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Old 5th March 2017, 6:14 PM   #1
DrFrag Thread Starter
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Default RGB SAS DAS scratchbuild - 1 PC in 4 cases

This is a project born out of chronic shoulder pain from years of lugging heavy cases to LAN parties. I've tried case wheels and trolleys, but there's still so much lifting out of cars, through doorways, over cable run covers, over rough carparks, etc. I also have CFS, so reducing my exertion at LANs is important in reducing my recovery time.

My existing system is a full tower aluminium case with 10 drives, plus an external mid tower steel case with 14 drives on a SAS link. Both cases weigh about 16kg. My goal is to carry nothing over 10kg. My solution is to split the setup down to 4 cases. PC + three 8 drive enclosures. There are SAS drive towers out there that do this, but I could only find them in steel. This gets the weight down to 11kg per case at best, but I want something closer to 8kg so I've opted to scratch build my own from aluminium. Since there's no motherboard in a drive tower, the design is pretty simple - 8 bays, a small PSU, and a SAS bracket to convert internal cables to external ports.

Design goals:
  • Lightweight
  • SAS interface
  • Toolless
  • Anti-vibration mountings
  • Front access drive replacement
  • Carry strap that doesn't interfere with panel access
  • Power switch
  • Quiet
  • Cool
  • Compact
  • Minimalist design
Things I don't need:
  • Hotswap
  • Cosmetic lights
  • Activity lights, other than a power light
  • Low cost

First I checked out Lian-Li aluminium drive modules, but they're based around 5.25" bays which would bulk out the size a lot. So I opted for a full scratchbuild.

Bunnings sells a thing called Connect-It, which is 25mm aluminium tubing with plastic corner connectors. I've seen cases built with it but most of them look too bulky for my liking. It's really designed for furniture. So I bought some 12.5mm tubing with the intention of making my own smaller scale version, with 3D printed corner connectors. This didn't work out for a few reasons, and I discovered that using 25mm tubing would only make it a few hundred grams heavier and also a lot stronger. It also has other benefits, since the corner connectors are hollow the tubing can be used as a cable conduit.

The design went through a few iterations until I settled on something like this:



I actually started on this project 3 years ago and finished the first case in October last year, so I can show you some juicy completion pictures already. I had the first case anodized in red.







This is the Red 1 case. My first PC in the 80s used to boot up with a flashing RGB thing that I can't find documented anywhere, but from memory looked something like this:



So that's my inspiration for this project's name and colours.

This worklog will document the construction of the next two cases, Green 2 and Blue 3. I'll post some photos I did for Red 1 as well, which are a little bit different because I was designing as I was building.
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Old 6th March 2017, 11:10 AM   #2
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This is rather awesome, means another project to add to my list.

What SAS interface are you using there?
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Old 6th March 2017, 11:20 AM   #3
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Interesting build.


How is the tubing fixed to the connectors?
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Old 6th March 2017, 5:00 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ash_Williams View Post
What SAS interface are you using there?
My PC has an LSI 9200-8e card which is SAS 3Gb/s. It's a couple of generations old but I'm still not able to saturate it. Reading from all 8 drives simultaneously maxes out at around 900MB/s, so it looks like the bottleneck is the drive speeds.

The enclosure itself uses SFF-8087 internal and SFF-8088 external connectors with an agnostic passthrough card, so I believe it'll handle newer SAS standards.

Quote:
Originally Posted by PsydFX View Post
How is the tubing fixed to the connectors?
It just pushes in and holds there with friction. I had to use a car jack to pull it apart.


This seems like a good time to post the parts list. As far as scratch builds go, this is a pretty easy one cause there's no fiddly motherboard/IO shield/PCI bracket work. So I'll post all the info in case someone wants to make their own. The way the drives screw in is particularly good even if I do say so myself. I've done a lot of custom drive bay mods and I think this design is the best I've seen.

Connect-It tubing system. I got mine from Bunnings. Not cheap, but so much quicker and easier and more accurate than building the framework by hand.



