DIY 5U Case Questions

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DIY 5U Case Questions

Post by MrNezumi » Sun Jan 28, 2018 11:58 am

I'm in the process of designing a basic single-row case that my neighbor will build for me. It will hold a mix of MOTM and MU modules. I built a crude case many years ago, but it is gone now and the modules are sitting in a box waiting to see sunlight again. I'm aware of the differences between MOTM and MU sizes/hole spacing. I've read a bunch of older threads, but still have a few questions.

I will likely use wood rails, but I am considering using 1/2" aluminum angle(iron). I don't see the diy aluminum rails used often; are they difficult to use? And for wood rails - is there a recommended thickness? I will likely use bolts/nuts (instead of screws). I am thinking of using 1/2" square wood rails.

I want to recess the rails about 3/4" so that the knobs won't hit the table if it tips over. I'm wondering if there is any concern about the end modules which are next to the side walls. I don't have fat fingers, but I wonder if the outermost knobs will be difficult to access.

I noticed that a lot of cabinets have a thin strip of wood showing at the tops and bottoms of the modules. All the modules (both MU and MOTM) seem to be a few thousandths of an inch shy of 8.75". Is the a reason to leave space at the top and bottom? I imagine a few thousand thousandths would be good, but is more needed?

And any other comments/advice is welcome. Thanks.

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Re: DIY 5U Case Questions

Post by cornutt » Sun Jan 28, 2018 8:38 pm

MrNezumi wrote:I'm in the process of designing a basic single-row case that my neighbor will build for me. It will hold a mix of MOTM and MU modules.... I will likely use wood rails, but I am considering using 1/2" aluminum angle(iron). I don't see the diy aluminum rails used often; are they difficult to use? And for wood rails - is there a recommended thickness? I will likely use bolts/nuts (instead of screws). I am thinking of using 1/2" square wood rails.
Is there still a source for the dual-drilled rails for mixed MOTM and MU? I haven't seen any in a while. If you are going to DIY aluminum rails, then yes, you will want to use nuts and bolts, to save yourself the trouble of having to tap and thread a million screw holes.

However, I just went through building a case, and I used wood rails. I made them out of pine (easy to drill), 1-1/4" deep. That gives pretty good stiffness, and there's enough meat to the rail that splintering isn't a problem. Wherever I put a module, I pre-drill holes using a 3/32 bit, and then mount with 1/2" long #8 wood screws. I built my rack so that I can replace the rails when they get chewed up, but I don't move modules around that often, so they should last a while.
I want to recess the rails about 3/4" so that the knobs won't hit the table if it tips over. I'm wondering if there is any concern about the end modules which are next to the side walls. I don't have fat fingers, but I wonder if the outermost knobs will be difficult to access.
If you're going to do that, only extend the top and bottom edges; leave the left and right edges flush with the panels. This way, you won't have a problem accessing jacks of MU modules that have jacks three-wide across the panel, when such a module is mounted at the end. I'm not really sure it's worth the trouble. If you think about it, it's only a benefit when nothing is plugged in -- when cables are plugged in, if the case tips forward, it will fall on the cable plug ends. A better idea might be to mount two horizontal strips of wood onto the bottom of the case, and have them stick out ahead of the case about six inches. That will make it a lot harder for the case to tip forwards.
I noticed that a lot of cabinets have a thin strip of wood showing at the tops and bottoms of the modules. All the modules (both MU and MOTM) seem to be a few thousandths of an inch shy of 8.75". Is the a reason to leave space at the top and bottom? I imagine a few thousand thousandths would be good, but is more needed?
I've found that, while a lot of MU modules are about 1/16" short, SSL modules (to name one) conform to the Dotcom-published dimensions exactly. I occasionally have to file small notches in a rail to get an SSL module to fit.
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Post by MrNezumi » Mon Jan 29, 2018 10:34 am

Thanks for your input, Cornutt. I know the case is more likely to tip over when there are cables plugged in, but, for me, recessing the modules still feels like the right thing to do. I hadn't thought about the triple-jack MU modules, so that gives me something to think about. I don't have any yet, but a few are on my radar.

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Post by Flareless » Mon Jan 29, 2018 2:42 pm

@Cornutt - Do you find that the pine gets screw-stripped often? I too used pine for my rails and while it's great to work with I've had a couple of instances where screw holes have stripped from repeated use. I don't torque the screws down like a mad bastard either, just gentle turns.

In fact, this afternoon I plan to fix a stripped out hole that developed late last week during a module shift.

