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Jute Gotta Be Kidding Me

Insolent Gnome

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I know right? Back so soon? But this year for the World Series, Cooler Master added a new category for best use of reusable materials. Which means, "– For this a large proportion of the build must be made from natural, bio or recycled material/items." I thought it was perfect timing because I had been mulling a case idea that fit perfectly into this.

The general idea:

A natural fiber composite case. While working on Carbon, I came across some stuff on natural fiber composites. Not as strong as carbon fiber(bout half as strong if I recall), but it was a really cool look; and being a renewable resource, something that I thought had a bright future. So I put the idea on the back burner because I was too far along on Carbon to change things out. Skip ahead to the middle of October when I was finishing Carbon, and there was just enough time that I might be able to knock out a natural fiber case before the December deadline.

The hardware:

Since this is a last minute personal build and the category we're shooting for is "natural, bio or recycled materials/items", why not use some recycled hardware?

CPU: Intel i5 9600K
RAM: 16GB HyperX Predator DDR4
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070
PSU: Silverstone SX700-LPT
Storage: Samsung 970 EVO Plus 500GB and 2TB NVME drives
Fans: 3 Cooler Master MasterFan MF120 Halo and a random CM case fan I had laying around.
CPU cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Black Edition



Yep, I did have to buy the new storage and cooler, plus I totally forgot to get a pic of the case fans.

Next up, we'll start with the build.

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First up was to figure out the layout and the size. I mean, it's usually good to know the direction you're heading before you start slinging epoxy around. I decided on an old school layout with the PSU up top. Just seemed different from the current norm and that's a space I like to occupy.


I'm going to vertical mount the GPU to show it off, plus, it's just way easier to layout on a custom build.

Next was size. I'm a fan of compact layouts and not wasting a ton of space on dead air and I just happen to have a Meshify C in my shop so I based the dimensions off that. Is that an MNPCTech poster trying to sneak in!?!


So with size and layout figured out, it was time to figure out what I was gonna make the case out of. Flax fiber was my first choice because it seems to be the material that's leading the way as far as coming to market and if it's good enough for the wing on a race car, it'll probably surpass my needs. But since natural fiber is kind of a new thing, places you can buy a few yards are few and far between and that's if they have the weight you want in stock. And for flax, no luck. So I started looking at other possibilities. Hemp popped up, but once again, I couldn't find anything available other than a few fabric weaves. So while looking around the local craft store for mold materials, I decided to check out if they had any natural fiber fabrics that might work. I mean, linen is flax fiber. Most of the fabric was poly or a poly blend, but then I stumbled on their bolts of burlap. Yep, the stuff they make potato sacks out of. And dresses for Marylin Monroe. And, well, it would be interesting. So I picked up 16 yards of burlap.



I wouldn't say it's the best candidate for composites. The weave is crazy open and the fiber is all over the place, but it might work. So I did some quick layups to test and figure out thickness. And you know, it wasn't half bad and had a very unique look.


So lets get a mold built. I used pink insulation foam because it seemed like it would be easier at demold time than wood and it would be dimensionally stable under vacuum. Also, the epoxy not eating it up was a good feature.


Glue all those together.


Then smooth it out and put it on my new rotisserie. Figured I was gonna be wrapping the burlap around the mold, so being able to spin it was gonna make life easier.


One nice thing about composites is there is quite a lot you can do with design since the material conforms. Only having a month and a half to get this done though, I decided to keep it simple. Chamfer the corners because sharp corners are the mortal enemy of hand layups.


And I decided to glue some small acrylic squares onto the mold to give it a bit of flair.



Next up, the layup!

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To prep the mold for the layup, I gave it a nice coat of wax to seal the foam and make everything easier to get apart.


And then I got all my materials ready for vacuum bagging. Bottom layer of release cloth, because if you've fought a mold once, you'll take any advantage you can get.


And with our breather cloth, vacuum bag and burlap ready to go.


