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Friday, August 5, 2011

Introducing the Art Nouveaux Case Mod

The Front Panel

Last year at this time, I was working away on the Egypt Mod case. With travel back and forth to our new North Jersey Micro Center, I seem to have had less time to spend messing around on a new case modification. However, I have not been entirely idle, as I have been trying my hand at wood carving. Besides, with the warm weather, it is much nicer being down in the nice cool basement...

My latest project is inspired by the flowing drapery and organic aspects found in art nouveaux design. Now, I'm not a carpenter by any stretch of the imagination, but that won't stop me from creating what amounts to a fancy wood shell that depends on an existing case shell to provide support and the mechanical functionality of a desktop case.

photo flower reference

To tie the project elements together, I decided to incorporate flowering dogwood blossoms into the design of the wood panels and windows. I want the natural wood grain to be obvious, and it should also fit with a color scheme of pink and white. I settled on Bubinga for the wood, and obtained a nice selection of this "African rosewood" from the neighborhood Woodcraft store.

[caption id="attachment_411" align="aligncenter" width="228" caption="The Foxconn Diabolic case before"]The Foxconn Diabolic case[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_413" align="aligncenter" width="293" caption="The Foxconn Diabolic case after"]finished art nouveaux case[/caption]

System case: I started with a Foxconn TH 202 series chassis that I saved back after one of my system upgrades. Foxconn makes some very nice cases where you can install most of the components without the need of any tools at all. Their outside shells are well-finished and have a certain flair, in this case (sorry, no pun intended) with their "Diabolic" theme, it's complete with glowing eyes, horns, and even a toothy grill over the front USB & audio connections.

My first step was to strip off all of the plastic parts, windows, and trim pieces to take the case down to the basic metal shell. Because the drive bays were designed to position the drive out through the front of the plastic bezel, I need an extension to my case for the same purpose.

[caption id="attachment_414" align="aligncenter" width="246" caption="To attach and support a new wood front panel, a frame of Bubinga wood is attached to the chassis with angle plates."]case construction[/caption]

I want a solid door to cover the front bays, but also decided that decorative openings for the drives and front panel should be and integral part of the project. To support a new front bezel, I added a rectangular frame and anchored it to the case with a couple of 90-degree angle plates.

[caption id="attachment_416" align="aligncenter" width="242" caption="Making the template for the front panel. Paper over the opening and light from the rear allows me to rough-position the drive and front panel openings."]case construction[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_417" align="aligncenter" width="180" caption="The decorative carving template is based on the grid template and defines the irregularly-shaped openings for the drives and USB panel."]case template design[/caption]


I created a wood grid to fit snugly into the opening to support the new front panel. A couple of wood screws through either side of the frame, prevent the grid from shifting or being pulled out.

[caption id="attachment_418" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Clamps hold the grid to the roughed-out front panel during gluing."]case construction[/caption]

A panel of 1/4" Bubinga is trimmed to the size of the frame, and then openings for drive bays and the front panel connections were marked and cut through the panel. The grid is then glued to the front panel before carving and finishing the surface.

[caption id="attachment_424" align="aligncenter" width="184" caption="The front panel with roughed-out openings is test-fitted in the front bezel frame."]case construction[/caption]


With the openings roughed out and the position and dimensions now defined by the retaining edge, a design for the front is laid out in actual size with paper and pencil. This template is then glued to the board with rubber cement and the design was then cut into the wood using a Dremel tool and a sharp burr.

[caption id="attachment_420" align="aligncenter" width="190" caption="The design template is glued to the panel with rubber cement. This will peel off easily once the pattern has been transferred to the surface by carving right through the paper."]case construction[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_421" align="aligncenter" width="155" caption="Front panel with the basic design carved through the template. Note the remains of the paper template in the flowers that are still attached to the open work area."]case construction[/caption]

For the openwork dogwood blossoms, a high speed rotary cutting bit was used,and then a variety of burrs to shape the detail. I could not proceed with the sides, top cap or base until this step was complete, since I won't know the exact dimensions until the bezel was installed and roughed-out.

[caption id="attachment_423" align="aligncenter" width="265" caption="Finishing touches: Frosted quartz for the front panel LED indicators, a wood power button, and translucent white glass behind the open work carving."]case detail[/caption]


Integrated into the bezel design are a (wood) power button and a frosted quartz cabochon, which will diffuse the LED light for power status and hard drive activity. Once I had the openings designed into the pattern, holes are carefully cut into inserts that are mounted in the bezel's support grid and the power switch and LEDs are hot-glued into place. Hot glue should be secure enough to hold, but flexible enough that it can be torn out if switch or LED needs replacement.

Thin wood veneer is glued over the front panel connectors and carefully trimmed with an Exacto knife to expose the USB, audio and FireWire ports. A single piece of translucent white glass is trimmed and installed behind the carved blossoms in anticipation of some specialty lighting to be added later.

Next time: side panels

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