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  1. #1
    Helpful Senior Member Captain Slug's Avatar
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    Custom Case Building 101 (basics)

    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.

    Here are the standard ATX stand-off hole locations.


    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. Tap & Die set (highly recommend but not essential)
    9. Copier (or the use of one)
    10. Spray paint
    11. Glass/display case cleaner
    12. Cleaning rag
    13. 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

    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 is 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 use the wrong type of blade or tool. 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. It's too hard to shop for effectively and too easily to mess up. The only circumstance in which I would consider using acrylic is when I need some sort of structural frame. In which case I will usually opt for arcylic square rod that I trim to length with a table saw, then drill and tap for screw mount applications.

    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 EDIT: ABS is extremely soft and hard to work with due to it's low melting temperature. It's even more tempermental than acrylic. It is however SO soft that you can cut thin (1/8th inch or something close) sheets of it with a pair of tin snips. This makes ABS a decent choice for drive mounts and other limited applications.

    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 3/8s to 1/2 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


    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

    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


    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.


    Addendum On Proper Solvent Usage
    If you need to fuse ABS, Acrylic, or Polycarbonate (any combination of the three) together I highly recommend using Weld-on Acrylic solvent. If applied to finely sanded surfaces and held for 10 or 15 second, you will get a permanent and solid bond. It comes in two different set-times and consistencies and can be applied with a dropper or a cheap watercolor paintbrush.
    DO NOT USE SUPERGLUE, or anything similar on plastic sheets. The infiltrants will leech off corrosive fumes that will eat the surface of your sheets and will ruin the look of your project. If you want to try a glue you have never worked with before, test it on scrap pieces first.

    Addendum On Heat-Warping
    WARNING: Heat-Warping is extremely dangerous if proper safety equipment is not used. The following are NOT OPTIONAL
    + Leather work gloves
    DO NOT USE ANY OTHER KIND. Synthetic, rubber, or cotton gloves are too flammable for use around heat guns
    + Tongs
    Especially when working with acrylic
    + Proper ventilation or exterior use
    It's safest to do this in an open garage or in the driveway)

    Heat guns come in many different sizes, but almost any will do. I've been successfully using a small embossing heat gun for a while now that I bought on sale from a craft store for only $10USD. Anything that can reach 300f will be fine.

    Acrylic melts faster and is more receptive to heat-warping, but can be tricky to work with. It's much tackier when heated and won't bubble as readily as polycarbonate.

    Polycarbonate is safer in that it has a much more of a taffy (toffee for non-americans) feel too it when heated. You can however overheat it easily and will start to get unwated bubbling, and eventually carmelization (brown tint or charring). It takes a much higher temp to soften polycarbonate and it cools more rapidly, so in that sense and can be a little tricky.

    DO NOT TRY TO HEAT-WARP ABS OR POLYETHYLENE. You'll just end up with dangerously hot and sticky goo. Don't assume any plastic will do this.

    And aside from being able to make funky curved shapes out of sheets of polycarbonate and acrylic, your new heat gun also becomes invaluable for evenly and quickly applying heatshrink.
    Last edited by Captain Slug; 05-30-06 at 12:21 PM.
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  2. #2
    Member Mad Butter's Avatar
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    I like it very much Captain Slug.....Thanks a lot....I'm sure this thread will be very usefull......What I dont understand is how do you make all the holes....It seems almost impossible....Just think about it....What about all the little holes to hold the MB up and to hold the PCI cards and video card up?? What about the selves for the hard drive and cd-roms?? How do you go about doing those??? Would you mind posting a picture of the finished product...It would sure help me out a lot....

    Apple Cinema HD Display 23"
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  3. #3
    Member Mad Butter's Avatar
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    Oops...!!! I'm so sorry....The page didn't finish loading and I guess didn't load the pictures....I see it now....Sorry!

    Apple Cinema HD Display 23"
    Samsung SyncMaster 172x
    Asus A8N-SLI
    64 3700+ San Diego
    2GB Corsair XMS 3200
    nVidia Geforce 7800gt
    2 36GB WD Raptors in Raid 0
    2 300GB Western Digital & Maxtor SATA in Raid 1
    80GB SE Western Digital HD (8mb)
    SoundBlaster Audigy X-fi Platnium
    Plextor PX-740A
    Samsung DVD-ROM
    430W Thermaltake PSU
    Antec Modifyied Case

  4. #4
    Member UnWishedLegacy's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Mad Butter
    I like it very much Captain Slug.....Thanks a lot....I'm sure this thread will be very usefull......What I dont understand is how do you make all the holes....It seems almost impossible....Just think about it....What about all the little holes to hold the MB up and to hold the PCI cards and video card up?? What about the selves for the hard drive and cd-roms??
    Agreed- Tis a good guide for a clearcase but I think Butter has a point... I've been trying to find a DIY mounting guide for hard drives and CD Drives but they all assume you have a pre-built case or have the boring metal mounts that they generaly goto.

    I'm clueless about standoffs, mounting kits and the such- but if there's a guide knocking about the web that I missed... a link would be most helpful.
    I havn't been on here for many years- for me O/C.com is now a resource, not a social forum.

  5. #5
    Helpful Senior Member Captain Slug's Avatar
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    Originally posted by T.Toy
    I'm clueless about standoffs, mounting kits and the such- but if there's a guide knocking about the web that I missed... a link would be most helpful.
    I've never used drive mounts scalped from cases and I prefer not to because they add weight and they look ugly.

    Standoffs can be acquired from local computer shops or a variety of smaller online retailers. I prefer using a motherboard tray cut from a scrap case since getting the Expansion brackets just right can be a huge pain. But if I need to use custom stand-offs I put the motherboard I'm mounting onto a copier and make a drilling template that way.

