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Leaf Me Alone - Scratch Build

Insolent Gnome

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Ever since I finished my Fusion build, I've been wanting to play more with the idea of a simple aluminum tray with brackets to change things up.  The possibilities are endless and it's super simple, it's just figuring out how to get it to sit on a desk and look like something that's the challenge.

I started with the idea of a clamshell design around the tray.  I wanted to try my hand at working with more wood, so I made the mistake of visiting a local lumberyard that stocks hardwoods and exotics.  SO MUCH PRETTY STUFF!  And I came home with this.


Black walnut, 4/4, or about an inch thick, 18 inches wide by about 9 feet long.  I was in love.  And lucky cause I thought I was going to have to join a couple of smaller boards together to get my side panel.  The dude asked what I was working on and proceeded to show me this bad boy.  It has a cool knotty area, but what I really wanted for the side was that 6' of nice clean board.


After getting a couple of pieces cut off I had to get the cup out of it so I rigged up a routing contraption to flatten it all out.



It isn't perfect but I've got two nice flat pieces.


Next up is starting on the motherboard tray...

Thanks for following along! :)

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So...the motherboard tray.  My plan was to use the simple setup from Fusion, just a sheet of Al with a bracket bent up for a vertical mount GPU.  Easy enough, though this time I didn't roll the front for switches and the tray is bigger to allow wire pass-throughs.



I toyed around with the idea of a PSU bracket on the back side of where the I/O will sit since I was just cutting that piece out, but since this is going to be vertical, I was worried about all that weight at the top.  Instead I went with a bracket that screws onto the back side keeping the PSU and all that weight low.


I actually made a couple of them because I planned my bend too close and wound up being a mm or so from the PSU sitting perfect.  Second time around I gave myself some room to play with. 

While I was working on the multiple PSU brackets, I was also looking for hardware to mount my clamshell.  That's where I ran into a bit of a problem.  I've gotten standoffs from Grainger before but they didn't have a 1/4" standoff longer than 4" and I wanted 5" long.  So I searched the internet.  No luck.  This wouldn't be such a big issue, but my GPU bracket...it's 4 1/2" tall.  My side panel would have to be cut around the GPU bracket and I didn't really want that.  

The solution was to just cut off the bent GPU bracket and make a separate bracket that I could attach that was a half inch shorter.


I worked it out to where this screws directly into the PSU bracket and sandwiches the tray.  In the end, I like it better.  I did switch to 10mm standoffs for the motherboard to make sure I had plenty of clearance, but with everything on brackets, I can take this design and do just about anything I want with the layout or if clearance becomes an issue(I'm not sure why it would, but??) I just have to remake a bracket and not a whole tray.

With that sort of settled, I started working on the walnut side of my clamshell.  I didn't want just a slab of wood hanging out on the side of the case so that meant I was going to have to learn how to do joinery somewhat correctly and make some clean corners.  I decided to dowel the corners for added strength since I could make my own jig and didn't have to buy any special tools.  Just a bit of plywood, some glue, and an extra 1/4" spacer from Deep Blue with the threads drilled out.


It worked pretty well but my mark for the center of the hole on the jig wound up being a hair off.  The joints were off about 1/16" when I put everything together.  Not bad for a first attempt though.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  

One thing that I really wanted to get right was matching the corners up.  I didn't want the joint to jump out and grab you.


So after hours of flipping and turning and checking the edges and getting past my fear of totally screwing things up I finally started cutting things up.  This board ended up being awesome since I could cut my front and back pieces from the next spot down the board and the grain lined up nicely.  So I cut the pieces, and then got to doweling.


And wound up with this.  The pretty side of the clamshell.  Also the heavy side of the clamshell.


It matches up almost perfect.  The only way to tell without getting close up is a slight color difference.  And you'll notice by the four holes drilled in the side, that somewhere along the lines of doing this I got my standoffs in and laid out the side panel to fit the tray.

I notched the back piece around the I/O and GPU bracket.  It's a decent match on color but the grain has a good bend to it.  I couldn't match both color and grain on that corner so I went with color so at a distance it isn't noticeable.  But it's the back and this is why it's on the back.


