Steampunk Network Center




Introduction: Steampunk Network Center

Hi everybody

I am so glad to present you my newest steampunk object after such a long time of absence.

I got the idea for this project after seeing the bird’s nest of cables behind my networking equipment.

Organizing the mess of cables under (and on top of) my desk is a never-ending battle, but I came up with this idea: only one box containing my adsl modem, router/access point and network switch (steampunked, obviously).

It might seem like a long instructable, but I want to guide you step by step.

Hopefully this will inspire you to see what you have available to make your own steampunk creation!

Step 1: What You'll Need

As with most steampunk designs, or any found-object art, your supply list can vary widely, but here I put mine as a guide:

  • wooden boxes.
  • wood sheet (veneer, 1 mm thickness).
  • four medium drawers pulls.
  • acrylic rods 5 mm diameter.
  • four brass made female RCA connectors with metal spring.
  • brass rings.
  • clock gears.
  • metal drawer handle.
  • brass grilles.
  • deadbolt rings.
  • Cap nuts brass (decoration).
  • clear self-adhesive film (to protect the paper inserts).
  • Shoelaces (to cover the cables).
  • Analog Vu Meter.
  • Several electronic components: IC cd4093, square orange leds, resistors, capacitors, IC 7809, pcb board, etc (quantities and values in the corresponding steps).

Step 2: Determine Box Size

First you'll need a box. Although these instructions guide you to use a bought wooden box (You can find these boxes at your local lumber yard or big-box store), you can build your own using basic woodworking skills and tools, it's very simple and the pictures should give you a pretty good help to make it.

There are two main factors which determine the length, width, and height of your box: the format and size of your network equipment and the airflow.

The first factor is very obvious: you need to put all inside (including boards, cables and accessories) with some additional space for future upgrades.

The second factor is often underestimated: the truth of the matter is, anything that consumes energy generates heat.

This means you need air flowing inside the box to carry the heat out.

My air cooling few simple rules:

Rule #1: Cold Air In, Hot Air Out

Rule #2: Exhaust Out the Top, Intake Through the Bottom

Step 3: My '2 in 1' Box

I searched through different MDF box types on my local store but none of them covered my expectations.

The only box I liked was very short, but joining two of them resolved the issue.

I added one additional box for the antenna base.

Happy with my choice I returned to my “atelier”, but …

A preliminary binding of parts showed me that the top box was too big so I decided to buy a smaller box (look at the pictures)

Step 4: Joining Boxes

Draw pencil lines to delimit the zone to cut and drill a hole in each corner to make turning the corners easy.

Place the drill with the point of the bit at one inside corner of the square. The edges of the drill bit should touch the sides of the square, but not go past it. Drill a hole through the sheet.

Insert the jigsaw blade into the hole. Hold the tool firmly and turn it on. Follow the pencil lines that outline the square from corner to corner to cut out the shape.

File the corners of the cutout to make the corners square and sand the edges of the cutout smooth to remove sharp or rough edges.

You need additional cuts, don't glue the boxes together!!!.

Step 5: Bottom Board

The Mikrotik router/access point board is located into the bottom box because it is the bigger board.

All wiring connections are present on one side only of the board, so that the position against the rear of the box is favored.

Measure the board connector's side and mark the cut line. If you need, creating a paper template for your cutout may make the process easier and more accurate.

Like step 4, first drill guidance holes and then cut with the jigsaw.

If necessary use a wood file for an exact fit and then sand the edges.

Add PCB spacers to separate the device from the bottom of the box.

Step 6: Middle Board

The adsl modem is located on the middle, just between the boxes union.

Disassemble the modem and take only the electronic board.

All wiring connections are present on rear side only of the board like the router, but in this case various status leds are present on the front that later must be redirected to the front of the box.

Again, the method to follow to cut is similar to previous steps.

Add adequate PCB spacers to maintain the board horizontally.

Step 7: Top Board

Disassemble the switch and take only the electronic board.

