DIY Server Rack Plans

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Free woodworking plans for an open frame or enclosed 20U Server Rack for home or small office.

I have a few rack mount servers that I use for testing and development. These days home servers are becoming more popular. Everything from storage servers, home theater servers, home automation and more are making their way into people's homes and having a rack mount enclosure helps fit all those servers neatly in one spot.

Every so often I look into purchasing a rack to put them in but even used they're not cheap. A new half height, no frills open rack cabinet (like this Tripp Lite SR4POST25 25U 4-Post Open Frame Rack Cabinet) sells for a few hundred dollars. Enclosed racks are around $1,000.

Out of curiosity I wanted to see what it would take to build my own so I designed and priced out a 20U server rack. 20U is more than most people will need for a home server rack but I chose that height because it puts the top at a comfortable position as a standing desk. You can place a monitor, keyboard and mouse hooked up to a KVM switch to have direct console access.

Pricing wasn't too bad. Materials for an enclosed 20U server rack came out to just under $400. For an open rack it was only about $100 including casters. Much cheaper than buying a server enclosure. Here's what I came up with if anyone is interested.

The design of the enclosed cabinet is based on the open server rack so you can use this as a guide to build an open rack if that's all you want.

What You'll Need

Materials

Tools

  • Drill
  • Circular saw and guide or table saw for cutting plywood
  • Miterbox or power miter saw for making square cuts in boards
  • Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
  • Square
  • Pilot hole bits
  • Clamps
  • Tape measure
  • pencil
  • Finishing tools

Preface

These plans can be customized to suit your needs. Instead of coming up with a cut list and cut plans I'm writing these steps in a way that should make it easy for you to build the rack to your specifications by measuring and marking as you go.

You can save a lot of time by prefinishing the wood before putting everything together.

Step 1: Attach Rack Rails to Side Supports

Measure and cut 4 pieces of 2x4 to the exact height of your rack rails. Drill pilot holes and screw them to the side of the stud as shown.


The rails will have holes on each side of the angle. The side that has the variations will be where the equipment gets mounted. The side with the more standard spacing screws into the stud. Space screws  ever 2-3" with 1" wood screws. A typical 1U server weights about 10-15lbs. You probably won't fill the whole rack with servers but it's still a good idea to make sure the rails are securely attached.

Step 2: Attach Horizontal Width Boards

According to the specs, the rails should be mounted 19 1/8" apart. This might vary if you're using different types of rails. An easy way to get the exact spacing you need is to install a 2U blank to the top and bottom so you can know the exact spacing you need.


Make sure the 2 sides are square. Might be a good idea to make sure some of your rack mount equipment fits too just in case the blanks are off. Once you have everything adjusted and square. Mark the length for the top and bottom 2x4 pieces. Cut to size and secure with wood glue and pocket hole screws for 1-1/2" material as shown.


You should have 2 of these rail frames. One for the front and one for the back.

Step 4: Attach Boards For Rack Server Depth

There is no standard rack mounting depth (distance from front of front rail to back of back rail) and racks can be anywhere from 19" to 30". Different manufacturers use different rack mounting depth.
  • Dell 28 7/8"
  • HP 29 1/8"
  • IBM 28 1/2"
  • Sun up to 32" (if I remember correctly)
You can choose a mounting depth that suits your needs. Just make sure there's plenty of space in the back for any cables that stick out or future expansion.

Once you've determined the depth of your cabinet, calculate the desired rack depth, subtract the width of 2 2x4's (7") and cut 4 lengths of 2x4 for the verticals. Secure with wood glue and pocket hole joints as shown.

Make sure your box is square. If you have some sliding rack rails for your servers you can attach them to the front and back rails to help line everything up.

Step 5: Cut and Attach Additional Support Boards

For additional strength, mark and cut, then glue and screw additional 2x4 boards to the sides, top and bottom as shown.


Depending how much you plan to load up the rack you may also want to consider adding additional support such as metal L brackets at corners.

Step 6: Completed Open Rack

If you don't care about having an enclosed rack cabinet you can stop here.

Just securely screw the casters to the bottom of the server rack frame you just built and you're good to go.

Place the rack where you'd like and start adding your servers.

An enclosed rack however does have some benefits such as the ability to keep dust and other debris out. Things like bugs. For some reason house centipedes seem to love electricity. I've found them in computer cases as well as electrical panels.

Dust can build up on the internal components of your servers making cooling less effective. We'll go with that reason instead of being creeped out about having to vacuum up dead bugs. :)

Step 7: Cut Cabinet Panels

Measure and cut the top and bottom for the server rack enclosure. The sides will be flush with the width of the open rack. The front and back overhangs 5" so add 10" to the depth of your open rack.


Measure and cut the sides as well. The depth of the sides will be the same as the depth of the top and bottom. The height of the sides will be the height of the open rack plus 2x the thickness of your plywood.

