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Insolent Gnome

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Welp, back at it again. I don't think I've done build logs for the last two cases I've done, so this might be a bit rough around the edges, but I'll give it a go!

It's been a minute since LAN parties and since it seems I might be able to attend some this year, I decided now would be a good time to build a new case for competition. I can't keep taking the same old cases to new events!

So here's the initial design:






I want something that looks fancy and refined while just sitting on a desk, but then lights up and shows off the hardware when it's running. The plan is carbon fiber for the middle structure and some sort of wood side panels with a mirrored or tinted piece of acrylic for the curved window. I wanted a different way of looking at the hardware instead of through a side panel, so solid sides and a see through front and top.

So let's start with the hardware, not the most important part of a build, but without it, I'd just be building a box.


Gigabyte Z690, i7 12700K, 32 GB of Vengeance PRO RAM, a Silverstone SFX-L power supply, and a CM 240mm AIO. I've got a couple of drives that will obviously go with but I don't remember what they are and I still need to figure out the fans. And then there's the giant chunk of unobtanium that is the GeForce RTX3080Ti. A big thanks to GeForce Garage for helping me out!

And now the box I'm shoving all this into...

First off trying to get an idea of spacing and sizes so I can figure out how big this framework needs to be. Yes, I've started and have no clue how big the case will actually end up. It's just how my process works, don't ask.


With a general idea of size now, I can start working up a mold. I'm using 1/2" MDF.



Yes, I built a box, but only because it's easier to just make the whole thing rather than make something the exact pattern I'm going for. This way I can use the box to draw out and eyeball the design and once I get it where I like it, I can just layup the carbon fiber in the pattern I want.

I used screws to hold it together while the glue dried and then pulled them so they wouldn't get in the way later and used putty to fill in all the holes and any misses on the panel edges.

After that was sanded out, I took an 1/8" roundover bit to all the corners to make the layup easier. Then a couple coats of shellac to seal the MDF so when I coat it with epoxy, it's not soaking into the wood.

Now was the time to do a bit of layout work. I know I want some insets in the mold and to know where I need to do some cutting, I need an idea of where the components are going.


Next time, I should be cutting some holes in my brand new box and hopefully getting to a point where I can lay down some epoxy.

Thanks for following along and thanks to GeForce Garage for sponsoring this build!



Edited by Insolent Gnome
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With the component locations laid out, I can start prepping for some of the details I want in the finished product. Firstly I want to raise the fans on the floor and the PSU up a bit. Multiple reasons for this, more room for the power cable, more space in front of the fans, and more interesting than just making the floor flat.

First step, cut hole.


Check. Next step, chamfer the edges.


Check. Next, slap in a board to fix the giant hole I just put in my mold.


The screws are there to hold it all in place while the glue dries. They'll get pulled out and the holes filled. Speaking of filling, I definitely want to smooth the edges out.


In between layers of filler, I decided some science was necessary. I'd like to vacuum bag this layup to reduce air pockets and get nice and tight corners, but the mold being hollow is a bit of a problem. I've got the perfect foam to fill the mold laying around, but I wasn't sure if it would hold up under vacuum, so bring on the experiment. It's simple enough, make foam, measure the volume in a bucket of water, put the foam under vacuum, see if it collapses by comparing the volume to the previous measurement.





I didn't think it would collapse cause it's some pretty tough stuff(I use the 4lb version to support weak tub floors and it feels like you've put concrete under them), and there was no appreciable change in volume at the precision I need for this. Next up filling the mold.



I'd be extremely leery of doing this with the normal expanding foam you get in a can. That stuff can keep exerting pressure even when it meets resistance(ask me about it lifting up a 6'x3' tub full of water) so I don't really like it. The foam I use is less aggressive when it comes to expansion and as long as it has a place to go, doesn't put a lot of pressure on the container it's in. Perfect for what it need. After 5 or 6 pours, the mold was full and I trimmed the foam down. I'm using filler to cap it to keep the mess down. Little pieces of foam rub off and just stick to everything, quite the mess.


Before I start finishing the mold, I wanted to add a route for a bit of wiring I'm planning. I'm thinking of sticking the power and reset buttons next to the PSU and I wanted a path to get those wires over to the motherboard so they weren't flopping around under the case.


One last thing for this update is laying out the general outline of the part I'm making. Since I've got the components marked out, it's a good time to figure out all the edges and get measurements for the part so that I can lay it out after the epoxy. That way I won't have to mark out all the components again.


