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G-Frame - Scratch Build (updated June 30, 2018)

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Ok, so it's time for another personal build.  I love my Shinai, but after a couple of upgrades and a couple of years on my desk, I'm looking for something different.  Lately I've been eyeing the InWin H-Frame, which is a gorgeous design, but for me, it's got a couple of problems.  Number one, it's expensive.  Very expensive.  Number two is the layout, while not bad, it doesn't really suit me or my style.  So taking these two problems into consideration, I figure the only way for me to avoid spending way to much on a case that I would hack to pieces is to start from the ground up with my own H-Frame clone.

Time to jump into Sketch-up and work up a design.



After trying a few different ideas, I settled on a similar look with an even number of blades and a central motherboard tray which lets me mount the video cards on the back side of the tray.  Good for displaying everything and gives a nice symmetry for any water cooling that I want to come up with.  Speaking of water cooling, it's designed with it in mind, but it should also work well on air which would ease upgrades.  So water cooling is still up in the...air.

Next up in the design phase was to figure out what materials I'm using.  I designed it so that the blades are easy to CNC and my first thought was to use aluminum since I've got a fair amount of experience with it.  But that's also a reason to use something other than aluminium, I always like trying something new.

So what's hot right now?  Seems to be glass.  But you can't CNC glass panels....or can you?  Well, you can if it's fiberglass.  And I've never worked with fiberglass so let's start the experimenting.



So I ordered cloth, resin, and catalyst.  That's 30 yards of fiberglass cloth.  The resin is surfboard resin which I thought would work well since it cures clear.

Even though I've got a ton of cloth, I decided to try my hand the first time with a Bondo fiberglass patch kit, just to see how difficult it is to work since fiberglass is usually used to cover another material(boats and surfboards) or to be laid in a mold like a gelcoat bathtub, and I'm wanting to make flat sheets.



The larger piece is four layers of cloth while the narrow piece is 8 layers.  I wanted to see how well the resin worked through the layers, or 'wetted out'.  It was super easy to work with but I am going to have to watch how many layers I try to do at once.

So lets try to make a usable panel. First is to cut out the cloth.



Since most of the middle of panels will be cut out I'm trying to save some glass by using strips for the middle layers and 2' full squares for the outside layers.  

Since this is going to be a messy process and the resin will stick to anything, I had to find something to work on that would let me get the sheet back up.  My first thought was a piece of particle board that I capped with epoxy, but that didn't work very well.  I wound up using the piece of lexan that I originally used to cover my workbench.  The resin eats at it, but it's easy to pop the panels off once they've cured.


For my first try, I added a ton of blue dye and a couple drops of black to the resin to see if I could get a transparent effect going on.


And that came out a bit darker than expected.


And purple.  WTH?

Trial two, a lot less blue dye, and no black.


And that's super transparent.  And still purple?  Oh and great the ends of my strips are picking up the dye(or so I thought).

Trial three.  Screw it, no dye.  Let's just see what that looks like.


Hey the ends are...showing the Sharpie marks from me laying everything out...damn.  and it tints towards green with the resin and glass fibers alone.  Damn.

And that's as far as I got before I ran out of resin.  Next step, try a couple fewer layers(down to 😎 so everything wets out better and that should also leave me enough resin in each batch to cap the top of the panel.  Right now I've got a cool cloth pattern, but I'm really wanting it smooth.


Transparent dyes are apparently not going to work, so I've got some opaque dyes to try, but if all else fails, I've got a nice Viper metallic blue paint picked out.

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Continuing with my experiments in fiberglass, I dropped the layering down to 8 layers of glass and tried out an opaque dye.  Unfortunately, it felt a lot more flimsy than the 10 layer panels I had made so I'm going to stick with 10 layers.  And the dye...meh.  The results were better than the transparent dyes I tried, but it looked like a hunk of blue plastic.  That's just not gonna cut it so Viper blue metallic it is, at least til I change my mind, LOL.

Since I'm going with paint, I'm not bothering to dye the rest of the panels.  I finished the 4th of the "regular" panels up.  And since I'm painting everything, I can use the previously dyed panels.


So what do I mean when I say "regular" panels.  Well, out of the 8 fins or blades or whatever, these 4 don't have any extras or tricks, just cut the overall shape and they're done.  The 2 center panels will have the motherboard tray added to them, and then I've got two left that will get lighting in them.

To pull of the lighting, my plan is to sandwich a piece of acrylic between two thin panels of fiberglass and then I can mount the LEDs in the acrylic and edge light it.  I know I'm explaining it horribly, but there is a plan and it will probably make more sense as I get into it.  But first off, I need to make the panels I'm sandwiching the acrylic between.  To do this, I'm using the same idea for the previous panels and just halving the layers. 


You can see the difference in thickness.


And speaking of LEDs, I wanted to try something a bit more...controllable this time around.  I'm a fan of RGB strips so that I can fine tune the color or even change it up for a different look, but I usually stay away from multi-color and flashing effects.  To me it's too much noise and distracts from the rest of the mod.  BUT, while perusing Adafruit, I came across the FadeCandy controller board for addressable LEDs that really caught my eye.  It's more art project than lighting, which makes sense cause it was developed for a Burning Man project.  Built in dithering with 8 channels that can control up to 64 LEDs per channel over USB.  The videos of it were cool.  I had to try it.

My first test run was a little hit and miss.  I couldn't get some of the examples to work.  The example I did get to work was for a 8x8 grid and not a strip of LEDs like I have, but by wrapping the strip around the arm of a chair, I got the strip to act like a grid and played around with it a bit.  This video is running an example that controls the lighting with your mouse cursor.  It's too bright to really make out a lot of details, but you can see how it shifts the pattern across the LED's.  

I'll be using a strip instead of a grid, so shapes are out the window, but I'm thinking a running effect will look nice and my goal is to get a twinkling effect like stars blinking in and out.  The hurdle now is figuring out how to program it, LOL.

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On 10/8/2017 at 4:39 AM, Defyant said:

Jeeesus man your mods are just plain insane! an another one i got sooooo much reading to do your mods here could keep me entertained for days.

Lol!  Thanks!

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And more fiberglass fun!  I finally got to the final panel!  The last two panels include the motherboard tray, so I couldn't just do strips like the other panels.  These panels are 10 layers of 2x2 sheets.  In order to make sure everything wetted out, I laid them in 2 steps, 5 sheets at a time with a bit of cure time in between. 


And what is left over from the huge roll of glass that I ordered.  Man I went through a lot.


As usual, I figured out the best way to do things on the last panels, LOL.  In retrospect I should have done one more finishing coat on all my panels while I was laying them to get a smooth finish, but I didn't, so now I've got to sand the top layers so I can add this finishing coat.  The sanding isn't only to smooth things out, but there are also 2 very important reasons to sand before this final coat.  First is for the bonding.  Like a lot of paint, once the resin is cured, you can't go back with new resin and get a chemical bond.  You're left going for a physical bond and the sanding gives the new resin something to bite on.  Secondly, I used a surfacing agent to help with the curing.  Resin doesn't like to cure in the air and a surfacing agent is a wax that floats to the top of the surface and forms a barrier between the resin and the air.  Great for curing, but now I've got a waxy barrier between the resin and my new resin.  It's got to go for the best bond.  So, sanding.  Lots of sanding.


Just a heads up, if you've never sanded fiberglass, don't.  It's not fun.  You wind up covered in teeny tiny glass splinters.  And I thought dealing with fiberglass tubs was annoying.

While I was sanding like a mad man, I decided it would be a good idea to also sand the top of my workbench for a new paint job, partially because it needed it, partially cause I needed a good place to sand these panels and I figured I'd tear it up in the process.


Nothing like starting more projects in the middle of projects, LOL!

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Holy feces, it's been over a month.  That dude is crazy Bill!  I like going fast, but man...