Repeat the process of mark and cut the hollow for connectors.

Because using PCB spacers is too problematic due the high position, put a wood stripe side to side to hold the board on place.

Step 8: Cover Design

The cover design was chosen after testing different location of components, balancing the volumes of the parts and their functionality as well as an attractive visual design.

The two main parts to place are the antenna base and the fan air outlet.

The shape and location of the lights and small accessories were decided on the fly at later stages.

Step 9: Wood Veneer

Veneers are very thin slices of hardwood usually thinner than 1mm and come in many sizes and colors. Some come with paper backs or adhesive backs (like peel and stick).

I use just plain wood veneer and contact cement.

They are typically glued on to solid hardwood, or a substrate of good quality hardwood ply or medium density fiber board.

It really is as simple as gluing it down to a piece of plywood, and trimming the edges.

Begin by sanding the substrate surface if necessary. Clean off the sawdust with a cloth and make sure it's free of debris.

Place the veneer over the area of wood that you want to cover. Use a pencil to mark the area where you need to trim the veneer. Be sure to cut it a little bit bigger than the area you are covering. This allows you a margin of error. Once you have determined where you will trim the veneer, use a cutter to trim off the excess pieces.

Lay your veneer out on top of the table, with the back facing up. Roll a coat of contact cement onto the back of the veneer. Work to get it as even as possible. Set the veneer aside where it can dry without getting dust in the glue.

Roll a coat of cement on the surface of the box in the same way. Wait until the cement is dry to the touch, typically about 10 minutes.

Lift the veneer up and position it over the box so that it overhangs every edge of the box.

Use extreme caution when positioning the two elements for adherence. Since contact cement is so slip-resistant, they must be perfectly aligned on the first try.

Press the end of the veneer firmly onto the box, starting in the center and pressing it toward the outside. Use a well sanded block of wood to smooth any slack out of the veneer.

Trim the edge of the veneer around the sides of the box by pressing the blade of a utility knife down, against the edge of the box to cut the veneer flush against the box. Trim all four sides in this way. Sand the edge of the box with a hand sander and 120-grit sandpaper to smooth the edges of the veneer.

Repeat the process until to cover all visible surfaces.

Step 10: Surface Finishing Process

Sand the wood. Sand the wood. Sand the wood.

Sanding is one of the most important steps in wood finishing. A thorough sanding is often what separates acceptable results from beautiful results.

Start with a medium grade of sandpaper (e.g. #120) and gradually work your way to a finer grade (e.g. #220). Always sand with the grain of the wood.

Carefully clean off any dust or wood residue with a damp cloth.

You can stain and finish a wood veneer the same way that you would stain and finish any wooden surface.

To pick a suitable finish, you'll have to shop through a multitude of products (shellac, lacquer, varnish, oil...).

The choice depends on each person, for this project is used mahogany lacquer (always test the color on a piece of scrap wood before working on the final parts).

Step 11: Acrylic Rod Bending

Acrylic is a thermoplastic, which means it can be softened with heat and when cooled maintains its strength and retains its form.

To bend right angles make a fixture to form it over. When the acrylic gets hot enough to bend, it is very soft and may bend to an undesirable angle without a form. Some people have luck using a heat gun, but it is very easy to burn the acrylic. I recommend a normal hairdryer.

If at all possible, the form should go the whole width and length of the bend (i.e., don't bend over two rails at the edges or the middle can sag). Clamp the acrylic to the form, and begin passing the hairdryer evenly over the top of the bend. As you see the acrylic droop over the form, move the hairdryer down to the next part of the bend. Don't let the hairdryer stay in one place too long, and try not to cover the same spot over and over. By taking your time and bending "row by row," you'll find the acrylic takes to the form evenly and without cracking or odd warping.

Step 12: Acrylic Rod Led Extensions

The decision to show the status LEDs modem using acrylic rods may seem strange at first glance, but there is always an explanation for everything.