Angled aluminium, 25x25x1.4. I got mine from Bunnings.



Sheet aluminium. I bought a 2400x1200x0.8 sheet from Paramount Browns and had them cut it into 3 for transport. Anything thicker would be too much for my basic model sheet metal bender. Tape it up asap to avoid scratching.



Aluminium modder's mesh. Expensive and fairly hard to find. I think I paid $17 for mine, with twice that again in shipping. My shipping box says modright.com, but they don't seem to sell it anymore. MNPCTech sells some, but the aluminium stuff always seems to be out of stock. Looks like Xoxide have some.



Rivets. I used aluminium 3.2mm diam, 6.4mm grip but I could probably have gone shorter.



Thumb screws for the case cover.



Case screws. We all probably have a box of these lying around, since every motherboard and case seem to come with a packet. These are the thin thread M3 screws (used on optical drives) since my tapping kit is metric. HDD and PSU screws are imperial 6-32.



Anti-vibration drive screws, aka damping screws. What a pain to get hold of. Most of the ones I found were massively expensive and/or only came in 4-packs. My entire build came down to whether or not I could source these, and I ended up paying $1 each. Can't remember where I got them now. eBay have something similar.



Case feet. These are easy to find on modding sites.



Case handle. If you've ever had one of those PC carry straps, you'll be familiar with this. I couldn't find them on any modder shop sites until a friend told me they're actually kayak handles! They're only a few bucks on eBay or AliExpress. Strong and comfortable.



25mm plastic/canvas strap. Can't remember the proper name for it. It's the stuff they use in buckle-down straps, except Bunnings and car shops only sell ludicrous coloured versions. I got mine from Spotlight, around the Velcro/elastics section.



Case fan. 92mm fit this build. I think I got mine from PCCaseGear.



92mm case fan grilles. I bought a 10-pack from AliExpress.



PSU is a standard SFX power supply. The lowest I could find was 300W. The lower wattage the better cause drives don't draw much power. Maybe 10W peak each? 80W max total load means a 300W supply is inefficiently underutilised. The Red case used an industrial looking Seasonic with a protruding fan (or rather, the rest of the casing was recessed) but they all have the same screw holes. I got mine from PCCaseGear. They're about $60.



The power switch is a combination switch and 24-pin PSU adaptor, so you can power on the system without a motherboard. It simply shorts the green wire to one of the black ones, with an extra line for the LED power. If you can get them for under $10 you're doing well. I got mine from AliExpress.



3M Scotch 4010 Mounting Tape, aka Tape of the Gods. MNPCTech sells this stuff. Everything you've heard about the strength of this tape is true, and then some. I had trouble cutting it because it kept sticking to the scissors/knife. Shipping costs from MNPCTech are brutal, but it turns out you can buy it in Australia, or at least something very similar. Bunnings sells a thing called Scotch Permanent Clear Mounting Tape, rated for 2lbs holding weight (apparently 4010 is rated for 2lbs). There's also Scotch Outdoor Tape rated for 15lbs (6.7kg), and Scotch Extreme Mounting Tape rated for 30lbs (13.4kg). One of them looks the same as the pic below but I can't remember which one. They're more expensive than MNPCTech, but cheaper after you take shipping into account.



Custom SATA power connectors. Good for minimising cable mess. Available from AliExpress and PC modding sites.



SFF-8087 to SATA breakout cable. Expensive in Australia, cheap from AliExpress (and they're probably made in the same factory). I prefer the red ones cause they're have a nice solid feel. The pale blue ones are super thin which is probably good if you want to bend a hard angle into them, but I always feel like I'm going to snap them. Short is good for this mod, since they only have to go 20cm at most.



PCI 2 port SAS internal-external adaptor, from AliExpress.



External SAS cable. This is something you'll definitely want to buy from AliExpress. Some Australian stores charge 10x the price.