Ok, so what's been going on for a month that has made this project just drag to a stop?  Well, the table is done and turned out mostly the way I wanted.


I went with a sanded finish because I'm gonna scratch the hell out of anything gloss and I had a bit of dust kick up in the epoxy coating.  But I like it.

Then PDXLAN.  And then sanding the paint off the floor of my paint room(cause I get that way sometimes).  And finally ordering materials to finish up the fiberglass.  After sanding the panels down, I had to go back over them with another coat of resin to top them off.  Unfortunately, I had run out of resin, but after getting some more in, I was in business.



The topcoat filled in all the pits left from the resin soaking into the cloth.  It also strengthened the panels a bit more and gave me another excuse to sand all the panels again...yay?


The worst part of all this, even worse than sanding 10 fiberglass panels twice, is that I'm not really happy with the results.

Don't get me wrong, they came out all right I guess, but the panels that I'm going to sandwich the acrylic in are super bendy.  Tough as nails, but very bendy.


And the main panels that will have the trays on them came out a little concave.  Maybe a 1/4" from the center to the edge.  This isn't good for milling them or mounting hardware to them.


Although I know how to fix these issues, I don't really want to spend the money or time to try to redo the panels.  For probably the same or less than what it would cost the get these panels right I could just order some sheets of aluminum and throw them on the mill as soon as the arrived.

Needless to say, the aluminum gets here next week.

Which is good because I've got part of the upgrade kit for the X-Carve sitting in the shop.  Soon, the aluminum will be flying.

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On 11/24/2017 at 1:13 PM, Cheapskate said:

Re-design with bendy outer surfaces! Use that flex to have a racy curve in the side panels.

But, but, but...the whole idea is blades.  LOL!  I'm definitely going to be using these panels here and there, they cost too damn much to make not to.

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Design discussion is at an all-time low, so I'm picking on YOU. -Besides, I know words don't exactly get across what's in my head.

layer curve example.jpg

Hope that works... Image embed has given me shit before.

The idea I had is that you can interweave with existing layers and not lose your internal space. The arc of the top and bottom could even be different and controlled by milled/cast edge caps. You could even come up with an internal mounting and do away with external screws.


-breaks up the square box look.

-turns a copy of an existing design into a unique embellishment of said design.

-it will look sexy.


-makes casting the window a challenge.

-coming up with some kind of aluminum U-channel sliding frame to mount it cleanly.

-Boo! extra work!


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I was picturing something similar to this, without the weaving.  Though the weaving does give you a lot of interesting options, maybe even weaving the outside panels together sort of like weaving your fingers together to get a cool spiky effect at the top.  Remember, I have to have something to poke my eyes out on, otherwise it's not a true InsolentGnome creation.

The beauty of fiberglass is that you could make a mold and cast these exactly how you want them.  That's where I screwed up, I should have been making these panels on glass or a solid metal table, but with the Lexan I used, it allowed them to bow the Lexan however they wanted and all the panels have their own curve.  

With that curve, milling them is out the window, but I'm ok with that.  If it wasn't for the precision needed to get everything lined up just right, I'd be doing by hand anyways.  I'd actually rather cut them by hand, it's a ton faster.

What would be really cool and waaaayyy more work is to have all the panels curved out from a central panel.  Like parentheses (((|))) but exaggerating the curve as you move out from the center.  Once again you keep the room on the inside, but give it a really unique look.

Another possibility is to make thinner panels, bend them into a shape an then add some layers of glass.  Would definitely be more of an artistic endeavor but wavy blades could be really cool looking.  I'm gonna have to think about that one, fiberglass sculpture.

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Sounds like I got gears turning. Good. :)

You could use my mill "clamping" for the bowed panels. -Tape and glue. 

As for distortion of the dimensions caused by the bend, You can work those out in the computer model, mill it flat, and it should only require minor tweaking to fit. Non cad model wise, there's poster board to work out dimensions with.