And now for some epoxy...crap I forgot the epoxy. Just kidding, I only forgot to take a pic of it.


There we go. Entropy Resins laminating epoxy. 30% biobased which from what I gather means that 30% of the carbon in the resin comes from new biological sources, like from agriculture, rather than from petroleum. Not my normal go to, West Systems, but they have the same parent company, so lets give it a try.

Since the hand layup and vacuum bagging is a bit of a rush though, I've got a before:


And after:


Now to let it cure up and we can see how it turned out. Not super impressive in the pics, but that's kind of due to the weave I think. The burlap soaks up a ton of epoxy, but with the open weave, it also looses a lot into the breather cloth. You don't get the nice smooth surface that you do with carbon fiber.



But since this is burlap, it works. A super glossy finish like you'd put on carbon fiber would look weird here. It's burlap, they make potato sacks out of it. Its rough and rustic and has flaws and weird spots in the weave and that's the look I'm going for. I do kind of like it when perfection is the enemy, it plays to my strengths.

Next up, making more than just a burlap tube.

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Ok, lets turn this into a case! I oversized the mold because the edges of a layup are all over the place and I also wanted a piece for another mold, so I cut it down to size.



I'm gonna be using this piece to make my back panel. With it glued to a piece of foam, I had a mold for a back panel that would match up with the back of the case. Slide right in.



I did bleed on it trying to de-mold it, so it's a true mod, hahaha!


Out of the mold and with a topcoat of epoxy. The bottom lip is a bit weird because the vacuum would bend the edges of the mold. But nothing I can't work with.


I also top coated the rest of the case. It fills in all the little voids and I think it's gonna help make it a bit stronger as well. Only problem is it's too glossy for the look I want, but I can take care of that later with some matte clear coat


With the foam removed, I can fit the back panel and get it cut down to size.



And then the scary part, cutting out the door. Kerf=gap and I didn't want a giant door gap so I got the thinnest attachment I could to cut out the door. It didn't come out bad, but given another month or two, I'd have probably made a new door with tighter gaps.


Before epoxying the back panel in, I wanted to layout the components and cut their holes in. It's easier to do that when you can manipulate the panel and not have the rest of the case attached.



With that done, I epoxied the back panel in place. Inside first so it would seal the gap and not run down the inside of the case, then another pass on the outside. I don't want this thing going anywhere anytime soon.


Next up, what about the front???
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Well the front of the case is probably gonna have some fans mounted, so how am I doing that? Good question. First up, some different burlap. For this I went with black dyed rather than the natural color. Just for contrast.


I did a hand layup, but this time no vacuum bagging since it's a flat panel and I'm out of bagging material.



I had a wild hair and decided that I wanted a floating front panel.


And then I laid out the fans, which I would find out I measured wrong, but more on that later, leaving a half inch for figuring out how to make this thing float in the front of the case. Sometimes it's just a bit of on the fly engineering!


Burlap composite being what it is and needing something to attach the front of my door too, I decided to make some brace pieces for the front of the case out of the leftover black burlap panel. However I decided to hang the fans, I'm sure it's gonna try to bend the sides of the case and I'm just gonna nip that in the bud.


The case is six layers of burlap and has some flex, but the black burlap panel is 8 layers and waaaayyyy heavier on the epoxy since I didn't loose as much to the breather cloth. These things aren't flexing. And there's that little strip where the front door mounts will be.


As I was showing pics to some friends, I notice I had forgotten the fan on the back panel. Whoops! So I cut one in, and again, laid it out wrong, but yeah, later...


Up next, the ultimate in fan isolation.

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So this is the goal, obviously without the clamp.


But before that, lets cut a bunch of holes in things!

How about the top of the case? Yep, that needs a hole!


And the door? Sure, why not.


I decided a passive vent in the top of the case might be a good thing to help get rid of heat. No fans, but it's at least a place for hot air to escape. And all fancy door have windows, right?

