I'm not sure why, but some projects when we work on them turn out to be favorites, and this is one of my all time favorite woodworking projects. It wasn't that hard to do but it did take time and detail to make a good job. Of course it is a "one only case" which means there is no pattern, you have to make things up as you go along.
All I really knew when I started was that I wanted a wooden smartphone case and that the phone would need to fit snug into it so that the phone would not slide out and get broken, and of course it had to look nice. I didn't just jump into making this case, I have been thinking about it for over a month and just mulling it around in my mind and trying to think of any pitfalls before they arise.
Before you get started ... a word about safety!! Cutting small pieces of wood can be dangerous! always make sure your wood is secure when it is being cut and that your fingers and other parts of your body are well protected and away from any cutting surfaces. TAKE YOUR TIME and work safely.
The first thing of course is to select the wood. With small projects like this you really need to take your time selecting the wood. It should be one of the harder ... hardwoods and needs to have tight, straight grain.
There must not be any voids or cracks. In my case I selected a small piece of Arbutus or Madrona that has been collecting dust in my wood storage room for a lot of years. The chunk of wood is too small to do much with but for a project like this, it's perfect ...
The Arbutus needed to be planed to a thin thickness, which I didn't know what that would be but I had faith that as I planed it thinner and thinner that I would finally reach a thickness that would be acceptable, and I did and that was 9/64 of an inch, just slightly thicker than 1/8th which probably would have worked fine too.
The next wood I needed to select was the wood that would bridge the top and the bottom of the case. I first thought of using Holly wood and when put it together with the Arbutus there just wasn't enough contrast between the woods. My next option was Purpleheart wood, and when put the two woods together, it was an easy choice, the Purpleheart was perfect.
The only real supplies you need to purchase for this project is sheets of thin foam. I choose black but it comes in many different colors and in 9 x 12 inch sheets. The foam I chose is about 1/16" thick and was sticky backed. If you can't find the sticky back you will need to also purchase some spray adhesive, or maybe you have another idea to glue the foam to the wood. The foam does 2 things, helps protect the phone if it is dropped and it helps make a bit of a flexible, and tighter fit so the phone will not slide easily out of the case.
The second thing you might need to purchase is the glue. For this kind of a project I wanted something a bit harder than yellow wood glue but not a brittle as polyurethane glues like Gorilla Glue, at least for this kind of a project. I decided that one of the 2 part glues would be best, and so I purchased some 5 minute epoxy glue just for this project.
I used a wide variety of power tools to make my case, but there is no reason why hand tools wouldn't work just as well. One of the most valuable tools for these kinds of smaller project is an accurate measuring device. I found a digital caliper was very handy for this kind of a project, accurate and easy to read, and the first place you need to use it is in figuring out the thickness of the top and bottom sheets of wood you will use and next, to determine how wide the Purpleheart will need to be that will be used to glue the to and bottom together.
Making the case components is not hard, but you need to use your phone as the template, and make sure to include either using the foam or adding the width of the foam when you make you cuts. As with everything, cut your pieces of wood a bit on larger size because you can always take more off, either sanding, cutting or jointing. With small pieces of wood like you cannot add wood so taking it off a bit at a time is best, if you need to go that route.
The first pieces you need to cut for the phone case are the top and bottom If you make these about an inch longer and wider than your phone that will probably work. Once you have the top and the bottom you can hold these, with the foam in place to see how wide the center pieces need to be. When you have made all these, simply glue the back of the case to the three sides.
Before you glue the face of the case on, you will need to cut out the middle so you can see read the phone screen when it is in the case. Again, this is needs to be done by careful measuring and make the hole smaller because it is easier to make it larger if needed.
Before you glue the face of the case on, you will need to make sure all case is lined with the foam on the inside. It would be very difficult to put the foam on if the face of the case was glued on first.
Once you have the face glued on, if you check your phone for snugness, if it is quite tight you will need to put a hole in the bottom of the case so you can push the phone out of the case with your finger. I used my reciprocating sander for this and to make the hole where the the off on switch can be accessed.
Finishing and Details
This case is going to receive a lot of wear and tear so the finish you put on should be something you can touch up or re-coat without having to strip the existing finish of the case first. I chose my go-to finishing product Osmo for this.
I decided that before giving the case a final finish, I should do one - more - step, and that would be to get the back of the case laser etched. I called up a somewhat local company, and I have to mention them because they really made it easy for me ... bastiontrophies.com as it turned out, I happened to get the owner, Lee, on the phone. When I arrived I was allowed into the working area where Lee not only took the time to show me how the setup worked, but allowed me to film the process of laser etching which took only a few minutes.
The end product is amazing. The name is engraved without being "NEON" ... it's just a very elegant and subtle rendition.
After the etching was done, I then gave the case 3 very light coatings of Osmo. I know this finish will stand up at least as well as anything else because Osmo is used, among other things, for floor finishing, and when one area wears, I can easily jut re-coat it and the new coating will blend with the old.
This was a great project, I loved doing it and I loved the finished product, and I think anyone else doing the same kind of project would have fun too. If you decide to do this, we would love to see your pictures, we always love to see other peoples creations and modifications ... so let us in on your woodworking projects!!
Copyright - Colin Knecht