(((|))): Doable. You could mill the needed braces and epoxy to the panels. Odd angle or curved cuts on the edges would make a really neat shape. Organic is tricky, though. Sometimes you need that straight block of wood or metal to dial it back. -Mostly for the contrast.

They don't ALL have to be stabby, do they? :lol: I guess you could curve the top of the aluminum layers upwards at the front to a stabby spire. That gets a curve going on a different axis than the sides. -On second thought, maybe keeping the aluminum blocky looks better, Kinda like a old car radiator.

-one last thought: You could add a deco layer to the outer curves. It doesn't need to be a full panel. (ahh. I'll shut up now. The rest doesn't translate into human-speak.)

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I'm well versed in use of tape to hold parts down.  A tip I picked up from you in the past.  My biggest worry is going between cutting material and open air, though I've never had much trouble with it.

Old car radiator??? Like the 20's when the radiator just hung out in front of everything?  

Ok, I'm lost now, LOL!

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The X-Carve has been upgraded(well, some of the upgrades) and the Aluminum has arrived.




I went with 0.09" 5052 for the stand alone blades and 0.05" for the blades sandwiching the acrylic.  The .09" only winds up being about a quarter mm thicker than the .08" I usually use, but that will give it a bit more strength and visual heft without adding a lot of milling time.  Just an extra pass or two.  I choose 5052 for a couple of reasons.  It supposedly isn't as good for milling as 6061, though I've had no problems with it and it mills like butter for me.  Also, I'm going to have a fair amount of scrap left over, the center of almost every panel, and I wanted something that I would be able to use around the shop for other projects that could possibly involve bending.  So 5052 it was.  

First thing I had to do though was do a little fine tuning on the X-Carve.  The upgrade replace the double gantry beam with a single unit to add stability so I had to line that out.  And when I thought I was ready to start, I realized that all my programs and settings to run everything were on the computer that I just replaced, so I had to download everything and play around a bit to get my feed rate just right.


Now that I got all that figured out, it's time to start running panels.


I did realize I made a bit of a mistake in my design though.  My panels are about the same size as my sheets.  Next time I'm gonna have to make my design a bit smaller.


But for now, I get to sit back and listen to the sounds of a Dewalt router screaming at me.  Yay.

Thanks for following along! :) 

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Skreeeeeeeeeee time. 

I think I was alluding to contrast between the curves of older car fenders and the straight front grills. 

Cutter hang time: Nah, You just need to bump your zero down a bit. It's less cleanup if you only shave the edges of the stock off too. 

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2 hours ago, Cheapskate said:

Skreeeeeeeeeee time. 

I think I was alluding to contrast between the curves of older car fenders and the straight front grills. 

Cutter hang time: Nah, You just need to bump your zero down a bit. It's less cleanup if you only shave the edges of the stock off too. 

Ahh, totally get you on the curves mixed with straight lines now.

Shaving the edges is cool by me, but I went about a mm too far.  I was just watching it work towards the edge, willing it to turn.

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I totally get Ya. You feel like a rockstar when the waste is just a pile of chips, but hearing the bit go silent when you miss sucks:laugh:

Edit: You could use some thin-ass polycarbonate for the side windows. That stuff is hella-flexible. -not sure why I didn't think of that.

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5 hours ago, Cheapskate said:

Edit: You could use some thin-ass polycarbonate for the side windows. That stuff is hella-flexible. -not sure why I didn't think of that.

Hahaha, that's what got me into the curved panel mess in the first place.  I was using a piece of 1/8" lexan that I originally got to cover my worktable to lay them out on.  Very flexible.  

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So milling these panels out is boring.  But I'll go ahead and show off some of what's done and some stuff that has come in for the build.  First off, my acquisitions...spacers.  Lots of spacers.


1/4"-20 x 1" brushed aluminum spacers to be exact.  My plan being to use these with threaded rod to hold everything together so that when you take one panel off, the whole thing doesn't fall apart.  The 1" spacing gives me a similar width as a standard case so it won't be too much of a monstrosity. 