One of the first decisions made in planning this work was not to change anything on the boards, like soldering wires to the LEDs for display on the front panel of the box.

The solution came from the same modem, because opening the case a preformed piece of acrylic that served for a similar function was found.

The entire process is relatively simple:

Measure the separation between the LEDs and drill the holes in the front panel, and place decorative rings on each hole.

Bend acrylic rods at an angle of ninety degrees (as detailed in the previous step) and cut to the proper length.

To cut the rods mark a small cut around with a saw and carefully break. The cutting area remain completely transparent allowing LEDs light to enter without loss to the rod.

In the visible side of the rod the opposite effect is necessary: the light should be diffused to see it better.

This requires filing and sanding the surface to obtain a rough rounded end.

The rods must be secured to the box to maintain its position but on the side in contact with the LEDs no adhesive is used.

Step 13: Cooling System

In this case I decided to make two intakes at the lower sides of the box and an air outlet at the top covered with decorative grills. The fan was installed under the grille air outlet to extract hot air out.

I'm a 'packrat', like many of you, of sorts. I do a lot of poking around at hardware shops in the area and I'll snag stuff that find interesting even if I don't have a need for it right away.

In my search of types of grids to cover the air intakes I found by accident a metal drawer handles coincided almost perfectly in diameter with my grids.

Step 14: Ornamental Fixed Gauges

If you're building steampunk, gauges are a must-have.

A quick search on the hardware store provided some little deadbolt rings.

Next hunt online for photos of vintage pressure gauges, download and retouch with your favorite photo editing program.

For the most realistic look, you could use clock hands for the gauge needles but our gauges are too small (20 mm diameter) to be practical.

Next it is a simple matter of cutting them out and popping them inside the frames.

For the glass, you can consider cutting plastic or thin plexiglass, both options would work, but they would have to be cut exactly right to fit in place, and then sealed.

So instead, choose the easy way out and just cover the paper sheet with clear self-adhesive film.

Step 15: Ornamental Moving Meter

Combine a VU meter and a pocket watch crystal with brass ring to obtain an elegant and functional antique meter.

To re-purpose the VU meter take the front plastic off the meter and remove the old panel marker.

Put the crystal on top and mark the cutting line and use a little saw to cut down outside the line.

You need to be careful not to push into the needle or you will bend it.

Search through internet for vintage meters images, download and scale.

Once you have your desired design, simply print it out onto thick glossy photo paper, cover the paper sheet with clear self-adhesive film. and then cut it out using a knife.

The new panel marker must then be attached to the meter.

Clean the pocket watch crystal carefully (you can polish with toothpaste if necessary) and glue it to the meter.

Although this is a simple trick for re-purposing meters, it's useful for a number of different projects.

The movement of the needle is caused by a section of the flicker circuit.

The resistor value was found by trial and error to make sure the needle does not leave out the scale.

Step 16: Flickering System (description)

One of the initial premises to plan this device was not to use electronics, or reduce their use to a minimum possible.

But after the initial stages it was evident the lack of “something“.

This light effect add some “life and movement” to our equipment.

An artistic flicker effect may be simulated with several light sources shining each with random time.

It is not so simple to generate the random electronically, especially without a microcontroller.

But for these applications, a perfect randomness is not necessary. For the optical effect should only appear so.

The timer circuit produces a pseudo-random timer pattern that makes a LED flickering to simulate that effect.

Step 17: Flickering System (visible Parts)

The light tubes are made with acrylic rods and a few connectors.

Drill four holes at the top of the box of the same diameter as acrylic rods

Bend acrylic rods, each side of them, at an angle of ninety degrees (as detailed previously) and cut to the proper length.

To cut the rods mark a small cut around with a saw and carefully break. The cutting area remain completely transparent allowing LEDs light to enter without loss to the rod.

To allow diffusion of the light over the entire length of the rod polish it with fine sandpaper without scratching.