I'd be interested to try a tougher wood that could take a bit more screwing.
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Post by bwhittington » Mon Jan 29, 2018 3:54 pm

I've always recessed my rails on all sides in my DIY cases and haven't experienced any problems with turning the knobs. The issue had actually never even occurred to me until now. Honestly, it isn't much of a tipping precaution. The case is unlikely to fall onto a perfectly flat surface, so you are pretty likely to damage something if it falls. Just make the cases deep enough to be stable and its own weight will keep it stable. This stuff gets pretty heavy! A C-clamp to the back of your table or the like would be the better precaution, but you don't hear a lot about falling cases. I actually did have one of my own tip over once, but I make them way too narrow. Still have a broken switch from it, despite the recessed rails.

Another reason to recess the rails is for transit or storage. A design where the cases can stack or stand together can be useful as you expand. The next time I make cases, I want the rails to be slightly deeper than the knobs and to add a slight lip to the back of the cases so that they can mate for stacking horizontally. Just a thought.

I don't quite understand the nuts and bolts approach unless the bolts are going to be adhered to the rails. Otherwise, it sounds hard to mount/unmount. I'm pretty sure I've used 5/8" hardwood squares and something that was deeper, the edge of a 1xWhatever.or something. Depending on how wide your rows are, you can experience some give in smaller wood rails without additional support. I never had an issue at 10-wide but at 17-wide definitely.

Depending on how "pro" you need this to look, you may not need to worry much about small tolerances. Firstly, it seems hard to calculate, but the mm differences seem to work out okay. When my rails have been a little narrow for modules, it has always worked out since the rails to flex a little or you can kind of dig the flanged edges into the wood a bit if need be. I'm a little loosey goosey with that stuff though. If you are totally OCD, you might have a different point of view, but those are things I only notice when they first happen. Once a case is full, I only see the pretty modules.

You may also find a subtle difference in the gaps between modules on rows with only larger modules and rows with lots of single modules because of the width tolerances.

Rich, I do use high torque (electric driver), and I haven't had many issues with repairing screw holes (probably 2 or 3 over 10 years), so perhaps a harder wood would help.

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Post by MrNezumi » Mon Jan 29, 2018 10:29 pm

Bwhittington, thanks for your comments.

I used nuts/bolts in my old case and while I suppose it is a little more involved than screws, it isn't a problem for me. My system is rather small, it is easy to move around, and I don't move modules around much. The rails on the last case were oak and the holes were drilled ever so slightly larger than the bolt diameters. I used a nut driver to reach into the back of the case.

The tipping of the case is only a small concern. I think mainly I like the look of recessed modules/knobs. I have a big clunky MOTM-900 power module which will be mounted on the back of a fairly deep case and should supply counter-weight as well as electricity.

I doubt my case will look very pro, but I hope it looks nice. I don't have any woodworking tools or a place to do that kind of stuff, so I asked my handyman neighbor/friend to build the case for me. He is more acquainted with building wood decks than "furniture", but I'm hoping he can do a decent job.

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Post by cornutt » Tue Jan 30, 2018 11:06 pm

Flareless wrote:@Cornutt - Do you find that the pine gets screw-stripped often?
After a while, yeah. In the past I've tried filling them with various fillers. Wood putty isn't strong enough to take a thread. J-B Weld seems to work the best, but it's very messy to apply, and you have to remove adjacent modules to keep it from getting on them. Next time, I might try using one of those two-part putty epoxies that are made for emergency plumbing repairs.

I'm not aware of what might be a good "in between" wood that's readily available. Cedar and basswood aren't any stronger than pine, from what I've seen. Oak and maple are too hard and cutting and drilling them is a PITA. I wonder if it's possible to obtain a piece of LVL composite that's smaller than a 4x12 beam.

When I built my new case, I designed it so that when the rack rails get really chewed up, I can replace them. However, since I don't move stuff around that much, I imagine it will be a while before I have to resort to that.
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Post by coyoteous » Wed Jan 31, 2018 12:24 am

Maybe a nice Larch, Shedua or Parana?

(actually, I'd never heard of those and many others which you can find on a Janka table... which I didn't know about, either)

I've thought about building wood cases, but have a substantial investment in Dotcom and Analog Craftsman rack frames, and Moon Modular sub-racks and a Moon P-Cab.

I keep toying with the idea, though... thinking of at least some alternative wooden or wood/metal 19" racks for the frames and sub-racks (currently using homebrew open-frame semi-server-style 'racks' that are all metal, and various racks I've purchased, commissioned or been given over the years).

