Concept Grain PC - Wood Sandwich Style Case, ~7/9L

warmack

Trash Compacter
Original poster
Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
42
46
I've been dreaming about building a PC using wood as the primary element of a case ever since I stumbled across SFFPCs. After looking at some old notes from two years ago and finding one of my first conceptual doodles, I decided to post the project here. I hope this post helps to kick my butt into gear and take the project more seriously, as well as solicit feedback from the folks here.

Yes, I know wood is a silly material to use for a PC case. It is not as strong as metals, it insulates more, is less dimensionally stable. But wood is pretty. My hope is that I can construct the case in such a way to minimize these drawbacks. Worse case, I can look into veneer over a more stable substrate, or even a stabilized wood product and still achieve the look I want.

Current Concepts

Water Cooled Version ~24cm x 11cm x 34cm - 9L
(Custom Loop with 2x92mm rad using Eisbaer LT Solo, no res)

Realistically I don't expect too much interest in this case, but I really wanted to do something WC'd for myself and so this is what I am focusing on first. I really like the idea of having a case that I can pickup with one hand, and the height of the case is less important to me than the footprint. The 2x92mm rad helps keep width and footprint fairly small. The rad I am using, Black Ice Nemesis M184 GTX , is quite thick, but isn't quite as long as the other alternative from Alphacool and that is why I chose it.


Air Cooled Version - ~22cm x 11cm x 27cm ~6.5L


Hardware support for both cases would be similar to the Velka 3 I'd imagine. ITX mobo/GPU, FlexATX PSU etc. In the WC case it might be just long enough fit in a Zotac mini graphics card.

Most of the design work has gone into the the back panel and motherboard tray:

I'm currently planning to use 1/4" aluminum. The thing I like about this design is that it is rigid enough to not require any additional support (hopefully), allowing the length of the case to be as long or short as needed. Connects using a mortise and tenon with a screw and square nut to secure.

Current Challenges:
  • Joining the wood pieces
    • Originally I was thinking I would dovetail the front panel to the top and bottom, but I will probably go with a miter for a clean look. That was I can use a single board and the grain will flow between the wooden pieces. Hence my current name for the PC - Grain PC. The name is a WIP as well...
  • Joining the aluminum back to the wood top and bottom
    • I have dovetails in the design, but this will probably go away as the design matures, I just think it looks cool... but the idea is that the back isn't visible and cutting half blind dovetails like that would be a pain.
    • I am probably going to screw into the wood. Screwing into endgrain like this is not very secure, but I am going to try and tap a hole and then reinforce the threads with super glue. I think this will give the threads strength.
  • Vent design for the top of the case
    • nobody wants to see big holes as seen in the above models
    • I will hog out some of the thickness of the wood on the inside of the panel to reduce the resistance as much as possible.
    • Thinking of an "organic" hole pattern, similar to this:
      table by Kyle Toth
      I am not sold on this idea however. I might just do some straight lines routed out.
  • Side panel design
    • Most likely going to be veneer over MDF
    • Thinking the same pattern as above
    • Also considering aluminum side panels
    • Connected using magnets, will likely rabbet the inside edge so it sits flush. I hope there is space for that...
  • Radiator mount for the top panel
    • I need to make a bracket of some sort to connect the rad. I don't want to have any visible fasteners with the exception of the back panel.
  • Manufacturing the aluminum pieces
    • Original design uses a CNC with a 1/16" bit, but I need to look into other option. I kind of want to build a CNC for this project but financially that is probably not the best choice... I just want to have a CNC in the shop.
  • Wood movement
    • I am hoping that I can use solid wood for the main components. My hope is that selecting straight grain wood I can mitigate most of the wood movement issues but I will have to build one to test. This is also going to vary based on species used. I like walnut and have a lot of it on hand so that is probably going to be the first one built.
Early Design Prototyping

First layout failure:

This is one of my first attempts at a prototype, this design failed because the PSU gets blasted with hot air from the graphics card and the fan ramps up to 100% and sounds like a jet engine. This design also has a bigger footprint that what I am aiming for:

First try with current design:

I did this a few days ago and screwed up the dimensions for the wooden components, using the dims from the case without watercooling... oh well. I also ran into issues getting the miters cut on both side of the board while maintaining the correct dimensions. I was originally trying to cut the board to length, and then put a miter on the edge without removing any additional length, I think this was a mistake

The back panel and tray design work, and even in MDF is quite rigid. I am happy about this.