Ah, and the standoffs.  1/4" thread by 4" brushed aluminum standoffs with 1/4" studs to put it together.  These are basically the same thing I used in my Deep Blue build, just way longer, and I'm re-using the end caps from that build cause they're freaking expensive.


When it came to the motherboard tray and the standoffs, I did have to do a little modification to my original design.  I sort of put the PSU bracket right in the way, but that was easily fixed with a jigsaw.  And then I thought to myself that routing a 1/2 aluminum rod through the PSU might be crazier than I want to get with this case, so I just made another PSU bracket.  I can knock 'em out pretty quick with all the practice I'm getting.


For the other side of the clamshell I got this. .08" 5052 aluminum.


I didn't get any pics of working on the Al, but basically I just cut it down to the size I wanted and bent it to match the wood side.  There is just a bit of difference in thickness between the sides(3/4" vs. .08", just a smidge) so I worked it out so that the Al lined up at about the middle of the walnut's thickness.  This gives the front where they meet a bit of depth and doesn't let the walnut overwhelm the aluminum.


And that's a good place to stop, so thanks for following along!

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From my last post(and most of my builds really) it might be apparent that I get a few ideas that don't always work the first time, or at all to be honest.  2 GPU brackets and 3 PSU brackets can attest to this.  It's usually cause I don't have a defined plan of how to get where I'm trying to go, and where I'm going is usually a little fuzzy at best.  While this let's me come up with some cool or unique twists to add to the build along the way(which are coming up with this build, I promise) it also leads to useless brackets, some "I don't think so" plans, some "Why the **** am I bothering with this?" ponderings, and quite a few "Yeah...no" moments.

This is the post of those plans, ponderings, and moments for this build along with some "Where the heck am I even going with this thing?" planning.

First up, color decisions.  "What color should I paint this?" or even "What colors even go with this?" is usually solved with some photoshop time.



I found colors I liked, colors that were horrible and wound up not going with anything I found at all.  Geez!

Numero 2.  A total nope moment.

I originally envisioned a metal filigree pattern inlaid in the walnut.  Nothing elaborate, but some fine lines dancing around breaking up the slab of wood.  So I thought maybe carve the lines?  2 minutes with a carving tool and that was a no go, so some sort of routing tool it was.  And how do you get metal inlaid in wood even?  You can pound wire in, but then you can't really do thick vs. thin lines.  What about dripping lead solder into the pattern?  Maybe...


Nope.  Just nope.  I wanted to see if I was capable of routing the bends and twists of filigree, and I'm not.  At least not while also trying to use the plunge to vary the width with a V-shaped bit.  The solder looks cool though, except that it falls out when you tip the piece cause it has nothing to hold on to.  I super glued these pieces back in.  I totally think that it could work, but it's just not in my wheelhouse and there are other options, which I'll cover later in the log.  

Number 3.  From the "Why the **** am I bothering with this?" files.

I needed a base for the build cause I didn't want the clamshell to just sit on it's bottom and scratch up the walnut or chip what would eventually be the painted aluminum panel.  The thought in my head was, "Well, what about brazing up some square tube?"  I could clean it up and paint it.  It does the job and really isn't that visible anyways with the side panels on.  Paint it black and it'll look like the shell is floating.  Yeah.


It was...decent.  The braze joints weren't bad, though TIG welding it would have been much better.  Rather uninspired, but it's just meant to be a stand so that's alright.  My biggest stumping point was the connection to the tray.  The two center bars are meant to have risers with slots that the tray would slot into.  Al bar would have been the best option, but I didn't have any and couldn't imagine getting enough heat into it to braze it without melting the tube or burning my house down.  Second option was tube but then I had to worry about the strength of the slotted end and the brazed joints, and had to braze end caps on the risers to make it look like something.  I worked on making the risers, but just wasn't feeling it so this wound up in the scrap bin with all the brackets.  Not liking where this was going made me look at other options and I'm really happy that I did. 

