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Guide: Custom Case Side Panels
Cases, Cooling and Power
Written by booman   
Saturday, 12 August 2006 01:00
Article Index
Guide: Custom Case Side Panels
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Custom Panel with Windows Mod
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Mod Mission:

I plan to create my own side panels to match the existing case and mod a window with etched images.  This mod can probably take a whole weekend (minus painting) if you spend every waking hour on it. I spent a few weeks working an hour or two every day.  The final goal is to have close fitting panels on both sides of the case that will be simple to remove when opening.  This mod requires a signficant amount of metalworking, and should be considered to be advanced difficulty.


Materials Needed:

  1. Computer Case without panels
  2. Sheet metal
  3. Plexi glass
  4. Self-tapping fan screws
  5. Hammered finish spray paint
  6. A lot of patience


Tools Needed:

  1. Jigsaw
  2. Hacksaw
  3. C-clamps, small & large
  4. Angle iron-at least 24" long
  5. Jewelry files-or grinding bits for your drill
  6. Drilling bits- large for jigsaw
  7. Etching needle
  8. Sand paper
  9. Hammer
  10. Small metal cutting saw
  11. Paper
  12. Exacto knife
  13. Black marker



Step one:

I started off measuring the sides of my case to an 1/8th of an inch.  I measured all the tab holes so I would know where to make the tabs and I also moved them a 1/4 inch so I will be able to slide the side into place later.  The panel is going to be 16 inches by 17 inches and I am going to bend the edges in for support like real panels. This means I have to ad an extra 1/2 or so to each edge and will need to score and bend them.

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Here are the measured notches I will be cutting out and bending to fit the holes in the case. They basicly act as a wedge to keep the sides fitting tightly against the case.  They will be filed down and adjusted accordingly to fit the holes perfectly.

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Step Two:

I uUsed a sharpie to mark the lines where I would make the bends, then scored the metal using a small metal saw with a metal t-scale clamped down. You can also use angle iron found in construction. Either way it needs to be a thick and strong piece of metal to hold the sheet metal in place while you score and bend. The reason for scoring is to make the metal bend on the weaker part of the metal in a straight line.  Kinda like when you want to tear a piece of paper along a line... you fold it several times and create a weak spot in the fiber of the paper.  Try to score less than half-the thickness of the sheet metal. It will be hard to guage so first practice on a piece of scrap. Once you get the hang of it start with the measured piece.  You can see in the picture where I am scoring along the T-square. I will be hammering it up and the T-square helps it to bend in a straight line. This is also a great way to cut a sheet into pieces instead of using a saw.

 

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Step three:

Pre cutting angles. Each corner had to be pre-cut at an angle so that the folded edges would not over-lap. This caused a lot of frustration in the end.

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You can see where I have scored the metal and plan to bend it. I had to mark all the edges where I would double up the metal to make it sturdier.  I will bend this same piece up 90 degrees for the back of the case.

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Step four:

Notching - using a small metal saw to cut out the pre-measured notches.  Measure over and over to get it right. I actually made a big mistake with the notches the first time. I forgot to offset the notches so the panels could slide in to the holes on the case.  A little improvising fixed that one.  The clamps came in very handy because they held the metal down while I cut.  Make sure to invest in some clamps!  You will never regret it.


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The 90 degree bent edge. This side will serve as the back edge to the panel where it will screw into the case with some thumb screws.  You can also see the doubled up edges and the angle cuts to make a corner to the panel.


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Step five:

The window - Before I did the 90 degree bends on the "window" side of the case, I had to draw my window and cut out the holes. I started by designing the exact curves in CAD, then printed out the design and cut the window in the paper. Next, I measured the edges of the design with the panel to make sure it is centered. Finally, I used a permanent marker to trace the window design.

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Step six:

Pilot Holes - The best place to drill pilot holes is anywhere there is a 90 degree angle or acute angles.  Your jigsaw will have problems making real sharp turns so making pilot holes is the best way to acheive this.  Pictured is the bit I used for drilling large enough holes for the jigsaw blade to fit.  Mark the center of the bit with a marker and consider the diameter of the bit to make sure it doesn't cut through
your right angle. Then drill away. Do all the pilot holes at the same time.

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Step seven:

Cutting - I used an old jigsaw for cutting all the shapes out of the sheet metal.  I had to buy a metal cutting blade that resembled a hacksaw blade. Also make sure your jigsaw has adjustable speeds. The cut will go smoother depending on the thickness of your metal and the speed of the blade. I also had to rig up ways to hold the metal still while I  was cutting. The thing would vibrate like crazy and made my cutting harder. I think the ideal tool would be a band saw and you could move the metal while it cuts. Watch out for sharp edges and slivers of metal.


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I came up with a cool short-cut for cutting out the bottom of the windows. I used the same technique for bending the metal. Use your angle iron and clamp it down so it is aligned with the bottom edge of your window. Score it thouroughly and then bend it upward 90 degress and then bend it down again.  Then start bending it back and forth quickly until it snaps off from the friction. Snap, window done.

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Step eight:

Filing - Here is the final panel after all the cutting and bending.  This step takes the most patience and endurance. You can use a dremel grinding bit to make your smoothing quicker, but I found that it is easy to over grind some edges.  Since this is a reductive process you don't want to do that because its harder to fix your mistakes. So I used jewelry files to smooth out the edges and grind down extra unwanted metal. This project had several hours of filing, but the edges came out very smooth and straight.

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Step nine:

Etching - Cut out your plexi-glass to fit the window. I cut mine into a trapezoid shape so there was no extra plexi on the edges (I wanted  to leave room for the screws).   I then used a permanent marker and traced the windows on to the plexiglass and left the extra film on it to protect the glass from hair-line scratches.



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If you're an artist, then start making your drawing in the marked areas. If not, then have your artist friend sketch something out. I decided on a stained-glass look with some Biblical figures to keep a Cathedral environment. I also decided to keep the middle window clear so you can see the computer hardware. Here is a pic of my sketched out figures.


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If you have the patience, start etching by hand. If not, then you can use an engraving tool.  There is no real easy way to get the affect of etching without spending some money or doing it by hand.

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Step ten:

Panting/Assembly- I didn't show any picture of these steps because the main tutorial is about making the panels and the windows. The main aspects you need to be concerned with are drilling the screw holes and fitting the panel tightly. I had several problems with getting the holes in the metal to match the holes in the plexi-glass. It's probably best to drill them at the same time but that's hard to do because you still have to paint it. If you drill the holes after you paint the panels then you may have problems with chipping paint. Also, one of the main problems I encountered was with the panels being "air tight". I already see where I made mistakes in measuring. My panels come up short by about one centimeter on the front. The top and bottom seem to line up well, but I must have lost some size due to bending imperfections. But it still looks decent from a distance. I also had to bend and re-bend the tabs to make the panel slide into the case slots tightly. There was a lot of trial and error, but be creative and try to use functional ways to hide your mistakes.  For example, I could install some rubber edging on to the panels to make them more air-tight.  Here are some pics of the finished product after all the painting and assembling was done.


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