The brass made female RCA connectors with metal spring allow an elegantly form to attach the rods to the wood cover.

Securely glue the assembly to the cover with epoxy cement because the springs tend to put pressure and detach it.

A square orange high brightness LED is connected to each end of the rods under the cover.

Step 18: Flickering System (electronic Circuit)

The NAND Schmidt trigger 4093 gate can be used as a simple astable timing circuit as shown in any digital electronics book. The Schmidt trigger basic operation works when the input voltage reaches a specified voltage level, the output changes states. Thus when the input goes below another specified voltage level the output will return to the original state. Because of this action we can make this IC a timer by the use of a resistor and a capacitor.

In the schematic (see the picture) the circuit works as follows: The voltage charges the capacitor coming from the High output of the NAND gate until it has reached the threshold voltage value. When this threshold is reached the Input A, B is High thus the Output of the NAND gate is now Low. When the discharge voltage threshold is reached, Input A, B is Low and this makes the Output High once again, thus charging the capacitor up again. The NAND gate will keep on repeating this cycle of charging and discharging to produce a square wave timing frequency. The NAND gate produces a square wave pulse frequency that can be adjusted by lowering or raising the values of the capacitor and/or resistor to change the frequency output of the NAND gate. The Resister and Capacitor (RC) values determine the timing frequency of the RC circuit.

The output of the NAND gate goes through a limiting resister (680 ohm) that bias the base of transistor BC338 to turn the transistor on/off at the frequency of the RC NAND circuit. The transistor is used as an on/off switch to turn the LED on/off to produce the simulated flick effect. The Common Emitter configuration’s output goes through the switching diode 1N4148 to maintain positive current direction going to the LED that turns on and off the Orange LED. The orange LED’s produce a simulation of flickering that is adjustable by the trimpots.

The two timers are configured as low-frequency oscillators, operating at non-harmonically-related rates (this is important to the appearance of "randomness")

Hence, we have four discrete resistances controlling the current thru the LED (producing four discrete brightness levels):

  1. Off
  2. R5 only
  3. R6 only
  4. R5 paralleled by R6

Since the oscillator frequencies are unrelated, this yields the appearance of a pseudo-randomly-occurring flicker.

The circuit described here fills the bill without using a microcontroller.

Step 19: Antenna Base Box

“Is It Steampunk?”

“I don't know, just add a bunch of gears to everything”

This little joke may offend us but contains some truth: every steampunk gadget are always associated with gears and this equipment will not break that rule.

The unique role of this box is to serve to stand the wifi antenna.

Originally would have gauges on their sides but during assembly was decided to transfer them to the main box.

This box must be worked in the same manner as in step 3 because its bottom must be removed to allow passage of the antenna cable.

After sanding and finishing place the gears. Gears serve a purely decorative mission and were obtained from an old clock.

Perforate the top in the center and place the plastic antenna mount. Place over it a brass ring (the visible plastic is not “steampunk compatible”)

Request for help: many hours of sleepless were the result of trying to modify the original antenna toward something more steampunk.

The antenna finally retained its original form until further notice :(

I would appreciate your ideas for improving this. Thanks in advance.

Step 20: Rear Side and Power Supply

Originally the router and adsl modem were using each a 12 Vdc power supply and the network switch one of 9 Vdc.

With that in mind the flicker circuit was designed to operate with 9 volt and then use a single source 12 V and a simple regulator to reduce to 9 V.

The power supply connectors of the two 12 Vdc boards are visible on the rear panel of the box therefore laces covered wires were placed.

On the top right corner is placed the power connector and at his side the flicker effect on/off switch.

The external power supply provides 12 Vdc at 3.5 Amp.

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    6 years ago

    The problem with the aerial is that even metallic paint/ink can spoil things, but maybe some shoe polish, brown rather than black, fixed with an light overspray of varnish, would be a good fit. Get a leather look rather than plastic. I'd go for a shade a bit different to the wood, and maybe you don't need the fixer-spray.

