PC case handle mod

Written on: September, 2007.

Adding a handle to a PC case

I decided to add a handle to my gaming PC to make it easier to carry it to a LAN party or even around the house when necessary. I looked online and found some handles sold specifically for PC cases, but they were the kind that would stick out of the case. Then I found something called a "speaker handle". These are not really intended to be installed on a PC, but seat almost perfectly flat on the top surface of the case, so I bought one of those.

This page documents the steps involved in installing this handle. I recommend this as a nice upgrade to your PC. It is not very difficult or expensive. Overall this job took me around 10 hours, spread over a few days, and I spent around $20 in parts.

STEP 1: Parts and tools

The picture above shows the handle, which I bought through Amazon. It also shows the Dremel rotary tool I used to cut the metal case. Not shown, but also needed, are: 10 bolts, nuts, and washers, and the very important safety glasses. I'm still disappointed at Home Depot and Lowes that they do not carry black machine-screw bolts in the size that I needed.

STEP 2: Decide where to position the handle

This is my computer, right after I unplugged all the cables from it, before any work was done to it. It used to have an incongruous Apple sticker on the top of the case, as you can see, but I removed it before the end of the job.

You may have noticed, when carrying a PC with your arms, that the weight distribution of a CPU is not balanced. The typical PC is heavier towards the back (towards the power supply, cards, etc.) and heavier towards the right side (towards the motherboard). When installing any kind of handle it is important to install it aligned with the center of mass of the object it will carry. Having a well balanced handle is important for comfort when you are carrying anything heavy.

Therefore, I had to find out where was the center of mass in terms of the depth and width of the case (distribution of weight along the height is not important when the handle goes on top). To find out the two measures I simply balanced the case twice on top of a piece of wood as the picture above shows. The center of mass is not terribly far from the center of the case in my computer (the two hard drives and DVD player in the front help balance it), but, I think, it is far enough to justify the trouble of this step.

STEP 3: Empty the case and protect it against metal debris

The lengthier steps in this case mod were actually to disassemble the computer, and then, at the end, to put it back together. These steps are unavoidable not only because one needs the room inside the case to maneuver, but also, very importantly, because drilling and cutting the metal will produce very small chips and lots of metal dust, which are to electronics like Kryptonite is to Superman...

After removing cards, motherboard, drives, and power supply, there are still some electronics attached to the case, such as the fans, the case speaker, and the front switches. Because of that, we need to cover the inside of the case as much as possible to protect those parts from the chips and dust and to avoid it getting to the small corners of the case. I used cling wrap and tape as you can see in the pictures.

STEP 4: Mark the place where to cut the sheet metal

The left hand side of the diagram below (copied from Penn-Elcom's web site) shows the exterior dimensions of the handle. The right hand side of the diagram illustrates how the handle is thin on the outside (the flange all around the handle where the 10 holes for the bolts are) and thick on the inside. The flange will sit on the outside of the case against it. The thicker part of the handle will go through a hole cut in the case and will protrude (by almost 9.5 mm) on the inside of the case. That hole we be cut in the next step.

The dimensions of the hole (the dimensions of the handle minus the width of the flange) were hard to measure with precision because the under side of the handle is all made or rounded corners and rounded edges. The technical drawing above is great but tells you absolutely nothing about the interior dimensions of the handle or the width of the flange... I figured out the size of the opening by iterations, cutting an approximate rectangle in a piece of paper and then adjusting it until the inside of the handle fit tightly through it.

As you can see in the picture below, marking the place where to cut the sheet metal was then just a matter of positioning the piece of paper on the top of the case.

The position of the hole is based on the measures of the center of mass (Step 2) and the measures of the handle itself. I could draw the lines on the case itself, but I decided it would be easier to tape the piece of paper to the case and use it as a mask.

Positioning the holes for the bolts comes in a later step and follows a different process.

STEP 5: Cut the metal to fit the handle

Cutting the hole is just a matter of following the paper with the Dremel's circle cutter, as shown in the picture above. This is the step where I had the most fun... Just look at the sparks! I was in Case Mod Heaven.

Below you can see in detail why it is important to cover the inside of the (mostly) empty case.

And this is how the hole looks like after all the cutting is done:

STEP 6: Drill the holes for the bolts

With the handle positioned flat against the top side of the case it is easy to drill the holes for the bolts: just guide the drill bit through the hole in the handle. Each time I drilled a hole, I put a bolt in and tightened it, so the handle would be firmer in place for the next hole to be drilled. Below is how it looks like after all the bolts are in place.

Notice in the picture above how the slots in the heads of the bolts are all aligned parallel to the edge of the handle for a neat look.

After fastening the handle to the case, the only step remaining is to put the motherboard and everything else back inside. The picture below shows the completed job.

Finally it was time to boot up the computer and see if it still worked... It did!

Just carrying the computer around back to the office I could already tell how handy (ah!) this handle is. But its usefulness will be even more apparent when I take the computer to the next LAN party.