Making The Apple Mac Pro Grill From Cherry General Woodworking

First, I need to explain why I’m doing this. I’m working on a bigger project, a file / printer cabinet for my office, and that’s taken the better part of two weeks to build. In the meantime, I’d still like to stay with a weekly release schedule for projects and last week I made the new drill press vise – a fairly small and quickly done project. This week I was inspired by the release of the new Apple Mac Pro computer and thought I could replicate the interesting grill that has.

I should clarify: I’m not a Mac user – I’ve never used one and probably never will. I just thought the front intake grill on that new computer looks cool, and wanted to try making it.
What will I use it for? I don’t know – maybe I’ll build a wooden computer case to use it on, maybe I’ll just put it in a closet and forget about it. This is all about the doing and not so much about the having – trying something to see what’s possible and I may use the method again in the future on a real project.

My first thought was to make it from Baltic birch plywood, since the laminations may add some more visual interest to it and plywood is dimensionally stable and won’t expand and contract with seasonal moisture changes. Given that I may never use this for anything where it will be solidly attached to restrict movement (and the multitude of holes that may give the wood some flexibility it otherwise wouldn’t have), I decided to use solid cherry instead. I have this 9″ wide board in my shop that’s just right:

After cutting it to rough length, around 17″ long, I trimmed off the edges to make it 8″ wide:

I don’t know the exact dimensions of the original and that’s not really important, but I do know the typically tower case size.

Next, over to my homemade jointer to flatten one side:

I figure this doesn’t have to be any thicker than 1/2″, so I’m resawing the stock starting on the table saw:

Normally I’d do all of this on my band saw, but I’d have to change the blade for a bigger one. This leaves about 3″ in the middle to cut and the 1/4″ blade on the band saw will easily handle that:

I’m tipping the board up to get started – the kerf cuts from the table saw blade will help guide the band saw blade.

Next comes the part that too the most time: layout. It looks simple – just a bunch of holes from both sides – but getting them lined up to give that tri-spoke pattern was a bit of a mind bender. I did the preliminary layout in SketchUp to the the offset from the front holes to the back holes, and started marking that out on the stock:

With the hole locations marked, I circled them in marker so that I wouldn’t get confused and drill in the wrong place (easy to do when you are mindlessly drilling hundreds of holes…):

Then sanded all of that off again when I discovered the layout was too tight, the holes would be too close together for a soft material like wood:

So it was back to Sketchup to figure out a better spacing, then back to the shop to draw that out on both sides of the blank again. What I originally though was going to be a quick 2 or 3 hour project was quickly becoming an all day (and night) affair.

With the hole locations marked correctly, I could get to the fun part, starting by rounding over the side edges:

I did the rounding now because I thought the grill would be too delicate after the holes were drilled. It wasn’t, though. Far from it, it’s actually quite strong.

On to the drilling. Lots of drilling. I set the depth to just a little over halfway through the stock and drilled all of the holes on the back side first:

I’m calling it the back because the wood is not as clear and good looking as the face. The back has a different hole pattern too, while the front looks more uniform and complete.

And starting to drill the holes through the front:

It’s slow going, since each hole needs to be centered accurately and I need to slow down toward the bottom of each hole to avoid heavy chip-out.

Speaking of chip-out, it can’t be completely eliminated and here I’m using my knife to break the loose pieces out from the backside:

If you thought all the drilling was done… The forstner bit leaves a hole in the middle for the point of the bit, and also a cut around the rim that can be improved. I modified an older bit to remove the tip and that cutting edge to redrill the holes slightly deeper to clean them up:

Back through again to drill every hole from both sides, but I think the difference it made was well worth it. A much cleaner look:

Even though the results were very clean, there was still some furry bits that would ruin the appearance. Normally sanding takes care of that, but sanding each of the openings in each of these holes would have taken hours. Instead I used my finger to break them loose, then got the rest with a brush:

After sanding the faces I sprayed on two coats of clear satin polyurethane to seal and finish the piece:

And done:

Like I said, I don’t know exactly what I’ll do with it… yet. But I do know that it’s to neat looking to hide away in a closet, so I’m sure I’ll find something to use it on.

I made a video showing the build, but leaving out the problems I had with the layout: