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Case Mods: 101
Author: Rob Baumstark       Date: October 26th 2000
Page: 4

The Blowhole.

The first thing I'm going to cover is also the most common and most basic of things you can do. If you don't know what a blowhole is, well you probably shouldn't be considering modding your case. In this case, I'm not going to actually be adding any new fan locations (not yet, that'll be part 2 of this article should I ever write it - the side-panel mods), but I'm going to remove a lot of metal from the existing fan locations on the case to improve the amount of air that passes through them. I also expanded the front fan location to accomodate a 120mm fan instead of the 80mm one that the manufacturer thought would be enough. I'm afraid I didn't get any before/during pictures for this part, so you're going to have to make due with after-images only.

Note: This section assumes you've prepared for modding, and have already done the stuff in the safety section, namely removing EVERYTHING from your case. These are specific blowhole steps, not a list of steps for a complete project. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go back to the beginning of the article and start again, without skipping any pages this time.

Step 1. Decide where you're going to make the holes, and mark out the locations. For me this part was easy, I was cutting where the fans already fit, just opening it up a bit, and my guide was "connect the dots" - cutting around the edge of the outside row of holes punched in the case. I've attempted to illustrate how I did this with the following images. (remember - no before pics. The holes in my case were actually much closer together and made a pretty good line to follow.) For the 120mm hole I was cutting solid metal, so I had to draw a circle on the case to have something to cut by. If you have a grill to put over the fan you can line it up over the fan as in the image below to find a circle the right size for the hole (in this case, I would follow around the inside edge of the outer ring, this is just a sample pic from an extra 80mm fan and grill I had), and be able to just trace it on the case. You can also mark the screw-holes from the grill onto the case as they'll line up with the screw-holes in the fan, so your drilling locations are all marked too. If you don't have a grill for the fan, go get one or you're going to lose a finger or small pet in it once you have it running.

Punched metal like what I was cutting, with a line marked to show how I "connected the dots." Fan grill on a fan to decide which ring on the grill to use to mark the hole.

Step 2. Check and double-check that the fans will fit here. I pretty much skipped this part as I was just removing metal from an existing location, but you have to make sure that your fans have the clearance they need, that the screw-holes line up (if you traced a grill, use the fan to double-check that it didn't shift over a bit while you were drawing), etc. This is the step where you better catch any mistakes you made, cause if you don't you'll be living with them for as long as you have the case. When you're done checking, do it again. Repeat until you feel sure you're not about to do permanent (unwanted) damage to your case, which was usually about 5 times for me. The more expensive your case is, the more time you'll spend on this step.

Step 3. Make a rough cut around the inside of the circle. The Dremel cutting disk can't cut around corners, so you'll end up with a lot of small straight cuts, as shown by the cut-out from my 120mm hole. The goal is to have something like the picture below. You'll notice that even the points of the interior shape don't quite touch the outside "final" circle. This is because it's easy to slip a bit, or miscalculate where the edge of the disk will be when it gets to a good depth. The distance you go with each cut should be about equal to the diameter of your disk (as the disk wears down, you can make smaller cuts and leave less extra material to remove in the next step). A few things will happen as you cut. 1. The disk will get smaller, this is normal. A smaller diameter though means the outside edge of the disk (the cutting part) is moving slower when the Dremel is spinning at the same speed. You should always keep the Dremel at full speed while cutting, so basically as you cut the speed that you can cut at will decrease. 2. The tool gets harder to control. This is also caused by the slower speed, but it deserves mentioning on it's own. Especially when doing very fine work you don't want to be using a small disk. If you think you can still get a decent amount of cutting done with that disk move on to a different area where a small slip won't show as much (eg. the middle of one of these cuts, not the edge where it's against the final cut), or take it off and save it for the beginning of the next step, where there will be a lot of material left to remove still. If you're doing something other than a blow-hole and cutting in a straight line it's still easier I think to repeatedly plunge the disk into the metal, lift it out, and repeat along the length of the cut, rather than trying to keep the disk parallel to the cut while moving it along (more about this later on).

How to make a circle with a tool that only does straight lines.

Step 4. Remove all the material out to the edge of the final circle. I used the cutting disk for this as well, and this is where I wore out most of my disks. You may have better luck with a grinding wheel here, but I found I wore those out just as fast, and the cutting disks are a lot cheaper to replace. I did this by placing the cutting disk perpendicular to the edge of the cut, and pulling it along the edge till I got to the line for the circle. Apply more pressure/make more passes where the material to remove is thicker. Be careful not to press too hard as you could snap the disk (I didn't do this, but I can imagine pieces of it would fly all over, and probably hurt if they hit you). I used 2 methods of cutting this way, shown in these pictures (fake pictures with the tool off on a piece of scrap, but they still show what I was doing well enough). The first method involves sliding the disk back and forth along the edge taking away a very small portion of material on each pass, and is what the guy at the hardware store recommended I do (he actually recommended this over grinding bits/sanding bits, and it worked well). This is also the only way I did any of the work very close to the final edge. This method uses the very outside edge of the disk to remove material. The second method involved either putting the edge of the disk in a hole in the metal (eg. from a existing air-hole) or cutting a small line into the material, and then pulling the disk through the material using the flat bottom of the disk to remove material. This method doesn't produce as nice an edge, but removes material faster than the first method. The Dremel users manual (you have read it right, another safety thing) actually explicitly says NOT to do it this way, and this may be a reason I was using a lot of disks, but in some areas such as where there were many small holes in the metal from the factory for airflow it was impossible to slide the tool along without it falling into these holes all the time. If you are doing it this way be careful not to break the disks as they weren't made to stand up to pressure in this direction. You'll also notice that in both pictures the material is on the left side of the tool. This is because my Dremel (and I'd assume everyone elses, though if yours isn't an "authentic" Dremel it may be different, check it) spins such that on that side the edge of the disk is moving down. This sprays all the sparks away from me and allows me to see what I'm doing. This isn't an excuse not to wear glasses, as the occasional spark stays on the disk all the way around and does come back up at you - thats how I caught my one in the eye.

Method 1 of trimming. Method 2 of trimming.

Step 5. Drill any screw-holes you need. Remember to punch them first (a hammer and nail work well enough for this) so that the drill bit doesn't wander around your case, making a mess and making the screw-holes not line up. If you don't know what I'm talking about, the idea is to make a small dent in the case just big enough so that the tip of the drill will sit in it. Use something sharp and hit it with a hammer in the center of the hole to be drilled. You don't need much more than a scratch, just enough to keep the bit from jumping out and sliding across the metal.

Step 6. Finish off the cut. Basically, just smooth it out. I used a small file to do this, and I can rub my finger around the edges of all my holes with a lot of pressure and am not worried at all about cutting myself. I used the cutting disk on the Dremel like in step 4 to remove the burrs coming out of the bottom of the holes I drilled. If you have the right attachments for the Dremel you should be able to use it for this too, but even by hand it only took me a couple minutes per hole.

That's it. Now all you have to do is screw some fans into the holes and plug them in. I put grills over all my fans on both the inside and outside, just to be sure that I don't get any wires in them or anything. For your enjoyment, here's a few more pics of the finished blowholes.

Inside of front 120mm fan. Inside of top-rear 80mm fan. Outside of top-rear fan.

Go To: [ Previous | Next | Home ] - The Handle and The Wheels.
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Case Mods: 101


Added:  Thursday, October 26, 2000
Reviewer:  Rob Baumstark

Page: 4/7

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