Thanks for following along and a huge shout out to GeForce Garage!


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Welp, it's slow going, but there has been progress!

While I had the mold upstairs to let the last coat of shellac to fully dry(my basement is about 60 F so things take forever to dry and cure) I didn't like how the little cable run looked. It wasn't the straightest and also would have been a pain for the layup so I changed it up a bit.


Some more shellac and I was gonna be ready for my epoxy....but I was out of epoxy. Or at least I didn't have enough to coat this thing. But since what I really wanted from the epoxy was a smooth, non-porous surface, paint will work fine, and give me a chance to use up some of the extra paint left over from previous projects. Started off with some primer.


And then some gray paint from something. Looks like it's still in primer but that is gloss.


Now to layout the outline for my part on the mold. The problem being that I've had countless hours to run over the layup and design in my head with no oversight...now we're going for iteration 37B of my design...full side panels and no wrap around the top for the hinge attachment. That probably means nothing to you all, but for me, it makes cutting the carbon fiber for layup easier and means de-molding will go better.

I cut the radius that I wanted for my corner to make sure both sides are the same and laid out the pattern with a marker.


This next part is sort of an experiment. Right now with the mold, measuring my pattern out is easy-peasy. It would be nice to be able to transfer those cut lines to the part. My idea is to use striping tape to give me a physical lip to cut up to on the part.


I'm not sure it'll work the way I want but if it does, that will be a useful trick to know.

Now to just apply a PVA wax to the mold so I can pop the part off when it's cured and to wait patiently for my vacuum bagging materials to show up.

Thanks for following along and hopefully it gets more interesting than me just building a box.

And thanks to GeForce Garage for sponsoring this snoozefest!


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  • 2 weeks later...

After letting my body recover from all the blood loss from getting the carbon fiber tub off the mold, I figure it's a good time to show you how we arrived at the blood letting festival and it's product.

First off, I got the mold covered in PVA wax. Normally I'd just use a brush or rag to spread it around, but with this much area my larger paint gun made short work of it.


With the mold ready, it was time to get ready for the layup.

Cut the pieces of carbon fiber.


And get the bagging materials ready. Release cloth and breather.


And the ginormous bag.


For a little something special, I need to modify two of the pieces of carbon fiber...


With some chopped carbon fiber tow. Tow is the individual strands of a carbon fiber weave. A pound of 1" tow and 2 pounds of 1/4" tow.


I saw a company was selling sheets of forged carbon fiber, which is basically tow stuck to a backing sheet so you can lay it up like regular carbon fiber. Unfortunately they wanted over $300 for a yard of the material. I'm gonna make my own. The idea is just to use an adhesive spray to hold the tow to the sheet. And the results...



And to turn it up to 11, I added some silver foil to the mix.


It's impossible to get a good picture of this stuff, but in person it looks pretty good and is ready for the layup.


Action shots!




Once the carbon was applied with the epoxy, on went the release and breather cloth and into the bag.


And after a few hours letting the epoxy stiffen up, I brought the whole deal upstairs to let it finish curing in a warmer environment.


After an overnight in 70+ degrees, I could pull it out of the bag. I still couldn't pull it off the mold since the epoxy takes 1-4 days to fully harden and was still flexible. I'll save you all the action shots of me fighting to get the bagging cloths off.


After a couple of days, it was de-molding time. Or as I like to think of it, The Night of a Thousand Cuts. I was hoping that once I got most of the sides popped loose with wedges, the tub would just pop off.


That was not the case and I wound up having to deconstruct the mold inside the tub. At this point I was cursing myself for building it too sturdy but I did manage to finally free it.





All in all, I'm excited with how it turned out. My forged carbon sheets worked, the tape lines on the mold gave me some great cut lines as you can make out in that last pic, and the finish is pretty amazing considering all the horrible things I did to get this thing off the mold. Now I've got some more tow and epoxy coming to do the outside of the case to give it a matching look and thicken up the panels. They're a little flexible for my taste right now.

Thanks for following along!

And thanks to GeForce Garage for sponsoring this madness!


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After waiting on materials and re-doing a vanity top(which consumed my shop area), it's finally time to continue on with this thing.

The next step is adding a few layers of carbon fiber to stiffen the tub up. In order to help keep it's dimensions and to make life easier on me, I would normally stick it back on the mold. Unfortunately I kinda destroyed that so now I get to build a jig to hold it.


And after spending a couple of hours searching my house for trim nails for my gun...poof!


