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Guide Custom Case Fabrication Made Easy

Discussion in 'Modding' started by Captain Slug, 24 Dec 2003.

  1. Captain Slug

    Captain Slug Infinite Patience

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    In this guide I will be describing the steps is used to build my custom computer case. I needed a computer that fit in the allotted space and serves a specific purpose. Many people have specific computer needs (like mine) which can’t be filled by brand-name manufacturers.

    Keep in mind that completing this project requires considerable planning and a moderate amount of skill with power tools. The materials were fairly inexpensive and highly specialized tools are not required. Here is a list of essential materials and tools I used to complete this project.

    Parts

    1. Computer parts to enclose
    (Motherboard, CPU, HSF, RAM, Video card, Ethernet Card, motherboard tray, Hard Drive, CD-ROM drive, and cables)

    2. Lexan (clear polycarbonate plastic)
    3. Three different sizes of screws hex nuts
    4. Cooling fans

    Optional Parts

    5. One 5 inch cabinet handle
    6. Rubber stick-on feet
    7. Foam padding (noise cancellation)
    8. Two rubber bands

    Tools

    1. Power drill and drill bits
    2. Dremel rotary tool
    3. Table saw with OBS plastic cutting blade
    4. Screwdriver
    5. Jigsaw with plastic cutting blade
    6. Sandpaper


    Optional Tools

    7. CAD software to design the case layout
    8. Copier (or the use of one)
    9. Spray paint
    10. Glass/display case cleaner
    11. Cleaning rag
    12. Cotton drop-cloth (to use when you need to fix the machine and don't want to pickup all of the dust off the carpet)

    Step One: Shopping for or selecting computer parts.

    When you are trying to build a small computer, keep in mind that you want to use the smallest parts possible. Every part will effect the size of the finished product. I recommend using a slim laptop HDD and CD-ROM. These will save you valuable space and are even quieter than regular sized components. However, if you are on a budget and already have suitable drives you can still use them.

    There are dozens of places to shop for computer parts but I recommend starting at pricewatch.com. There you can find the lowest price on almost any computer part you’re looking for.

    NewEgg.com and Directron.com also have really low prices and are very reputable.

    Step One-and-a-half: Benchtesting and troubleshooting

    Since this is a custom built machine it may be tightly built with very little room to maneuver your fingers. This is why I HIGHLY RECOMMEND bench testing and installing all of the software on your machine BEFORE you build a case for all of the parts. This saves alot of time because having your machine out in the open will allow easy access to jumpers and will give you the oppurtunity to replace (we can hope not) defective parts without tearing your lovely new case apart to do so.
    I do this quite frequently and prefer to bench test the machine sans the case (i.e. naked).

    Step Two: Measuring your parts for placement
    [​IMG]
    All the parts you need to operate your computer will presumably be going into this case. So you need to measure all of them and plot out where they are all going to go. While you are doing this you can find out what the best way to mount each part is and jot down your methods for later use. After you are content with your placements you need to mark down what the outer dimensions of all the parts together. Use these dimensions in the next step. Remember to account for the thicknesses of the materials you are working with.

    TIP: I found it helpful to use a copier to make the templates I needed for marking and drilling the screw holes for various parts. All I did was place the CD-ROM, HDD, or motherboard on the copier, hit the button, and SHAZAM! Instant drilling/measuring template.

    Step Three: Selecting materials

    There are plenty of materials you can use to build a computer case, but plastic based products will be the safest. Custom building a case out of aluminum or steel would take a lot more effort and machining skill.

    Polycarbonate and ABS are the most durable materials in the plastic family and will work best for this type of project. Some people opt for Acrylic. But, from my experience it’s not well suited as a structural material. It’s also very unreceptive to tool work because it melts so quickly. If you accidentally purchase Lucite instead of Acrylic you’ll be in for an extra headache because you’ll have to worry about cracking it while you’re working on it. If at all possible, AVOID using Acrylic.

    Polycarbonate (also known as Lexan or Perspex) is a clear impact resistant and non-conductive plastic. It has good heat resistance up to 200 degrees and with the right tools can be heat-warped into curved shapes. It’s very easy to cut if you use lower cutting speeds to prevent melting. It does scratch easily so this shouldn’t be the material of choice if you’re handling or moving your case around a lot.

    ABS is not as sturdy as Polycarbonate but it is much more resistant to abrasion (scratching). It comes in Opaque Black and Opaque White and is also significantly cheaper to purchase. If you seriously intend to move this custom case around a great deal, or your just far klutzier than the average Joe, I recommend using ABS.

    Polycarbonate is now available with a scratch resistant coating, but it costs significantly more. Mcmaster.com carries all of these materials at low prices in a wide selection of thicknesses. Lastly, I wouldn’t suggest using sheets any thinner than 1/8th of an inch. Your case needs to stand up unaided once you’ve built it. I recommend using ½ of an inch in thickness for any parts of the case where you plan on screwing into the edges of that sheet.

    Step Four: Marking the cuts
    [​IMG]

    Remember to leave the contact paper on the material until ALL CUTTING\DRILLING has been completed.

    From your dimensions mark out what pieces need to be cut by using a T-Square and a permanent marker. Make sure you account for the thickness of the blade you will be cutting the pieces out with. Most blades will be shaving off between 1/16th and 1/8th of an inch. So if you plan on cutting out two six-inch pieces, don’t mark them onto a twelve-inch sheet. For each piece mark the dimensions that the final piece should end up being.

