Become A Mad Scientist, Build A Power Distribution Panel

One practical use of large switches and indicator lamps is to make a power distribution panel which can be useful when you want to control and monitor the power consumption of numerous devices such as your electronics work bench or amateur radio station. Old-school in appearance and using military surplus electronics, this power distribution panel allows for control of outlet on back. Did I mention I built it when I was 16?

Building it was easy, 120 VAC line enters through a main breaker. It is fed through an AC amp meter (with built-in shunt) then to a line filter. From the line filter it goes to a line voltage meter and filament transformer to power the indicator lamps. This AC line is then bussed out to the circuit breakers. Each breaker controls one outlet on the rear panel. As devices are switched on or off the current draw can be measured. This is well demonstrated in the video overview found after the break.

Be creative. Use military surplus switches, indicators, and other unique looking hardware. Customize to give your preferred mad scientist look while also providing valuable functionality.

Multiply the measured current by voltage to compute wattage. Keep an eye on the line voltage.

I’ve found this distribution panel to be very useful when you are living out of rental apartments or houses and your laboratory setup must be moved on occasion.

21 thoughts on “Become A Mad Scientist, Build A Power Distribution Panel”

1. Rev Tactule says:

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2. Jake says:

I think my Mum would go spare if she saw me building something like that…

3. Hirudinea says:

I lit light for off, that’s just wrong.

1. Hirudinea says:

O u i=a… e.

4. PiMaxC says:

Looking at this I now want to make one where you set your voltage with a series of 8 switches that correspond to binary.

1. Ren says:

I have an old Lamba power supply that does that, 3-30 volts, with maybe 5 switches. Heavy piece of metal probably a linear supply.

2. andres says:

just make sure to clearly label your least significant bit or you’ll have a bad day.

3. Craig says:

I think that was done in Myst. If my memory serves, there were generators on the island run by control panel with a bunch of switches. I don’t want to give away too much away, but if you set the voltage correctly by using the right combination of switches…

5. Can’t be enough of a mad scientist without using the good old knife switches.

1. Ren says:

I keep a bunch of old bakelite meters around, just for the “Doc Brown” look.

1. Telimektar says:

Did i hear it right? 1.21 gigawatts ?

7. Alice says:

I need to build one of these for my workshop.

8. t says:

Well, that’s insurance terms right out the window.

9. eyes bleeding says:

Because this is super useful….. Or a “celeb hacker” has one so now everyone needs one? I see a run on mil surplus…

I love the radar articles do to the closeness to my heart, but filler much?

10. Bubba Lubbson says:

But it has no enormous knife switches. You simply must have a bank of huge knife switches with a large round analog dial over each switch and wear black gauntlet style rubber gloves whilst operating said switches!

11. Paul says:

Gotta dig the style. I’ve built a couple of not-so-stylish similar ones (plus a 3-phase 50 kVA one…). But if you value the space it takes up (and your time!) you can get most of the way there, sans meters and with conventional pilots, for \$28: