What material to use to mill iPhone case?

I am going to attempt to make an iPhone case out of metal as part of my local shop class. I have most of the milling (I think) worked out, not entirely sure how it will result due to the thin walls of the case, but its a project :)

I am wondering what metal I should use to make the case. Titanium would be cool, but the solid chunk of titanium block used would cost around $100. Not really my idea of affordable. So I have the choice of either aluminum or steel/stainless steel which are around $15 to get a couple iPhone-sized bars. Any recommendations on a strong metal that might survive being milled to tight tolerances?

Also, I will most likely be milling this on a Benchman XT mill, if that helps any.

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bwrussell5 years ago
Use aluminum. A steal case will probably render the magnetic compass useless. Steel is also much heavier and stainless requires special cutters. Aluminum is quick to mill, cheap, and light and you can anodize the finished product to be almost any color (Once you verify it works).
astroboy907 (author)  bwrussell5 years ago
Cool. I actually can probably find a titanium plate for cheap enough, apparently I was looking in the wrong spots...

I'd say titanium is stronger, but its probably no better than aluminum in terms of milling + I dont think you can anodize titanium...
astroboy907 (author)  astroboy9075 years ago
Actually I just think i will make the entire thing out of lead... jk :)
Great as you don't really plan to do machining.

Make a sand mold and cast the low mp metal, anything not right after
is soft enough to adjust with your teeth :-)
astroboy907 (author)  iceng5 years ago
? i plan to machine it. Looking at 1/16 endmills + camfer mill should be enough to do it..

Sand mold sounds interesting, and I have a plain plastic case I dont mind ruining. Maybe time to see which is better- molds or milling?
Just pulling your leg for fun...

You don't want to put lead a heavy metal in your, even though
a dentist does put it in your teeth as amalgam..

Milling is more precise then casting and EDM is best.

A
I would avoid titanium unless you are a very experianced machinist. You will need carbide bits and if you don't know what you are doing you will break them which will cost far more than the Ti. You actually can anodize Ti but it isn't often necessary. I would highly recommend Al and then anodizing to decrease wear.
oldmicah5 years ago
I'm betting steel will play havoc with your signal. Aluminum is probably better, but you may want to prototype with thin sheets of material and tape before investing the time and energy on milling. (To see what effect it has on signal). Carefully cutting pieces off an AL can or a steel can to test with might be instructive.

Also. There are some metal cases out there. Might be worth seeing what parts of the phone they cover with metal to see what parts of the phone need to be un obscured.

Good luck and show us what you come up with!
astroboy907 (author)  oldmicah5 years ago
Ok, went to the shop today and played around with scrap aluminum. I was able to cover most of the phones sides and back with 1/4 inch aluminum, with little to no signal degradation (at least in bars).

Putting the phone in an aluminum box with most of the sides being 1/2 inch thick, well... it decided to go roaming :)
Ha! Doesn't surprise me about the thicker box. If you want to do any more experiments, there are a couple of free apps to measure network speed. See
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/speedtest.net-mobile-speed/id300704847?mt=8

Other things that might be interesting to test for: cellular voice and data, wifi, blue tooth, GPS, and the compass chip. The app above will test whatever network you have selected, wifi, cellular, or Bluetooth if you have a router that supports it. I don't know how to check GPS strength other that 'current location on maps'. Compass chip is used to help GPS orientation and as a compliment to the tilt sensors... Ie it might be a bear to isolate.

It's and interesting project: I have a tech shop that just opened up nearby, and if you have success, I may rent some time on one of thier milling machines.

Good luck!
rickharris5 years ago
Mill it out of acrylic. Many colours, no other problems machines well. Cheap.

IF you can't find thick enough section laminate several thinner layer together with solvent glue made for acrylic.
Stick with aluminium.
iceng5 years ago
If you select Al, look into EDM [ Electro_Discharge_Machining ]
because it allows you form thin sections without collapsing it
with too big a bite.

A