Not pictured:
  • Heat shrink tubing
  • Masking tape
  • Screws for the case feet.
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Old 6th March 2017, 7:19 PM   #5
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Awesome scratch build and i really appreciate the anecdotes/write up about using connect-it - i want to do a scratch build myself and have been leaning towards using it. Looks a hell of a lot cleaner than i imagined that stuff would be, think i might be in on it
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Old 6th March 2017, 8:35 PM   #6
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Ratzz made a nice case last year using Connect-It as a framework.

I got to see Broox's Almost Cubed at a LAN, but it wasn't finished so it looked like a bit of a teleporter accident.

There's been a few others here and there, but so many unfinished projects and dead picture links.

It's a tricky medium because it can end up looking clunky (it's really meant for furniture) but I think it has a lot of potential for modders. It's exactly the same thickness as a case fan, which I'm sure can be exploited somehow. The aluminium is thick enough to thread screws into, and it's anodized so it's durable. 3D printing should permit non-orthogonal connectors and rounded corners. I'm sure there's lots that can be explored but it can be hard to break away from traditional case design.
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Old 6th March 2017, 10:17 PM   #7
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This is awesome!

My question is... You have 3 x storage cases but a 8e SAS card. How is that going to work?

Also, how did you design the storage boxes - is that SketchUp? Or something like a CAD/CAM app?
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Old 6th March 2017, 10:31 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SiriusDragon View Post
My question is... You have 3 x storage cases but a 8e SAS card. How is that going to work?
I have a 36 port Chenbro SAS expander in the PC. I'll include a picture of the cabling when the cases are finished.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SiriusDragon View Post
Also, how did you design the storage boxes - is that SketchUp? Or something like a CAD/CAM app?
I did all the design on graph paper. The diagram is just some 2D vector work drawn in Paint Shop Pro 6.
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Old 6th March 2017, 10:38 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DrFrag View Post
I have a 36 port Chenbro SAS expander in the PC. I'll include a picture of the cabling when the cases are finished.



I did all the design on graph paper. The diagram is just some 2D vector work drawn in Paint Shop Pro 6.
Ah sounds good

And wow, good ol paint shop pro
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Old 6th March 2017, 10:43 PM   #10
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I paid $200 for it in 1999 and I'm determined to get my money's worth.
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Old 8th March 2017, 10:33 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by DrFrag View Post
I paid $200 for it in 1999 and I'm determined to get my money's worth.
Nothing wrong with that logic that's for sure!
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Old 9th March 2017, 12:49 PM   #12
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This post is going to be about tools, before I start on construction photos.

Obviously you'll need standard shed tools like drill bits, hammer, vice, clamps, etc so I won't list those. Some of these tools are expensive, but any good tool is an investment in quality and reduced workload for years to come.

Power drill - The most useful tool in any shed. I have two 18V cordless drills, one for drill bits and one for screwdriver bits since I got sick of changing the bits over.

Dremel - High speed rotary cutting tool. Great for modding, but hard to explain the purpose until you have one and start noticing all the small useful jobs it can do. Some people recommend reinforced cutting discs for cutting metal, but they always break at the spindle for me. Then I discovered EZ Lock. Holy crap these are good. I bought a pack ages ago and I'm still on the first one.

Rivet gun - Cheap tool for putting rivets in. There's only a few rivets in this mod so I could have used screws, but if you want a solid assembly on sections that don't need opening up then rivets are the way to go.

Drill press - These are expensive but there comes a time when a handheld drill won't do the job. Particularly for large holes, precision work, and aligned rows of holes. I made the mistake of buying a $90 Ryobi bench press from Bunnings, and it was crap because it would shift a millimetre or two every time. So now I have a proper $250 pedestal one and it's been a solid investment.

20mm drill/spade bit - This is for the power button hole. A spade bit will do the job, but a proper 20mm drill bit is better. Don't pay $50 at Bunnings for it, get a $9 one from AliExpress or eBay. The quality is the same.

Sheet metal brake - aka metal folder (dunno why they call them brakes). I bought a small one for $60 off eBay years ago, but I've seen them locally since then. Folds 1mm aluminium, but I wouldn't want to push it with anything thicker.