Even though I believe the release cloth is supposed to leave a texture that helps the next layer of epoxy get some bite, I took a sander to it to knock down high spots.


Then figuring out the spots I wanted to reinforce and getting the CF ready to lay up.



I also worked up another forged piece for parts of the case that will be on the exterior.


With everything prepped


And then a mad dash to lay it up.


Since there was really no way to vacuum bag this, I used the normal bagging materials but pulled tight and stapled to the jig to give me a similar effect of compressing everything down.


Then after four days of curing, it was time to see how it turned out.



As good as I could have hoped just using the bagging materials to compress it all down. Next up is to sand it down and give it a few layers of epoxy to cap the outside.

Thanks for following along and thanks to my sponsor!


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Ok, so sanding and smoothing things out took longer than expected. And getting back to this log even longer, but here we go!

Lots of sanding and layers of epoxy gave me some nice smooth surfaces.

The forged carbon looks awesome.


You might notice that the carbon is wavy under the epoxy and there are a few spots that I burned through, but the sides will be covered so I wasn't worried about looks, just structure.

While sanding and smoothing, I also had to fix some spots like this one. I wound up with an air gap between layers of the layup.


The repair is just to grind the spot out, shove some epoxy and fiber into the hole, and smooth it back out. Easy peasy.


With the repairs done and everything smoothed out, it was finally time to figure out the hardware mounting. My first thought was to make aluminum brackets for the PSU, GPU, fans, and cooler, since I really cut it close in some spots.



This plan also included mounting the radiator on the outside of the case, hence the weird cutout on the bottom of the cooler bracket. It's so you can feed the pump through and slide the tubing into the slots.


I wound up scraping this idea because it seemed too complicated. It didn't save drilling holes in the carbon fiber and I would have had to epoxy the panels in place and a whole bunch of other little issues. So instead I decided to mount the radiator on the inside and mount both it and the intake fans to the carbon fiber.

So I've got a PSU mount still.


And a GPU mount since both of these just make mounting the components easier and are more durable mounts.


The GPU mount includes a weird top portion to mount a hinge to. Again for durability.

But that's where I'm going to end this update. Next update I'll cover the butt puckering moments of drilling holes in a part that took like 4 months to build.

Once again, thanks to NVIDIA for sponsoring my madness!


Edited by Insolent Gnome
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So lets see, smoothing things out, building mounts, what's next?

Oh yeah, cutting giant holes in a part that took 3 months to make with a custom mold. Fun.

So first off, I taped it up for my layout.


And after I took that picture, I ground all the edges down cause I was tired of 1/2" splinters and sliced hands.


And then laying out component locations.


Had to make sure my tubing worked.


Then I took implements of destruction and cut it all out. Jigsaw, dremel, 4.5" hole saw, whatever worked. I was sure the hole saw would grab wrong and wreck the whole thing, but it didn't!


You can see I slipped in a hole for the I/O. To mount the motherboard, I took 10mm standoffs, cut the threads off and epoxied them to the panel. I needed a bit of weight to hold it down, so I used what I had.


And it didn't fall off.



With everything laid out and cut out, now I can trim this bad boy down to the size I want. But I'm gonna save that for next time.

Thanks to GeForce Garage for indulging me!


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  • 3 weeks later...

Now to cut this thing down to size. I guess I didn't get any pics of laying it out. But that's the boring part anyway, lets cut stuff!


I had been trying to figure out the best way to cut this since it's a tight spot, but the jigsaw fits in just fine for most of it. In the tight areas and the corners, I flipped the jigsaw to the other side, and used it like it was mounted in a table. Not the recommended use, but it worked for what I needed.

I made sure to give myself room on the cuts so I could file and sand it to the final shape.


And the final product.



I was starting to get worried about the size because I was wanting a more compact case, but now it's looking about right.

Next up I'll start work on the outer panels, but here's a sneak peak!


Thanks for following along and thanks to GeForce Garage for dealing with my slow a**!


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And now the outer panels. I choose a hard maple board from one of my local shops. I was hoping to find something exotic that I thought would look good, like a tigerwood, but no luck. The maple stood out because of the definition in the rings. A few spots had a little figure, but that wasn't really a factor in the choice.



First thing I needed to do was to join the pieces so I bought a biscuit joiner and got busy.



Once they were joined and smoothed out, I needed to transfer the shape of the carbon fiber tub to the panels. I usually use a roll of tape to trace an outline like this, just roll the tape along the shape with the pencil on the inside and you get a consistent distance even around corners. I didn't have a roll of tape thick enough, so I used a hole saw. It's janky, but it worked.



