Introduction: Traveling Steampunk DJ Cabinet
Halloween of 2011 sparked an idea for a Steampunk-based project. My friend works freelance as a DJ for various events. He wanted the build a new DJ cabinet for some older amps that would replace his beat up box and go with his costume. We were determined on building this cabinet with the ultimate goal of recycling, reusing, and spending as little as possible. We ended up spending about 50 bucks on new materials and half of that was on the dollar menu at the drive-thru between trips to the hardware store.
We began this build in late September and managed to get it done the week before Halloween. We divided the project into smaller, more manageable parts, considering the different elements of the theme.
The following tools were used for this build
Pneumatic nail gun
Various allen wrenches
Blow dryer (official heat gun)
Bike chain tool
The following materials were used for this build
1” particle board salvaged from a torn down bookshelf
‘L’ brackets & matching wood screws
1/4” Cross Dowel Nuts
1/4” x 2” Hex Bolts
rear bike sprocket cluster
misc fishing gear parts
random nuts, washers, and bolts
steampunked power supply
recessed lightning trim with frosted glass
1/4” wood for doors
Halogen bulbs (glass housing)
Small bulbs (for brass fittings)
Various grits sand paper
1.5” x 4” L rails
Leather belts and buckles
JB Weld & other epoxies
Unmelted glue sticks
1 1/2 inch vacuum hose
3/4" self tapping wood screws
Drywall corner bead (cut into straps)
Step 1: Building the Box
Depth: Measure the depth required to hold the amps and some extra room to manage your connections. The boards we used were 15.5” deep and fit the amps perfectly, so we didn’t have to cut them down depth-wise.
Width: Measure the space required to hold the amps by the rail mounts. NOTE: Rack mountable gear is 19 inches wide total; take into consideration the width of the material you are going to be using and adjust the width accordingly. In our case we were using 1 inch particle board and the tabs of the gear are over 1 inch so there were no fitting issues. Also, the box will later be wrapped in leather so we allowed some room to account for the width of the material.
Height: Measure the height desired. We measured enough space to allow generous air flow. The amps used were modified and have small fans mounted on the top, so they required a little more head room. We left plenty of space for the power supply and crossover unit and a little bit extra for any future additions or modifications. The total height used was 19 inches.
Cutting, Sanding and Building
Once we had our measurements we just had to cut the boards to specifications. We prepared the table saw, set it to the appropriate measurements, and got to cutting.
After cutting, we had to make sure to clean the areas that were cut and prep the boards for further construction. Using a palm sander and 80 grit sandpaper, we sanded the edges of the boards that were going to make contact. This ensured that the wood glue used would adhere and provide a stronger bond. After cleaning the sanded areas with denatured alcohol and applying a generous amount of wood glue, we pressed the boards together and nailed them in place with a pneumatic nail gun attached to a 3 gallon air compressor (using 1 ½ inch finishing nails fired at 80psi). This step was repeated until all sides were attached to complete a basic box frame.
After completing the basic frame we added some ‘L’ brackets (a total of 4) at each corner to keep the box squared and true. Then we just stored the box away to let the glue set overnight.
Check out the video that summarizes our actual building process.
Prepping for Further Accessories
Now that the basic box has been built we wanted to make sure that our measurements were precise. This consisted of sitting the amps and other audio components in the box and spacing them out accordingly. We marked where we were going to install the power supply and the crossover and then evenly spaced out the amps to give them as much room for air flow as possible.
Before moving away from the box we drilled out holes where the top amp and power supply were going to be and carefully measured an intersecting point for the cross dowel nuts and made the corresponding holes. The great thing about using these cross dowel nuts is that we didn’t lose the integrity of our material. This is a much better system than simply drilling some wood screws, risk destruction on a bad calculation, and have the weight bare completely where the screws would anchor (using small screws risk a lack of strength, using long screws risk chewing up the boards). After verifying that the bolt holes and cross dowel nuts lined up we spray painted the inside flat black and moved on to working on the accessories.
Step 2: "Steampunking" the PSU
Luckily the power supply we used had an on/off switch so we simply shorted the power supply Power On and Power Good cables on the 24-pin connector and controlled the power function with the switch. To run power for the entire system we used +5 and +3.3volts to run 4 fans and 4 LEDs respectively.
To Steampunk the power supply (PSU), we began by tearing it down and removing all the electrical components inside the metal chassis. Once we removed the components, we taped off any areas that we did not want painted and sprayed it with 3 colors (gold, red, and brown) to get a nice aged copper look.