Tapping kit - for making the threads in screw holes. The important one to get is M3 x 0.5 for fine thread computer screws. If you can find a 6-32 imperial one that's probably good too, but I don't know if that has a separate thread guage measurement.

Essential oil, like tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil - for cleaning barcodes and marks off the aluminium. Unfortunately no man knows where to buy this mysterious stuff, you have to ask a woman. I got mine from Mum. Perhaps she bought it from a chemist. You can also use kerosine or something similar, but that tends to smell pretty bad.

Car jack - for prizing apart the Connect-It after a test fit. I wish I was joking about this. You can also rig up a vice with chocks and clamps, so that turning the vice pushes the structure apart, but it's not always possible for some sections. To remove the end caps, insert a thick dowel into the tube and hit it with a mallet.

Metal files - for tidying up the ends and edges of cut aluminium. I mostly used a flat bastard for the long edge work and Connect-It ends, and a mini triangular file for the intricate internal sheet work. Powder them with talc to stop them jamming full of aluminium filings.

Molex de-pinner - for depinning the ATX 24-pin connector so the wires can be threaded through. Forget about trying anything other than a dedicated de-pinning tool. I tried paperclips, custom tools made from hammered flat nails filed to shape, everything YouTube suggested. Nothing worked. Get a cheap de-pinning kit from AliExpress or eBay. De-pinning is optional for this project, I'm pretty sure I just cut and re-soldered mine. I'm not even sure if molex pins will handle the internal corners of Connect-It now that I think about it.

Mitre saw - great for cutting aluminium, but iirc it tends to causing surface crazing on the annodized stuff (like Connect-It). I ended up using a metal cutoff saw and then filed the ends smooth.

Jigsaw or circular saw - for cutting sheet aluminium. I tried the jigsaw first and it was pretty bad. It cuts, but there's a ton of clean-up filing required and you can never get a perfectly straight edge. Then I tried a cordless circular saw with an aluminium cutting blade. What a dream to use! Super quick, cuts through like butter, perfectly straight edge, and a smooth cut that doesn't need filing.

90mm hole bit - forget using a Dremel for fan holes, hole bits are where it's at.

Fishing wire, thin synthetic rope, and small round fishing weights - for threading wires through Connect-It framework. Every project needs some Aussie ingenuity. I'll cover this in a later post.

8 dead hard drives - for test fitting the drive bays. I recommend older Seagate drives because they're in good supply. I used seven 1.5TB Seagate drives and a WD Green, which basically sums up my history of drive failures.

An anodizing service - for the case finish. I looked up DIY anodizing on YouTube and said nope pretty quickly. I took mine to Key Manufacturing in Adelaide and they were great. There's also a place in the northern suburbs that does it.

I recommend AliExpress and eBay for things like drill bits. Bunnings for hand tools and fittings but mostly convenience - they basically sell cheap Chinese stuff marked up with expensive brand names. For mounted power tools, go to a proper power tool store like Gasweld or Carbatec. They cost a bit more, but the quality is outstanding. So many times I've spent $100 on cheap Bunnings crap that isn't accurate or long lasting and ended up ditching it for a proper $300 tool I should have bought in the first place. Bad experiences with Ozito and Ryobi, good experiences with Bosch and Milwaukee.

Edit: always browse AliExpress and eBay in incognito mode. Especially AliExpress. Shop owners get notified if you look at anything, and can send you solicitation emails. I get emails from Chinese manufacturers offering great deals on bulk chandelier orders or whatever I've drunkenly looked up late at night.

Last edited by DrFrag; 9th March 2017 at 12:55 PM.
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Old 9th March 2017, 1:00 PM   #13
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Default RGB SAS DAS scratchbuild - 1 PC in 4 cases

For cleaning sticker crap off things, I use WD40. Works a treat, and smells great.

Looking forward to more build photos!!!
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Old 9th March 2017, 5:43 PM   #14
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Quote:
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For cleaning sticker crap off things, I use WD40. Works a treat, and smells great.
That never even occurred to me. Good to know!