This is where I am currently at. I've been super busy with stuff at work so I've had to take a break, but I am hoping to pick up the project later in the week.
 

warmack

Trash Compacter
Original poster
Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
42
46
Saving this for future stuff... I see other people do this so thought I would do the same.
 

Tazpr

Master of Cramming
Aug 7, 2018
553
429
As I'm sure you already know - I'm a big fan of wood and all for incorporating it into case design.

On the ventilation front, why not use a fabric material to go for some mixed materials looks?
The concept of an aluminium core with a wooden shell is appealing from an aesthetic standpoint but I think making a case entirely out of wood is less so - wood is a beautiful material and creates a more bespoke and genuinely unique product but if I was to be designing a case out of it I would use it mainly for visual enhancements rather than the dedicated material.

For a one off I see no issue with this, but if you were looking to release a batch of cases I think there'd be a tonne of QC issues most like.

Side note: Do you have any of the necessary tools in your workshop to steam and bend wood plys well?
 

warmack

Trash Compacter
Original poster
Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
42
46
As I'm sure you already know - I'm a big fan of wood and all for incorporating it into case design.

On the ventilation front, why not use a fabric material to go for some mixed materials looks?
The concept of an aluminium core with a wooden shell is appealing from an aesthetic standpoint but I think making a case entirely out of wood is less so - wood is a beautiful material and creates a more bespoke and genuinely unique product but if I was to be designing a case out of it I would use it mainly for visual enhancements rather than the dedicated material.

For a one off I see no issue with this, but if you were looking to release a batch of cases I think there'd be a tonne of QC issues most like.

Side note: Do you have any of the necessary tools in your workshop to steam and bend wood plys well?
Thanks for your thoughts!

Regarding ventilation, I don't personally think I could make a fabric or mesh look good. Do you have any examples you are thinking of? Some pictures might sway me. Something like a formed metal mesh might be okay. I am thinking about the look of a wooden speaker.

The more and more I consider this, I think I might do the bottom panel out of aluminum as well. If I flip the design and put the PSU up top I could exhaust out of the bottom. I know that isn't conducive to natural convection, but I could keep the minimalist look of a solid front and top panel while also making it easier to mount fans/radiator. The main challenge to that is figuring out how I want to join the pieces. I could extend the back panel down and use it for back feet, and then extend the front panel down and use it for feet as well.

As far as production, I imagine this would be very small batches that I make myself and hopefully be able to control QC as much as possible. The fact that every piece of wood is different and can sometimes behave unexpectedly does scare me a lot though. I need to look into wood stabilization techniques, but that would add extra cost to a case I am sure I will already require a lot of time to make.

As far as steam bending, I don't have the tools and I have only done it one time as part of a chair making class. However, for plywood I think it is made through glue lamination rather than steam bending. At least that is what I see at the hobbiest level most frequently. I do have the capabilities to do that on a small scale in my shop, as it is generally done using homemade forms and wood that you resaw into thin veneers on the bandsaw. What are you thinking?
 

Tazpr

Master of Cramming
Aug 7, 2018
553
429
As sar as steam bending, I don't have the tools and I have only done it one time as part of a chair making class. However, for plywood I think it is made through glue lamination rather than steam bending. At least that is what I see at the hobbiest level most frequently. I do have the capabilities to do that on a small scale in my shop, as it is generally done using homemade forms and wood that you resaw into thin veneers on the bandsaw. What are you thinking?
I was thinking of a curved front to top panel, similar to the inwin design from a couple years back:



I feel like for a wood design, it enhances the organic nature of the material greatly.
 

warmack

Trash Compacter
Original poster
Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
42
46
I was thinking of a curved front to top panel, similar to the inwin design from a couple years back:



I feel like for a wood design, it enhances the organic nature of the material greatly.

