Hi! This is an Instructable for a customized computer box which I created in order to safely house all the hardware of my new custom desktop computer. I wanted to do this build in order to give my custom computer a very unique look and feel, and also because I knew it would be a very challenging and even more rewarding woodworking project. I learned an incredible amount from this experience, which has significantly added to the confidence I have about tackling new projects in the future. I hope this Instructable gives you the inspiration, motivation, and confidence to achieve similar goals! I believe experience is definitely the best teacher, so I hope you become inspired to try out something new.
Step 1: Design
I believe any large project should begin with a thorough design in place before any construction begins. I like to begin the thinking process with quick paper sketches in order to get a better idea of what I want in the project. I then move to a computer-aided design software such as SolidWorks to help finalize my design. I try not only to think about the final result during this phase, but also the steps required during construction in order to most effectively and efficiently reach the completed product. Once I’m satisfied with the computer model, this design becomes the blueprint for the woodworking.
I chose a combination of black walnut and cherry wood for the outer frame and the inner walls, respectively. The walnut frame serves as the structural support for the entire box while holding the inner walls firmly in place. The four cherry faces (front, back, top, bottom) of the box will be highly customized in order to adequately account for the computer hardware being placed within the box; this customization must take into account hardware mounting, accessibility, air flow and heat dissipation, and of course form and function. The two sides of the box are glass faces housed in a cherry frame. The top section of the walnut frame and all four cherry faces and two window walls are removeable to aid in computer assembly/disassembly for repairs, upgrades, or troubleshooting.
Step 2: Prepare Materials
The wood material is planed down to the desired thickness (3/4’’ for walnut, 1’’ for cherry) using a thickness planar. This step removes surface discoloration and inconsistences and produces a clean, uniform surface. For the cherry faces, the plank is cut in half along its thickness using a combination of a table saw and a sharp handsaw. Once each side is planed again to remove stray saw marks, the resulting thickness is roughly 5/16’’. The cherry window wall frames are to be built from material roughly 3/4’’ thick.
Step 3: Creating the Main Frame
The main walnut frame consists of 8 large legs connected by 16 smaller horizontal supports. Each main leg is roughly 16’’ long and each supporting leg about 7’’ long. The functional shape of all the legs is created via the table saw before cutting each leg to length. Once all the legs are the appropriate shape and length, a decorative design is cut into the outer edges of the legs via a table router and table saw. This design—comprising several 45 degree chamfers—is a theme I decided to use fairly frequently throughout the project.
Step 4: Assembling the Frame
Four subassemblies are created by joining two large legs together via four horizontal support legs. The supporting legs are joined to the main legs via mortise and tenon joints (essentially by fitting a rectangular rod in the end of the supporting leg into a matching hole on the main leg). After each subassembly is glued together, each end is mitered at a 45 degree angle. The bottom three subassemblies are now glued together and screwed; the top subassembly (the removable lid) is screwed to the rest of the frame but left unglued.
Step 5: Creating the Walls
The 5/16’’ thick cherry faces are now cut to size in order to fit neatly within the walnut frame on all sides. Next, the window wall frames must be created. Each window frame butts into the inside of all four cherry faces. For each window frame, four 3/4’’ thick cherry pieces are cut to length in order to fit snuggly within the main frame, with the edges mitered at a 45 degree. The four pieces are then glued to form a square. After drying, each frame is then cut into two halves along its thickness via the table saw. Next, one half of each frame is grooved along the inside face to a depth of 3/32’’; this groove houses the glass window, which is sandwiched in place between the two halves of each window frame when screwed together. Decorative 45 degree angles are cut into the frames to match the theme of the build. Finally, one of the frame is fitted with two horizontal supports; these supports will aid in the mounting of the computer motherboard and hard drive. Once these window walls have been fabricated, the major construction of the box is complete.
Step 6: Customization for Hardware
However, there is still much work to be done. Each piece must be customized in order to interface well with the adjoining computer hardware. The following customizations must be made:
-- motherboard mounting on window wall and input/output port on back face
-- power supply mounting, input port, and ventilation port on back/bottom faces
-- graphics card mounting and output port on back face
-- intake and output ventilation and fan mounting on front/back faces
-- USB and audio ports on front face
-- disc drive port and button on front face
-- power button, reset button, and power/hard drive LEDs on front face
All the porting and ventilation was achieved via a combination of careful work with a drill press, jig saw, and table router. The mounting for the computer components was performed by gluing small blocks of cherry onto the inside of the faces in places of needed support; these blocks then served as ideal supports for mounting screws or other hardware needed to secure the components.
Step 7: Testing, Testing...
Once all the computer hardware could be firmly mounted into the box, it was time to test the computer as a whole to ensure it was performing as it should. The computer is comprised of the following hardware:
-- Asus Z170E motherboard
-- Intel i7 processor (with heat sink and fan)
-- GTX GeForce 1070 graphics card
-- Corsair CX 600 power supply
-- Crucial 525 GD solid state hard drive
-- DVD/CD drive
-- standard computer case ventilations fans, USB/audio ports, power/reset buttons, and power/hard drive LEDs
With the computer running perfectly, it’s time to disassemble in order to put the finishing touches on the computer box!
Step 8: Applying the Finish
Before applying the lacquer finish, all wood pieces of the project are carefully sanded in order to remove any tool marks and to achieve a smooth, even surface. Increasingly fine sandpaper is used, from 80 grit to 120, 240, and finally 400. All pieces are then carefully wiped down with a clean rag dampened with lacquer thinner. Finally, a finish is ready to be applied. A high gloss lacquer was sprayed evenly onto each piece. This lacquer finish was built up over the course of several layers, allowing each layer to fully dry before applying the next. Once the lacquer had completely cured over the course of a week, the assembly of the completed project could take place.
Step 9: Final Assembly
The time has finally come to assemble the completed computer one last time. The process begins with the wooden computer box completely disassembled. First, all ventilation fans, USB and audio ports, power/reset buttons and LEDs are put into their respective places within the front cherry face. Then, the bottom, front, and back faces are inserted into the main walnut frame and screwed into place, along with the power supply unit and the DVD/CD drive. Next, the motherboard (with CPU and adjoining heat sink and fan) is screwed into place on the window wall, along with the solid state hard drive. The graphics card is inserted into the motherboard, and the entire window wall assembly is slid into place within the main frame. Once all electrical connections have been made, the remaining window walls can be slid into place and the top lid can be screwed into the frame. Once the decorative wooden covers have been super-glued to the power/reset buttons and the DVD/CD drive, the build is complete! Success!
Step 10: Done!
I couldn’t be happier with the result! I hope this has inspired you to take on a similar challenge. This project has taught me much about woodworking and creating in general, and I’m confident that similar projects will do the same for you. Thanks for looking!