This post is gonna be image heavy, fortunately Tony Abbott gave the entire nation cheap NBN by 2016.

All the cut pieces of Connect-It for one case:

4 x 290mm (vertical pieces, derived from 8 HDDs with 10mm airflow between)
4 x 230mm (horizontal front-back pieces, allowing room for components and cable space)
6 x 104mm (horizontal width pieces, 1 HDD wide with 2mm each side for damping grommets)
4 x 40mm (for the front section, originally designed to fit front fans but I left it that size)



These were cut with a metal cutoff saw, then the rough ends filed by hand. The cutoff saw is the only power tool that makes me uneasy. Maybe it's all the flying sparks. I'm pretty careful with safety, but on one occassion I forgot to lower my face shield and a spark of hot aluminium landed in the crease of my lower eyelid. So I made that red sign to remind me to double check safety before each cut. You can't restore eyes and ears from a backup.



The cuting and filing took me over a month. In hindsight, I should have used the mitre saw. Here are the cut profiles:

1. Factory cut
2. Metal cutoff saw



3. Metal cutoff saw, filed
4. Mitre saw



So ... yeah. Use a good mitre saw. Lubricate the blade with machine oil or WD40 to keep it cool. The blades tend to have cross-cut teeth so imo they're close enough together for aluminium.

For the L-strip aluminium, I originally cut it with a Dremel then filed it down. But that worked better in the mitre saw too. They're 280mm long. Oh, another safety tip: one time I put my Dremel down on the bench before it had finished spinning down. It rolled and cut into its own power cord. Not enough to penetrate the insulation, but now I always wait for it to come to a complete stop before doing anything else.



The drive holes on the first case were made with a drill press. 8mm holes, 7mm from the edge, spacing is 10mm from the bottom of the L-strip then 35mm between each hole (all measurements from hole centres).



Then the rubber grommets were added. They just push in, no need for a fancy gourd-shape hole.



Temporary drives put in to check the spacing. Rivets were done after that.



For the next cases, I started with the rivets because I already had the design down. The L-strips are clamped to one of the 290mm verticals, with 5mm clearance at each end. The gap at each end is so there's no interference with the internal case panels.



Two middle rivets done, then the clamps removed.



Rivet holes were first punched with a nail to stop the drill wandering, then drilled out to 3.5mm. The rivets are 3.2mm wide, but I found a 3.2mm drill hole was too tight to get the rivet head in. Spacing is 14mm from the edge, far enough from the flange for the rivet gun to fit. Rivet spacing, from the bottom of the L-strip, was 30mm, 65mm, 70mm, 75mm, with 40mm left at the top. This keeps the rivet heads away from the drive thumb screws. Not that it matters much, I probably could have chucked in 4+ rivets anywhere along the strip.



Riveting done, front and back.



Next is the hole for the power button, 20mm diameter in the middle of one of the 104mm pieces.



I have to show off this picture of drill press precision.





You can use a spade bit, but obviously that's not ideal because it gets hotter and that blunts it. You cannot use a hole bit, because the centre bit hits the other side of the tubing.



Filed off the burrs so it doesn't cut the plastic of the switch.



Some of the Connect-It corner pieces needed cutting down, which was easily done in the mitre saw. Molten plastic smell ... had to open the windows after that.



This is so they fit in the short 40mm pieces. I cut them down to 19mm each side. A quick note on the connectors - I had a couple that were a bit warped, causing the corners to not be square. I had to throw them out and buy new ones, so be choosy when picking them at the shops.



Connect-It can usually be pushed together, but sometimes needs a bit of help with a mallet and wood blocks.



Assembled drive frame. Short corner plugs and power button hole facing the front.



I drilled the drive holes after assembly for the second case, which meant I couldn't put it in the drill press. So I made a template from scrap MDF. The holes are large enough to take the tip of a nail to use as a punch.



A shot of the 8mm drive holes. The axle of the grommet is 8mm, the outer edge is 10mm. Simple to push in.



I like to drill smaller guide holes to start with, since 8mm holes are fairly large and can be a bit unpredictable sometimes. I start drilling slowly, then speed up towards the end to minimise drill jamming.