During all this cutting, my corded Dremel died and I was down to a cordless model, which, good in a pinch, not great for what I want. Soooo, I got a new tool. Sure it's a cheap Harbor Freight rotary, but it cost half what a new Dremel would and it's got a foot pedal for speed control. So nice and perfect for composite work.


So hanging the fans so they float in the front of the case. Sounds cool, so naturally I'm gonna figure out how. Since the whole idea of the case is natural fibers and burlap is made from jute and they make jute rope, it only makes since to use it. But to keep the case from cutting the jute and keep the jute from breaking the case I was gonna need some grommets and a way of stringing the rope so that it didn't stress the edges.


While I was at it, I also put in some eyelets and rope to dress up the top vent.




The front panel was a little different because it was so thick. I didn't have eyelets that would go all the way through so I wound up gluing and eyelet in from both sides for basically the same result.


I ran a loop of rope through the eyelets on the case first to give myself something to attach the floating panel too. The idea was to avoid having the rope loop over the edge of the case and snapping that front half inch off. Probably wouldn't be a problem with the bracing pieces in there, but better to not have to worry.


Then I laced the floating panel to the loop of rope on the case. Let me tell you, fun times! But I like how it turned out. And any vibration from the fans is totally isolated, bonus!



And for the windows in the door panel, I picked up a fancy piece of glass and went to town on it with some alcohol ink. After a lot of trial and error, I settled on a brownish orange that went well with the burlap.


Then cut to size and glued in.



So now we're getting close to the home stretch.


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Before I get to wiring I need to button up a few things. Power switches are always a good thing. I decided to mount these to the back panel and since I wasn't worried about them being fancy, used some extra surface mount switches from my last project.



And then there was mounting the fans. The @#$%#$% fans. Ok it's my fault but what a pain. So while laying out the fans, I had a feeling that a measurement was off. I was thinking there was a half mm that I should be dealing with somewhere but wasn't for some reason. But I plowed on, finished the lay out and drilled them out. And then when I go to install the fans, I realized that my spacing was at 110mm for the screw holes instead of 105mm. The half mm measurement that I wasn't running into was for the 7.5mm in from the outer edge. Instead I came in 5mm and, welp, that doesn't really work. So two options, cut slots in the panels or cut slots in the fans. And though I didn't try to fit the case on the bandsaw, I'm gonna guess the fans were the waaayyyy easier option. So, custom modded fans...that means it's worth more, right?!!



Now that the fans fit, the next mountain was the mountain of wires that come with them. LED fans are a nice touch, but the wires, ugh. And not having a motherboard tray to hide them behind, double ugh. So I mad a box to hide all my sins in. My sin box.



6 wires go in and magically 2 come out. I'd tell you how it works, but it's against the law to divulge magic secrets.

But for reals, I just needed a place to hide the wire mess to make it look cleaner so I didn't have to cut and solder a custom set.

And then cut that set apart and re-do it cause I flipped a wire.

And then it was the PSU cables. I decided to be trick and loop the wires outside the case. Loved the idea, hated having to do it. But first we need some wires.


And some holes.


This was the point at which I started cursing this idea. A 24 pin set later, I would decide that the CPU and the MB cables should swap because of how they layout on the PSU. Then after getting all the cables through the first set of holes and getting the two GPU cables(the 1070 is only an 8 pin, but I ran the second set for upgrades later) and the CPU cables back into the case through the second set of holes, I realized that the CPU cable was no longer capable of reaching the plug on the motherboard. FML. Needless to say, I wired this little "feature" like 2 and a half times.


In order to keep the loops even, I used a little piece of 1/2" scrap pipe as a spacer. And if you look close, you can see my taped over tape for labeling the wire order, which kept changing.



And I definitely hooked the cables to a tester to make sure I have them all pined right.


And in the end she fired right up, no problems.


So all that's left are the finals, and that's coming up next.

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