We sprayed light applications to give it subtle differences in shine from different angles. After the paint dried, we salvaged a length of vacuum hose that was going to the garbage and cut it in lengths that would make a nice arc when mounted on top of the box. We cut two tabs on the hose for the AC side and just a straight cut for the DC side.
We began putting it all back together and, before closing, we passed the power cables through the DC hose and wedged it in the area where the cables exited the PSU. For the AC side we bolted the two tabs with the screws that mounted the female AC plug to the chassis.
Side note: we later added some drywall corner bead 'straps' to hold the PSU down in place.
Step 3: Steampunk Light Tubes
The project didn’t seem Steampunk enough without some electronic dress-up. One of the first ideas suggested was adding some lights to accent the design. After spending some time on the instructables website we came across a link by Junophor on the construction of a Steampunk Light Tube.
Using his design as inspiration, we took some small halogen bulbs from the dollar store and cut off the ends with the dremel using a diamond bit cutoff wheel. We then used tweezers to pull out the filament from the tube. Your end result should be a hollow glass tube.
NOTE: When cutting glass with a cutoff wheel ensure that you keep the glass and wheel wet. Excessive heat can crack the glass and ruin the material, potentially causing harm. ALWAYS USE PROTECTIVE EYEWEAR AND A MASK TO AVOID BREATHING IN THE GLASS DUST!
We then used the brass sockets from broken down bulbs (similar to Junophor’s instructable) to use as end caps for the glass tube. We drilled out the ends of the socket with a bit that would snugly fit the LEDs in place and glued them in.
Our next step was to find a way to give the light tube a great shine. After some tinkering with filling the tubes we discovered that glue sticks reacted nicely to the UV rays of the LEDs and dispersed the light brightly and evenly. Also, the LEDs would not get hot enough to melt the glue sticks. So we stuffed a glue stick in each tube and glued the end caps on.
Now that we had the light tubes built and sealed we had to attach the wiring to each LED so that we could run them upon installation. Considering we had exposed wiring, we had to figure out a way to dress them up with respect to the theme. So, we wired up the LEDs and used heat shrink tube to insulate the wires, giving them a more pleasing aesthetic. We then coiled up some brass colored wire on a bolt and made a spring that would then be placed on the outside of the insulation to give it that “Steampunk” look. All that was left for the tubes was to find a power source, which we decided to use the computer power supply that was running the amp’s upgraded fans.
Step 4: The Gear Fiasco
In our attempt to use recycled materials and keeping our means of construction based on availability, we realized that we did not have access to a variety of gears and cogs. Our first thought was to make our own, but our main challenges were the material to use and the method in which to make them. I found some CAD files online that had 4 different sized gears that worked together. Without having a 3d printer or other machining tool we were unable to produce an accurate replica. I converted the files to a image file and printed them as a stencil for the project.
We started off with papercraft gears, similar to the ones found here. Papercraft would provide cogs that would be easy to cut, would fit perfectly, and would ensure if one was spun the rest would follow. Unfortunately, even after using heavy cardstock, the gears were simply too weak and did not show promise of standing the test of time. It was especially unfortunate that the paper became soggy and buckled when trying to paint.
Next we looked into building a foam factory and shaping the cogs out of foam. Our first problem out the gate with this approach was our unsuccessful attempt at building the foam factory, mainly due to time constraints and the lack of availability of the Nichrome wire needed. Using a razor blade we attempted anyway and, while the cogs did roughly interlock and spin, the foam was simply unsightly and far too brittle to be considered a permanent solution. Painting the foam only reaffirmed our doubts.
We moved on to the most promising possibility… wood. Of course, yet another issue, the lack of a band saw and difficulty in cutting led us to another defeat. The angle left by the table saw gave the gears a nice look, but working with the table saw to cut out the gears was not only dangerous but proved to be inaccurate. It was clear at this point that we would have to move on to something that was more readily available.
That is when we came across a trashed rear wheel of a hybrid road bike. Using a hammer, screwdriver, dremel, and quite possibly the largest amount of testosterone ever displayed in a garage, we were able to break apart and separate each individual gear (without the use of the proprietary tool needed). A quick trip to the local Lowes, 5 minutes before closing, yielded JB Weld, 8 washers, and 4 bolts with 8 matching nuts; a total of about 15 bucks (including 2 Mountain Dews on the bill).
We dug into a bin of used/broken fishing reel parts and pulled out a reel handle and matching nut, main drive gear, and pinion gear. Using JB Weld and Loctite we sandwiched a bike sprocket in between two washers, ran the pinion gear through it and added the main drive gear on the other side with JB Weld. We affixed the handle on the pinion gear with the nut and Loctite. We sandwiched 3 other gears, each in between two washers, ran a bolt thru them, and locked them in with Loctite. Albeit a compromise, after two days, the gears were finally finished.