    I can't be too specific in the details of the guide because the process is a little different each time and largely depends on what size parts you're using.

    If anyone needs help with specific concerns, I can most likely answer them because I've atleast attempted to mount PC parts inside darn near anything in the past 3 years.
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  6. #6
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    excellent guide. I've been considering building a custom case to use in the living room. The photocoping idea's probably going to save me hours, dollars, and sanity. Have you done any cases in wood or veneer? That was my original idea, so i could get it to match all the furniture. But i got to thinking about moisture in the wood. Any ideas?

  7. #7
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    This site is where a lot of useful stuff is.
    http://www.formfactors.org/

    This file has the hole positions required for ATX mounting.
    http://www.formfactors.org/developer...atx/atx2_1.pdf

    Typically you'd want to make the holes in a flat surface then use standoffs like the hex m/f standoffs below. Along with nuts, like lock nuts or kep-nuts to hold the standoffs in place.

    http://www.lyntron.com/products/standoffs.htm

    I believe some hole spacing information is given for hard drives and cdrom, floppy on the specs from manufacturers. Although I don't actually recall. The mounting holes on the side and bottom of hard drives is all standard so they are the same. The CDroms are virtually all the same as are the floppies. So you need to know 3 different mounting patterns for these. Everything else should be the same, or conform to them. I'll see if I can find anything like pictures with dimensions. I do industrial ATX case design sometimes.

  8. #8
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    If you're using wood you'd probably want to drill in blind holes (that don't go all the way through) then insert threaded inserts into the holes then add the hex standoffs into those. Either that or just use an motherboard tray that is inside the "case."

    To combat moisture you might try either finishing the wood (which I don't know about, but it might help). Or putting that silica gel inside the case to catch the moisture.

  9. #9
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    Page 42 has the mechanical specs of this seagate hard drive.
    http://www.seagate.com/support/disc/...csi/29484c.pdf

    If you want to be able to measure with this type of accuracy, you might consider a dial caliper to make measurements. See ebay for what they are like and typical pricing.

  10. #10
    Senior Member stool's Avatar
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    Real nice article, but could I suggest you change the title to include the word Clear? Just seems to fit the article better.

  11. #11
    Helpful Senior Member Captain Slug's Avatar
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    Originally posted by stool
    Real nice article, but could I suggest you change the title to include the word Clear? Just seems to fit the article better.
    The guide applies to plastics, steel, and aluminum. I'm currently using the same method to construct an opaque black ABS computer case.

    But yeah, it was originally designed to be the easiest way to build a clear case.
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  12. #12
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    This place has dimensions for floppy drives. So I just need to find them for CD-Roms.

    http://www.shoreline-electronics.com/fdd.htm

    [Just noticed this doesn't really show the exact hole locations]

    !!!Okay here are floppy drive dimensions and mounting holes.
    http://www.mitsumi.co.jp/catalog/index_e.html


    Power supply dimensions are available on the formfactors.org site.

    I may make a template drawing for these or something.

    Okay found one. This has drawings of a Toshiba DVD drive. Pictures aren't that great though, surprising.

    http://sdd.toshiba.com/cda/localcach...0100000000.pdf
    Last edited by fmah; 03-21-03 at 12:35 AM.

  13. #13
    Helpful Senior Member Captain Slug's Avatar
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    getting them to print out at precise sizing will be challenging and not all drives share exacting dimensions (except for mounting hole distances).
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    Printing works reasonably with Acrobat files at 100% from a laser (and probably inkjet printer). I think they vary like 1-3% due to paper, which is good enough. Although the 3d aspect is a hurdle. Best thing is to make the bracketing and mount the drive then see where they hit, but also possibly use a piece of wood block with the dimension on it from the template to locate the 3d positions. I've got Solidwork drawings of the 3 items, with mounting holes and typical size.

    As far as sizing, well I could just base it on the sizes of the bay blanks from my exisiting case. Although there are some devices that are a little off. I had to increase the opening on a case to fit a Kingston removable drive bay, buy it makes the opening a bit large for CD-ROMs and stuff. Another time I made a opening for a Teac CD-ROM, but the next batch was bigger than the last so it didn't right in the opening.

  15. #15
    Member Talon101's Avatar
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    anyone know a place online to get some lexan? Im in japan atm.. and it seems that they dont have it anywhere. i only looked at a few hardware stores and at sanwado (sorta like a cross btw home depot and kmart.) so any ideas?

  16. #16
    Helpful Senior Member Captain Slug's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Talon101
    anyone know a place online to get some lexan? Im in japan atm.. and it seems that they dont have it anywhere. i only looked at a few hardware stores and at sanwado (sorta like a cross btw home depot and kmart.) so any ideas?
    www.mcmaster.com will ship almost anywhere
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  17. #17
    Member Talon101's Avatar
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    thanks capt!

  18. #18
    wow never thought it would be possible to do this myself

    It is safer than cutting a hole on the original case coz if anything goes wrong there are still the original case

  19. #19
    Member CrashOveride's Avatar
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    nice slug
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  20. #20
    Helpful Senior Member Captain Slug's Avatar
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    Originally posted by s[H]sIkuA
    wow never thought it would be possible to do this myself

    It is safer than cutting a hole on the original case coz if anything goes wrong there are still the original case
    It's far more expensive to replace a case than it is one sheet of clear polycarbonate. I build clear cases out of sheets so that replacement parts are easy to manufacture or modify.

    The completely custom fabrication cases that I've made were actually cheaper to build than a brand name case. The first one I did (as seen in this guide) only cost me $50. Including the handle, bolts, and screws.
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