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I have a 23" x 60" metal work table...the kind that restaurants use for prep work. I'm using it as my computer table & electronics workstation.

I want to make the surface non-conductive in the cheapest way.

I've seen cheap neoprene mats and more expensive mats with grounding wires. An expensive example out there: Static Control Work surface mat

What are some cheap alternatives to cover a large area? Can I get something from the hardware store? Rubber shelf liners?

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While it is risky, if done properly, can provide an ESD safe place to work. Since you live on the beach near LA, this may be of no importance. Humidity above 60% or so makes ESD protection somewhat redundant. I'd get a sheet of 3 or 6mm plywood for the top (full sheet, not pieces which will let the table show through). An overhang of 2-3 inches on all sides is best, but will require a thicker sheet. The sides of the table top can be covered with heavy duty wide insulation tape.

Make sure no live wires are below the table. A simple stand to hold the power points can be made using wooden batons (1"x1") and fixed to the sides or rear, so all live wires are well above the table top. Do not skimp on safety.

My wooden shelf constructed with 1"x0.5" batons is behind the table and holds all my gear, and a wooden stand with power sockets and wire spools, tape rolls, multimeter probes, is attached to the table side. Makes it all very handy, and safe. I work at a metal table with 3/4" blockboard top.

edit: pics you requested

The curtains are a hazard, but it's simply too dusty in India. Definitely not recommended. [Almost all are brick houses in India, so hopefully only me and my room will burn in case of fire]

The full setup. table is 3'x2', always wish it was at least a foot wider. Rear shelf is 40" wide, 10" deep (fitted inside unused doorway). Bottom steel shelves hold multimeters, magnifying glasses soldering accessories, pliers wire cutters etc. enter image description here

There is a fuse on the left, and another fuse where this strip attaches to the wall socket. Wiring is very heavy gauge (4 square mm). enter image description here

Shelves lined with cardboard, but no cardboard under laptop. Keeps it very cool. The batons are 1"x0.5" shorea robusta... extremely strong, and dirt cheap. enter image description here

As you can see, I do not throw away any packaging... ever :( enter image description here

two 12W LED bulbs fitted on the top of the near edge of the table, so no shadows under my fingers while working. Also, 2' away from the curtains. enter image description here

Can there be a fire? yes. Never leave the workplace unattended. Always switch off everything when not in the room. Do not sleep at work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you show pictures of your setup? Thanks. :) \$\endgroup\$ – milesmeow Mar 11 '18 at 19:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually just want to be able to do simple electronics prototyping...Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc. on the table. Do I need all of that wood or can I just roll out some sort of material onto the surface? \$\endgroup\$ – milesmeow Mar 11 '18 at 19:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ I added pics, maybe too many. Can you guarantee that stiff wires will not poke holes into any material that you roll out, even when it becomes old and starts to deteriorate? Additionally, you will eventually be spending a fair bit, so better to do it properly from the start to save being frustrated later. You can't do electronics on a shoestring budget. Expect to spend at least ~$500 to get started with basic supplies. \$\endgroup\$ – Indraneel Mar 11 '18 at 20:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is what a man cave looks like. I rate it 5 men out of 5 men. \$\endgroup\$ – Harry Svensson Mar 11 '18 at 21:52
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I've used tempered masonite to cover a work table. You can obtain it from the big box home improvement stores in 4' x 8' sheets. It's available unfinished as well as melamine coated. I prefer the white melamine coating because it's easy to see small surface mount parts and it cleans well. Use an ESD mat as needed when working with vulnerable components.

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Linoleum has nice anti-static properties and can be put on top of any table.

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I've done some research on self-healing cutting mats such as this one...because my wife happen to have a couple of these lying around. These are supposed to be static free, too. They're not the cheapest thing out there, but b/c I had some lying around, they cost $0 for me.

cutting mat

These silicone pastry mats seem good too.

enter image description here

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