I like the idea a ton, but it is probably beyond my capabilities with the tools I have, or at least not very feasible. With solid wood mitered together I could maintain the continuity of the grain but the more I round it over the less continuous the grain would match... unless I got funky with the original joint and really planned for the round over.

I've though about how cool something similar would work on the Velka 5 case because it would conceal all of the connectors on the top of the case.

I do like the idea of offsetting the wood from the case a bit. It could allow more airflow and protect the wood from quite as much heat.
 

Tazpr

Master of Cramming
Aug 7, 2018
553
429
Fair enough - I genuinely have no idea how hard a lot of wood working stuff is!

Continual cover for the Velka 5 is a cool idea though!

Having the panels sit off from the case could allow you to have uninterrupted wood front to top which I think would be perfect given the goal of the project.
 

Shipright

Caliper Novice
Jan 30, 2020
24
19
I am glad to see another wood build! I am doing one myself and am looking a marine coatings around high air flow areas like fan cutouts. My only concern with wood is humidity in such areas.
 
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warmack

Trash Compacter
Original poster
Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
42
46
I am glad to see another wood build! I am doing one myself and am looking a marine coatings around high air flow areas like fan cutouts. My only concern with wood is humidity in such areas.

I'd love to see your design if you are willing to share!

I was looking into stabilization resins and vacuum chambers yesterday. Are you just looking to apply a marine epoxy over the wood at your vents, or are you thinking about a penetrating epoxy/other stabilizer?

I just need to make something and test it out to see how it performs. Wither proper attention to the grain of the wood, I think (or hope..) the movement of the wood can be mitigated enough by the design that it is a non-issue.
 

Carlbanan

Minimal Tinkerer
New User
Jul 15, 2019
3
2
I have also been thinking about making a wooden case for a while.

The hardest part for me is to decide how to make the joints in the base design. I've been thinking about making the case as two U's with one of them detachable (if someone understands how I mean). With that design, I would probably use box joints, and make a radius on the outside. If you go on Youtube and search for "rounded box joint", you'll find a clip by Mattias Wandel who is a very skilled woodworker. I like the look of it, but my bandsaw is to small to handle the inside radius cut.

Right now I'm more into making a sandwich core of alu profiles and just attach the wooden side panels to the core. Have to think about how to handle the corners.

To make mitre joints all arund and to be able to remove panels is something I wouldn't recomend. Every litle wood movement or miss alignment would be very visible.

To make the side panels, I'm thinking of just use a router to make some sort of slitz pattern, or if I find some sort of pre made speaker grill. I have looked at wooden ventilation grills for inspiration.

Anyway, this looks like a really interesting topic and I look forward to see more of how it goes.

/Calle
 
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warmack

Trash Compacter
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Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
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To make mitre joints all arund and to be able to remove panels is something I wouldn't recomend. Every litle wood movement or miss alignment would be very visible.

To make the side panels, I'm thinking of just use a router to make some sort of slitz pattern, or if I find some sort of pre made speaker grill. I have looked at wooden ventilation grills for inspiration.

My current thinking is that I will only have two wood panels: top and front. (I need to update my CAD models.) They will attach to the case with some sort of routed recess and screws. I might look into barrel/dowel nuts if screws prove too weak. They will attach to each other with a miter/loose tenon, though I've also though about dovetails. I think dovetails look nice to woodworkers, but to other folk they are less appealing and too busy. Most SFFPCs seems adhere to a minimalist aesthetic so my thought is to emulate that with a simple miter. Though obviously if I am making these cases by hand the joint could be customized easily. With the miter joint using two pieces of wood that come from the exact same board and have continuous grain, I think any wood movement differences will be minimal, especially if I select quartered or rift sawn lumber.

For the side panels I am thinking of doing something simple for now, though obviously it would be cool to do something more organic like the leopard design Kyle Toth is known for. Maybe once I get a CNC I can do more complex patterns.
 