Having a CNC Router would have produced a better result and would have yielded an even greater final project.
Step 5: Pre Dress-up
We started the finishing process by placing the cross dowel nuts and their respective bolts in place. These bolts are going to be holding the second amp and top components.
Before simply drilling, we measured our accessories and the plotted out where our screws would go. We used a sharpie to mark were we were going to drill and install the amp support bracket, light bulb fixture, and external power supply (PSU).
We made the hole for the lamp with a 3/8 inch drill bit, and counter sunk it with a flat wood drill bit to allow just enough room for the lamp nut to hold the lamp assembly on the board. The holes for the PSU wires were made with the same flat wood drill bit.
The amp support and ‘L’ brackets also received pilot holes for their corresponding bolts.
The gears were spaced out, marked, and we used a bit to drill out a hole slightly larger than the diameter of the bolt to allow movement. To ensure safe movement of the handle-quipped gear, we pressed a small bushing into the corresponding wall to act as a sleeve.
Step 6: Leather Wrapping
We proceeded with the decorating process by wrapping the box in faux leather that we salvaged from a broken, beat up old couch that was left in an alley. Using T50 staples we stapled the leather on the inside of the box where it would not be visible.
NOTE: Once the amps are in place, all seams will be hidden and the leather wrapping will have a flushed look. We made sure to stretch it as we stapled to keep it even and prevent sagging. This gave the box a clean, sturdier appearance.
Once wrapped, we poked through the leather where we had previously drilled holes on the box. We glued immediately around the area where the holes were to prevent the leather from fraying and coming off. Once we completely applied the leather we proceeded to start accessorizing.
Step 7: Barn Doors
The front side of the box was made from an old weathered 1/4 inch thick board. We cut out two barn style doors that fit snugly in place. Fitting a recessed lighting cover with frosted glass as our trace item, we used the dremel with a spiral cutting bit and routed out a half circle on each of the barn doors. This would give us a nice window look when the doors are closed, but allowed they could still open for us to access the posterior of the DJ components. We applied a quick coat of copper paint, light enough to allow the wood grain to show but still keep it within the theme.
The recessed lighting cover was also painted in the same manner as with the PSU done earlier. We then mounted the recessed lighting cover with some L-brackets onto one of the barn doors. Once we had the right fit and the recessed lighting cover (now door window) was attached, we attached the door to the leather-bound box using hinges salvaged from a kitchen remodel.
Using some beat up old belts with some painted buckles we made the doors lock, keeping them in a closed position but still able to open at any given time.
Step 8: Final Assembly
We began by installing the lamp. We took the power cord off of the lamp assembly in order to hide the cable. After passing the loose ends through the hole we attached it back on the lamp assembly and a simple nut attached the lamp to the box. With the countersinking, the lamp looked as if it had been affixed by original design.
The PSU cables went through the pre-drilled holes first and the hoses fit snugly. We opted out of gluing them in place and cut some L shaped drywall corner bead ‘straps’ that would fit around the top and sides of the PSU with four 3/4” self tapping wood screws to secure it. The straps had been painted a slightly darker color and left misshapen to give off a rougher look. The straps themselves were fitted to the PSU using its own bolts from the top cover.
We placed some decorative washers and brass bolts on the L-brackets and added some hex bolts with washers to hold up the weight-bearing brackets for the second amp.
The gears were mounted through the box and held in place with a nut. We applied a copious amount of super glue on the nut inside to prevent it from tightening or loosening up. This kept the gears moving freely, without wearing the box at contact. Once the gears were mounted, we routed a rusted bike chain (cut to size) throughout the sprockets for that mechanical element.
Finally, we installed the light tubes that were constructed earlier in the project. We used a 1/4" drill bit to make holes for the wiring, which were connected in the interior to the PSU. Hot glue was applied to the inside of the barn doors to fasten the light tubes and make sure they remained in place. After that, the only thing left was to install the amps, run all the wiring, hook up the sounds, and let the party begin!
And Thus, the TRAVELING STEAMPUNK DJ CABINET is complete!
Not only was this project fun to build, it also produced a great looking end product. We met our goal to recycle, reuse, and spend as little as possible on this project. The Steampunk cabinet has received very positive feedback when it has been used in gigs.We would like to return to this project and replace the sprockets with precisely cut, more decorative gears. Winning the ShopBot Challenge would allow us to do that, and greatly validate our efforts. It would also enable us to work on more difficult projects in the future. Being able to produce precise, intricate cuts would open the gates to many other productive and fun projects.