Finished: Tinkerbell Case Mod Worklog

I'm almost finished with a computer case mod for my future mother-in-law (how many ever say that?). She had an eMachine that was just a few years old. It died on her a week ago. By some freak accident the power supply's 5VSB started giving way more than 5 volts (more 6) and fried the motherboard. It sucks because the motherboard was completely fine, but the small corner got fried and prevented you from turning it on.

That's OK; this was my chance to add something special to a boring eMachine. She loves the color blue and she loves Tinkerbell, so it seemed obvious what I had to do.

I went shopping:

New PC components
1x 80mm Blue LED case fan
2x Blue cold cathode tubes
1x Sheet of clear cast acrylic
1x 6' length of 1/2" tubing (or some case mod window rim)
1x Roll of 3M Scotch mounting tape
1x Set of "Firefly" molex LEDs (Link)
1x 3' Length of window molding (Link)*

*Alternative: MNPCTech Uchannel window molding (Link) (Use with 3M mounting tape #4041)

I also had to stock up on some cutting discs for my Dremel tool and I used Scotch blue painters tape. I used both the standard and the heavy duty reinforced cutting discs on this project, but I prefer the regular (they cut much faster and cleaner).

My tools:

Dremel tool and accessories (My Dremel)
Safety glasses
Half-round metal file
Large square
Work bench with a clamp
Exacto knife

Here are some before pictures:
How boring, right?

We're going to start by cutting a window into the side panel!

Since this is my first worklog on here I'll cover a few basics. Do not go into a project like this without a clear plan. The blue painter's tape is important. It serves multiple purposes. You'll want to cover the surface you will cutting with painter's tape and use a square (please, use a square) to draw your window onto the tape with pencil.

You can use a template or just free hand it with the square, but make sure it's straight and parallel with the panel. Then you may want to trace your lines in marker to see them better.
Double check those lines and then you're ready to cut.The best part of the painter's tape is when you're finished it peels right off without any residue.

I chose to do a rectangular window with rounded corners. I free-handed the lines and then used a compass to make the rounded corners. The compass was important to ensure each corner was rounded the same. This eMachine panel included an indent as a handle, so I couldn't cut the window into that. The handle ends 3" from the left side and then there's vent holes along the bottom ending about 5" from the bottom. So my window ended up being 3" from the top and left and right sides and 5" from the bottom. I feel it's important for there to be this sort of uniform reasoning for the end product to look as good as it possibly can.

Make sure your window will fit on the back of the panel! Check for anything that will block the window and always give your window at least 1/2", if not more! If you cut your window and find you can't mount your Plexiglas it's no one's fault but your own.

I strapped the panel onto my workbench using the built in clamps (a little Black & Decker cutting/work bench that cranks together to hold wood in place) and started the cuts. Here are some pictures:
The pictures aren't great, but you can see how I used the painter's tape and started my cuts. You'll want to make small grooves about 1/4" long at first. This allows you to follow your lines and get a straight cut. Then you'll go back over them a few times each to complete the cuts. Of course, if you have access to a jigsaw you can use a Dremel to make a start hole and finish with the jigsaw using the Dremel for details and small corners. Otherwise, this is a long process if done correctly.

I started with the reinforced discs, but they were so thick I didn't like how they cut the thick metal of the eMachine case. The reinforced discs are much thicker and last longer, but the regular discs tear through the metal like nobody's business. They're thinner and break easily, but unless you're forcing the Dremel too much or trying to cut at a funny angle they'll last until they wear away.

NOTE: I cut at my Dremel's 10 setting. My Dremel is variable speed and 10 equates to it's max 35,000 RPMs. In retrospect I could have done 4-7 and been better off and not had to recharge my battery half way through. So I'll suggest at least trying 15,000-20,000 RPMs. Go higher if you get impatient or think it's not cutting well. I guarantee I wouldn't have used as many discs as fast as I did (I went through 1 reinforced and 3 regular).

Do not try to force the cutting discs through the metal! Chances are you're only going to waste your disc by either breaking it or wearing it down very quickly. Not to mention if it breaks at the speed you'll be working at (I cut at 35,000 RPMs) you could send those broken discs flying into something or someone. The cutting disc will cut just fine on its own.

Don't throw away those small discs either. When the discs get about the size of a nickel or dime they're fantastic for the rounded corners.

My almost finished product:

This panel turned out great, but it definitely needs some filing and you might notice the cut on the left side (top of the close-up by the handle) looks a little not-so-straight. Thankfully it really is straight as per my square, but the jagged edges make it seem uneven. This is why filing is important. It will remove the jagged, sharp edges that might be present and fixes any imperfections.

You can also use your Dremel tool's sanding/grinding bits, but be careful not to sand too much.

Same goes for the Plexiglas or acrylic you use. You can easily file down any funny cuts if you're a perfectionist (like me).

NOTE: When cutting Plexiglas or acrylic cut slow. Remember, it is plastic and it can melt. A cutting disc spinning at 35,000 RPMs gets hot and can easily just melt the sheet back together. Go with a lower RPM.

Change of Plans:

The project has hit a snag. I managed to cut the 1/2" sprinkler tubing fairly straight and attach it to the window. It looked great, but the radius of the tubing prevented the window from reaching the tape. Admittedly this is not the most elegant solution to begin with, but the tape works wonderfully (the 3M mounting tape #4041 is very strong, but peels off with no residue if you need it to). The catch is this all depends on if you can get a rubber gasket (like the kind used to install a sink) that's small and will fit around the window.

However, every hardware store around here just kept telling me, "They come with the sinks." and they didn't carry any that I could just buy. "Just use caulk." I heard that about 5 times from 5 sales people.

Another option I've seen before would be to buy a length of small wire, cut it open, remove the copper and use that to line the window. This would work well, but I couldn't bring myself to destroy good wiring.

Instead I went for the easy solution: I bought 3' of window molding made specifically for case modding (Link).

An alternative would be to use my first method, but with Uchannel molding from MNPCTech (Link) $2.99 for 6' is by far the cheapest solution. I wish I had remembered to look there before paying for FrozenCPU's solution (they're rather pricey with their merchandise).

This stuff actually lines the panel and holds the window in place; no tape or glue required. This will mean reversing their directions because I already have my window cut. Normally you use the metal washer that comes with this particular kit, place it against your pre-cut window, and trace the window onto your panel with a pencil inside the washer.

NOTE: Technically this is the preferred method. I did things backwards because the panel was from a smaller form factor case and wasn't sheer 100% flat (vents and handle). It just seemed like a smarter way to do it.

For this project I'll place the washer against my panel and trace the new window onto my Plexiglas.

It took some doing to shape the acrylic correctly, but I was able to fit the new window into the rubber molding without much of a problem. It certainly took some pushing and pulling though. This particular rubber lining is designed for more gradual rounded corners and my window was cut much sharper.

I had to trim the locking thread to accommodate for the corners, but it turned out very well.

Here are some pictures of the other completed case sides:

The Tinkerbell and graphics on the side are actually wall stickers I found at Lowes. They're the kind you buy to put on the walls of a kid's room. The others are all Disney 3D scrapbook stickers from Target.

Adding stickers to a case isn't really a revolutionary or interesting mod, but I thought she would really like them.

The case turned out pretty well. There were a few hiccups, but in the end it turned out well.

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