Carlbanan

Minimal Tinkerer
New User
Jul 15, 2019
3
2
My current thinking is that I will only have two wood panels: top and front. (I need to update my CAD models.) They will attach to the case with some sort of routed recess and screws. I might look into barrel/dowel nuts if screws prove too weak. They will attach to each other with a miter/loose tenon, though I've also though about dovetails. I think dovetails look nice to woodworkers, but to other folk they are less appealing and too busy. Most SFFPCs seems adhere to a minimalist aesthetic so my thought is to emulate that with a simple miter. Though obviously if I am making these cases by hand the joint could be customized easily. With the miter joint using two pieces of wood that come from the exact same board and have continuous grain, I think any wood movement differences will be minimal, especially if I select quartered or rift sawn lumber.

For the side panels I am thinking of doing something simple for now, though obviously it would be cool to do something more organic like the leopard design Kyle Toth is known for. Maybe once I get a CNC I can do more complex patterns.

Ok, if the top and front will be put together as "one piece", a mitre joint might work. You might want to consider using some sort of domino tool for the alignment and to prevent movement.

May I ask why you prefer a dovetail instead of a boxjoint or a fingerjoint? Both of the latter is easier to make, all you need is a tablesaw and flat tooth blade.

I would also consider making the side panels in wood too, maybe a different typ? I´m thinking of making something out of walnut and maple, maybe as all four sides of walnut with details in maple.

Another thought I´ve had, is to have loose wood panels inserted in a steel/alu framwork. Would probably look ok with some sort of steel/alu CNC;ed fan covers inserted in the wood panels...
 

warmack

Trash Compacter
Original poster
Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
42
46
Ok, if the top and front will be put together as "one piece", a mitre joint might work. You might want to consider using some sort of domino tool for the alignment and to prevent movement.

May I ask why you prefer a dovetail instead of a boxjoint or a fingerjoint? Both of the latter is easier to make, all you need is a tablesaw and flat tooth blade.

I would also consider making the side panels in wood too, maybe a different typ? I´m thinking of making something out of walnut and maple, maybe as all four sides of walnut with details in maple.

Another thought I´ve had, is to have loose wood panels inserted in a steel/alu framwork. Would probably look ok with some sort of steel/alu CNC;ed fan covers inserted in the wood panels...

Dovetail is just because I like the look better and I like idea of having some hand cut dovetails on the front of the piece.

For the side panels I am thinking wood veneer over MDF, held in place by some magnets.

As far as mixing woods. I think that would have to be a customization on a case by case basis. I think mixed woods, much like visible dovetails, is something that woodworkers like more than non-woodworkers. I have been thinking about the idea of doing a cracked piece of lumber that has been stabilized with some butterfly dutchmans along the board. It would look cool (to me at least) and allow for a little airflow in the case. Through the crack.

Wood inserts into a structural metal frame is a cool idea. You would get the frame and be able to customize the wood and the airflow/vent pattern how you wanted. It could also provide a nice place to mount fans from behind so you don't have any visible fasteners. You could just hold them in place with magnets and then wood movement isn't really an issue as long as the boards don't cup too bad.
 

Rom29292

Cable Smoosher
May 28, 2017
12
3
Hello, have you already carried out thermal bench tests with your Black Ice Nemesis M184 GTX?
I have the cool alpha 2x80 that I just re-tested on an i7 9700K with the stock parameters of my motherboard (Turbo boost activate) temperature 95 degrees against 83 with a 120 mm 30 fpi, I'm curious :) just for participate in your project here is a wooden Mod that inspired me https://pcpartpicker.com/b/477WGX
 

warmack

Trash Compacter
Original poster
Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
42
46
Hello, have you already carried out thermal bench tests with your Black Ice Nemesis M184 GTX?
I have the cool alpha 2x80 that I just re-tested on an i7 9700K with the stock parameters of my motherboard (Turbo boost activate) temperature 95 degrees against 83 with a 120 mm 30 fpi, I'm curious :) just for participate in your project here is a wooden Mod that inspired me https://pcpartpicker.com/b/477WGX
Yeah I love that build. I saw it a few weeks back and it is one reason I wanted to post my work here and progress my project further.

