Introduction: Lexan Computer Case
Build your own clear computer case out of wood and lexan. I started this project intending to build only a simple box, but ended up going all the way for this complete case build. Without the light it cost roughly $30 dollars and, although time consuming, was well worth the effort.
Step 1: Assemble Materials
For this project, you will need:
2x 1.5' by 2 sheets of 1/8" lexan. You can find these at Lowes or hardware stores, they run for about $6. I only actually used two, but you may want to purchase an extra, as they can break if you're not careful. Make sure that what you're purchasing is actually lexan and not acryllic, as acryllic will shatter way too easily. If you look at the edge it should be dark for lexan and almost white for acryllic.
4 feet of 1" by 2" pine or other wood for vertical supports
1 18" by 20" piece of plywood or press-board (which is cheaper)
1 8" by 18" piece of plywood/press-board
1/4 20 bolts and nuts
Punched 1 1/4" aluminum for drive bays; ~10" per 5 1/2" drive
2 31" strips of punched aluminum for drive bay mounts (If you want, you can substitute two more wood verticals, which will save you a lot of bending and having to align the holes in the aluminum)
Punched 1/2" aluminum angle for 3.5" drive bays; 4" per drive
Velcro (lots of it), preferably matching whatever color you want to paint the wooden parts
And the following tools:
Jig saw with fine toothed blade or fine toothed craft (model making) saw
Drill with 1/4" bit and a bit large enough to accommodate your saw blade
Circular saw (to cut plywood)
Dish soap and WD-40 (to lubricate and cool hacksaw blade)
Step 2: Cut and Assemble Wooden Frame
The first step in assembling the case is to cut out the wooden base and side pieces. I left the left side wood to make it easier to mount the motherboard, but you could use more lexan as well. The Base piece should be cut to Eight inches across (or however wide you want your case), and 20 inches long. The side should be cut to 20 inches by 22 inches.
For the back plate I used an additional piece of lexan that I cut from one of the panels I broke along the way, but wood would probably easier. (Especially for cutting expansion slots. In reality, the back plate really isn't even necessary, but regardless It would measure 8" by ~16". The long dimension could vary depending on how you mount your power supply.
Step 3: Assemble Frame
Next, attach the side piece to the base using 2"x4" blocks of similar. I used two 6" long pieces of 2x4, with two screws from each piece into each block. Then, using nails, attach the 22" long pieces of 1"x2" pine to the opposite corners of the base, as shown below.
Step 4: Fabricate Drive Bay Frame and Brackets
The first step in creating the drive bay frame is to mark out the aluminum you need to bend and where. You should create roughly, starting from the bottom, a 2 inch tab to mount it to the base, a bend in the same direction as the tab 22" up to create the side, and then a bend down 7 inches over to create a tab to attach it to the wooden side.
For the forward of the two, which will support the 3.5" bays, create an additional bend outwards 13" up from the bottom lip, and then back upwards after 1 inch. The aluminum can be bent easily in a vice using a hammer, so long as you clamp the line you wish to bend along firmly. If you want a more accurate bend you can clamp a piece of angle to the protruding piece of aluminum, preventing it from curving.
The Drive bay brackets and Power supply bracket's are made by simply bending a "U" or "L" shape out of the same 1.25" punched aluminum. For the 3.5" bays, I used 3" sections of aluminum angle and simply hot glued foam board platforms between them. Although these could be done the same way as the 5.5" bays, this method is simpler and quicker.
Step 5: Mount Frame and Drive Bay Brackets
Next, mount the frame pieces and brackets. To mount the frame, simply align the bracket about 1inch back from the front vertical and 1.5 inches in from the side of the base. (This gives room for bolts between the frame and side lexan) The bracket with the middle lip should be forward of the other. The second piece (straight vertical) should be mounted an additional three inches back (or a total of 6 inches back from the front vertical).
To actually mount the pieces, mark the center of the hole in the bottom lip for each one, and drill for a bolt. I used 1/4 20 throughout for simplicity. (1/4" drill bit, #20 thread) Once these are attached you can line the top tab's up against the top of the side piece and repeat the same process.
For each 5.5" bay one bracket should be mounted to the back frame piece. Place whatever drive you will be using into the bracket after bolting and see where the front ends up. Finally, mark the spot for the forward bracket and mount this by drilling and bolting through the wood across from the forward frame. If there is not enough room for the bay between the bolt ends (depending on the length of your bolts), spin a nut down to the end of the bolt first, and then insert it through the frame. In other words, bolt, nut, frame, bracket, nut.
Step 6: Mount 3.5" Drive Bays
The next step is to mount the supports for the 3.5" drive bays. This can be done in the same way as the 5.5" drives, and should fit nicely between the frame and side panel.
