Design And Build A Wooden Computer Case General Woodworking
First, a word about my setup: I use my computer for everything. It is connected to a large screen LCD TV and I watch movies, TV programs, surf the internet, email, design new things and even write these articles with it. So, being as versatile and central to what I’m doing, it deserves some attention once in a while. I do regular upgrades, usually every 1-3 years, depending on my requirements. I’ve also built several cases to hold the hardware over the years, trying to come up with a better solution each time. My last case was very good – a marriage of metal frame and wood exterior, but is coming up short in a couple of areas now.
Meanwhile, a few years ago, I made a 6 channel amplifier to drive active three-way speakers. Having finished it, I didn’t have a place to put it, so I made a “temporary” stand, constructed from scraps of particle board and nailed together. I figured this would be ok until I found time to build something better…
Three years later, that rough box is still there.
The stand, in all its glory. The white arrow points to my computer in its ‘naked’ state – outer case was removed to upgrade and never reinstalled:
So, a recent computer upgrade had me thinking about a new case and I got the idea that the best place for my computer is inside that stand. It might seem a little out-there, but the more I considered it, the more I liked the idea. There would be several advantages to doing it, with no real down side, that I can see.
It could be built to fit a standard sized furnace filter to clean the incoming air. Among the usual maintenance routines for my computer is to take it out to my shop and blow the ~1lb of dust out of it. This could be avoided if all of the incoming air was filtered first.
Also, there would be ample space to add components (like hard drives) and everything could be organized for better cooling and access. I like the dual purpose idea of using one thing for two tasks – a computer hiding inside a table!
Some well spent time with SketchUp, to get the basic shape down and work out the details. This is the front view, the square in the front panel is a door that opens to access the power switch, DVD drive and a card reader / USB port. Having these things hidden away cleans up the unit, and since I rarely switch the computer off or use the DVD drive, it isn’t an inconvenience:
The back panel has the regular computer outputs and a 140mm fan. The fan blows out, pulling air into the case through the filter, which slides in at the bottom:
The top is removable, for easy access. This shows how the DVD drive is installed flat against the back of the front panel. I did it this way to reduce the amount of space it takes up inside the case. The card reader is mounted in the same way, except at the bottom:
There is a hard drive rack mounted on the left side wall. It has space for six drives. I figure this is the maximum I will ever need. The power supply is mounted on a shelf near the back panel. It will pull clean air from the inside of the case (unlike most, that pull air directly from outside the case). This will keep it dust-free as well:
The furnace filter fits in a slot created by cleats that circle the bottom of the case. Cool, fresh air enters the case at the bottom.
The first thing I did after coming up with the concept was to go shopping for a filter. The size would need to be standard, so that it could be easily replaced. I found this one, a 16″ x 20″ x 1″ thick. Good quality, about $17, but a small price to pay for keeping the inside of the case free from dust:
In the name of efficiency and economy, I used an old ATX computer case to salvage the motherboard tray and part of the back panel.
This is much easier than trying to mount the motherboard to homemade parts:
Also in the name of economy, I’m using more scrap material. Here are the four sides of the case, 1/2″ thick particle board, left over from some other project:
The box is built using butt joints and 1-1/4″ nails, with polyurethane construction adhesive as glue. My old steel square says the box is true. Glued butt joints are more than strong enough for this:
To wrap the top, I cut rabbets into 3/4″ thick pieces of plywood. This trim stiffens the top of the side panels, covers the edge of the particle board and provides a recess for the removable top. They are glued and nailed in place:
With the case flipped over, I can install the cleats that hold the filter. These are 3/4″ x 5/8″ spruce, glued and nailed in place:
With the filter installed we can see just how much surface area there is to trap dust, and I expect this filter will easily last a year or more before it needs to be changed.:
The bottom gets a similar treatment as the top. I cut pieces of solid pine to cover and stiffen the bottom edge:
Again, glued and nailed. The slots cut in the bottom of the front piece are a mistake (I make one or two, occasionally) and will be filled with auto body filler later.
After letting the glue cure over night, I sanded the case smooth and sprayed on three coats of clear polyurethane, inside and out:
To prime bare wood for painting or other finishes (other than stain), solvent based urethane is an excellent choice. It penetrates and hardens the surface and seals the wood against moisture penetration.
With so much internal space, there would be no problem to meet my desired minimum capacity of six hard drives. I gave some thought about where to mount them and decided that they would fit nicely on the left side wall of the case, across from the motherboard.
I glued and pinned wood dividers to separate the drives. These are spaced 1″ (the thickness of a standard 3.5″ drive) apart:
Good to have a couple of dead drives for mock-up work.
The rack as it is holds the drives snugly, but to fasten them in place, I made metal angles that attach to the front edges of the rack:
The angles have holes drilled that line up with the centre mounting hole in the drive, to screw it in place.
One of the more complex parts of this case is the front panel access door arrangement. I could have made my life a lot easier by just mounting the drive and card reader through the front, but I thought that would ruin the overall look of the case. I wanted an uninterrupted surface – the door should be perfectly flush and the shape of it must blend in with the veneer pattern I have in mind.