I cut out one panel, traced it to the other board for the second panel, then all I needed to do was clean up the edges.


I used a belt sander on the edges and to make sure the panels stayed lined up, I made up a few brackets that I screwed to the bottoms.



To finish shaping the panels, I rounded the edges. 1/8" round over on the inside, 1/4" on the outside.


To mount the panels, I laid out my holes on the carbon fiber tub and then transferred those to the panels, making triple sure that everything was lined up and square.


I used inserts in the panels so that I could reliably screw and unscrew them without tearing things up.



For finishing the panels, I tried out different options. Different dyes, techniques, and finish coats.


In the end I went with straight Arm-R-Seal because it kept the prominence of the rings. I also really brought out the figure of the boards which I hadn't even really been looking for.



While working on these panels, I was making up some hard drive carriers. I wanted something to dress up how the mounted. Bring out the aluminum.


They're very simple, just a square with a couple of bends and a few holes. But with a bit of playing with a sander, they look pretty spiffy!


I'm only starting with one spin drive, but I made two so that I could upgrade down the line.


They're mounted from the back through the carbon fiber with a couple of flat head screws so that they don't interfere with the side panels.


Next update I'll be studying this piece of acrylic.


And also digging out the Cooler Master AIO I originally bought for this project because apparently there is a World Series this year. I'm glad I found out two days after entries opened up by seeing someone's post on facebook about their entry. https://forums.bit-tech.net/styles/smilies/bit-duh.gif

Anyways, thanks for following along and thanks to NVIDIA for sponsoring my tool buying habit...I mean this build.


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Now to take care of that giant open section in the middle of the case, and I'm gonna start with this.


Just your standard smoked acrylic, but I did have them cut it to size and round and polish the edges. A bit extra in cost, but it pays for itself in the labor I saved. Plus I'd probably mess up the first one polishing the edges.

The plan is to mount it to the carbon fiber tub with a hinge giving me a door to access everything.


This is why I made my GPU bracket so big and ran it to the top of the case. I wanted something extra to support the hinge and not stress the carbon fiber.


So first I cut a pretty standard hinge I had left over from another project and got it mounted to my acrylic.



And then mounted that to the case. I know, rocket science.


I had wanted to mount the hinge on the back side of the back panel, but had to settle with mounting it to the inside to get enough clearance for the screws. Not a big thing, but if I had to do it again, I might try a different hinge style.

That was all simple enough, now to try and ruin a $100 piece of acrylic. Let's bend it.


I had brainstormed a bunch of different ways to try this in order to make sure the bend came out as well as possible. Like cutting a mold out of fiber board or hot gluing a thin piece of sheet aluminum to the case to make sure the acrylic didn't sag. In the end I just went for it straight up.

I got a bit of sag in the middle of the bend, but an acceptable amount. Nothing that ruins the look.


Only a couple of things left to finish the acrylic. One is to cut off the bottom edge so that it matches the case. The others I'll get to later.


I wanted to try something a bit different for the power and reset buttons so I did a little hunting on Amazon and some electronics sites...and couldn't find anything that I liked. Figures. So I bought a couple of styles that I thought I might be able to make work to see what I could come up with.


I was basically looking for these style of buttons, but with the wire coming out the bottom. No luck. And yes, that's just a standard pcb mounting momentary switch in a housing. I could have made a new housing but I decided to just chop these up.


I'll mount them so the cut is in the back and no one will be the wiser. Except for you all and you're not gonna tell anyone...right?

With that bit of prep done, I needed to get the final finish on the carbon tub.


First thought was clear coat, and boy was that the wrong thought.



It was great for the outside of the tub, but the inside had way more pin holes than I had imagined. You can kinda see the rough finish in the reflection of the PSU bracket on the side panel. That should be glass smooth or damn close.

So, there was a lot more sanding and a few applications of epoxy to seal up the inside of the case. Yes, it sucked and was a pain in the :). Especially trying to keep from messing up the outside finish and making more work for myself.


Once that mess sanded out, I tried the clear coat again.


It turned out much better this time around. The reflections of everything make it almost too busy now.


Remember those switches, I'm gonna go ahead and pop some holes in the PSU bracket so I can mount those later. That reflection is sooooo much better.



Thanks for following along, next time I'll be growing some trees on my 3d printer.


Thanks to GeForce Garage for sponsoring a level of sanding that I hope to never repeat.


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