Good info here, thanks.
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Post by bwhittington » Wed Jan 31, 2018 1:15 am

cornutt wrote:In the past I've tried filling them with various fillers. Wood putty isn't strong enough to take a thread. J-B Weld seems to work the best, but it's very messy to apply, and you have to remove adjacent modules to keep it from getting on them. Next time, I might try using one of those two-part putty epoxies that are made for emergency plumbing repairs.
You need something more dense than putty. Toothpicks and wood glue work very well. :tu:

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Post by Flareless » Wed Jan 31, 2018 7:12 am

I dip the thin end of a chopstick in a tiny bit of wood glue, insert it into the stripped hole as far as it will go, clip it flush with a side-cutter, then screw into the effectively solid piece of wood . So far it's worked great even if the screw is removed and replaced (several times).
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Post by J3RK » Wed Jan 31, 2018 2:04 pm

Ash works pretty well in my experience. I typically use metal rails, but Ash feels more solid than Pine, but with a somewhat similar aesthetic, and still pretty easy to work with. It might make decent rails if you're going with wood there.

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Post by Bowman » Wed Jan 31, 2018 2:55 pm

Flareless wrote:I dip the thin end of a chopstick in a tiny bit of wood glue, insert it into the stripped hole as far as it will go, clip it flush with a side-cutter, then screw into the effectively solid piece of wood . So far it's worked great even if the screw is removed and replaced (several times).
Rich, you are overthinking it. Like BWhittington says, wood glue and toothpicks work great. The toothpick wood is crushed into the rail wood and the glue fuses them both together. Once dried, they will hold screws going in and out repeatedly. (Until you have to do it again.)

On the other hand, being anal about these things is good too. That's why your module builds are so nice! :hihi:
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Re: DIY 5U Case Questions

Post by Mark11Audio » Wed Jan 31, 2018 6:53 pm

MrNezumi wrote:I'm in the process of designing a basic single-row case that my neighbor will build for me. It will hold a mix of MOTM and MU modules. I built a crude case many years ago, but it is gone now and the modules are sitting in a box waiting to see sunlight again. I'm aware of the differences between MOTM and MU sizes/hole spacing. I've read a bunch of older threads, but still have a few questions.

I will likely use wood rails, but I am considering using 1/2" aluminum angle(iron). I don't see the diy aluminum rails used often; are they difficult to use? And for wood rails - is there a recommended thickness? I will likely use bolts/nuts (instead of screws). I am thinking of using 1/2" square wood rails.

I want to recess the rails about 3/4" so that the knobs won't hit the table if it tips over. I'm wondering if there is any concern about the end modules which are next to the side walls. I don't have fat fingers, but I wonder if the outermost knobs will be difficult to access.

I noticed that a lot of cabinets have a thin strip of wood showing at the tops and bottoms of the modules. All the modules (both MU and MOTM) seem to be a few thousandths of an inch shy of 8.75". Is the a reason to leave space at the top and bottom? I imagine a few thousand thousandths would be good, but is more needed?

And any other comments/advice is welcome. Thanks.
I still have a very large stack of STG Rails that I am no longer using... they are "pre-tapped" and are for a DYI Case 10U wide, I even have a few of the "double rails" for a single piece of steel between an upper and lower set of modules... I have tried in the past to sell them on BST, but it is kind of a specialized item that people have to want... so just tossing that out there. I have black button head hex screws that would come with the rails as well... they make for a nice clean unobtrusive finished look.... :tu:

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Post by coyoteous » Wed Jan 31, 2018 6:57 pm

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Post by MrNezumi » Wed Jan 31, 2018 8:30 pm

Mark11Audio, thanks for the kind offer, but I'm going to pass. Today I was talking with my friend who will be building the case for me and he said he could do the rails in wood and that he had some ideas on what to use to make it inexpensive and durable.

Thanks to everyone for your comments.

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Post by ranix » Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:05 am

what's the story behind that mark11audio? Did you reuse the cases?

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Post by Mark11Audio » Thu Feb 01, 2018 5:27 pm

ranix wrote:what's the story behind that mark11audio? Did you reuse the cases?
I did re-use the cases, but I had to tear them apart first and rebuild them as I was building a smaller system overall.

After talking with my cabinet guy, we decide to go with the traditional wood cleats for mounting.

We've already been talking about making some single cases out of nice studio finished type woods... Birch, Walnut, Red Oak, Cherry, Purple Heart... so then I'd just sell finished 10U wide cabinets... but just an idea for now...

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Post by hamildad » Fri Apr 27, 2018 10:57 am

just a quick question here which seems to fit this thread.

Is there any reason why 5U cases seem to be standard sizes?

