Random Access   chris, kp & rob
In The Lab
EgyptianMod Case
by chris

The kids are back in school, and it seems the rest of us are back to the "same-old, same-old" once more. I don't really remember the last time I got the cliché assignment to write about my summer break, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy. "Doing what?" you might well ask, and I would have to reply with "Building yet another computer, of course." My project this time around was not one selected for the technology aspect, but one that I wanted to do just for the "artistic" modification phase.

In the QuetzalMod Feathered Serpent project, I suggested that one did not have to use anything other than some simple craft techniques to create a unique, personalized, computer chassis. However, for this project, I applied some of my more specialized jewelry metal-working and lapidary (gemstone cutting and polishing) skills. Add a dash of rough stone working, sixty or seventy pounds of limestone floor tile, and a stuffed dog and I created my EgyptianMod case. Oh yeah, I did add a computer system board and some other components in there somewhere too.

Prepping the Case
Starting with an approach like the Quetzal case, I took a decent five 5.25-bay Nzxt Nemesis gaming case (it was on sale, what can I say...) and promptly stripped the case down to the side panels and frame. As with the other system, I covered the side panel window with steel sheet. In place of the front bezel, I attached lengths of 3/4" square aluminum tubing to extend out beyond the front of the chassis to enclose the drive bays. Two brass plates were cut for front doors and riveted to sections of piano hinge. The lower door fastens with a simple cabinet latch, and covers the front fan opening and provides access for the power switch and LED indicator lights. The upper door covers the five 5.25" drive bays and has a strong magnet glued on the outside; a second magnet glued inside the aluminum tubing creates a hidden magnetic latch. To prepare the case for gluing on the limestone tile, I used a coarse grinding wheel over the top, sides and front doors. With the foundation done, I can also take accurate measurements for the stone tile - time to go shopping!

The tile store suggested using epoxy to attach the tile to metal, but I was concerned about differences in expansion and contraction of the metal and stone, and have seen epoxy shear away from metal under those conditions. Discussing this with them, I asked about silicon adhesive, which would be much more flexible; they agreed this should work fine as long as the surface was rough enough to bond to.

Using a tile saw with a water-cooled diamond blade, I cut 12" limestone tiles down to fit the two side panels. Four sections are positioned to extend past the front of the removable panels, out to the edge of the aluminum tubing. With all of the tiles trimmed and checked for placement, the approximate position of the panel is marked on the back. (Because I know people will ask, I weighed the case with drives and system board in place but before any stone was attached; before weight = 34 pounds.) Silicon tile adhesive is then run over the areas where the tile will mount to the case side panel. The process is repeated for the second side panel, and the glue allowed to cure over night. With the side panels in place, final width measurements for the top and bottom tiles can be taken without guessing,

Before gluing bottom or top tiles, some additional work must be done. My design calls for four pedestal-like feet with a decorative curve to the inside edges at each corner. Small squares of tile are cut and glued together with epoxy. Spring clamps maintain pressure and prevent slipping until the glue sets. Two larger squares are angle-cut then a ground to a curve using a small grinding wheel in a hand drill. Both parts are then glued together and the outer sides are squared up and the joints between the layers are emphasized with a small diamond wheel. A hole-saw was used on the front tile to cut three openings to allow air through the base into the front intake fan. The feet were then glued and clamped in place onto the base tiles with epoxy. Once set, the base tile was attached to the case bottom with silicon.

For the top cap, I wanted a curved edge from the side panel out to a wider flat top surface. Rather than make this completely solid, I took some of the scrap from the trimmed tiles and glued these in a stepped fashion. After setting, I used the tile saw to angle-cut the sides, then a small grinding wheel to make an inside curve along the layered edge. The curved cap was attached to the case with silicon, and then epoxy was used to attach the top tiles to finish off the cap.



Hieroglyph Scenes
With the limestone shell complete, it was time to get creative. Before starting this part of the construction phase, I had sifted through numerous books on Egypt, Egyptian Jewelry, Tutankhamen, hieroglyphics, and did lots of Internet photo searches for inspiration or possible source material. Rather then depicting some static deities just standing or sitting, I decided on a composite hunt scene for one of the panels and a partial recreation of a Tutankhamen chariot scene for the second. For some "authentic" hieroglyphic text, I selected several translated passages from "The Egyptian Book of the Dead" by E. A. Wallis Budge.

The first step was to lay out the figures and scenes in pencil, and to draw grid lines for the hieroglyphs. The hieroglyph text was then copied into the grid, and then details added to the plants, animals and other figures. Using a flexible shaft and a small diamond burr, outlines are cut around the figures, edge lines and text separation lines, and then the hieroglyphs cut. After all the glyphs were carved, then the details of the figures are added next, with some shaping done to emphasize the forms.

Eye of Ra Medallion
Once the carving stage was mostly complete, I could get fancy. First, I cut a round carnelian cabochon to place in the sun circle over the Ra / Horus Hawk. In the pencil sketch, I started with two "eyes" but replaced that with a single larger eye instead. This was to be a medallion crafted from brass and inlaid with malachite (dark green and banded) and verisite (pale green). To make these gemstone medallions, narrow strips of metal are shaped into channels to form the design and soldered together. The assembled channel work is then soldered to a flat sheet and excess metal is trimmed away with a jeweler's saw. Rough gemstone is then cut and ground to fit like a series of jigsaw pieces. Once a group of pieces are cut to shape, they are glued into the channel with epoxy. The surface of the medallion is then ground down flush with the channel, then sanded and polished. If a section is to be carved in low relief (like the scroll) this is either left out of the channel during the grinding phase or carefully avoided and polished out by hand at the end. The finished medallion is placed on the panel and its outline traced in pencil. Last, the limestone is carved to countersink the medallion into the panel for gluing.






