Intro: Plywood PC Case
This is my instructable on the plywood PC case I built recently. The idea was to create an unusual, cool-looking exterior for an old computer I had just repaired.
Making the case took a sizeable amount of time for me as I was using pretty basic tools in some places (I'll explain alternative methods as I go along for those of you with access to better equipment). That being said, this project can be done by almost anyone with little woodwork knowledge like me.
Note: There are some obvious concerns with heat when making a wooden PC case. There are several reasons why standard cases are built out of aluminium shells:
» It is good at dissipating heat
» It shields the computer from external interference
» It is conductive and therefore reduces the risk of static-related component damage
Thus to keep some of these obvious benefits, I actually decided to keep the stock aluminium frame (shown on the next step) and put this inside the wood case as opposed to mounting the components directly onto the wood. Having said that, it will be much lighter if you can mount them directly onto the wood. You could line the case with thick aluminium foil and use stand-offs to mount the motherboard.
» Plywood sheets, 18mm thick or more (choose for an attractive end grain)
» Mahogany iron-on veneer edging (thickness should be greater than the thickness of the plywood below)
» Plywood sheet, 12mm thick (choose for an attractive surface only - sides are covered by veneer anyway)
» Black mesh/fabric (optional, you can also buy a dust filter)
» Neodymium fridge magnets (~6mm diameter)
» Beeswax and clean rag (optional, for waxing the wood)
Step 1: Prepare the PC
I was going for a minimalist look so I removed a few unnecessary components: an SD card reader, a disk drive, and a front USB hub - this PC already had six USB slots on the I/O shield (found on the back of a PC) which I found was plenty. It can be tricky to create clean cut outs so keeping them to a minimum is best.
I removed all the plastic covers (not shown on the above image). I also decided to mount an intake fan on the front because this PC only had one case fan at the back (weird). Unfortunately the motherboard had no slots left for extra fans so I decided I would create an external fan controller in the future for any other case fans I wanted.
Next I measured the length and width of the computer. Make sure to account for any protruding parts because if the case is too small it will be very hard to adjust. I would leave some room for error but at the same time make sure it isn't too loose of a fit - imagine trying to plug cables into it if the ports are really deep inside and hard to access.
Step 2: Making the Boards
To give these sheets the striped effect, strips of plywood have been cut and glued together with their end grain facing out. I'll split this process up into a few steps because this is the longest part of the build (probably). I ended up making two planks; each long enough for two sides of the case, four sides in total. Leave copious room for cuts if you intend to divide the board into smaller sections later.
I decided to use marine ply because I had long lengths of it already and I thought it had a very distinct end grain (some are quite pale). It did however have a very slight pink tinge to it. Marine ply is more pricey so obviously go for standard plywood unless you have some lying around. I used 18mm wood because this is what I had. If you use thicker wood you'll have to cut less strips.
Step 3: Cut and Glue the Strips
I don't have table saw or bandsaw at present so I used a circular saw and guide to cut a series of strips that were 16mm wide each. Remember that the width of the final plank is determined by the number of strips multiplied by the thickness of your wood (e.g. 18mm). They are not actually 18mm (often slightly smaller) so I would leave some room for error here as well.
Once you have everything cut, layout the strips next to each other on a clean, flat surface! Try to put all the nicer-looking sides face down because this is the surface you will be using on the exterior: when you lay the strips flat on a surface, they are level and therefore creating a flat surface. The top surface will be much rougher because your cuts are unlikely to be exactly the same width and so some pieces stick out more.
Apply a thin bead of standard wood glue to one side of each strip and spread it out with a piece of card or something similar. Push the strips together and align them as much as possible at either end of the plank before adding clamps at various points along it. If you compress the board too hard, it will bow upwards. Try to add weight on the top surface to prevent this. You might want to use a wet rag to remove excess glue, but the exposed surface here is not important anyway.
Step 4: Finish the Boards
After leaving the glue to dry for an hour (most wood glue will take longer than this to dry completely) I removed the clamps and began to sand the board.
I used an electric sander to move through the different grades of sand paper (starting at P40 and ending at P240) to smooth the board down. This took a long time and created a lot of dust - I wore a proper face mask because this is really not great to inhale. If you have access to one, you could use a thicknesser planer to level the boards if they are not very flat. As I said though, because I used a flat surface the underside was already pretty flat.
