Lazyweb, what do you do when you need an enclosure for some random weird-shaped piece of electronics? I want to bolt this thing to the front of my payphone in some drink-proof way.

Please note, I do not own a machine shop or a 3d printer.

I suppose I could try to model a box for it and have that printed, but I think that Shapeways or something like that means a multi-week turnaround time at $30 a pop, which is a slow and expensive way to realize, "oops, it needed to be 1mm deeper". Also I've never modeled something for 3D printing before, and my understanding is that Sketchup, the program I know best, is terrible at it.

So what's the easy way?

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40 Responses:

  1. pagrus says:

    If you feel like pursuing the 3D printing route I think there's one you can use at Noisebridge. Last time I was there was a few months ago though, and anything could have happened in that time. At the very least you can iterate a few times. I also like OpenSCAD for modeling, it makes more sense to me than most of the other options

  2. I'd use the public library if I didn't have a shop or printer. Failing that: LEGO and glue, clay, balsa wood, or something from a local craft store.

  3. Capm Morgan says:

    Drink proof? Find a size appropriate container, rectangle food container or similar. Drill small hole in back for wires. Connect said wires and tape/hot glue up the hole. Fill container with 2-part resin. Require no special tools, you can buy everything you need at TAP down the street. You could also pot you mounting hardware at the same time. I've embedded nuts in resin by filling them with hot glue then melting it after the resin cures, bolts are easier.

  4. bzztbomb says:

    Seems clear casting resin would be fun and might be more bulletproof than a plastic 3d printed thing. This looks like a good starting point:


  5. You've got the right idea with "metal shop". Make up a plan sketch like you would if you were going to 3D print, call up a shop, get an estimate for an enclosure of the dimensions and number of sides you want (and an opening for the screen) and a sheetmetal thickness (1/16" maybe), then send them plans if it looks go. Fiberglass layup is another option technically.

  6. Different Jamie says:

    Wonder down to Techshop (Howard and 5th) and offer some member money to make you a box from sheet metal/wood/PLA, as you prefer.

    I used to have a membership there - people do, in fact, do that.

    • pagrus says:

      This TechShop?

      • Different Jamie says:

        No, this one, I forgot the name changed. Which is actually the same one - same building, same machines, a lot of the same workers. I don't know exactly what happened, but they're still there, new name.

        • pagrus says:

          Oh that's cool. I was kind of following the saga because I never got the chance to sign up and use the waterjet cutter, but there was a long lull in news and I kind of gave up

  7. Jacob says:

    3D modeling and printing is a waste of time and money for this unless you’re already set up for that, which you’re not.

    If you search for Extruded Aluminum Enclosures you might be able to find something that fits reasonably well. Those things are sufficiently tough, relatively cheap, and you can use regular cheap woodworking tools to carve out any openings and holes you need. It’ll look more professional than most other options as well; who doesn’t love black anodized metal?

    Regardless of the actual enclosure you settle on, agree with some other folks here that clear epoxy resin behind / around / inside the thing is the way to drink-proof this thing. It’ll also repair-proof it, but if it somehow does break it won’t because somebody can’t hold a cocktail upright.

  8. nwf says:

    It's not clear to me that it'd fit (the dimensions listed on Amazon seem suspiciously... square?), but something like https://www.adafruit.com/product/905 might be the right idea, assuming you have access to a hand drill and some epoxy, despite not having a machine shop? :)

  9. jon says:

    Have you considered looking for a local 3D printer? Something closer than shapeways but without having to purchase a 3D printer. With that said, great excuse to invest in a 3D printer!

  10. CheshireNoir says:

    There's lots of IP65 sealed bulkheads available from AliExpress :-/
    Several of them have clear fronts.
    Something like this?
    Express shipping should be relatively cheap, but if you can wait until after the christmas rush you'd be able to get it easier.

  11. alex 4pt says:

    your friendly neighbourhood Perspex sheet vendor / signmaker should have a good stock of offcuts to fab an enclosure out of. drink card should cover that. a padlock and latch from a hardware store will keep your patrons out of trouble

  12. Andris says:

    Protocase is a great resource for making custom metal enclosures. Not cheap for a one-off but they have an app to design the enclosure and have pretty fast turnaround.