Don't secure anything yet. Just get it ready. Apply edgebanding to the front and back of the top and bottom and to the top, front and back of the sides.

Step 8: Attach Cabinet Top and Sides

Drill the appropriate pocket holes for 3/4" material into the underside of the cabinet top spacing the holes every 6-8". Attach the sides to the top as shown.


Now place the upside down open frame rack in the partial cabinet centering it. There should be 5" of plywood overhanging the front and back. Secure the plywood top and sides to the 2x4 frame from the outside using 1-1/2" flat top wood screws. Drill pilot holes and countersinks deep enough to fill the holes with wood filler before finishing. You may want to measure and mark the locations of the screws for a more uniform look.

Step 9: Attach Cabinet Bottom

Drill holes for pocket screws on the underside of the cabinet bottom spacing them every 6" and attach the bottom to the cabinet sides. Also drill and countersink 1-1/2" wood screws into the 2x4's.

Step 10: Attach Casters

With the server rack cabinet already upside down it's a good time to install the casters. Position the casters so that they are over 2x4's, drill pilot holes and secure them with 1-1/2" to 2" wood screws.

Optional: Insulation

At this point you might want to consider adding some 1" or 1-1/2" foil backed rigid insulation to the spaces between the 2x4's in the open rack (not in the 5" in front or behind it). Rack servers are loud (especially 1U servers) and it may help muffle some of the fan noise. Not much since the front and back will be open. If you plan on keeping this where noise is an issue consider larger form factor servers that can accommodate 80mm or 120mm fans which don't make as much noise.

Step 11: Build Door Frames

Measure the front and back openings and subtract 1/4" from the width and height. This will give you the right size for the width and height of your door with a 1/8" gap all the way around.

Cut the 1x4 boards to the appropriate length, drill pocket holes, glue and screw together as shown after making sure everything is the right size in the opening.

Step 12: Attach Screen

Good ventilation is important so the center of the door will be aluminum window screen. Stretch and staple the aluminum screen on the inside of each door and trim away the excess.


For a more finished look you can cut and screw some screen molding around the edges of the screen.

Step 12: Add Filter Foam To Front Door

Dust can be a real problem for computers so we're going to add a removable foam filter to the front door to help catch some of the dust. A filter isn't necessary on the back door because air flows from front to back through servers.

Cut the foam filter material so it's larger than the aluminum screen already installed on the door. Cut a piece of hardware cloth about 1/2"- 1" wider and longer than the piece of filter foam.

Lay the filter foam on the back of the door over the aluminum screen. Lay the hardware cloth over the filter foam and screw the hardware cloth into the door around the edges using 3/8" or 1/2" small wood screws.

The hardware cloth will keep the filter foam from sagging or otherwise losing it's shape. When the filter gets full of dust simply unscrew the hardware cloth then rinse and dry the filter foam then reinstall.

Step 13: Attach Doors To Cabinet

Follow the instructions for the hinges to attach the doors the cabinet. Be mindful of which way you want them to swing out and make sure you have an even 1/8" gap between the door and the cabinet.

The doors are inset meaning the front of the door is flush with the front of the cabinet.

After adjusting the hinges install the door handles.

Step 14: Door Stops and Weather Strip

To prevent dust (and nasty house centipedes) from entering the cabinet through the gap around the door, door stop molding gets installed 7/8" back from the opening. It will need to be cut to accommodate the hinges and door latch hardware.

On the front of the door stop molding (the side that faces the door) apply the self-adhesive D-shaped weather strip.

Do this for both doors.

Other Thoughts

Here are some other thoughts on accessories and equipment that can make your home server rack a little better.

KVM Switch

KVM stands for Keyboard, Video and Mouse. Most of the time you'll be connecting to the servers remotely but from time to time you may need to access them directly. A KVM switch allows you to hook up one monitor, keyboard and mouse to multiple computers. A rack mount KVM switch like the TRENDnet 8-Port TK-803R is an affordable choice. You could get an integrated KVM with a slide out monitor and keyboard built in like the Belkin F1DC108H but they're very expensive.

Mount the KVM switch in the first rack space in the front of the cabinet. You can place a regular monitor, keyboard and mouse on top of the cabinet. Drill a hole in the top of the cabinet just behind the back of the rack mounted KVM switch and use a brush grommet to pass cables to the KVM while keeping dirt and dust out.

Power

It would be best if you can keep this on it's own circuit. A dedicated 20 Amp circuit if you plan on using a lot of hardware.

You can mount a 1U power strip on the back of the rack cabinet for your PDU (power distribution unit). Something like the this Trip-Lite RS1215-RA but a better option would be to have a rack mount UPS (uninterruptable power supply) like this Cyberpower CPS1500AVR mounted to the front of the rack cabinet. A UPS provides temporary power for short periods of power loss and also helps make sure the power coming in is clean. Much better than a surge suppressor.