The end result was incredibly smooth. I did not bother filling voids but this is something you could do with wood filler (or just a glue/saw dust combo). Next I used some very fine finishing sand paper stapled to a wood block to finish the sanding. I then applied beeswax as it gives the wood a glossy look and makes it even smoother to the touch. It depends on the beeswax, but usually you apply a thin coat using a clean rag, and then remove the excess by rubbing with moderate pressure along the grain. I applied two coats, waiting 15 minutes in between. At the end I used some tissue to further remove excess and give it a shine.
Step 5: Cut the Boards
I used miter (or mitre) joints to create a box. This joint is created by two pieces of wood cut at 45 degrees joined together at a corner. For this you will have to use a miter saw or equivalent because the boards are too tall to put in a miter box.
Remember to be careful about which way the 45 degree angle should be cut, and which points you take your measurements from (common mistake!). Cut slowly to prevent the wood from chipping.
Step 6: Make the Cut Outs
I did a fair bit of experimenting on scrap pieces to determine what holes I could drill without splitting the boards. For the LEDs, I simply drilled a hole with a sharp 5mm bit. For the button, I drilled a 5mm pilot hole before widening it to accommodate the body of the button. Drilling through the smooth side of the wood should leave a cleaner-looking hole on the outside than drilling through the back. I used hot glue to secure these components. I also added some washers over the holes for the LEDs so that the metal trim of the button matched the lights.
For the back panel, I made a cut out for the PSU cable, a hole for PSU ventilation, a cut out for the I/O shield, a cut out for the GPU ports and series of holes for the case fan. To find their exact alignment, I placed the computer on the bottom plywood panel and measured the height of the I/O shield from the bottom. Once I had this cut out done, I measured the other cut outs relative to this.
The cut outs where made with forstner bits and chisels; I drilled a series of holes before chiseling out the inside. Be careful here with the chisels, the board will split easily along the weaker veneers (and not the glue joints).
Finally, I used a hole saw to create a hole in the front. I then stretched black fabric over the back and secured it with duct tape (not a great idea). I used two sheets because one sheet was too translucent and I didn't want the inside of the PC to be seen.
Step 7: Glue the Box
I checked the fit of the box, and the miters were nearly perfect.
I put a bit of tape over the outside of each joint to prevent glue flowing out and to help me keep them aligned. Leave the fourth corner without tape otherwise you won't be able open the individual joints!
Using the tape as a hinge, open the joint and put a substantial bead of glue down one side of the 45 degree cut. Close the joint and press it together. Repeat for the remaining corners. Remove any excess and use clamps to apply pressure. I used a pretty crude but easy method of clamping the diagonals. This worked well for me but alternatively you could buy a special four corner miter joint clamp (there are many different types).
I left it to dry for two hours before removing the clamps, but again most wood glues take longer to set completely.
Step 8: Cut and Veneer Side Panels
The final step was creating the side panels. I lay the box out on a sheet and draw around it. As my box was not completely square I measured again for the next side, marking them as I went along so I knew which panel went on which side.
The panels were cut with a circular saw. I sanded the outside quickly before applying wax again. The end grain was covered with iron-on mahogany veneer edging on the exposed sides. To do this, I placed a section of veneer (that was bigger than surface it would cover) on edge of the panel and pressed firmly on it with an iron set at medium - high. I trimmed the excess with a hobby knife and used a sanding block at an angle to smooth the edges. There are router bits that allow you to trim veneer like this if you have a router.
Step 9: Add Magnets/hinges
Glue one of the panels onto the box to form a closed side. For the other side I used magnets to create a cover that can be removed to access the internals. I drilled 3, 6mm holes in both the panel and the box before glueing magnets into these cavities. Check the polarity of the magnets before, they should attract and not repel. Alternatively you can use hinges but I found these harder to align fully, not to mention you may need a mortise/recess, cut into the side of the wood.
Step 10: Finished!
Now that you've created your wooden PC case it's time to test it out! Due to the nature of the build, I would suggest that you monitor the heat output at first and add extra fans as needed. To my surprise, even at high intensities the computer was fine with just the back fan running. I did run the intake fan as well anyway, and I might add another on the side to foresee any upgrades in components in the future...
Thanks for reading!