Fourth fail...not that it was a failure, but it was a total flip from "This will be really cool" to "Yeah, I don't think so".

This tale starts with, "I needed a switch panel..."  Which I did.  Since my original plan was to use filigree on walnut panel, I thought it would be cool to have a filigree-ish switch panel that attached to the tray and sort of cut into the aluminum panel.  I used a bit of cardboard to mock this up while fitting things together.


I'm horrible at art, but my girlfriend is an artist, so I would have her do the final design, but just to get an idea, I put my horrible art skills to work.  But along the way the filigree idea went out the window and I got started on the leaf motif (yeah, I'm totally using 'leaf motif' a lot more often, sounds fancy).  So the front panel turned to a leaf design...to fit the leaf motif. ? 

So let's try some fiberglass for the switch box, I've got everything to do it.  Cut some foam in a leaf shape, glass it...and nope.  I don't even...there was effort but no.


Let's rethink this, start with an aluminum box...in the leaf motif...and cap it with...something.


That's a start, now we can carve up some foam into a leaf shape to cap this and then cast that in epoxy.




And poof!  A mold magically appears.


Mix up some epoxy resin and mica powder.


Then forget that thick pours of epoxy tend to cook things.  Burn the first attempt.  Try again with a thinner pour.  


So it's seeming pretty cool at this moment, and then.


Yeah, I don't think so.  If it bent the other way it would have looked better.  On looks alone it was kind of meh, without even getting into the prospect of getting switches into it, mounting it, and cleaning up the back to make it look like something.  So the girlfriend got an epoxy leaf to put on the shelf and I went a different direction with the switches.

So that's the Greatest Hits:  Fail Edition for Leaf Me Alone.  But I really don't think of them as failures, more aborted possible futures.  And they're important in my process...sort of "designing out loud" I guess.  They get me going in the right direction...eventually. :)

Thanks for following along and next up:  less fail, more leaf motif! ? 

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Now for more leaf motif!  My original idea was a filigree pattern on the walnut side, but there were just problems getting that idea from my head to the board.  What style of filigree, how to make it look good with an inlay, how much, etc.  And then asking my girlfriend, an artist, to do art for free just bugs me.  And, oh yeah, I'm a control freak on things I build.  Sooooo, I started throwing around some ideas and a stylized leaf pattern sounded neat, and it set up a nice nature/leaves/wood vibe.  So to plan out some things, I got a lot of pictures and photos of walnut leaves.  It only made sense since it was a walnut board and walnut leaves, in my head, would work out well for my idea since they're compound leaves, a bunch of leaflets connected to a stem that makes up a leaf(who knew a hort degree would come in useful in modding?).  This meant that my design could cover some area without having to get into branches and all that, just leaves.

So I plucked some leaves from a picture and laid them out in photoshop.  Then using a freaking awesome Wacom tablet/touchscreen thing, I traced the edges and got everything laid out the way I wanted.  With the design figured out, it was time to figure out what to do the inlay in, since solder wasn't going to work.  I tried a few things but finally landed on epoxy with mica.  I did a trial run on a piece of plywood I had, cutting the design on the CNC and then using a tint to get the light plywood closer to the color of the walnut, and then trying different colors of mica.  I also did a few trials in a piece of scrap walnut that was finished with tung oil to see how the colors matched up.



I decided on an apple green mica.  I liked the color, it went with the walnut, and it stood out well enough.  Plus, leaves are green.  So now for the real deal, throwing that nice walnut board under the bit.



And then the epoxy/mica mixture.




Will it turn out?  Did I ruin a gorgeous board?  I'm just going to leaf you in suspense til next time.

Thanks for following along!

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So while my epoxy adventure was going on, I did fit in some work on other parts of the build.  Let's find a spot for these.


A Cooler Master V850 PSU, HyperX 250GB Savage SSD and a 2.5" 1TB hybrid spin drive that I salvaged out of my Samsung laptop, and obviously that's a Samsung drive.  It's a slow 5400rpm drive(which is why it isn't in the laptop anymore), but for large storage it works and I'm tired of having it laying around. 