Step 7: Mount the Power Supply
Now we have to mount the supports for the power supply. This is also quite simple, as you can figure out the placements pretty much by just sticking in your power supply and tracing it out. The rearmost bracket should attach to the rear vertical, and the forward bracket to the side panel. It helps to place them as far apart as possible, but make sure the wire's from the power supply don't get in the way.
Step 8: Cutting the Lexan
Finally, the cool part. Unfortunately, this part can also be one of the most frustrating. First of all, when working with lexan you should work slowly as a general rule. Secondly, 1/8 inch lexan, while easy to cut, can also splinter easily, so be careful. It's best to cut the top and side pieces first, as they're much less difficult than the front panel.
First of all, mark out the lines to be cut with a marker. It also helps to score them with a box cutter or razor blade before cutting. The side panel, which should consume one whole sheet, requires only one cut. The wide dimension of the sheets I used fit perfectly, so I had only to cut it down on the bottom. The final sheet should measure 22" by 18" to 20" The Top panel should measure 8" by 18" to 20". The front and top panel can be cut from the same sheet, so don't destroy it too badly.
The lexan can be cut quite well on a table saw for the long cuts, or a jig saw for the short ones.
Before starting your cut, apply some dish soap to the sides of the blade. Otherwise, without lubrication, the lexan can cauterize itself closed again as you cut, making a very ugly edge. Keep the line you are cutting close to the edge of whatever surface you are cutting around to reduce vibrations in the lexan and prevent cracking. Finally, it helps to have someone spray WD-40 or water on the blade as you cut, which helps to further cool it.
Step 9: Cutting the Front Panel
Now that you have at least a few minutes of experience cutting lexan, you can attempt to make the front panel. The first thing to do is make a template to figure out where you make the holes for your drive bays. I did this using foam board to use as a stand-in, but oak tag or cardboard would work just as well. First, cut it to the proper dimensions, 8" by 22" high. One at a time, trace where the front of your optical drives and floppy drive ended up. After removing the protective plastic from the lexan you should be able to see through to the template and trace the drive locations, although a ruler and t-square also help. Here you can also mark holes for led's, switches, or anything else you want in the front panel.
Step 10: Cutting the Holes
Next, we have to actually make the holes. A dremel would probably accomplish this nicely, but I had to make do with a drill and jig saw. To start, select a drill bit that is wide enough to accommodate the blade of whatever saw you will be using. Make sure you are using a fresh battery and a sharp bit. Begin slowly, but drill most of the hole at full speed and with very little pressure. Also, always make sure you support the lexan underneath where you are drilling. It also helps to hold the top of the piece to prevent it from catching and pulling up at the end. Make a hole at each of the corners of each square hole. The edges of the hole should line up with the edges of the box to be cut. (You can always file them square at the end if you want)
Secondly, after re-lubricating the blade, cut between the holes. This is again a delicate and time consuming process. I broke the plate the first time I tried it, and had to start the whole thing over. A metal file can be used to clean and dress the edges. If you need to make a large circular hole (as I did for the keystart), see the last step.
Step 11: Attatching the Lexan
Although you can drill and tap for bolts to secure the plates, it's easy to crack the lexan while tapping. Instead, for ease of cleaning and access to the case, I used velcro. The Velcro adhered very nicely to the lexan and the wood, and allows for the panels to be quickly removed for additional modifications.
Step 12: Painting
Not much to say here, it's not even necessary if you want a more natural look. Spray paint is easiest, and covers the medal well too.
Step 13: Finishing Touches
As an added feature, I decided to attach the side panel with a hinge for ease of access. This was again a fairly simple procedure. I simple fit the hinge on with the panel's off and marked a circle through the pre-drilled holes where I wanted to put bolts. I used one through the back panel and two through the larger side panel, though this really depends on the hinge you're using. The bolts in the picture below still need to be cut down to length.
I also decided to add a light, just to show off the fact that its all clear. I purchased a cheap $5 one off Newegg, and it lights the whole case (and most of my room) up quite nicely.
Step 14: Making Large Circular Holes in Lexan
This probably won't apply to many people, but I thought I'd include it anyway. To mount the keystart I was using I needed a whole larger than any normal drill bit my drill's chuck could accommodate. Ideally this should be done on a drill press or mill, which is generally the best way to drill lexan. However, I didn't have access to those kind of tools, so I had to do it the ghetto way.
Unfortunately, spade bits won't cut into the lexan, and end up just cracking it before making a dent. (which I learned a bit too late) A forstner bit yielded the same result. Instead, drill a hole just large enough to accommodate the center point of whatever size spade bit you want your eventual hole to be. (About a quarter inch should do fine) Next, place the piece above a piece of scrap wood and use the spade bit to begin drilling through the hole you already made and into the wood. This should stabilize the center of the bit and allow you to use the outer edges to boar through the lexan. It helps to have a second pair of hands to hold it steady, or at least some clamps.