How to add a second deck to an orbital shaker or rocker.

Orbital shakers are awesome – they keep fluids homogenous (and thusly remove the need for one to stir the liquid) and are fun to stare at.  The orbital shaker has a cousin called  a rocker which, as is implied, tilt side to side in a rocking motion.  Most labs have one of the two machines, but what if you need more than one?  This was the case for my lab.

The lab kept running out of space on the orbital shaker and this was obviously annoying.  But what was more annoying was the fact that these machines cost about a grand and if an accessory that adds a second deck is available, it usually costs a couple hundred bucks.  All of this led me to building a second deck out of common items from the hardware store.  The guide below should help you through the process I used.

What you need:

    • Tools
      • Orbital shaker or rocker
      • Drill
      • Drill bits
        • <1/4” bit, for drilling pilot hole
        • 1/4” bit
      • PVC pipe utter or hacksaw [PVC cutter is best]
      • 1/4” socket and socket wrench [for tightening bolts]
      • Marking pen
      • Tape measure
    • Consumables
      • Material for deck (plexiglass, plastic, wood, scrap materials, metal, etc.  whatever you can get)
      • PVC fittings (1/2″)
        • 3-way pieces (4) [more about this in the guide below]
        • adapter for 3-way piece (4) [more about this in the guide below]
        • end cap (4)
      • PVC pipe (1/2″)
      • PVC glue [attaching deck to frame]
      • Superglue [alternative to PVC glue and used on bolts]
      • 1/4” Bolts (4)
      • 1/4” Nuts (4)
      • 1/4” Washers (8)
      • Non-slip drawer and shelf liner


Before and after

Drill a pilot hole into the center of all PVC end cap pieces.  Next drill a 1/4″ hole through the center of each end cap.  The result should be something similar to the picture below.  If the photo below looks…odd, that is because my camera is ancient and I had to use software to fix the darkness.

End caps with holes in them.

Remove the friction mat from the orbital shaker.  For all of the shakers that I have encountered, the mats were never attached to the machine – they simply sit in the platform.

Remove the platform from the orbital shaker base.  In my case this required the removal of four phillips head screws.

Remove the platform from the machine BEFORE drilling holes.

Without thinking I drilled into the platform while it was still attached to the shaker (note the holes in the image above).  I did not damage or mar anything as I put thick plastic in-between the orbiting platform and the base of the unit.  But even with this in mind, it always be best to detach the platform from the base of the unit before drilling.

With the platform removed from the base of the unit, use the four PVC end caps as guides for drawing circles where the holes are destined to be.

As with the PVC fittings, start by drilling pilot holes into each of the marked spaces and then follow up with the full sized bit.

Drilled hole.

Attach the end caps to the platform by using the bolts, nuts and washers.  The order for the pieces is, starting from the bottom side of the platform; bolt head, washer, platform, PVC end cap, washer, nut, end of the bolt.  Cut quater circles or triangles into the four corners of the old rubber friction mat so that there is room for it and the bolted end caps on the platform.  Reattach the platform to the base of the orbital shaker.

Close up of a bolted end cap.

All four end caps bolted to the orbiting platform.

For cutting the PVC pipe I recommend a PVC pipe cutter (see picture below).  These make cutting pipe super easy and make less mess than hacksaws (sawing vs. cutting).

PVC pipe cutter

Assemble the 3-way pieces if needed.  If a the 3-way piece as depicted below was used, there is nothing to assemble.  I could only find a 3-way piece that has 2 smooth holes for pipe and 1 threaded hole.  This is not a problem because an adapter that goes from 1/2″ threaded to 1/2″ pipe is available.

Non-threaded 3-way PVC pipe fitting.

Decide how tall you want the second deck to be and cut 4 equal lengths of PVC pipe.  Take into consideration both the height supplied by the fittings and how much pipe rests inside of a fitting.  Depending on the size of the orbital shaker being modified, cut lengths of pvc pipe that will connect all four 3-way pieces to one-another.  Assemble all of the fittings and lengths of pipe together on the rocker to see if it all fits together and to check if everything is level and squared.

Orbital shaker and frame.

Remove the frame work (all lengths of PVC pipe and 3-way fittings, but not the end caps) from the rocker.  It is now time to attach the deck.  Depending on what material is available, chose the best option for attaching it to the frame.  I had some scrap plastic from a junk-heap that I attached to the frame using PVC glue.  This ought to hold well because PVC glue partially melts plastic surfaces together to make a stronger attachment point.  Some alternative ideas for attaching the deck include drilling holes for nuts and bolts, superglue, caulking, and drilling holes for threading metal wire.

I neglected to photograph the gluing process of the deck.  As a result I only have the photo below to illustrate how I attached the deck.

PVC glue was added to the corners and the deck was placed on top.

Once the deck is dry, mount the frame and deck to the platform of the orbital shaker.

Gather some non-slip drawer and shelf liner, cut it to the size of the deck, and place it on the deck. I was able to pick some up at the local Dollar Tree Store.

Drawer and shelf liner

At this point you should be nearly finished.  Turn on the shaker or rocker and make sure sure everything holds together.  If it all looks good I would place a drop of superglue onto each of the nuts holding the PVC end caps to the platform.  I reckon this ought to help prevent the nut from shaking loose.

Now you should be done.


If you have any questions, corrections, or comments please contact me.

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3 Responses to “How to add a second deck to an orbital shaker or rocker.”

  1. Chris Cunningham Says:

    Nice work, Brosef. Love the shaker. I’m anxiously awaiting your next creation.

    BTW, I’m excited to test out the incubator with the Hibernate next week.

  2. Jean Marcel D Schmidt Says:

    very good idea, you should just keep in mind that you can’t after all put more stuff over the shaker that it can carry….. it can break. an it will be more costly

  3. frame effects Says:

    frame effects…

    […]How to add a second deck to an orbital shaker or rocker. « Cheapass Science[…]…

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