To cut the opening, I set up a guide board for my circular saw to make a plunge cut along each edge. I’m doing it this way to make the cuts as straight as possible, plus I can use the left over scrap as the door:
To get a straight clean cut, I over-cut then filled with auto body filler. All of this will be covered with veneer after, so this won’t be visible:
Part of the interior box is made and the door is hung with cabinet door hinges:
I edge banded the door with maple veneer and I’m using full inset concealed hinges. These are self closing and fully adjustable:
Not pretty, but it will look much better when it has been clad in fine wood veneer.
Much of the old ATX case is screwed together, but some of it was put together with rivets. I drill the heads off with a 1/4″ bit:
Then pull the rest of it out with pliers:
This leaves me with the parts I need, the motherboard tray and back panel. The rest is discarded, except for the power switch lead. It has the correct connector on the end to plug into the motherboard:
Measurements from the back panel are marked out on the case, and the hole is cut with the jigsaw and the edges cleaned up with a sanding block:
The motherboard tray and back panel mounted in the case:
I used short screws and washers to hold the parts in place.
The location for the exhaust fan is marked out twice(!) and cut once. I’ll need a finger guard grill for the outside, but forgot to order one with the fan:
With the majority of the case done, I’ve started painting the areas that need to be black:
That’s anywhere that there isn’t any veneer. Notice I painted the hard drive rack as well. The inside of the case will remain natural. I considered painting it white, but I believe that would actually make it look a bit crappy in there. Time is better spent on other aspects of the build, anyway.
The DVD drive and card reader are mounted on the backside of the front panel. I made more sheet metal angles to use as brackets:
The power switch is an ordinary SPST momentary switch mounted in the back panel of the recess.I soldered on a new lead wire that has the connector that plugs into the motherboard:
A piece of 3/4″ plywoodis used for the top of the case:
Cut to size and rabbeted flush with the top. It will just sit in place, I’m not going to use any screws to hold it.
With the basic construction of the box finished, I veneered the outside and did a full article about that here.
As it turned out, I was short a couple of motherboard standoffs. Here’s an easy fix: 1/4″ plastic tubing cut to length and a #6-32 machine screw that threads into the motherboard tray:
The motherboard installed on the tray:
Much easier to get this in before putting it in the case. Red arrow points out that I have removed the fan from the cooler on the video card in order to install the SATA expansion card in the PCI express X1 slot. I have come up with another cooling solution for the video card that I’ll go into later.
Mounting the power supply fully inside the box means that it will also be protected from dust by the filter:
There is a strip of plywood that goes across the case that supports it. I made a metal angle (left side of photo) that screws to the plywood strip and into one of the mounting holes in the supply. I then used 1/4″ threaded rods and plywood straps to clamp it down.
Here’s the video card cooling fan, a plywood bracket with a 50mm fan mounted on springs to cut the noise transfer to the case. It is running full speed, at 12 volts and is virtually silent:
Mounted on the back panel of the case:
Testing it, I found it does as well as the stock fan and is less noisy. Having this computer run silent is very important to me, and I’ve gone to extremes to make this happen.
A good example of noise reduction is the hard drive rack. When I mounted the original design, loaded it with drives and fired the computer up, I found that there was altogether too much noise coming from the drives. They are mechanical and make the stomach growling, hungry sound and the wide side panel was amplifying this. I had to come up with a way to isolate it from the case. Springs were used again, this time in compression. I made a bracket that has four stiff springs on the bottom. These fit into shallow holes and are glued in place with clear silicone:
The top part of the bracket has just two springs:
These are fastened with silicone as well.
The modified rack goes between and is completely cushioned by the springs:
Hard drives get warm and to get some cool air circulating around them, I mounted another 50mm fan on the bottom of the drive rack bracket. I soldered a voltage dropping resistor (3 – 270 ohm in parallel) in-line with the fan to lower the voltage to about 8 volts, making it run slower and quieter:
Once again, tension springs hold this fan in place.
The new drive rack installed:
This is a noise reduction measure that was completely successful. I have not heard a peep from the drive since, no more “stomach rumbling” – they must be full!
With the major parts fabricated and put in, it was time to finish up. The hard drives installed and connected:
The inside of most computer cases are a wire management nightmare – this is no exception. I’m more interested in everything working properly than neat wiring, so this is as good as it gets.
Still, not too bad. SATA cables are quite a big improvement over IDE cables and that alone goes a long way to cleaning up the interior.
The 140mm exhaust fan is bolted directly to the rear panel of the case, but it is running at a reduced voltage as well and is very quiet. It is the only thing I can hear in fact, and just barely. I may do something to isolate this fan in a future update, but for now it is more than sufficient:
The rear of the case. Seen at the bottom is the furnace filter. Easy to slide it out to replace it:
Here it is, all finished:
Definitely something different and I’m extremely pleased with the outcome. It looks like my quest for the ultimate computer case has come to and end – I don’t believe I can do much better than this.
I made a video showing the highlights:
Interestingly enough, I like it a lot better when the amplifier is not on top of it!
The computer inside this case has been in continuous operation now for six years. And while it still works well, I made a more capable machine to replace it and built a new smaller wooden computer case to put it in.
That leave me with the question of what I will do with this case, and I’ve decided to use it to house my editing computer for my office. I talk about that and have another look at the case after six years in this video:
I’ll have to make some modifications to the old case and that will be the subject of an upcoming build article and video.