Tales of a ‘Shade Tree’ Machinist – My Homemade Water Cooled System

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A detailed view on building a system – many pics on crafting a waterblock.–Owen Stevens.

I have always wanted to make a water cooled PC and finally decided that I could combine my love of power tools and computers. I have also always wanted to try my hand at machining metal, so I dusted off my safety glasses and went to work.

First let me show you my cobbled together pseudo ‘vertical mill’. It’s a cheapo drill press ($50 on sale) and an equally matched cheapo machinist’s cross vise ($35 at local tool store).

Drill Press

The set up looks promising enough, huh?

Copper Block

I bought this 2″ by 3.5″ 3/8″ thick copper bar stock a while ago.


I hadn’t used it for its intended purpose, so I cut it in two with a dull hacksaw blade. Why was the blade dull? Well, I said I was ‘shade tree’ machinist – right? Next time I’ll pony up the $4.50 for some new blades – my arm was sore after this.

One block was for testing my machining handywork (or lack of) and the other was for the final version.


I drew a few prototypes on graph paper and decided on a spiral style channel. Next I marked the block with a grid to aid hole drilling.


Here are the many holes I drilled to a depth that left about 1/8″ of copper on the bottom. If the holes look full of a liquid that’s because I sprayed a ton of WD-40 on it!


Here is a Dremel shaping bit that just so happens to fit my drill bit size! Actually I used a 5/16″ drill bit because the Dremel bit was 5/16″ also. See – I did plan ahead a little bit! If it looks short, that’s because the shaft snapped, so I put in into the drill’s jaws as close as I could to the cutter. For my next block, I bought some end mills and actual machine bit made to do this.

More Holes

Another shot of the work in progress – note lots of WD-40. I tried to make the central chamber the same shape as the chip contact area.


Here is the channel I ‘machined’ into the block. The dimples are from the type of drill bit I used. It doesn’t look too pretty, but the rough edges should increase turbulence in the channel which is good for heat transfer.{mospagebreak}

Owen Stevens

Now I needed an attachment method and a top for the block. I combined them in a piece of 1/8″ thick 2″ x 3.25″ copper barstock.


First I made a hole template from cardboard – I just slid the cardboard under my motherboard and twirled the pen tip around.


Here’s the rough base. I drilled the holes bigger just in case I had a measurement error.


This shows how the holes align. Hey – I got it right for a change!

Two Piece

Here is the 1/8″ base and the water block, both lapped and polished.


I actually mated the block and base by rubbing them together with doubled over sand paper in between (you’ll see why later).


Next, I drilled and tapped the block and inserted two ¼” pipe thread fittings. I heated them up with a torch and sweated solder into the threads.


Make sure you use a pair of pliers to turn the fittings a bit while you solder – it makes the solder flow down into the threads. I also made sure that the fittings were not too far into the block to effect flow.


Now I put the block and base together and soldered them with the torch, as before. I did this with a propane torch copper pipe connecting kit from Home Depot and, of course, a butane lighter to light the torch. I recommend wearing heavy gloves while you heat up the copper to near red hot!

Owen Stevens


I cleaned up my messy soldering and then lapped the bottom. I used the test block to show the mirror finish. Now on to the radiator!


I found that a 91′ Ford Escort Heater core was just the right size 7″ by 7 1/2″ overall; well except for the fittings – hack saw here I come!

Close Rad

First I tried to tap threads into the core but I didn’t have enough tube wall thickness. Next, I tried to solder some brass elbows onto the aluminum of the core but it didn’t work either – something about aluminum not heating like brass – ugh!

Instead, I cut the elbows down, filed the threads off and used JB Weld to epoxy them in. I also coated the outside with clear epoxy, just to be sure. To date – no leaks!


The pump I used is a Pond Master 250, rated at 250GPH, so it works fine. I had to adapt the fittings on it with some care. I fitted a hose clamp because I cracked the plastic when I ‘tarzan-ed’ the fitting together (my Dad uses that ‘tarzan-ed’ expression whenever he finds a bolt over torqued).


I made up a brass version of Swiftech’s three valve bleed and feed system. It works quite well – thanks Swiftech!


Here is the system in testing. I tested it for two days before installing it into the case. No leaks!

Owen Stevens


A close up of the finished water block.


Here is our victim, my Iwill KK266R board and AMD Duron 800! I used 3″ long 10/32 bolts and rubber backed washers to connect the block to the board. I also stuck a fan on the north bridge chip. Later, I went to a smaller homemade water block for this also.


Here is the block attached. I used wing nuts, some washers and springs. The springs are a little weak, so I ended up fully compressing them to get the correct tension. Next time, I am thinking of trying the spring and bolt setup – more like Swiftech. (Is there a pattern here? Again I must thank Swiftech for their ideas that I so brazenly adapt to my own uses!)

Rad Fans

Now to fans, one of my favorite subjects! I originally put four Sunon medium output 80mm fans pushing air through the radiator to test it.

Rad Fans Front

When I put this in the case, I switched them to pull air out of the case through the radiator instead. Pulling got much better flow than when the fans had to push air through the tight fins of the radiator. The grill is a scrap piece metal grate, such as you would use when making a stucco wall.

Later, I switched to four 80mm Panaflo L series fans pulling air through. It works just as well with the ~100 CFM from the Panaflo versus the 140 cfm from the Sunon’s and is much, much quieter!

Rad Installed

Here is how I installed it in the case; the power supply acts as a shelf (cheap yet effective!) The tape is a metal tape that is used for furnace duct work. I love this tape – it is flexible but tough and can be peeled off easily if I change my mind (It doesn’t look too tacky, does it?)


This is composite picture of the final arrangement (Yes, it’s the same super tower case Surly Joe used, I’m so original!). I located the pump on the bottom of the case behind my 120mm intake fan to help cool the pump, although it doesn’t get hot at all being a mag drive pump.

I put the pump on a piece of hard drive packing foam to isolate it from the case and it is almost silent. With the Panaflo ‘L’ fans attached to the radiator and in the power supply and my voltage regulator on the 120mm intake fan, it is very quiet. Temps on my Duron @ 1064 (133 x 8 ) 1.85V are 35C idle and 40C load with a room (and case temp!) around 24C.

I had a heck of a good time building this and I haven’t killed any components yet! I would recommend having a better drill press because I think I killed the bearings in this one with the force I put sideways on the shaft with the milling bit. It wasn’t really that cheap but I have the sense of pride from making my own setup!

I have already made another water block from a hollowed out center of a 2″ x 3.25″ x 3/8″ piece of copper bar stock with 1/8″ 21″ copper bar stock caps. I will get some pics of it later, but I didn’t take any while it was a work in progress. I hope you enjoy my “Tales of a ‘Shade Tree’ Machinist”!


After writing my first story of my home made water cooling journey, I realized I left out a key item: I didn’t say how I had attached the pump to my power supply!


As you may notice, I installed a receptacle for a standard PC power cord in the back of my PS. Note the clever way I cut it up with my tin snips from the existing opening. I also bent the weird tabs it had up so they wouldn’t interfere with air flow of my cables (or my fingers, sheet metal is sharp!).

PS Inside

This part looks the most professional of the whole job! Next I’ll show how I wired it up.

PS Wiring

I wired a piece of the pump power cord to the on off switch for the PS. This way, the pump is on before the PC even boots.

WARNING!! Be careful with any PS!! It has dangerous voltages inside and don’t try this unless you know what you are doing.

PS Cord

Here is how the cord piece runs across the PS to the plug. I figured that the water proof cord my Pond Master pump came with should be able withstand the environment inside the PS.

Hope this was informative, if not entertaining!

Owen Stevens


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