Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Fri 9th Feb, 2007

Wooden computers

When I bought my new laptop recently, I bought a cover for the screen as well. The picture showed an attractive, bright red wood burl finish, but, of course, this was fake. What I got was a dark red / maroon piece of plastic that clips onto the back of the screen.

Now, I do like it. It's different from the regular screen back. But I'm a woodworker. And so I thought I could do better. A piece of plastic pretending to be wood doesn't quite meet my standard. Especially as it doesn't have the figure of wood - the way light reflects in the fibres that gives it the 'shimmer' effect of fiddleback.

Originally I'd thought I'd buy a piece of something decorative, like oak, casuarina, that would also be fairly flexible. I'd then cut it down to size, steam the ends and bend them in a suitable mould, carve in the ridges that attach to the case, and that would be it. But advice from the knowledgeable old men at the ACT Woodcraft Guild suggested this would be still too brittle at 3mm thick and would lose its bend too quickly. However, I could make a ply with a nice veneer back; this would keep its shape and have sufficient strength to hold onto the case. I realised that I could also insert pieces of metal into the ends that would be curled around to clip onto the frame, and they wouldn't splinter or wear.

So, $2 purchased some off-cut pieces of MDF from the Woodcraft Guild. A trip to Capital Veneering showed me a huge variety of decorative veneers. They also have sheets of veener made from strips of Tasmanian Oak in quantity; the veneers and the other ply sheets are 0.6mm thick. This allows me to have a five-ply case cover at just over 3mm thick. The outer layer is the showy veneer, and the rest are laid cross-grain to eachother for maximum strength and minimum expansion due to moisture.

So: shape the MDF into a top and bottom mould for each sheet, and coat it with plastic so that nothing sticks. Lay the sheets down, putting a layer of waterproof glue between each one, inserting the metal retainers where applicable. Finish with the veneer layer, and clamp it down in a large press to dry. Pull it out when it's set, take off any extra bits, sand and polish it, apply a waterproof finish and there we go. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

My ultimate plan is to make these not just for myself but for friends and other interested people. But I'll price it appropriately. The raw materials cost around $30 to $40, but the preparation that I need to go through to make each one will be large, and I imagine I'll need to charge in the vicinity of $100 to make it at all worth while. But that's just a pipe dream: I'll see how the first two (for myself) turn out before I decide to inflict my handiwork on anyone else.

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