Got the final PSU bracket finished up.


And then I tackled storage.  I had some crazy ideas of what I wanted to do with the wiring so that only left me with the space over the PSU for drives.  I figured stacking them hanging out over the PSU would be the most efficient use of space.


And since I didn't want to have to pull the MB in order to change a drive, I made a mounting plate for them, tossing on another mounting spot for future expansion.


Tossing that on 6mm spacers, I've now got a tidy little drive caddy.


Then it was time to see how the epoxy turned out.  After sanding off the excess epoxy I was happy with what I ended up with.


You might notice a couple glaring boring spots.  Beautiful wood grain, but they look empty.  To stay with the leaf motif and not just cut out some boring holes for my ventilation, I got artistic and gave the vents a leaf shape.


And cut out.


After staring at it for a while, I decided it was missing something.  The leaf vents were nice, but they just looked like tear drops without the stems.  Plan one was to make stem grills out of Al wire.


And to make it all sit pretty, I carved a little channel for the wire stem to sit in the walnut, the idea being to glue the wire into the notch and then run the other end into the sidewall of the cutout vent.


In one of those "dang it" moments, after carving the notches, I realized how cool it looked having the wire come out off the side panel and not using the notches.


Dang it!  Oh well.

With all my major work on the wood panels done, it was time for glue up.


After it was glued, I gave all the edged an 1/8" round over with the router and sanded everything up nice and slick.


For finishing I went with tung oil.  It was easy to apply and really brought the walnut to life.


I'm liking how the carved notches really darkened up with the oil.  They complete the leaf look without adding more complexity or something shiny that might stand out too much.


That joint on the front really blends well.


And the sparklies of the mica in the epoxy.


And lets not forget the back side.  Everything is visible on this case, one way or another.


After a few coats of tung oil, I went over the whole panel with satin General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Urethane.  It's a light topcoat so it didn't add a plastic-y looking layer over the oiled finish, just a bit more protection.

Next up, I'll tackle the other panel.  Thanks for following along!

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With the wood side of the case taken care of, it was time to work a little on the aluminum side.  With how the panel was going to fit, it needed to go around my PSU bracket.  It's not really a jigsaw spot so I wound up giving the dremel some work.



Spot on.  With that done and me changing up what I was going to do with the switches, that panel was ready for prep and paint, so we'll put that on the back burner for now.

Speaking of switches, I needed to figure out some, and also a base for the case.  Seeing as I had plenty of walnut left over and that was a major theme of the case, I decided that a base of walnut would be perfect and I'd work some switches into it.  So first I had to cut out the base and some pieces to hold my tray, and the rest of the computer for that matter, so I didn't want to skimp on them.


Nothing crazy, just some simple arcs to get the tray up high enough in the center to clear the base and not interfere with my side panels.  I'm going to use some dowels to join these to the base to give them more strength so a little bump won't knock them loose.

And then the switches.  I got these little micro switches to use on Deep Blue but never used them.  So it's fitting that I'm going to use them with part of a fiberglass panel that I made for Deep Blue and didn't use.  I knew what I was doing last year, I was just ahead of myself.


This is all a fine start, but what about buttons.  Well...wood.  I tried to match the grain by cutting the buttons out of the scrap left over from cutting out the base.  After it was all said and done, it turned out pretty close, doesn't really show here.


So here's the plan, lets see if it works.  And yeah, I totally wired the switches wrong.  I figured keeping my momentum going was more important that getting them right, I could always come back, pop the switches up, and re-do them.  And that's what I wound up doing.


First, I had to chisel out some holes for the buttons.


And then on the bottom of the base, route a channel for the wiring to the tray mount and give myself an inset for the fiberglass panel and another panel to cover all the wiring.



Perfect.  Just gonna need some spacers to get the buttons flush.  I hope it works.



Now I just want to test fit the tray before I go gluing things together.  What did I do with that thing?  Oh yeah, I drilled a bunch of holes in it.



