32 months ago
Since posting my current build Node Way!, I've received a number of questions regarding how I went about doing this case mod. I've answered each to the best of my ability. After answering a handful I thought maybe it would be a good idea to do a little write up here on the process I use to mod my cases. I'm by no means a professional (don't even consider myself an amateur!), and non of what's below are set in stone methods of modding. There may be things I do that go well beyond (or against) what real professionals do, these are just basic steps that work for me.
Before doing anything, make sure you have a proper work area with the proper safety gear available. A well ventilated area to work is ideal (I work in my garage), safety glasses, and a face mask are a must. There will be lots of debris flying around and the last thing you want is something flying in your eyes or to be inhaled. I also recommend some kind of arm protection and mechanics gloves. I've had the hairs of my arm burned a little from flying sparks.
Next you need the right tools. I've used the following items in almost every case mode I've done:
Dremel (or rotary tool) - This is the most versatile tool in my arsenal. I can cut, grind, smooth, and polish when needed. They are relatively inexpensive and the bits needed come in any form you may need to complete your project. Cutting wheels need to be appropriate for both the dremel and the material you are cutting. Angel grinders also work really well for straight line cuts, and the wheels last a whole lot longer. But they tend to be a bit more expensive.
Masking tape - I use this for several things. Laying down a layer of masking offers a little bit of protection by keeping flying debris to a minimum and can help reduce dremel nick accidents. Laying down masking tape also gives me an area I can freely draw on. Having your cut lines marked makes the actual cutting process a lot easier, and reduces the risk of going off course.
Metal filings and multiple grits of sandpaper - Metal files have saved my bacon on a number projects. They can get into corners, shave down uneven cuts, and and help grind out any spurs that might have developed during the initial cutting phase. The dremel can be used for the same thing, but you have a higher risk of making a bad situation worse if you aren't paying attention. Sand paper will help smooth out and polish off your cut in preparation for priming/painting.
Clamps - You do NOT want your project floating around as you are trying to cut. I was so eager to get back into case modding that my first initial cuts on my case cover were done without clamps. That was a mistake I paid for later on in the prep stage of painting. Clamps are cheap, and will help keep your project from getting cut incorrectly. Clamps also keep the work place SAFE. You don't want something to happen that jars your case causing unnecessary damage or harm.
Shop Vac - The most underrated and under appreciated tool in the shop. Cutting metal, wood, plastic, and pretty much anything else creates a lot of waste. Having a shop vac set up near your cutting site and running helps keep debris and smoke to a minimum. This allows more time and focus on projects without worrying about stopping and regularly cleaning up. It's always much harder to do clean up when your done with your project than it is to set up your workstation and clean as you go. A lesson that's hard to learn when your excited to jump into a cut, but well worth it when you do.
There are many other tools that you can use along the way, but I use these 5 in every project.
Planning is the first step in any project, modding is no different. By now you should have a fairly decent idea of what you want to do to your case. I determine the following:
Is the case mod even feasible? This is a big question. Take a close look at your case and the cutting you want to do and see if by cutting you are going to sacrifice something critical to the integrity of the case. Will you need to remove and relocate drive bays? Will you be removing areas of ventilation, and will that ultimately effect the components in the case? If creating a window in your case will there be a way for you to mount the acrylic/glass or will you need to create a solution for mounting? These are just a few questions I ask myself when going into a custom case mod build.
Now that you've determined the mod is totally feasible, it's time to take measurements. Measure, Measure, MEASURE, MEASURE. You don't want to get all the way to the cutting stage and realize you marked off the wrong cut lines or worse already started cutting and then come to realize you've marked off the WRONG CUTTING LINES. This is where masking tape comes in handy. Put down a layer (or two) of tape, and mark as you measure. This allows you to SEE what the final cuts will look like, allow you to double and triple check your measurements, and allow you to make adjustments to your final planned design. Use a good pencil to draw out your cut so it is clearly visible.
If you are creating a window for your case, make sure you have a plan to mount it. Leave yourself space around each edge of your cut to allow you to mount the acylic/glass. You can use glue or tape to stick it on the inside of the case, or you can go about doing a more elaborate mounting system. Just make sure to leave your self space to mount.
So you've prepped your case, marked off a cutting pattern, and you're ready to start cutting. What to do next?
Set your case on your work table so you are cutting parallel to it. Make sure to clamp your case firmly in place. If you are worried about damaging or marking up the case use some form of protection between the case and the clamp and the case and the table surface (I use tshirts).
Set your shop vac up so that it is in line with your cutting. This will suck in flying debris from your cutting wheel and your case.
START YOUR... dremel! I always recommend letting the dremel do all the work. What I mean is, don't force the dremel. Keep the tool at a 90 degree angle to your cutting surface and be mindful of the direction you are cutting. The dremel will feel and react two entirely different ways depending on which way you cut (with the spin of the wheel or against). Do not put a lot of pressure on the wheel as you cut. You will use up a wheel much quicker the more pressure you apply. Like I said, let the dremel do the work. Move just enough to keep the wheel cutting away. BE PATIENT and DO NOT RUSH. Pay attention to your cut line, keep your cutting arm (or both arms) firm, and move your whole body as you cut. Staying in one place to cut a straight line is actually very difficult in my opinion. Keeping my arms firm and moving along the cut line has always yielded me better results.
Congrats, you've successfully modded your case!! Job well done.
But you're not done yet. The last phase of modding is finishing. Cutting leaves some pretty rough edges that need to be taken care of. You can use your dremel with a sanding bit or you can use sand paper. I prefer using sandpaper, I feel I have more control even if it takes longer. I like to start with a coarse grit sandpaper to start smoothing out and removing unwanted paint/material in preparation for painting. I work my way through various grits of sandpaper, usually ending in am extra fine grit to polish off the piece before priming.
Painiting. We were all lucky enough to have PseeCarguy47 do a really comprehenisive paint guide recently that can be found.
That's it. The bulk of the mod is complete. Mount your window, build your rig, and don't forget the most important aspect of all this.
SHOW IT OFF! This is a great site for just that!
Feel free to drop me a line with any questions or add your own feedback on what YOU do to make your awesome case even more awesome!