MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS
Random Access   chris, kp & rob
In The Lab
The Quetzal Case Mod, Part 2
by chris

Continued from last month.

The Quetzal case modification is not an experiment or designed to enhance a system, unless you count the thermal and sound insulating effects of the foam and additional layers of the shell. The idea for this project is one of an "arts and crafts" approach to computer case modding, and to point out that you do not need to go all "high-tech" or have extensive experience building computers to do your own case mod. The reasons for modifying a computer case only need to be your own.

Why choose the Raidmax case for this project when I have stripped off or covered up most of the features? The main reason was because of my component selections and my choice to water-cool the case. I could not fit the two Danger Den radiators inside of several other cases I checked out before starting the project. To mount the radiators inside the case, it had to be at least a certain width; several of the cases I examined did not have the extra clearance. Of the ones that did, almost every one had a 120mm fan mounted in the rear of the case as well as the front. I had to have a minimum number of drive bays to mount dual SATA drives in the Danger Den HDD water cooling kit, and still be able to have the top drive bay available for the DVD drive. None of the cases I examined could handle a radiator mounted to the rear 120mm fan either inside, where it was blocked by card slots or system board components, or outside, where it overlapped the rear I/O connections or video slot. For the top-mount radiator, there had to be a minimum clearance between the power supply and the front drive bay where the DVD drive is mounted.

Last month, I outlined the process I used for modifying the side panels, adding a top air duct, and adding a hinged front panel. A metal mesh "hardware cloth" screen was bent to fit over the top of the case, and held in place with a strip of Velcro tape; hot glue over the back of the sticky side of the Velcro tape anchors it firmly to the screen. I covered the inside of the screen around the Velcro with duct tape. The tape creates a barrier when I hot glue foam to the outside of the screen, and at the same time anchors the hot glue through the mesh. I use single-edge razor blades to cut long strips of closed-cell packing foam. Hot glue is run along the sides and the foam is then positioned in place. I'm using up some dark pink hot glue as well as some clear. The darker color is low-temp, and does not melt the foam like high-temp glue does. Once a solid shell of foam is constructed, I can then start to carve away the edges and shape the foam into the final form. Fine detail is not important, since I will be covering the foam with a layer of paper mache.

Pieces of packing foam are hot glued to the mesh. Duct tape keeps the back side clean and smooth.
Openings can be left in the foam, as long as the surface can still provide support for the shell. This is the slippery "plastic" foam that does not soak up water easily.
For paper mache to stick to the foam, the surface must be rough. Any shiny, slick, exposed surfaces are shaved with a razor blade to expose the open cells.
Once the general shape is "roughed" out, start carving with razor blades or hobby knives. Save the larger scraps of foam to fill holes or add detail.
Smaller pieces were cut and glued edge-to-edge to form the radiating "feathers" of the mane.

Borders cut from a thin Styrofoam sheet are glued to the side and front panels. A row of "steps" help disguise the combo flash card reader and floppy drive that extends through the front panel. The DVD drive is located inside the mouth. To create a surface that the paper mache will adhere to, a thin cardboard sheet is hot glued over the Styrofoam.

The time to think about any lighting effects, switches, or other connectors you want to make available through the modified shell is during its rough construction. If you wait to run wires after you start finishing the surface, you may have problems getting the wires concealed or run where you want them to come out. The best solution is to plan wire runs while you are still gluing the foam or add tubing or channels to run wires. For the power switch and reset switch, remember that you do not need to limit yourself to the momentary contact switch buttons that came with the case. As long as your switch is "off" in its normal position, you can use it as a replacement for the typical computer buttons. Playing around with some different styles of buttons, I decided on using a set of generic square-keyboard button style switches, and then hot-glued some additional key caps to the front panel to repeat the pattern. To make the switch caps all the same color, and to fit in with the new case style, the caps have been touched up with a little acrylic paint.

Pictured are an LED-lighted pushbutton, the original front panel buttons from the RaidMax case, a keyboard style switch, and a doorbell switch. Any of these could be used to power-on or reset the computer.

I am using a commercial paper mache product called Celluclay, which is available in a grey (unbleached) or white (bleached) from most hobby and craft stores. To color or tint the material, add some tempera paint to the mixing water. Add the paint and water mixture first then add additional water while mixing until you achieve your desired clay-like consistency. Work the material to break up any lumps or dry spots, and then start spreading small amounts over the foam. Try to keep the thickness down to a quarter inch or less to improve drying. At this thickness, the material should dry almost completely overnight, and be ready for another coat the next day. You can store any mixed Celluclay you have left over in a zip-lock bag for perhaps a day or two, after that you risk it getting moldy. You can build the material up slightly thicker for shaping or work detail into it using standard plastic, wood, or metal clay sculpting tools. Dip them in water and then wipe with a paper towel to remove any mache that dries out on the surface. Once the material is dry, you can drill, carve, sand and paint the surface.

Water-based tempera paint can be added to the water to color-tint the mixture. You can easily paint the paper mache when dry, but this way the color goes clear through, and not just on the surface where cracks or scrapes could show.
Spread the paper mache mixture over the surface of the foam in a thin layer, working it into the cracks and surface of the foam.
The foam head and base are completely covered with the tinted Celluclay mixture and allowed to dry. A thin coating of un-tinted Celluclay whitens the teeth.
Glyphs for the side panels of the case are formed from more Celluclay on a sheet of plastic. Once dry, these will be hot glued to the sides of the case. (These are tinted with brown to vary from the grey of the panels.)

After gluing the glyphs onto the side panels, I installed some LED lighting and effects, and then sealed the paper mache shell with a coat of epoxy. Several coats of spray-on clear coat might work as well, but the epoxy adds some additional rigidity to the surface and binds everything together. (Scrubbing it with a steel brush restores some of the matte finish.) Two large red LEDs are installed in the eyes to signal hard drive activity. Inside the mouth, I installed a single red LED Meteor Light kit that had been removed from its plastic tube and reconfigured into three side-by-side segments. The control circuit for the mouth light and the wiring for the eye lights are embedded in the back side of the head, with a removable cable running into the case for power and the HDD pin connection. Inside the bottom of the side panels, I mounted two of the red LED Meteor Lights with their connections extending out the rear of the panels to connect to a second control circuit. Mutant Mods Red Meteor Light Kits are case lighting kits that use low-voltage LED lights (12 in a tube) with a electronic controller that can generate multiple lighting effects such as sequential fading or blinking.

After all that, here is the final product:

 

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