I wanted to do something interesting with the wiring since most of the internals aren't very flashy.  And since I very strongly dislike the super precise wiring look, I decided to go the other direction.  How about spacing them all out and letting them pick up and carry the leaf motif?  So that's the 37 holes for the 24 pin connector plus the 8 and 6 for the GPU, spaced at 5mm.  And then just another 8 with nothing fancy for the CPU power.  This wiring job is gonna suck, but look really cool....hopefully.  I also threw in some slots for the I/O header and SATA ports, big enough for room to grow if the need arises.

I painted the tray and components up basic black because I needed them there, but wasn't looking for them to really be attention grabbers.


And then test fit everything to make sure I had it all lined up the way I wanted before glue up.


The tray sits in some slots and I drilled and threaded some holes for set screws to hold it all together.  Everything turned out pretty good, except for the paint.  Even with a few days curing, you couldn't handle it without leaving prints and the slots just peeled the paint right off.  Grrrr, gonna have to do something about that.


But then some routing, some sanding and some gluing.


And I have a base.


Next time, I'll put all this stuff together again, but for real, LOL!  Thanks for following along!

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With the base put together, I could route my wires from the switches to the board and get the mounting of the plates figured out.  Nothing spectacular, but drilling that hole trying to hit the channel on the bottom was one of those "Why don't we measure this one more time to make sure" moments.



And some screws to hold the plates.  I'll be painting these black later.


Now some tung oil.  I'm liking this.


One more thing to do before hardware is to paint my aluminum side panel.  I sanded it, primed it with etching primer, and then hit it with a green that I think is an Infinity color.  Or Mazda.  Something like that. Whatever company, it's a color that matched my epoxy mix and doesn't photograph well in my paint room.  It's a 2 stage, needing a base and clear.  I prefer single stage cause it's less work, but it turned out nice with that clear on it.


And now we can hardware!

Slapping the PSU in.


You might notice the sandblasted finish on the tray and bracket.  I was having a hard time deciding what to do besides paint and tried blasting it.  It was a great way to get the paint off and is a unique finish, but I'm not sold on it just yet for this case.

Then the drives.


And the MB and processor.  My original plan was to use this.


Asrock Z87 with a i5 4670K.  I had it, it works, it's a perfectly capable system, and it's killing me that it's just laying around my house.  My goal was to build a case that it didn't matter the hardware that was in it,  And that's why the side panel was the focus.  Give some peeks at the hardware, but make the case the center of attention.


I just can't do it.  Something inside me just couldn't deal with it not matching, or at least being complimentary.  My girlfriend called it a "bit Christmas-y".  LOL!

So I dragged out my little InWin 301/Ryzen build.  It will give up it's parts so this mod can live.

So this is what I ended up with.  MSI Bazooka 350M with a Ryzen 1700X, 8GB HyperX Predator DDR4, and a 250GB HyperX Predator M.2 drive.  Bit of an upgrade.  And the M.2 already has a cover that I made for it, so time saved.


It's mATX and the tray is set up for ATX, but it's not really a thing looks wise with the vertical mount GPU, since that would cover the bottom half of an ATX anyways.  Just an extra screw hole to add to the tray.

But then I ran into a problem.  I was thinking ahead about possibly entering this in the scratch side of the Cooler Master World Series, hence the CM PSU, but I also wanted to use a CM cooler.  On the scratch side of the contest, your build just has to use a CM part and the PSU takes care of that, but for me, if I can use a CM cooler too, then it's more in the spirit of the thing.  And it's more of a challenge.  Anyone can swap out some fans to a different brand, but designing around a cooler to make sure it fits in with everything?  That can be a bit more work.  As I was about to find out.

Enter the cooler...the Cooler Master Geminii M4.


Had to do a little hunting since it seems like this is on its way out, but I really wanted this particular downdraft cooler.  The M4 is shorter than the Geminii M5 and doesn't have a red LED fan.  I've already said no to red, and height is definitely a consideration, it's a tight spot.  The other options were a stock style or CM's UFO/LED/magic mushroom looking cooler, and just no.

