine also. You’d need a different setup for sliding rails, and you’d also need to build in some front support legs on the ground to compensate for the weight of the server when you slid them out. If that’s what you’re looking for, then these aren’t the plans for you.

  • Clay

    Your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, Don! I really was planning on doing something similar in the near future so I’m glad I have your design to base mine off of. I hope everything is going well with you and I look forward to seeing changes/improvements in the future!


  • Brett Webb

    Awesome Job glade to see others building instead of buying 🙂

  • Danielsan

    Hi Don, Very nice Rack.

    I’m building something similar based off your hard work and I had a question.
    Having already purchased my rails, and test fitting them; I noticed that the rails in your build process pictures are installed differently when comparing with your finished product pictures.

    my question for you is: the length of the 2×4 for the front/back of the top and bottom box still 19 5/8th?

    and also: you mention in the comments below that this setup wont work if you plan on using rails.

    assuming the rack can take the weight when the server is completely extended and out of the rack, why wouldn’t it work? what am I not seeing? could you expand on this please?


    • Danielsan

      I also just noticed that your original design included 4 rails and the finish product you have the back ones removed. it looks like you wanted to go with rails.. but changed your mind?

      I’m about to built the back of the rack, and I’m not sure how “deep” to make the 2nd part.. and now well… you’re making me double think it.

      I guess I should get my rails first :/

  • Athan

    Excuse me for hijacking this page, but i was looking for more information on what application you used to create this diagram and that post did not have a comments section.

    I really like the look of that…

    Thanks a lot!

    • That’s fine; it’s a page, and I have comments disabled on those. For this, I used Visio with custom icons, but you could do this is just about any charting program or website. I’ve used LucidChart to pretty good results, and is also a good one.

  • comet

    what do you all have wired or connected to the switchs you got different colors, so you run 3 servers, but what do you all have hooked up and any cameras as I was looking into network cameras etc can you give a break down

  • mike

    what all you have hooked up with your cat 5 is that just computers

  • Tanner Crook

    Super cool. I have been looking for other people building home servers on a budget. This is the first one I have seen that nailed exactly what I want to use mine for. Also the first one I have seen using a wood frame. Very cool.

  • TheSchmett

    Awesome! I want to build something like this to put my coin mining rigs in an this is a great inspiration. I currently only have 2, but planning more, and they make tons of heat!

    Have you thought at all about reusing/moving the heat, maybe to your water heater or to heat the house (possibly through underfloor heating)? I’m not sure that the smell of power supplies is what I want piped through my home but if I could vent some air, and capture some heat that would be excellent!

  • Centx

    So glad to have found this as I am in the process of doing the same and was really hoping for a bit of guidance. I have some experience building furniture as I worked a couple summers in a custom furniture store my grandfather owned but have done no real woodworking in years. I have already built the rack itself, minus a couple custom shelves I’m waiting for, so was going to be able to size it out that way but was concerned with weight management. From the look of it you went the route I was considering, have you had any issues with weight? Would a center support at the bottom have helped?

    My enclosure will be a bit different as I intend to use it as the entertainment console in my game room and double its size. Basically I will build two of these 2×4 frames – one with a rack and one without – and enclose them in some sort of hardwood paneling/plywood. I’ll probably cover the 2×4 frame with something that has a nicer finish and throw some shelves and/or a drawer into the side without a rack.

  • DaBronze9774

    This is great! Nice work. I’m wondering you would mount a typical Dell / HP 2U server. Am I to assume that I would need the rails to put it in this type of rack?

    • Wolf Baginski

      You don/t need the rails, but they seem to be the best way to support the back of the server

  • Wolf Baginski

    I’ve been looking at building something similar, and there are a couple of factors to think of.

    1: Some heavy rack units are not full depth. It might be worth an extra cross-rail at the bottom to support them. It depends a little on how much width the mounting rail takes up. The photos suggest those rails are wider than the diagram at the start suggests, and the rails I have also seem to be narrower than those in the pictures. The side rails of the bottom frame may be thick enough. It may be enough to fix a couple of blocks of spare wood inside the bottom frame. I am going to check the measurements for the rack rails I have.

    2: Dell servers are longer, front to back, than the specified distance between front and rear mounting rails. A longer bottom frame would give a safeguard against running stuff into a wall, such as power, network, and USB cables plugged into the back of the server. For the server I have Dell specifies 27 7/8″ front to back for the mounting rails and 36″ total for the cabinet. Doing that would change the cutting, but I am not planning on making such a tall unit.

    Adding PVA glue would be a good idea. The screws should be enough but the glue spreads the load better. The loads on the joints depend on position, but the wood can fail before the glue. I would also fit a top panel, at least, before something embarrassing got dropped in. I can think of several ways to make top and side panels that could be easily removed.

    I still have an urge to make proper mortise and tenon joints, but that would be a bit silly for this. Server hardware tends to be noisy with small, high-speed, fans. It’s not likely to be put somewhere where appearance matters that much.

    Other differences? I plan on mounting a set of power sockets at the back (different standards here, and I like to keep things tidy), and I shall have room to add a network switch if I want to. A solid top panel will be handy for the small monitor I have. A KVM switch isn’t needed, and I expect I shall do most admin over the network.

    • KRDucky

      What about using pressure treated 4×4’s for the vertical beams? would that not make it much more sturdy?

      • Personally, I think it would be overkill and too bulky, but that’s just me. I have this rack still working today completely full of servers: 2 x 24 bay 4Us, full of drives, and the rest nothing but 1U HP servers. Has held up fine, and the casters are still rolling like brand new. Remember, you can get a 21U commerical 4-post open rack for ~$200 now w/free shipping from Amazon. I have the rack at this link bolted to my basement floor, and it’s been a beast:

        • Wolf Baginski

          I did end up building my rack, and I think 4x4s would be excessive. I did put the extra cross-piece in at the bottom to support the extra drive unit. It’s not full height, which is a big help.

  • Van Diekon

    Would I be able to mount some Dell PowerEdge 2950 G3’s or even PowerEdge R710’s in this?

  • Van Diekon

    Am I able to put some rails in this?

  • Joe C

    I apologize if this is a repeat question but unable to find the answer. What did you use for your cable management on the side of the server rack?

    • No problem; it’s a very long comment section. Since this was downstairs and I wasn’t worried about pretty, I just used what I call pipe wall clamps. You can get them in metal or plastic from your local hardware store dirt cheap in diferent sizes, and you just thread your cables through them. Since you’ve built your rack out of wood, attaching them is no big deal. An example can be found here: