The kids are back in school, and it seems the rest of us are back to the "same-old, same-old" once more. I don't really remember the last time I got that cliché assignment to write about the summer break, but that doesn't mean I have not been busy. "Doing what?" you might well ask, and I would have to reply with "Building yet another computer, of course." My project this time was not one selected for the technology aspect, but one I wanted to do just for the "artistic" modification phase.


In the QuetzalMod Feathered Serpent case, I suggested that one did not have to use anything other than some simple craft techniques to create a unique, personalized, computer chassis. However, for this project, I applied some of my more specialized jewelry metal-working and lapidary (gemstone cutting and polishing) skills. Add a dash of rough stone working, sixty or seventy pounds of limestone floor tile, and a stuffed dog and I created my EgyptianMod case. Oh yeah, I did add a computer system board and some other components in there somewhere too.


Starting with an approach like the Quetzal case, I took a decent five 5.25-bay Nzxt Nemesis gaming case (it was on sale, what can I say...) and promptly stripped the case down to the side panels and frame. As with the other system, I covered the side panel window with steel sheet. In place of the front bezel, I attached lengths of 3/4 inch square aluminum tubing to extend out beyond the front of the chassis to enclose the drive bays. Two brass plates were cut for front doors and riveted to sections of piano hinge. The lower door fastens with a simple cabinet latch, and covers the front fan opening and provides access for the power switch and LED indicator lights. The upper door covers the five 5.25 inch drive bays and has a strong magnet glued on the outside; a second magnet glued inside the aluminum tubing creates a hidden magnetic latch.


The tile store suggested using epoxy to attach the tile to metal, but I was concerned about differences in expansion and contraction of the metal and stone, and have seen epoxy shear away from metal under those conditions. Discussing this with them, I asked about silicon adhesive, which would be much more flexible; they agreed this should work fine as long as the surface was rough enough to bond to. To prepare the case for the limestone tile, I used a coarse grinding wheel over the top, sides and front doors.


Using a wet diamond blade tile saw, 12" limestone tiles were trimmed down to fit the two side panels, and extend past the front edge, out to the edge of the aluminum tubing. With all of the tiles trimmed and checked for placement, the extended edges are marked on the backs. Silicon tile adhesive is then run over the areas where the tile mounts to the case side panel. The process is repeated for the second side panel, and the glue allowed to cure over night. With the side panels in place, accurate width measurements for the top and bottom tiles can be taken without guessing, (Because I just know people will ask, I weighed the case with drives and system board in place but before any stone was attached; before weight = 34 pounds.)


Before gluing bottom or top tiles, some additional work must be done. My design calls for four pedestal like feet at the lower corners, with a decorative curve to the inside edges. Small squares of tile are cut and glued together with epoxy. Spring clamps maintain pressure and prevent slipping until the glue sets. Two squares are angle-cut then a ground to a curve using a small grinding wheel in a hand drill. Two smaller square-cut sections are glued to the curved piece. Once set, the outside square sides are evened up and the joints emphasized with a small diamond wheel. A hole-saw was used on the front tile to cut three openings to allow air through the base into the front intake fan. The feet are glued and clamped in place on to the base tiles with epoxy. Once set, the base tile was attached to the case bottom with silicon. Once the limestone shell is complete, then finishing details like protective felt cloth on the feet can be added. At this point, there would be a definite risk of contamination from stone or metal filings.


For the top cap, I want a curved edge from the side panel out to a wider flat top surface. Rather than make this completely solid, I took some of the trimmed edge strips from the sides and bottom and glued these in a stepped fashion. After setting, I used the tile saw to angle-cut the sides, then a small grinding wheel to make the inside curve along the layered edge. The curved cap was attached to the case with silicon, then epoxy used to attach the top tiles to the cap piece.

With the limestone shell complete, it was time to get creative. Before starting this part of the construction phase, I had sifted through numerous books on Egypt, Egyptian Jewelry, Tutankhamen, hieroglyphics, and did lots of Internet photo searches for inspiration or possible source material. Rather then depicting some static deities just standing or sitting, I ultimately decided on a composite hunt scene for one of the panels and a partial recreation of a Tutankhamen chariot scene for the other. For some "authentic" hieroglyphic text, I selected several translated passages from "The Egyptian Book of the Dead" by E. A. Wallis Budge.


The first step is to pencil in the figures and scenes and to draw grid lines for the hieroglyphs. The hieroglyph text detail is copied into the grid, and then the detail added to the plants, animals and other figures. Using a flexible shaft and a small diamond burr, outlines are cut around the figures, then the separation and edge lines cut, and then the hieroglyphs cut. After all the glyphs were carved, then the details of the figures are added next, with some shaping done to emphasize the forms.

Pencil sketch layout

Carving the hieroglyphs

Once the carving stage was mostly complete, I started to get fancy. First, I cut a round carnelian cabochon to place in the sun circle over the Ra / Horus Hawk. In the pencil sketch, I started with two "eyes" but replaced that with a single larger one instead. This was not going to be carved into the panel; it would be a medallion crafted from brass and inlaid with malachite (dark green and banded) and verisite (pale green). To make these gemstone medallions, narrow strips of metal are shaped into channels to form the design and soldered together. The assembled channel work is then soldered to a flat sheet then excess metal trimmed away using shears and a jeweler's saw. Rough gemstone is then cut and ground to fit like a series of jigsaw pieces. Once all or a group of pieces are cut to shape, they are glued into the channel with epoxy. The surface of the medallion is then ground down flush with the channel, then sanded and polished. If a section is to be carved in low relief (like the scroll) this is either left out of the channel during the grinding phase or carefully avoided and polished by hand at the end. The finished medallion is placed on the panel and the outline traced in pencil. Last, the limestone is carved to countersink the medallion into the panel for gluing.

A similar process was repeated with the other side panel; sketching, carving, and setting medallions and accents. On the chariot panel, I created two smaller gemstone medallions incorporating some of the icons used to symbolize upper and lower Egypt. I have a vulture wearing the white crown, and a cobra wearing the red crown. In addition to the malachite and verisite, I used turquoise, calcite, lapis, ivory, and coral in the vulture, and lapis lazuli and coral in the cobra. Accents include another carnelian sun and a small hammered brass dome above the horses.


The carved detail in the limestone shows up if you have the lighting just right, otherwise it tends to get lost since the coloring is only slightly lighter in shade from the surrounding stone. To antique the appearance and add contrast to the detail, acrylic paint is scrubbed over the surface and into the carving with a fine-bristle toothbrush. A damp paper towel is then used to wipe the excess off of the surface, but enough paint is left in the grooves and pores of the limestone to add color and contrast. The paint step can be repeated with additional colors of paint to shade different areas in color, or where too much of the previous paint was wiped off. On this panel, I used dark brown for the hieroglyphs, black on the horses and dogs, and a sienna red-brown on the chariot and driver.



Door Decoration
On the doors I wanted to get really fancy. To start with, I cut a channel around the outside edges and glued alternating square cut malachite, carnelian and lapis cabochons. Short lengths of brass rod were placed between the cabs to add interest to the pattern, adjust the spacing slightly, (and to reduce the total number of stones I would have to cut.)

The inlayed medallions were going to be the focal point for each of the doors, but the lower door also had to somehow integrate some LED lighting and the power switch. By using an all-black plastic push button, and a small piece of jet, I made the power button appear as a cartouche symbol below the scarab. To conceal power and hard drive lights, I chose carnelian and mother-of-pearl, both of which are translucent and would allow light to pass through from the rear. The bezel settings for these would be open on the back, and a hole drilled through the limestone and brass door to mount bright white LEDs.

On the lower door, I recreated a medallion with two dog faced baboons facing a scarab beetle. The three figures are placed on a boat of green malachite; the baboons are positioned with mother-of-pearl (shell) disks symbolizing the moon above their heads, and a carnelian sun disk over the scarab. For additional contrast, I used nickel silver alloy for the moon and scarab and brass for the rest of the channel work. The lapis lazuli for the scarab was rough out, but not set until after the rest of the medallion had been ground and polished flat. Then, the scarab sections were hand carved and polished in place.

The upper door has a medallion recreation of the goddess, Nut, with vulture wings spread. Nut's wings are malachite and lapis; her body is carved lapis lazuli with mother-of-pearl, turquoise and red coral trim by the feet; Nut's hair is carved jet and the face, arms and feet are opal. To provide some additional bling, the two carved hawk-headed sphinx figures have been given a covering of gold leaf.


Setting cabochons in the front doors


Holes for power and HDD lights



Lower door detail with lights

Nut door detail



Product comments:

AOpen i945GTm-VHL Core Solo/Duo 479 ATX Motherboard This board is part of AOpen's MODT series (Mobile On a Desk-Top), and uses a low-power Mobile Intel Core Solo or Core Duo socket 479 CPU. It also uses up to two 1GB DDR2 SO-DIMM memory modules, so is limited to only 2 GB maximum RAM, and shares some of  that with the onboard video. The board does include some support of the new Intel VIIV platform, but only if you are installing Windows XP Media Center Edition. One thing I do like about the board is the low-power operation and therefore low-heat production that results. AOpen included a low-profile CPU heat sink, although this board will take a standard socket 478 style cooler just as easily. The result is a system that runs very cool and quiet, without having to resort to huge heat sinks or water cooling. What I didn't care for was that the floppy and parallel port headers on the board are notebook-style small-pitch headers. This means the pin size is slightly smaller and the spacing is closer together, so you cannot use standard off-the-shelf cables; AOpen does not include a compatible cable or adapter for these devices. I ended up making a floppy cable adapter from a 2.5" to 3" hard drive adapter (works fine), and found an adapter for a Shuttle Computer that connects to the parallel port header (which I have not tested yet.) There are two standard 9-pin serial port headers on the board, so these may be a little easier to come up with adapters for those of you who, like me, still use some legacy devices.


Matrix Orbital MX212 Blue LCD with Black Face
This is a programmable USB panel similar to those used on some Media Center PCs. The software included with the panel allows the user to program the display with personalized messages displays of system settings, diagnostic monitoring, or current activity such as Audio Track or TV Tuner details just for starters. I haven't played with all of the features yet, but it also appears that temperature sensors are available that can connect to several jumpers on the rear, and there are also several fan speed control and monitoring connections as well.

Hieroglyph Details (click for large images):

Side Panel Hieroglyph translation