September 24, 2010

How to build a plastic box for a small project


I needed a small box to house some electronic boards for a remotely controlled projection screen project I'm building. The GuruPlug computer I'm using for the project has WiFi on board but no external antenna. A metal box would severely limit the radio waves, if not shield them completely, so I decided to go with a plastic box instead.

I couldn't find any plastic boxes that would fit my project, so I decided to build my own. Luckily there is a TAP Plastics store right in downtown Mountain View, and they carry a large selection of plastics. On their web site they have a lot of videos showing what can be done with plastics.

It turns out you can build a box using acrylic panels very easily. Acrylic is very easy to cut holes into and you can glue the panels of the box almost as easily as you can glue paper. Check out this video showing how.

Below is the finished plastic box. If you don't have the machines at home to cut the panels to length, you can have TAP Plastics cut the pieces for you. I just got a bunch of scrap plastic panels they had on sale for $1 a piece, cut them on my table saw, drilled the holes using a Dremel, and glued them together. The total cost for the box below was $2 (excluding the tools and the time used to build it :)

Pictures that document the building process of the box can be found in this Picasa album.

Here are few tips when building your own box:

  • Draw a diagram of how everything fits together and make sure you take into account all dimensions, including the thickness of the panels.
  • Measure everything using the metric system, the inches are too coarse grained to achieve a good precision.
  • Before glueing make sure the pieces fit the way they're supposed to.
  • Use eye and ear protection. Drilled plastic flies around and it's really hot, you don't want this nasty stuff to get into your eyes. The Dremel is loud and I prefer to maintain my hearing to listen to music.
  • When cutting with a Dremel the right attachments will make your life a lot easier.
    If you don't already own a Dremel, this Dremel kit has the basic tool plus a lot of goodies that you'll find useful later on.
    The circle cutter attachment for cutting circles. If you have the Dremel kit above, this accessory is included in it.
    The Dremel router attachement for cutting straight lines. The circle cutter attachment above has a little metal piece that allows you to cut straight lines with it as well. The router attachment however is much easier to move in a straight line while you push on it.
  • Here are additional accessories I found very handy when building the box.
    When gluing panels together at a 90° it's a lot easier to align and hold if you use an adjustable clamp like this.
    If you cut the plastic yourself on a table saw, get a high quality blade for cutting plastic. With this blade I didn't need to route the edges of the plastic pieces I cut prior to gluing.
Posted by ovidiu at September 24, 2010 08:56 AM |
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