Recently I did a write up on a window kit available from FrozenCPU.com and showed one of the ways that a window is available from various net retailers. Well, Window kits are nice, but some people want to be a bit different, for that, you'd be one of the guys who wanted to install a custom window into your case. This isn't all that difficult a process for someone to go thru, and assuming you have any experience cutting metal with either a jigsaw or dremel, you won't have any trouble with doing this yourself the first time out!
I'm gonna start out with the things you need to know and need to have before you trek out and decide to start doing this project. This is because the worst thing to do is to start a project then have to drop it when your halfway done because you didn't have the means, ability, or skill to handle it.
Skills you need to have:
1) Some creativity! While this may seem stupid, it really isn't. Most people who end up installing a window follow one of 3 designs. They're a square-ish design, a circle, or just as big a sheet of plastic as their side panel will take. There isn't any creativity there, so think outside the box a bit. I realize that not all designs can be unique, but don't add a circle, unless you really like them ;)
2) Common sense. You're going to be cutting a large piece of metal with some pretty powerful hand tools. Don't be stupid. You can lose a finger, hand, or if you're REALLY slick (or unlucky) an eye or your life. The tools do a lot of the work themselves with little force form you behind it. Don't push it.
3) Some Experience. Your computer case is likely an expensive (relatively, anyways) piece of metal to start your metal practicing on. If you haven't don't it before, when you're at the hardware store buy a sheet of 1/16" steel and practice on THAT before you screw up your 60-200$ case.
Those will be the main skills you need to have to do this. There isn't really anything you need to know; other than (yes I'm repeating myself here) power tools can be dangerous. Don't be stupid.
Hardware you need to have:
1) Metal cutting tool. The most common tools for this are either a dremel with cutting discs or a jigsaw and drill combo. The jigsaw and drill would usually be a faster set to use for this, but it is much more difficult to do turns in a cut with it. The dremel would definitely go slower, but you have a lot more ability to be creative with a cut on it.
2) Protection. Not to sound lame, but the Trojan man is right; protection is good. Eyeglasses of some form are a must here, no matter how you do it, you will have some metal flakes flying about, and if you're using the dremel, you may have cutting disc fragments flying about as well. Glasses will keep them out of your eyes, which you really want. The other thing that is pretty useful is a set of relatively tight work gloves. A set of gloves that conforms closely to your hands will give you a better feel for what you're working with, but will still cover your hands to keep metal splinters out of them.
3) Two places to work. You really want 2 places to work on this kind of project, mainly because the plexiglass, lexan, acrylic, or whatever material you happen to be using as a window is generally pretty easy to scratch. You need someplace clean to work once you cut the window.
That's about all you'll need to worry about for the basics of the window. If you cover those bases well enough, you've got the smarts and the tools to do the work. So, if you're brave enough, lets get into the window prep phases!
For those of you with the skill and room for this, the next stop will be the hardware store, most likely. Here's what you're going to need to get, well, assuming you don't have them already. (Along with where I was getting the parts from, you can use that as you would.)
Home Depot run:
Sheet of Lexan
Jigsaw blades/dremel discs
AutoZone (I think, or was another random car parts store)
Chrome Door trim
Radio Shack: (what? RS occasionally is useful)
Uber sticky tape.
(No, they don't sell it online, but its in stores)
That's literally all you'll need for the window. Mind you, some parts have some play in them, like you can swap the tape for a tube of silicone sealant, another useful substance for holding a window in. (If you use that, get clear stuff.) So, the cost of parts here will be between 10 and 25$ depending on what you have already.
Now that you've got all that stuff, lets get to the work ;)
The victim for my demo will be a friend's case. (I don't have any un-modded cases at my place presently.) The victim was his Enlight 7237, a very reasonable mid tower.
The first catch was coming up with a design. I was going to avoid a circle or square, just because. My friend's ideas didn't work for a window, so I came up with something simple, yet a cut I hadn't remembered seeing before. An arch design.
This is probably the most important part of the work, as if you goof up this, your cut will be bad, and you'll generally be SOL for the rest of the life of the case. Things to watch for are the edges of the case (depending on how the case latches on the panel) and leaving enough slack room to put the panel on and take it off without trouble. This is the part you hear about a lot, the "Measure twice, look it over, then measure again. Then think about cutting after one last measurement."
Once you get the measuring done and drawn, its time to get the cutting on. On this case, my first step was to cut out the vents at the bottom of the case, as they are a hard part to cut.
Then I just took my time and cut the rest of the arch out. I used a dremel for it, as that is my preferred modding tool. A jigsaw would have been just as good for this type of cut, though. The final cut out looked like this.
The next step is one some people don't agree with me on. I personally don't think that the plexi inside the case has to be even remotely close to the shape or size of the window cut out. A number, though, think it should. I generally hate working plexi, as it's a pain in the butt to cut. Here's about how I have it look when I cut it out.
Now I took it upstairs, as I didn't want to do anything else with plexi in the area of the cutting, too much stuff to mess up the plexi after I take off the protective cover. The next step, is to apply molding to the window, I picked chrome molding, as shiny stuff is good.
Most molding has glue inside of it already, so you just slide it on the metal and it holds itself on. You just slide it on and it stays put very well. The only part that you need to watch is a corner. You need to cut the molding at an angle to meet so it doesn't look bad when you're done.
Up next is attaching the window to the inside of the case. If you use the tape I suggested 4 spots of it is plenty strong to hold the plexi down. What I used was 3M VHB tape, which can hold almost anything. I cut a number of strips of tape off, and placed them on the inside of the case around the molding, 2 layers thick (to make up for the molding) which held the window on flawlessly. Just push it down for a few seconds, and you've got a securely attached window. (If you're using the silicone sealant here, replace the tape with a good blob of that goop, with the only difference being is you need to wait 24 or 36 hours for it to dry out.)
Then once you've got that done, you can flip your panel back over and see the finished product. I'm pretty sure you won't be upset by the results. (If you took your time and didn't mess up much.)
Well, there you have it, a custom window ready for the looking. While this won't make you a hardcore modder, it does make your box look a bit cooler than it did before. Course, the insides of the case need to look good, too, but that's another article for me, which you'll probably see sometime pretty soon.
Ah, well, enjoy your new window, and I'll catch you guys next time!