  13. J. Peterson says:

    Dirty SLA has most of the same issues ShapeWays does, but with one major difference - the prints are very accurate, 0.1mm or better. So if you trust your CAD, you likely won't need multiple iterations.

    Prints from Shapeways & similar services often vary by much larger amounts, making it difficult to fit pieces to other things or even each other.

    Some UPS stores have 3D printers, but the print quality is mediocre, and the pricing is stupid (they seem to charge based on the bounding box, not time or material used).

    Fusion 360 is a great CAD system for 3D prints and CNC. Relatively easy to learn/use. It's available "free" with an unusual "hobbyist" license. Enjoy it before AutoCAD pulls the plug.

  14. grafted says:

    Vacuum press with clear plastic (if all components can handle the stress):
    - Custom enclosure shapes itself - no CAD necessary.
    - Use overhang for mounting holes.
    - You can see the innards. Drunks love innards.
    - Wires can be tricky to externalize, but if you're outsourcing, they'll know how to do it.

  15. Steve Holmes says:

    I generally use standard plastic electronics enclosures:

    Or if it need to be indestructible guitar pedal enclosures:

    I usually drill the holes myself unless its a guitar pedal, then I buy them predrilled and powder coated

  16. jwz says:

    Well, you folks have given me some pointers to places to buy little boxes in a variety of sizes, and that will be helpful in the future. But for this project, I'm kind of doubting that I'm going to find an off-the-shelf box that works, because the size constraints matter.

    The interior has to be no less than 13cm × 3.5cm × 1.7cm, but the exterior needs to be as small as possible on the short edges, say, 4cm × 2.5cm. It can go wider, but it definitely has to be more "candy bar" than "phone case".

  17. Zunk says:

    What does your particular pay phone look like?

    Sounds like you’re looking for quick and easy? No mention of a budget or an aesthetic, just bolt on/easy, functional (able to see LEDs, water or at least spill proof electronics). That it?

    I’d consider laser cutting (visit Noise Bridge there in SF) some thin clear or whatever color acrylic sheet, then using a plastic bending strip heater to fold it into a box shape and bolt it onto the phone box. To do the design, I suggest you mock it up using cardboard and tape, then use that to measure the unfolded dimensions you need to cut the plastic sheet to.

    Cardboard mockups can be useful for rapid prototyping the box no matter what type of enclosure you end up going with. It’s ultra rapid, cheap and after you get something close and figure out which paths asre just bad ideas you can take the cardboard prototype to a fabrication shop or hackespace if you wanna DIY it. Might still require an iteration or two but that’s just the way it is sometimes unless you have a lot of skill or expensive tools.... I digress.

    • jwz says:

      I'm replacing this thing. You can see how little space I have to work with without interfering with the hook.

      • Zunk says:

        Is that a functional, for profit pay phone, or are you planning on mounting electronics inside?

        In my personal experience on those particular LED modules, those generally use knockoff cloned components and typically have shorter lifespans and odd behavior even under nominal conditions. Maxim/Dallas Semiconductor doesn’t make the part anymore or at least not often and so it’s $6-12 usd from reputable sources. so how’s that thing, which needs 4x of them going to sell for a profit on amazon at only $12... So consider you will probably need to re-enter the enclosure to swap out the LED modules. https://octopart.com/max7219cwg%2Bt-maxim+integrated-39731954

        I’d rather spend a few more coin and go with 4x of https://www.adafruit.com/product/3444 and get same resolution but with pretty COLORS! It’s also thinner and I’d suspect a bit more reliable than the knockoff based amazon product.

      • ssl-3 says:

        I see this problem, and all I think of is potting compound.


        Electronics do not get more drinkproof than being encased in a block of epoxy, do they?

    • Zunk says:

      Consider also hobbyist friendly low temperature melting point plastics that go by brands like shape lock instamorph, friendly plastic. You melt it with hot water and mold it by hand. It’s something I often use instead of wasting a shitload of time and $ and brain juice doing CAD and 3D printing bs for a one off plastic part. For example I make mounts to hold weirdly shaped electronic projects together then provide a way to screw to it all to a camera tripod, all using this kinda plastic. Or to replace the plastic feet on some shitty old folding chairs to keep them from scratching a floor. Perfect for every application definitely no. But a potential option for your particular project - possibly...