    Step Five: Cut out the sheets

    Simple as that. Just do it safely and don’t forget to use your safety goggles. For all 90 degree straight cuts that I needed I used the able saw. The rest were done with the Jigsaw. Really small edges were smoothed off with the Dremel or sandpaper.

    Step Six: Marking the holes needed for assembly
    [​IMG]
    You will need to make a mark an X and the size of the hole anywhere you’ll need one. It Use the markings you just made to low out the parts onto the sheet they will be attaching to. The fewer trips you have to make to-and-from the tools the better.

    Step Seven: Proto Assembly

    Assemble together as many of the cut pieces as possible without the actual computer hardware. This will help you make sure that all of your holes are aligned properly and that you didn’t miss any.

    Step Eight: Test Assembly

    After you have checked and recheck all your assembly holes, reassemble the case with the case parts. You shouldn’t have the contact paper removed yet because here is where you are making sure EVERYTHING fits together.

    Step Nine: Final Assembly

    Now that everything fits you can finally see this finished product by removing the contact paper. You may want some Glass or polycarbonate cleaner on hand to clean off all the fingerprints you may (and will) end up putting on the case

    [​IMG]
    Custom computer cases are a rare sight in the world today. They are truly unique because no two people make them the same way. The same can’t be said about the average PC which is boring and beige. So appreciate and exemplify your uniqueness by attempting this project yourself in the near future. It’s challenging rewarding and well worth the effort. Despite popular belief they can be quite simple and fun to build, provided you know how to safely use the tools involved. The more time you spend planning the actual case, the less daunting and difficult the actual work of building your case will be.

    Good luck, be safe, and ask any questions you may have. I've built 6 completely custom enclosures and can hopefully answer any questions you may have. Or Zap will...
     
    Last edited: 18 Mar 2004
  2. Wndrbread

    Wndrbread New Member

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    OOOOOO dats hott! Rock on. So......whens it gunna be on my doorstep? :naughty:

    -wdnrbread :naughty:
     
  3. Captain Slug

    Captain Slug Infinite Patience

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    When you make one yourself or bribe me to make one for you...
    :dremel:
     
  4. Wndrbread

    Wndrbread New Member

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    .. Damn, somehow i knew "free" wouldnt be in there at all *cries*

    -wndrbread
     
  5. Captain Slug

    Captain Slug Infinite Patience

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    Not when the material cost alone is $40 and the time spent is upwards of 13 hours, no.
     
  6. Shogun

    Shogun Banned

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    The materials to make that case would cost so much more in the uk. :waah:
     
  7. Wndrbread

    Wndrbread New Member

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    Eh i love my purple genric case with the "ghetto" window mod (aka sidepanel off)
     
  8. Shogun

    Shogun Banned

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    dont you mean lack of side panel mod :hehe:
     
  9. Wndrbread

    Wndrbread New Member

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    Its pretty much the same either way, This way i have better cooling, and i dont have to spend money on plexi
     
  10. Peppo

    Peppo New Member

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    nice work, its seems that the case is quite small =)
     
  11. RR5

    RR5 New Member

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    He gets mad props for using SHAZAM in a thread.

    But that idea rocks, place device on copier and instant template.

    Maybe someone should try a clear cd-rom case =)
     
  12. Captain Slug

    Captain Slug Infinite Patience

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    Thanks, but I actually used Milkshape. A very fast and simple poly modelling program.
     
  13. Etacovda

    Etacovda New Member

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    i think he meant the word shazam ;P
     
  14. RR5

    RR5 New Member

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    Etacovda Thats correct. :lol:
     
  15. ZapWizard

    ZapWizard Enter the Mod Matrix

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    Good guide, I will be following a lot of it very soon.

    Did you tap your screw holes or simply drill them in?
    Would heating the screw before drilling make things easier?
    How thick is the plastic sheeting you used?
     
  16. Captain Slug

    Captain Slug Infinite Patience

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    With polycarbonate I really didn't need to unless I planned to use machine grade threaded screws. Normal 6-32 hard drive screws are nearly self-tapping as-is.
    I generally prefer using 1/4" for extra stiffness, or 1/2" for anything structural (like the top and bottom pieces which could be edge-tapped to hold the other sheets).
     
  17. Tyenee

    Tyenee New Member

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    I am planning my own custom case at the moment. I am planning to use aluminuim amd am wondering what thickness I should use?

    Cheers

    :p
     
  18. Captain Slug

    Captain Slug Infinite Patience

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    1/8" with 1" tapped corner cubes would be more than sturdy enough if you're using the contruction method outlined in this guide.
     
  19. pcfashion.co.uk

    pcfashion.co.uk New Member

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    where's the best place to get polycarbonate, plexi or perspex? I just want a sheet of the stuff for my side window. Nice case by the way. Am going to start my case in the summer, when I get the performance right. No good haveing a smart looking pc but a crud spec. I amm going build mine in a frosted perspex case with a clear section for a window. Will look good with some blue cathole lights glowing through the perspex. Have designed it all. It's just getting round to finding the funds!
     
  20. kiljoi

    kiljoi I *am* a computer king.

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    You've given it all she's got Captain
    /cheezy

    Good mod. An all-in-one-place guide for stuff that is everywhere in many little tiny sections. Nicely compiled, good clear instructions.

    :rock:
     
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