I also clean up burrs by hand with a larger drill bit (13mm in this case, cause I had one handy).



Drive section assembled, dead drives screwed in place. They can be out by about a millimetre and the anti-vibration grommets will handle it.



Assembling the rest of the case is super quick. This will need to be dismantled later to get the internal panels in.

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Old 9th March 2017, 8:07 PM   #15
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couple of quick comments about the tools,

Quote:
Originally Posted by DrFrag View Post

Power drill - The most useful tool in any shed. I have two 18V cordless drills, one for drill bits and one for screwdriver bits since I got sick of changing the bits over.

amen to this, i bought one of those AEG kits which has a drill and a driver for this reason


Drill press - These are expensive but there comes a time when a handheld drill won't do the job. Particularly for large holes, precision work, and aligned rows of holes. I made the mistake of buying a $90 Ryobi bench press from Bunnings, and it was crap because it would shift a millimetre or two every time. So now I have a proper $250 pedestal one and it's been a solid investment.

first thing i'm buying when my garage extension is finished, i'm sick of drilling crappy on the piss holes with a hand drill when i need something accurate

20mm drill/spade bit - This is for the power button hole. A spade bit will do the job, but a proper 20mm drill bit is better. Don't pay $50 at Bunnings for it, get a $9 one from AliExpress or eBay. The quality is the same.

at those sizes i would just use a bi metal-hole saw bit, recenelty drilled 8 holes in 10mm plate using a $16 hole saw from bunnings with a battery drill, i was honestly surprised at how well it did it and was actually quite quick as well 2 or so minutes a hole.... i should note i did stop and pour cutting fluid every 10 seconds or so

re-read your pictured post as to why you couldn't use a hole saw bit

Tapping kit - for making the threads in screw holes. The important one to get is M3 x 0.5 for fine thread computer screws. If you can find a 6-32 imperial one that's probably good too, but I don't know if that has a separate thread guage measurement.

Essential oil, like tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil - for cleaning barcodes and marks off the aluminium. Unfortunately no man knows where to buy this mysterious stuff, you have to ask a woman. I got mine from Mum. Perhaps she bought it from a chemist. You can also use kerosine or something similar, but that tends to smell pretty bad.

if you can find and buy a product called 700 by 3M perfect for these jobs as its an industrial adhesive remover/degreaser which dries to nothing

Metal files - for tidying up the ends and edges of cut aluminium. I mostly used a flat bastard for the long edge work and Connect-It ends, and a mini triangular file for the intricate internal sheet work. Powder them with talc to stop them jamming full of aluminium filings.

flap discs for drills/dremels/grinders also work great

Mitre saw - great for cutting aluminium, but iirc it tends to causing surface crazing on the annodized stuff (like Connect-It). I ended up using a metal cutoff saw and then filed the ends smooth.

I recommend AliExpress and eBay for things like drill bits. Bunnings for hand tools and fittings but mostly convenience - they basically sell cheap Chinese stuff marked up with expensive brand names. For mounted power tools, go to a proper power tool store like Gasweld or Carbatec. They cost a bit more, but the quality is outstanding. So many times I've spent $100 on cheap Bunnings crap that isn't accurate or long lasting and ended up ditching it for a proper $300 tool I should have bought in the first place. Bad experiences with Ozito and Ryobi, good experiences with Bosch and Milwaukee.

just remember that silly bunnings guarantee that'll let you take back just about any buster tool/bit for a replacement, but will 100% agree that buying a quality tool in the first place will save you a ton of heart ache

great info keep the posts coming, i share you sentiment about eye protection, but in year 10 (2002) i was using a metal lathe at school with out any safety glasses on and a piece of swarf flicked up and hit me in the eye. closed my eye and went over to the sink to wash it out, tried opening it couldn't see... kept washing it and about 20 seconds later sight came back.

went and put safety glasses on and kept going with my job, look back now and i could have honestly lost sight in 1 eye because of that so will always wear eye protection now days
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