case mod 101: cutting a freestyle, low-profile window

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If you haven’t got a lot of confidence, you may want to cut from the back side of your panel. It’s quite easy to go a little astray when you are freehand cutting with a rotary tool. If you stray inside the cutout lines, no problem. But if you stray outside, you can mar the part of the panel you intend to leave behind. For this reason, cutting should be completed before you paint. It’s tough to avoid mistakes, but they can be minimised, and in our paint prep we can even go as far as repairing damage if need be. Small mistakes like this will disappear under a paint job, but you can use molding to cover bigger ones.

mistakes happen. practice your cutting technique to avoid this

Because we’ll be prepping and painting this panel (and the rest of the case), fitting a window inside the panel needs to wait. But it’s not difficult at all. Cut a piece of acrylic (clear, or tinted) to fit the window opening, and mount it to the backside of your panel. Popular options include double-sided tape, epoxy, and silicone caulk. I favor the silicone because it gives a flush fit, holds well and allows you to remove the window later if you need to. Rivets or screws work great too, but you’ll need to drill for them. We’ll use silicone to keep a low-profile, clean look that continues the theme we established with our handles and stealth blowhole in the top panel.

admiring our handiwork
cutting is complete, but we’re going to be painting this beige boy

genuine Dremel versus the imitators

Dremel makes the original handheld rotary tool, but there are a number of lower cost alternatives. Most of these use the same bits, and many of them offer the same speed range as a Dremel tool. Fundamentally, there’s not a lot of difference in the basic operation of the tool. However, if accessories and attachments are your thing, you’ll not do better than with a genuine Dremel. A quick look at the Dremel website should convince you that the broadest range of accessories is available for the genuine Dremel tool. But cost-conscious modders can make do with the alternatives. Try to get a tool that has variable speed, and by all means avoid the cordless units. Most any corded, variable-speed rotary tool will perform as well as a Dremel for general case modding use.

Dremel Don’ts, or, how to know when you’re doing it wrong

+ Don’t apply much pressure on the bit. You’ll shatter a cutoff wheel, and you’ll damage the bearings on the tool.
+ Don’t try to cut through the material in one pass. Use several passes to make a groove that gets slightly deeper each time.
+ Don’t move the bit in the direction of rotation. Rotary tool bits are likely to catch the workpiece, skip, and damage your finish.
+ Don’t run the tool continuously. Give yourself and the tool a break after 10-15 minutes of cutting.
+ Don’t let the workpiece slow the bit down. Let the speed do the work, and lighten your touch until you hear the motor spin back up toward speed.
+ Don’t use a ground-down cutoff wheel. Change out your wheel for a full sized one, and you’ll get better speed and more effective cutting action. Keep the small ones around for details and corner work though.

There’s more than one way to cut a window

You don’t have to use a Dremel tool for cutting windows. Jigsaws work great, and many people get windows cut by machinists using expensive tools like water jets or lasers. If you need an intricate design, and you don’t mind producing a CAD drawing of it, having a window cut by a machinist gives great results. But face it, seeing those sparks flying while you buzz away at your panel with a Dremel is a reward unto itself. And you can take serious pride in doing the work yourself–that’s the best part of case modding.

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