Review: Back2Base-ix “The Rack” Hobby Desk Organizer

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A while back I reviewed the Tabletop Gaming Bunker Acrylic Paint Shelf as an access and storage solution for Vallejo- and Reaper-style dropper bottles. While my review was mostly positive, I noted that the flat-horizontal orientation of the shelves created problems in terms of retention (droppers would fall out of the shelf given any good jostle or bump) and visibility (the shelf stores droppers on their sides, with only their caps and shoulders visible, so it can be difficult to tell what color is in what dropper). Especially after I updated my workspace in 2013, those two issues kept the TTGB shelf in my closet: I needed a solution that kept the paints I was using for a given project near to hand and identifiable at a glance without cluttering my desktop. What I found was the Back2Base-ix “The Rack” hobby desk organizer.

The “product” is actually a modular system with (at the time of this writing) eleven different component sections, including some angled sections, available for sale. It allows you build a solution specifically tailored to your individual workspace’s shape and dimensions: you could assemble a rack that corners around a L-workstation, for example, and the manufacturer stocks a “Rack Pack” that assembles into an inverted horseshoe configuration. Modules are available in both MDF and acrylic, the latter in a rainbow of opaque and transparent colors. They assemble with stainless steel nuts, bolts, and washers, and include rare earth magnets to join them to neighboring modules as well as non-slip rubber feet so they don’t slide around your desk. Most of the modules are geared towards paint storage, but several of them offer shallow drawers or slots for tools, and a couple provide storage for bits or hobby scenics.

Uniquely, the paint storage modules can be cut with one of five different size spaces to accommodate various types of paint containers. The choice will naturally impact capacity (the same size module can be cut with more 25.5mm spaces for storing Vallejo- and Reaper-style droppers than it can 33mm spaces for storing the new Citadel paint pots), and nothing’s stopping anybody from buying modules cut exclusively to one size. But outside of those awful wobbly Lazy Susan-style products, I know of no other commercially-available hobby desk organizer that would let me store different brands of paint more or less right alongside one another.

For my own workspace (a repurposed corner computer workstation), I purchased five modules, acrylic rather than MDF, all with opaque black frames and transparent dark grey shelving:

Shipped from Australia, everything took about a week and a half to arrive at my door.

Assembly was a bit of a pain. The acrylic pieces were cut and then shipped still in their protective paper/vinyl covering, and the process of peeling it all off was pretty tedious and resulted in ragged fingernails (I didn’t want to use a hobby knife for fear of scratching up the acrylic). Also, while Back2Base-ix has produced some very good Youtube videos in lieu of written assembly instructions, I thought they glossed over how fiddly the assembly was in some places and were a little over the top in cautioning against the use of hand tools (they don’t want you to damage the acrylic by overtightening the fastenings, but I found a small Philips head screwdriver and a pair of pliers invaluable; you just need to be gentle). Getting it all put together took a couple of hours.

It also gave me an unexpected opportunity to kick the tires on Back2Base-ix’s customer service. It turned out that my shipment was missing a single piece of acrylic, which prevented me from fully assembling the small drawer on the tool rack module. I contacted Back2Base-ix about the problem, and a couple of apologetic emails later they shipped me the missing piece on their dime. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Once fully assembled… wow. It’s a really slick, sleek-looking desk organizer that’s fits my workspace almost perfectly. It gives me room for 68 dropper bottles and an additional 12 paint pots (or oversized 1-oz droppers), plus almost all of the tools that I use on a regular basis (and some that I don’t), within immediate reach, in a total footprint that’s about 3½ feet wide, 6½ inches tall, and a hair under 8 inches deep. While it doesn’t let me put every single paint in the Citadel or VGC range on my desktop, I can’t remember a painting project in which I’ve needed in excess of 80 different colors. The organizer gives me more than enough space to hold the paints that I’m actually using at any given moment; I can tuck everything else away under my desk in a storage caddy until needed.

Some additional pictures:

It’s really hard to find anything critical to say about the product, but aside from the point about assembly that I made above, let me raise three quibbles.

First, it is not inexpensive. A setup like mine, which is by no means extravagant, will (after currency conversion; the Back2Base-ix site gives all prices in AUS$) set you back about US$140, plus shipping. The MDF versions are somewhat less costly than the acrylic ones (by around 25%, depending on the module), but “somewhat less costly” is not the same as cheap. This may well be the last hobby desk organizer that you ever buy, but sticker-shock is a thing even when you’re confident that you’re getting good value for your money.

Second, the tolerances on the cuts in the acrylic (and presumably the MDF as well) are really tight. This helps guarantee that everything fits together smoothly when you’re assembling it, but it also makes the cuts for paints very precisely sized, with very little gap. As a practical matter this means your bottles/pots won’t rattle around much, but also that you have to lift them straight out of the rack rather than pulling them out at an angle. Failing to do so will bend and stress the retainers, which are sturdy but not indestructible.

Third – and I fully concede the possibility that this is a function of my own living arrangements and/or the specific color of acrylic I chose – the aesthetics of the product are compromised by the speed with which it attracts dust. When it’s clean it’s the shiny black-and-tinted-windows Ferrari of hobby desk organizers… but it doesn’t seem to stay that way very long, and cleaning it involves removing everything to wipe it down. Which, ugh.

Again, though, these are quibbles. I am extremely satisfied with this product, and would recommend it unreservedly to anyone.

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