I can understand legacy sizes, such as Model 15 cases.

but the cases sold seem to be 11,22,44 (2x22) (DOTCOM)

and up to 10 ( Moon Modular)

thinking about DIYing a case and 11 seems to small and 20 seems too big, so wondered about making a 13wide case.

just wondered if these sizes correlated to power supply boards or anything else I might have overlooked.
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Post by Gizmo » Fri Apr 27, 2018 11:14 am

Roger has instructions for DIY 10-, 16- and 21-wide cabinets based on the length of laminate shelving stock.
https://synthesizers.com/diycabinet.html

I built 2 of 2-high/16-wide cabinets, each powered by a dotcom QPS-1, but just a bit of a stretch for the QDH-20 with 20 power headers (I added to them). Still, works nicely for my purposes.

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Post by Huba-Swift » Fri Apr 27, 2018 11:58 am

I just finished making a spruce cabinet for a friend of mine getting into modular. While the cabinet is spruce, for the rails I made sure to use a hardwood. Right now I have two of my own cabinets, one is mahogany, and has only ever had one stripped hole, the other one is pine, and about half the holes have been stripped over time. If you decide to go with a wood cabinet, definitely use hardwood at least for the rails.

I was looking at the datasheet for Thonk's eurorack rails, and they are .291" wide, apposed to the .375" width of MU/MOTM rails. I wonder if that would be close enough to use the eurorack sliding nut rail system to alight both MU and MOTM modules seamlessly in the same case.

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Post by Flareless » Fri Apr 27, 2018 12:02 pm

Huba-Swift wrote:...decide to go with a wood cabinet, definitely use hardwood at least for the rails.
Yes, yes, yes!!!

What he said :tu:
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Post by burdij » Fri Apr 27, 2018 12:23 pm

Huba-Swift wrote: I was looking at the datasheet for Thonk's eurorack rails, and they are .291" wide, apposed to the .375" width of MU/MOTM rails. I wonder if that would be close enough to use the eurorack sliding nut rail system to alight both MU and MOTM modules seamlessly in the same case.
That may work but these might be better and they are 10mm wide (0.393 in.) :

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Post by MrNezumi » Fri Apr 27, 2018 12:32 pm

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I started this thread and here are some pics of the results. Other than using common sense, I don’t think there are any rules. My cabinet has a mix of (mostly) MOTM and MU. If it were strictly one or the other it would be roughly 17 MU spaces or 21 MOTM.

I used white ash for my rails, but unlike most I drilled holes and used bolts to mount the modules. Since it isn’t very big I can easily move it away from the wall to reach inside to add/subtract/relocate modules

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Post by Huba-Swift » Fri Apr 27, 2018 6:05 pm

Great looking cabinet Nezumi! I love the contrasting side panels. :tu:
burdij wrote:
Huba-Swift wrote: I was looking at the datasheet for Thonk's eurorack rails, and they are .291" wide, apposed to the .375" width of MU/MOTM rails. I wonder if that would be close enough to use the eurorack sliding nut rail system to alight both MU and MOTM modules seamlessly in the same case.
That may work but these might be better and they are 10mm wide (0.393 in.) :

MicroRAX

or

MakerBeam
Perfect!!! If I ever end up expanding my setup, I'm going to go this route with all my cabinets! I'm sure it would be possible to cut or sand a tiny bit off from either side to get it at exactly 3/8". Thanks for the links Burdij. The only problem I'm seeing is that the T-slot nuts are quite wide. They look like they might bump into each other if you tried to mount two MOTM modules side by side
https://www.makerbeam.com/makerbeam-t-s ... m-25p.html

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Post by MrNezumi » Fri Apr 27, 2018 8:27 pm

Huba-Swift wrote:Great looking cabinet Nezumi! I love the contrasting side panels. :tu:
burdij wrote:
Huba-Swift wrote: I was looking at the datasheet for Thonk's eurorack rails, and they are .291" wide, apposed to the .375" width of MU/MOTM rails. I wonder if that would be close enough to use the eurorack sliding nut rail system to alight both MU and MOTM modules seamlessly in the same case.
That may work but these might be better and they are 10mm wide (0.393 in.) :

MicroRAX

or

MakerBeam
Perfect!!! If I ever end up expanding my setup, I'm going to go this route with all my cabinets! I'm sure it would be possible to cut or sand a tiny bit off from either side to get it at exactly 3/8". Thanks for the links Burdij. The only problem I'm seeing is that the T-slot nuts are quite wide. They look like they might bump into each other if you tried to mount two MOTM modules side by side
https://www.makerbeam.com/makerbeam-t-s ... m-25p.html
Thanks Huba-Swift! The side panels are made of Wenge wood, which is a huge pain in the ass to work with. I had to alter the design slightly halfway through building it, but I'm pleased with how it came out.

About the T-slot rails - I have minimal experience with them, but I think there could be trouble using them for a mixed format case. They would solve the width problem, but I'm not sure how well they would handle the difference in mounting hole height. The MU holes are much closer to the (bottom/top) edge than the MOTM ones are.

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