    Something I would think about is RFI. You can get conductive shielding paint, but if the inside of the original plastic casings is just plastic, I doubt there's any need. It is rather expensive.

    The fan airflow pattern might be a factor. A baffle plate over the circuit boards could help keep the air moving over the circuit boards, but do the two intakes spoil that? I've been replacing the fans on an old rack-mount switch, and that has intake on one side, extractor fans on the other, all nice and simple. Also, with new fans, silent.


    6 years ago

    WOW.Know nothing about electronics,Superb,and very well explained ,I also enjoyed reading HOW. At 72 can't see myself learning,JACK of most trades,Master of a few,Will be following your works .Have a good day.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you so much for the idea alone! Now I know what I'll be doing with my replacement modem & router when I get them. I'll make them beautiful so they don't make me so unhappy looking at them. I never would have thought of this or anything even close to this. I'll probably have a friend help me with designing our own, but your guide & idea are a bigger help than you know! <3


    7 years ago

    Really, really, really nice work ! Congratulations.


    7 years ago on Step 18

    If you wanted to make the box even more steampunk, I say attach a small dc motor to the flickering circuit and then integrate the gears to make them actually turn on the box. Gear combinations can easily be combines around corners too, so you could be looking at a full clicking and ticking modem ^_^.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I had to decide to terminate at some point :D


    7 years ago on Introduction

    The only problem I see is that you didn't include a means to help keep the electronics cool. Passive cooling does work in some cases but in others a bit of active cooling is needed. Might I suggest a fan with a thermal switch to activate it when the box goes over a set temperature?


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    The fan was installed under the grille air outlet to extract hot air out but dont have thermal switch (It is always on)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Very nicely done! Taking advantage of internal reflection!

    This is awesome! I inherited my grandparents old console TV. None of the electronics worked so I have gutted it (I saved all the parts except the picture tube) and am slowly converting it into a giant computer case with my big flat panel sitting on top. Now, I finally have the inspiration for making it truly unique.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Man, I love this! You're very creative. Steampunk is a nice way of returning to the days of old, before plastic. When products were actually designed to be aesthetically pleasing.

    Especially like the use of "light rods". The use of the shoe laces, wow, now that's steampunk!

    Just a couple of comments.

    How about using a short length of heat shrink tubing slipped over the acrylic rod and LED's to help maintain alignment.

    No mention of using a block of wood, as backing, when drilling the holes, especially with MDF.

    I like to print to label material utilizing its adhesive.

    For those that have never used contact cement: One could slip wax paper between the two items to make alignment easier.

    Also, I want to emphasize that the contact cement must not be even tacky, let alone wet.

    I even use a comparable technique when using glues such as Titebond. I apply it and let it soak in (especially for softer woods such as pine and basswood or even MDF) and then apply a little more before assembly.

    For wood finishes, I'm stuck on Watco Danish Oil. I wet sand a heavy coat of it with 220 wet/dry, doing this several times over the course of several days. The wet sanding works the sanding into the pores leaving an exceptional finish. It isn't as durable as say, shellac, but it is very forgiving. Colors are limited, though.

    using several coats


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice work. I love how you used acrylic rods for the indicator lights, very clever.

    Ori Roundtree

    This is incredible looking.

    I have an old router, and I will definitely put this instructable to use. I love the VU meter most of all; however, I am unclear on how to attach the VU meter to the router. Can you just parallel the VU meter to the LED contacts on the router so it will bounce each time the Wifi LED pulses? This would be the ideal use for it in my design. Thanks for the excellent build!

    Ori Roundtree
    Ori Roundtree

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Beautiful. That's just about what I needed.

    Sadly, this author posted neither how he got the power supply needed for the meter to bounce properly, nor his exact final schematic and wiring diagrams. I suppose that I will have to make an Instructable myself on the subject! The information in that link and this Steampunk Network Center design should make an excellent jumping-off point.