Planning was relatively straightforward, as most of the dimensions are standardised – it just depends on how much flexibility you want to include. We decided that our station should be able to house the most common of the boards that we play with, namely E-ATX, ATX and Micro-ATX, and allow us to keep all of the wiring inside the perimeter of the ‘body’. The placement of components will dictate many of the decisions along the way, and annoying minor issues (such as IDE and PSU cable lengths) will also have an impact on ‘what can go where’. If you are sourcing specific hardware to emulate this project, the use of SATA peripherals and a modular power supply will make your journey far more enjoyable – if you are building out of upgrade leftovers then your best defence is to stay flexible about construction!
We decided to fabricate as much as possible out of acrylic to minimise the possibility of short-circuits, and only used metal for the expansion card bracket and to screw the four corners together.
After cutting the upper and lower platforms to size, 370 x 480mm, the edges were sanded and smoothed over with sandpaper, finishing off with 600-grit wet’n’dry and Brasso metal polish as the lubricant; this gives a glass-finish once the edges are polished with a soft cloth. The six sections (two upper, four lower) of 26 x 26 square tubing were then cut to length, using a mitre box to ensure that all of the ends were perfectly square. Wrapping the area being cut with masking tape works in two ways; firstly, it makes accurate marking much easier, and it also helps to stop the edges of the acrylic chipping while being cut.
When cutting brittle material such as acrylic there is only one Golden Rule, and that is to take your time and not force anything. Once cut, the tubes were checked for conformity of length, and the ends sanded with a linishing belt.
The next step was to prepare the four feet and sections of threaded rod that will secure the corners of the structure. The feet started life as rubber door-stops, which already had a small ‘fixing’ hole through the center that was slightly countersunk at the base. We took that to the next dimension by drilling a 7mm hole straight through, and then using a 12mm countersinking bit to bore a recess large enough to accommodate a 5/16in Nylock nut.
The sections of 5/8in (7.9mm) threaded rod could now be screwed through the undersized hole in the rubber, and the nuts attached from the underside – we used Nylock nuts as they lock firmly into place, making it unlikely that they will un-screw when doing up the top sections. The rubber feet were then screwed back down over the nuts.
To give the structure some additional strength, we decided that the AC Ryan Constructx BayColumn centre section would be rebated into the upper and lower levels, and glued in place. The Constructx panels are 8mm thick, and we rebated them 3mm into both of the 6mm thick platforms, resulting in 75 per cent more contact surface area being glued together than if we had used a plain butt-joint. The platform panels were grooved with a trimming router and 6mm twin-edged cutting bit, run down one side and then back on the other. To get a perfectly straight cut, a section of aluminium channel was clamped in place as a guide, and the router body slid along firmly against its face (righthand-side of the pic).
We cut the two BayColumn panels to 208mm long with a jigsaw, squared them off with a bench grinder sanding disk, and ground them back to the required length of 206mm for a snug, ‘interference fit’.Secure peripherals
One of the issues that is rarely addressed by this type of equipment is the securing of the peripheral equipment, such as ROMs and power supply (PSU) – which are not usually high turnover items anyway! We decided that it was worth the effort to mount these items, especially the latter, rather than have them sliding all over the shop whenever the Station was moved around.
A section of 25 x 25 x 1.6mm aluminium angle was cut to length, and triangular tabs cut out so that the sides could be bent to 90° internally, forming a three-sided tray. The fourth side was left open, as this is the dimension that varies; as opposed to the DIN-prescribed height and width of ATX units. The tray was then fixed in position to the lower platform, using 1/8in rivets.
Two threaded eyelets were drilled and bolted to the base, on either side of the tray, so that an elasticised strap will hold the PSU into position. Why did we lay it on its side? Simply to avoid blocking off any underside ventilation that may be fitted, while also placing the wiring outlet as close to the top platform as possible.
A 90mm hole was cut in the upper panel for the PSU wiring to pass through, placing it at the upper side of the motherboard position. The PSU could also be reversed so that the wiring exits at the rear, adjacent to the I/O panel.
To keep the BayColumn panels positioned correctly whist the glue dried, two 5.25in devices were screwed in and the assembly adjusted for square. The BayColumn also has two 3mm thread inserts on each panel, so the top platform was drilled and the four anchorage points were used for additional support. The large, black slot-head screws that came with the BayColumn are a double-edged sword – on one side, it is great to have a supplier thinking ahead enough to include screws long enough to pass through the 8mm thick sides, but unfortunately they are only useful with the fine-thread used in ROM’s, not the coarser thread used in HDDs.
Once the glue had set, the bays could be populated properly, with a DVD-RW and two 3.5in SATA hard drives in 5.25in enclosures. The drive enclosures were used for two main reasons, component protection and silence, but the up-side was that we only had to allow for 5.25in bays!