A similar process was repeated with the second side panel; sketching, carving, and setting medallions and accents. For the chariot panel, I created two smaller gemstone medallions incorporating icons used to symbolize upper and lower Egypt. I have a vulture wearing the white crown, and a cobra wearing the red crown. In addition to the malachite and verisite, I used turquoise, calcite, lapis, ivory, and coral in the vulture, and lapis lazuli and coral in the cobra. Accents to the side panel include another carnelian sun and a small hammered brass dome positioned in the horses' harness.

The carved detail in the limestone shows up if you have the lighting just right, otherwise it tends to get lost since the coloring is only slightly lighter in shade from the surrounding stone. To antique the appearance and add contrast to the details, acrylic paint is scrubbed over the surface and into the carving with a fine-bristle toothbrush. A damp paper towel is then used to wipe the excess off of the surface, but enough paint is left in the grooves and pores of the limestone to add color and contrast. The paint step can be repeated with additional colors of paint to shade different areas in color, or where too much of the previous paint was wiped off. On this panel, I used dark brown for the hieroglyphs, black on the horses and dogs, and a reddish-brown on the chariot and driver.

The aging process

Differences in tinting

Door Decoration
On the doors I wanted to get really fancy. To start with, I cut a channel around the outside edges and glued alternating square cut malachite, carnelian and lapis cabochons. Short lengths of brass rod were placed between the cabs to add interest to the pattern, adjust the spacing slightly, (and to reduce the total number of stones I would have to cut.)

The inlayed medallions were going to be the focal point for each of the doors, but the lower door also had to somehow integrate some LED lighting and the power switch. By using an all-black plastic push button, and a small piece of jet, I made the power button appear as a cartouche symbol below the scarab. To conceal power and hard drive lights, I chose carnelian and mother-of-pearl, both of which are translucent and would allow light to pass through from the rear. The bezel settings for these would be open on the back, and a hole drilled through the limestone and brass door to mount bright white LEDs.

On the lower door, I recreated a medallion with two dog faced baboons facing a scarab beetle. The three figures are placed on a boat of green malachite; the baboons are positioned with mother-of-pearl (shell) disks symbolizing the moon above their heads, and a carnelian sun disk over the scarab. For additional contrast, I used nickel silver alloy for the moon and scarab and brass for the rest of the channel work. The lapis lazuli for the scarab was rough out, but not set until after the rest of the medallion had been ground and polished flat. Then, the scarab sections were hand carved and polished in place.

The upper door has a medallion recreation of the goddess, Nut, with vulture wings spread. Nut's wings are malachite and lapis; her body is carved lapis lazuli with mother-of-pearl, turquoise and red coral trim by the feet; Nut's hair is carved jet and the face, arms and feet are opal. To provide some additional bling, the two carved hawk-headed sphinx figures have been given a covering of gold leaf.


Stripped-down case






Applying the silicon adhesive









Detail of the pedestal fee

Grinding the edges

The cap before the top is glued on

Pencil sketch layout

Carving the hieroglyphs




Channels soldered

Rough stones are fit into place

A place is cut for
the medallion

Vulture and cobra medallions



Light from the side shows off subtle detail in the carving








Setting cabochons in the front doors

Showing power and hard drive lights

Lower door detail with lights

Nut door detail

The finished case



Product Comments
AOpen i945GTm-VHL Core Solo/Duo 479 ATX Motherboard
This board is one of AOpen's MODT series (Mobile On a Desk-Top), and uses a low-power Mobile Intel Core Solo or Core Duo socket 479 CPU. It also supports up to two 1GB DDR2 SO-DIMM memory modules, so is limited to 2 GB maximum RAM, and shares some of  that with the onboard video. The board does include some support of the new Intel VIIV platform, but only if you are installing Windows XP Media Center Edition. This is not a high-performance gaming system, but could easily work as a solid business or home entertainment solution. One thing I do like about the board is the low-power operation and therefore the minimal amount of heat produced. AOpen included a low-profile CPU heat sink, although this board will take a standard socket 478 style cooler just as easily. The result is a system that runs very cool and quiet, without having to resort to huge heat sinks or water cooling. What I didn't care for was that the floppy and parallel port headers on the board are notebook-style small-pitch headers. This means the pin size is slightly smaller and the spacing is closer together, so you cannot use standard off-the-shelf cables; AOpen does not include a compatible cable or adapter for these devices. I ended up making a floppy cable adapter from a 2.5" to 3" hard drive adapter (works fine), and found an adapter for a Shuttle Computer that connects to the parallel port header (which I have not tested yet.) There are two standard 9-pin serial port headers on the board, so these may be a little easier to come up with adapters for those of you who, like me, still use some legacy devices.

Matrix Orbital MX212 Blue LCD with Black Face
This is a programmable USB panel similar to those used on some Media Center PCs. The software included with the panel allows the user to program the display with personalized messages displays of system settings, diagnostic monitoring, or current activity such as Audio Track or TV Tuner details just for starters. I haven't played with all of the features yet, but it also appears that temperature sensors are available that can connect to several jumpers on the rear, and there are also several fan speed control and monitoring connections as well.

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