Regarding the little radiator. I went from a Noctua NH-L9i to this rad with the Eisbaer LT Solo pump and my temps dropped at least 15 degrees. I am still running an i5-4690k, delided OC'd tp 4.3 @ 1.2V (I think that is where I landed). Switching to the loop dropped my thermals ~20C during stress tests and I hope has given me a little more room for overclocking. I am trying to make this CPU last as long as I can before I switch to a modern processor :D
 
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warmack

Trash Compacter
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Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
42
46
Sunday Update

I redid a lot of the original CAD in Fusion 360 and made some of the design modifications I was thinking about. I also played around with the render functionality and whipped up this render of the updated design:


Changes:
  1. Flipping the orientation of the PSU (from bottom to top) and the radiator (from top to bottom)
  2. Changing the bottom material from wood to aluminum
  3. Added mounting and air intake features for 184mm radiator in bottom panel
  4. Adding feet to the bottom of the back panel and the bottom of the front panel to allow airflow into the case
  5. Increased front and top wood thickness from 1/2 to 3/4" to make it easier to use a loose tenon on the miter joint

Some Next Steps:
  1. Mock up in MDF
  2. Try to reduce width as much as possible
  3. Design side panels
  4. Design vents in top wood panel? Thinking of making some cutouts on the sides of the top panel to allow for some venting out the top.
Challenges:
  1. A little concerned about airflow, current plan is intake in from the bottom through the rad, intake from the GPU, exhaust through the PSU and passive venting out through the side panel.
  2. Stability of wood continues to be a concern but I will just have to test it out on some wood with a simple finish like Danish oil and see how it goes. I've looked into some stabilization options like penetrating epoxies and vacuum infused resins.
  3. Manufacturing of the aluminum pieces is still up in the air. Might do some small batch CNC and use it as an excuse to build a CNC router, but I should probably just outsource and get laser cut.
Thanks everyone for the input so far! I am really excited to see where this design ends up.
 
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warmack

Trash Compacter
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Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
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A couple more renders with a simple vented side panel and various materials/colors:



 
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Shipright

Caliper Novice
Jan 30, 2020
24
19
I'd love to see your design if you are willing to share!

I was looking into stabilization resins and vacuum chambers yesterday. Are you just looking to apply a marine epoxy over the wood at your vents, or are you thinking about a penetrating epoxy/other stabilizer?

I just need to make something and test it out to see how it performs. Wither proper attention to the grain of the wood, I think (or hope..) the movement of the wood can be mitigated enough by the design that it is a non-issue.

Just a surface coat. My intake forces air over an edge of a panel and I am worried that constant flow might impact the wood there. It's primarily in a spot not visible from the exterior so I can be pretty robust with what I chose. Like you said I really just need to do some testing because of its all assumptions on my part now.

Here is my thread if you want to take a look.

 

warmack

Trash Compacter
Original poster
Warmack Woodworks
Nov 4, 2018
42
46
Well it has been a busy start to the year. I switched jobs at the end of February and haven't had a ton of time to work on the PC case. I did use the job switch as an excuse to buy and build a CNC, which helped me make some nicer looking MDF pieces for the prototype than I would have been able to do by hand. Here is the first functional prototype:


Album with a few more pics can be found here

Total volume is around 9.8L with external dimensions of 25x11x35.5 cm (LxWxH). I could shave off a little volume if I really wanted to, but at the current dimensions I could eventually fit a card like the Zotac 2070 super mini in here, and I like that option...

I'm still not sure what I want to do for the sides, but for now I'm using this as it with open sides. I'm interested to see how @robbee 's fabric vents work out with the Mosquito, because I that could be a cool option.
 

Shipright

Caliper Novice
Jan 30, 2020
24
19
Looks good. Nice grain continuity from the front to the top.

i didn’t see a picture of the Bach, but did you fabricate to pci slot mounts or buy them somewhere ant attach them? My solution right now is to go all wood but that will require some 90 degree drilling than I can’t make very precisely right now.