  18. Jon Plummer says:

    Here's what I would do: stack laser-cut sheets of acrylic to make a very sturdy box that is easy to design and comes in whatever color(s) you like. Glue (chemical weld) the stacked sheets together with Dichloromethane (SCIGRIP 3, for example). You can use step bits or HSS twist drills to make more holes if you need them. This will make a very rigid enclosure with walls as thick as you want wherever it matters.

    Nail the design first by making an easily-modifiable mockup out of stacked sheets of cardboard and rubber cement. You can work it with whatever tools or by hand, rip bits off and glue on more, etc. Once you have it just as you want it, take your dimensions off of that to make the acrylic design.

    I did a project a little while ago where I measured the place my thing was to go, slapped together a design, and sent it off to be cut, only to find that I had small errors that added up to a big mismatch and the parts were unusable. Making a cardboard mock and adjusting it in vivo made my next attempt a success.

    tl;dr: make a prototype out of cheap and easily-workable materials that are dimensionally similar to the final material, then take measurements off of the adjusted prototype to make the final design.

  19. Christoph says:

    First idea would be an off-the-shelf case from a local electronics shop. Cases come in all sizes, shapes and colors, and they can be customized with the usual assortment of hand tools. Failing that, I'd go for sheet material (aluminium, plastics, something) - with some patience and a few tools (and some epoxy/hot glue/CA glue/contact cement/...) something should be possible.

  20. Andy Burton says:

    Against my better judgement, since you did say Shapeways is a non-option, the Shapeways forum has people who will model for you for a reasonable fee. For under $100 each time I've twice been able to work with people to help me design custom, LEGO compatible bricks.

    That said Gregory Merchan's suggestion of LEGO and glue is a good idea. Amazon has some off-brand, LEGO compatible bricks for a much better price point if you go that route. I highly recommend Strictly Briks.

  21. David Konerding says:

    Acrylic and acrylic glue. I built custom boxes and enclosures using edge-joined acrylic all the time. It's nice because you can drill, tap, and cut acrylic using inexpensive tools, and it looks great. Stock is cheap.

    I spent the time to learn openscad, but with acrylic, most of what you need can be done with Illustrator diagram taken to TAP plastic (not far from DNA Lounge) for same-day jobs.

    Personally, I found buying a decent printer (Prusa mk3 $1K) and learning the modelling process was fairly enjoyable but time consuming.

  22. Nfoonf says:

    We use these: they are watertight, acid safe, food safe, bullet proof, crush proof: https://www.rose-systemtechnik.com/en/products/rose-industrial-enclosures-protect-your-electronics/rose-standard-enclosures-in-various-materials/stainless-steel-enclosures/industrial-stainless-steel/
    probably the guys who you want to talk to are the ones that build industrial kitchen and food processing equipment.

  23. NT says:

    I've heard good things about https://www.customaluminumboxes.com/ but have never ordered from them.

  24. TAP Plastics should be able to make you something with relatively vague directions, and their sales folks have a decent idea of what they are able to make. I would expect they could do this in Lexan and make it presentable, if not perhaps milspec.

  25. Marten says:

    Pour it in epoxy? You'll need to construct a container for the resin pour, but that can be cardboard lined with cling film. If it ends up being too large you can the always take a chisel or sandpaper to it to adjust.

  26. jet says:

    Pay a designer. We can't buy drinks and tickets with favors.

    • jwz says:

      Design isn't the problem, manufacturing is.

      • jet says:

        Maybe it's a cost-of-living thing, but the designers I know in greater Pittsburgh also make/fab things. It's how we make prototypes/alphas, we know SolidWorks, have studios, and have access to fab spaces, "real" 3d printers, etc etc. We also drink in bars and know what "drunk-idiot-proof" means thanks to Pitt students after sportsball games.

        Do you know which phone model that is or where I can find dimensions? If we have a similar phone at a hacker space it would be a good portfolio project (for me).