Your electronics will thank you

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Blog entry by Kenshu posted 10-25-2010 03:12 PM 1618 reads 1 time favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have been reading blogs for a couple of years now and even though I work in I.T. and am an Internet savvy individual I have never made a blog post. I don’t know why I suppose I just didn’t feel I had much to offer that wasn’t already being covered by someone else who probably knew more than I did. Now you may be wondering what the title of this post has to do with my lack of experience in blogging so I will try not to ramble and get to the point.

One of my many hobbies includes building custom computers. From basic bare bones systems to high end water cooled gaming rigs I’ve built them all. Whether your working on a gaming rig or laptop the biggest problem you have to contend with has nothing to do with the components themselves. The number one problem I ran into was heat dissipation. I spend more time tucking away cables, designing optimal air flows, and making modifications to the case for more efficient cooling than I do actually assembling the rest of the computer.

Now you may be asking yourself what this has to do with woodworking and to be fair computer design has little to do with woodworking well it all centers on the word design. Ever look at computer desks or for that matter entertainment centers at your local furniture store? Most of them are made to tuck electronics out of sight in a cabinet often times behind a door made of wood or glass. The problem is that the people who design these pieces rarely take into consideration just how much heat a computer, surround sound tuner, video game system or any combination of home electronics generates. If they do consider it typically a small hole or slot may be left open in the back with the idea that this is sufficient for heat dissipation. Today’s electronics generate a fair amount of heat and in the case of some electronics we are talking about the equivalent of a blow dryer. Would you turn on a blow dryer and stick it in a drawer? Not likely, so why shorten the life span of your expensive electronics by suffocating them.

Fortunately as woodworkers we have the option of designing our furniture with airflow in mind. So how do we do this you may ask? When I would design a new computer rig I liked to draw air from the front of case and dissipate it out the back and/or top. Most computer and electronics manufacturers do the same and we can take advantage of that by leaving space in front, above, and behind our electronics for
adequate ventilation. At least 2 inches on each side, top , and front plus at least three behind the component is a good start. This space is needed to allow air to flow around the electronics it won’t actually do so if you do not give it a place to draw air in and to exhaust it out. In order to draw air in you need to leave ventilation openings in the doors or drawer faces. Make them a design feature instead of just simple holes. For added benefit fit them with an air filter to help keep dust out of your equipment. For exhausting the hot air try to leave openings where your electronics naturally exhaust anyway.

If you want to be certain that you are getting good airflow you can do what I do and that is to add some exhaust fans to the rear of the cabinet. This technique can also be used to help address problems in existing cabinets. Items you will need are two to four computer fans, a 12 volt DC adapter, and I highly recommend an autoswitching surge protector. For cabinet fans I like to use 120mm quiet fans with vibration dampeners. My favorite is the Scythe Gentle Typhoon 120mm Case Fan with a fan dampener and filter. To power the fans I wired them in parallel to an inexpensive 12 volt DC power adapter I picked up a Radio Shack. You can find how to's on You tube for wiring up the fans. . Using a surge protector with autoswitching allows you to plug your fan into a switched outlet that is controlled by another component. For instance if you plug the tuner into the control outlet and the fan(s) into a switched outlet when you turn on the tuner the fans will start up turn off the tuner and the fans will turn off. Locate the fans so that will give the best air flow throughout the case. How many you need depends upon the design of the piece. Whether you want to draw fresh air into the case or hot air out will be a matter of experimentation. I put an electronic thermometer inside the opening while electronics are running and experiment to find the best way.

Hopefully someone finds value in this post and I apologize for any rambling!

-- The second mouse gets the cheese.

6 comments so far

View Robb's profile


660 posts in 4473 days

#1 posted 10-25-2010 03:27 PM

Neat blog, definitely an overlooked aspect of the design process for anything that’s meant to house electronics. Thanks for the reminder and insights!

-- Robb

View Bluepine38's profile


3387 posts in 3624 days

#2 posted 10-25-2010 03:48 PM

Very well written blog and good advice, I have my electronics on open shelves with 1/2” rod supporting them
so there is plenty of air flow. One thing I have noticed is that a lot of people put the computer tower out of
the way right on the floor. Lots of airflow and lots of dust. Just raising it up 6” will help get it out of most
of the dust. Hopefully your blog will help some of us enjoy our electronics for a little longer without repair.

Gus, the 71 yr young laborer, trying to become a carpenters apprentice.

-- As ever, Gus-the 80 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Kenshu's profile


27 posts in 3907 days

#3 posted 10-25-2010 03:57 PM

Those “cubby hole” style desks are exactly why I wrote this. I can’t tell you the number of times I was asked by friends and acquaintences to look at their computer that would not run and found the cause to be a blown capacitor in the power supply. Almost always when I checked where they were setup it was in desk with one of thos cubby holes. Opening up the back will help a lot but adding some fans will help even more. At the very least do not close the door if you have one.

-- The second mouse gets the cheese.

View sras's profile


5238 posts in 3668 days

#4 posted 10-25-2010 04:01 PM

I have a cubby hole cabinet for my tower PC. I brought my router in the house and cut out a 13”x16” opening in the side. I have a wicker cover to make for it, but it’s been sitting with the hole only for the last 8 years.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View rance's profile


4271 posts in 3699 days

#5 posted 10-25-2010 04:04 PM

Good topic. My wife uses her laptop a lot while plugged in and the underside gets extremely hot. I could imagine building a desk with forced air vents on the top to assist in cooling. I know you can buy one of those plastic units to sit the laptop on, but they just look, uh…. so Plastic-ey.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3654 days

#6 posted 10-25-2010 08:16 PM

good blog on this isue :-)
next time we want the pictures too….LOL
I remember that I was working on a computer that was build in a desk
actuly it was a big computer were they have covered it so it cuold be used as a table
and it was connected to a mainframe system so you cuoldn´t even say it was a real computer
but after 1 hour work by the desk you realy had to go home for a duce and new clothes

not funny when you have to talk to people on the other side of the table and they cuold see
that your clothe was wet

after that I always pay attention to the cooling of the electronic as I was trained to do in the airforce
and in freetime as DJ I knew how much cooling the big amplify´s needed

so thank you for bringing it up , as one who know it I just always take it for granded that others know it too

take care

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