And to finish off the threaded rod, caps to hold the outside acrylic panels on.


They're a bit taller than I'd like and I might look for replacements, but they'll do for now.

This is just a bowl full of money.


I did start to piece what I've got milled together.  Or at least one side of it.  I'm milling pairs towards the center so I've got more done, but I don't want to put pieces on just to take them back off.  That's a lot of threading spacers on, so once I get the center pieces milled I'll be able to get it all together to get a true feel of the size this thing is going to be.  I already know it's going to be huge, roughly 2'x2'x1'.


One change I'm considering as it's going together is softening the corners a bit.  They're pretty harsh angles right now and I'm not sure I like that.  My plan for finishing is a dyed wood veneer(which is coming in today and I'm excited) and I think gentler corners might go better with the feel of the wood.  But we'll see how things progress, especially once all the panels are milled.


Thanks for following along! :)

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And it continues.  I'm hoping to be a little more regular on my updates, I've sort of got out of the habit.

Funny thing, as I was looking at the case when I was piecing some parts together, I started thinking that the corners just looked way off from what I was hoping and was thinking of rounding them off.  Well, I was looking at the case sitting on it's back, duh.  



Sitting right way up, the top corner is much less pronounced so it's not bothering me as much as before.  It's still pretty angular, but at least the profile is better.  I think I can live with this, especially since when it's done, the panels will have slightly different profiles, hopefully adding a bit to the look.

While putting all this together, I did notice that there was a big difference in the thread tolerances of the spacers vs. the threaded rod.  The spacers were more precise, while the rod was all over the place.  I chased the threaded rod with a standard 1/4" steel nut and didn't have any trouble, but the spacers had zero slack for any thread that was a bit off.  To solve this little problem I decided that rather than re-thread 6' of steel rod, re-cutting the threads of the softer aluminum would be easier.  And then things got a bit redneck.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately?, I didn't grab any pictures, but the general idea was stick a spacer in the vise, stick a piece of threaded rod in the drill and may the toughest metal win. 

It was totally going to be the steel that won.  But chasing the rod through the spacers opened up the threads and now I can put it all together nice and easy.  No vice grips necessary.

The only drawback to this method was that some of the spacers wound up with markings from the vise.  Some of the threads were so tight, the spacer actually spun in the vise.  Imagine threading those by hand.  But I needed to get rid of the tooling marks and I just happened to have a drill with a piece of threaded rod chucked up, so...


Instant handheld cordless lathe!  Now all I had to do was run some sandpaper up and down this bad idea and I could clean up all the tooling marks.  I did take it all the way up to 1000 grit and came up with a nice satin-y polished look...


But it fingerprinted like crazy so I went back to an 800 grit which was pretty close to the original finish.

Speaking of fingerprints, I think I would have left them everywhere after getting all the spacers cleaned up.


 I did get some bad news since last post though, my veneer has been delayed...booooo!  Guess something went wrong at the mill and the sheets got messed up.  On the plus side, they can get me a more heavily figured curly maple sooner than they can get the medium figure I ordered and they'll upgrade me for nothing.  Sweet.  I wanted the heavy figure anyway but $$$ led me to order the medium.

As for my plans for this maple...Well, I'm not looking for a light colored finish since I've already done that with the bamboo.  I like it, but I'm looking for something different.  So I also ordered some dye.  A lot of dye actually to try out some different effects.  But the one I'm hoping turns out really well would give me something similar to this(ignore the oak on the bottom right, the other two are pieces of maple I believe)...


I'm thinking that mixed with parts painted in the Viper blue that I used on Rehab...


It's just a crazy thought right now until I get the veneer in and play around with the dye on some scraps.  Then I'll be able to nail down a color that suits the build.  

Thanks for following along! :)

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    There's a thing here. Somehow it moved to the top of the page, but I didn't do it. No, really! But still, Cheaps is likely to blame...
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