But this came with it's own problems.  Having ordered it for a Z87/4670K combo, I didn't pay attention to the fact that it's not, you guessed it, AM4 compatible.  Well that's gonna be an issue, but I'll tackle it next time.  Thanks for following along!

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So, yeah, no AM4 bracket...dangit!


Can we work something out?  Luckily, the cooler has a pretty straightforward mounting design using the 4 holes on the plate to connect the different style brackets.  So modify or make a bracket, simple enough.  Now we just need to figure out the backplate.  I originally had a Corsair H110 on this board, so that's a good place to start.


Do some eyeballin'


Get some pieces of 6061 Al cut out and mounted to the block.  I think this is 2mm stock, good and stiff.


Pretty them up a bit so it doesn't look like a total hack job.


And the hard part, finding some screws to hold it down.  I think these are from the 2011 mount for another CM cooler I had, but I tried so many different screws, I could totally be making that up.  Naturally I also had to grind down the posts on the Corsair backplate to get them to work because of course I did.  I wouldn't call it exactingly perfect, but it does the job.


And it didn't fall off!  But what is up with that fan?


And then on the base to make sure that all looks good.


And with the side panels to make sure everything fits inside.


But that MB tray, it's killing me.  Paint doesn't look good and didn't work anyways.  Sandblasting looked OK, but just OK.  I've brushed so many pieces of aluminum, along with everyone else, over the years that it's kind of old hat.  Classy, but we've covered that ground many times.  Engine turned...doesn't really go with the build.  But I do like the idea of patterning the Al, so let's just grind some wispy patterns on it and see how it goes.


Yeah, that's the ticket.  I like the random, wispy grass look.  It's a nature themed build so it works.  And it's easy and fun to do at home kids!


Next up, my not favoritest part, wiring.  Thanks for following along!

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And then there was the wiring.  Like I said before, I wanted to try something different so I laid the pass throughs in a leaf pattern.  To stick with the color and theme of the pattern, I found a 550 paracord in 'Tree Frog', it's a color shifting weave with yellow, green and blue, and it matches up pretty well.  Then it was just a matter of sleeving and pulling all the wires through.  One by one.


After splitting up the GPU and 24 pin sets, it looks pretty cool.  Even kind of looks like a leaf.  My plan has worked!



After getting all the runs cut to length and hooked up.  The zip ties will have to go, but they hold it all in place now.


And the front with the 8 pin as well.


And to do something with the fan, I tore back into this.


I've already stolen some of the screws from this for my cooler, now I'm gonna take a fan.


It's a 10mm thicker fan so my tolerances are closer, but it looks soooo much better.  And I have LED's if I want.


Thanks for following along!

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To keep on putting it all together, I started on the switches.  Like I said before, I painted the backs black so they'd look better, even though you should never see them.  And wired the micro switches up right, cause you know, I'd like them to work.


And mounted.  Also added some rubber feet to the base.


Fancy shot of the set screw before I tightened it down and the wires popping through the mounting bracket.


The switch cables got cut down and sleeved in the 'Tree Frog' paracord.  Note to self, oversize the hole next time so the paracord fits without a fight.  And then I wanted to see if they worked.


Oooh, that green is a bit too intense.  But the switches work, let's give it some buttons.  Some spacers, some super glue, and some patience...


Looking at it now, I realize why the reset looks so wrong, it needs to be rotated 180 to match the angles of the  grain direction.  Should help it blend in better.  Dang it!  I'm tempted to walk across the room and just swap it around.  Power button came out super nice though.

So there we go...



feces!  Zip ties!  Gotta change those out.  Found some leather cord I had planned on using on another project.  Performs the same task, doesn't look like a zip tie.



With that done, the only thing really left that bugged me was the green LED on the fan.  Unfortunately, this is a lower range MSI board and only does 16 colors on the RGB header...Lame!  But as luck would have it, MSI's yellow plus the CM fan equals the right color of green???????  I don't get it, but sometimes, you just go with it.


I think this means all that's left are the finals, so til next time!  Thanks for following along!

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