Networking

Get a rack mount network switch and mount it to the back of the rack mount cabinet to attach your servers to. That way you only have to worry about one network cable coming into the rack cabinet.

Cable Management

Underneath your switch mount a 1U Horizontal D-Ring cable organizer to help keep the network cables neat. Also mount some D-Rings on the sides of the cabinet in the back (between the rails and the door) to channel network and power cables through to keep them out of the way.

Drill a hole on one of the sides and use a grommet to be able to run the power cable for the UPS/PDU and network cable to the switch.

Blank Panels

Fill up any unused space with blank panels. This improves airflow. Probably not as important when not in a properly set up server room but they do help.

Reader Submitted Photos

Thomas Kangas built a slightly modified version of this open server rack using these plans. It came out pretty nice.


I can't figure out who built the enclosed version shown below but I found them on Imgur and he said he used my plans. Came out pretty nice whoever you are.


Here's one more from Imgur. Just the frame without cabinet and shorter.


Chris used my plans to build an enclosed server cabinet and added some Roxul insulation for soundproofing and added fans on the top for cooling. He got a decent amount of noise reduced.

42 comments :

  1. Hey Tom, what do you model with ?

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  2. If you are using this more for networking equipment and maybe some storage devices, would using 2x3's suffice?

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    1. Bill studs these days aren't as strong as they used to be storage devices can be quite heavy if they have a lot of drives. I'd try to stick with 2x4's but 2x3's might work as long as you keep the heavy stuff at the bottom and make sure all the joints are well fastened. Maybe use some metal brackets in addition to wood glue and pocket holes just to be safe.

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    2. I did use 4x6 and did not regret it.
      Even though the whole thing got heavier.

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  3. Is it alright to use the variable sized holes to mount into the studs? The lip on that side of the mounting rails is too wide and reduces the width of the equipment I can put in the rack.

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    Replies
    1. Not sure what you mean. As long as you have the rails properly spaced it shouldn't restrict the equipment you can put in. Can you use the form to contact me and send me some pictures?

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  4. I am planning to create home made rack server to save money. Glad that you shared this I can get some ideas. Keep posting!

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  5. This is a really cool post! Thanks for this. Makes me think I might be able to implement something similar.

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  6. I looking for a rack shelf like pictured above (from Thomas Kangas). Where did you find yours? All I've search look nothing like that.

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    Replies
    1. There are a number of rack shelves you can find here http://amzn.to/1xSTauB if you want something that fills the whole space look for an adjustable one that has mounts on the front and back.

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  7. This great, making one asap

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  8. Thanks so much for putting these plans online. Typo note: you have "front" as "font" in one section.

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  9. Hi there,

    I quite like the plans here but am concerned about the implications of heat dissipation. Is it likely that more heat will be retained as a result of using wood, and having it enclosed on all sides?

    Thanks

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    Replies
    1. Rack servers draw in air from the front and blow it out the back. The rack isn't enclosed on all 4 sides. The doors on the front and back are covered with window screen material to allow for ventilation.

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    2. Thanks, would there be any other considerations in terms of overheating or fire?

      Would these be increased if the rear was enclosed?

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    3. Dry wood ignites at about 450 degF. The hottest part of a server will be the CPU and it would burn out long before it ever got that hot.The servers wouldn't come in direct contact with the wood.

      I wouldn't enclose the back because the hot air needs to exit the cabinet so your equipment doesn't overheat. There also needs to be sufficient clearance behind the cabinet for the hot air to go somewhere and there needs to be space in front of the cabinet for the servers to draw in cool air. The room will also need to be able to handle the heat exhausted from the servers. How much heat comes out is going to depend on the equipment but you can find the BTU/hr in the specs of some servers. Cooling may be required for the room to keep the servers at a good operating temperature if the heat output is too great for the space. Basically the same considerations you'd need to take with any rack mount equipment.

      Obviously this isn't meant for a high density, high performance cluster though. You wouldn't want to fill this up with 20 48 core 1U servers filled with Velociraptor drives cranking at 100% CPU utilization. This is meant more for someone who wants to rack mount their test lan setup, home networking equipment with a few servers that do light duty work as is typical in most home networks.

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    4. Thank you.

      I currently have a full size rack and am looking to downsize. This page has been invaluable as have the replies, for which I appreciate.

      Thank you.

      Delete
  10. Building a 20u one of these at current. Was going to try fully enclosed doors though but with four high airflow fans, two on the back, two on the front with baffles to deflect internal sound. Do you think I may still have heat issues? Only going to have a 1u server and some network gear inside.

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  11. Thank you very much for your plans.
    I've built a 30u version using your open frame instructions and am really pleased with the result.

    Pictures are here if you're interested:
    http://padcfr.com/images/Leigh/Frame1.png
    http://padcfr.com/images/Leigh/Frame2.png

    I'm really surprised at the strength of the wood glue & pocket hole screws. I don't even think I'm going to use angle brackets - even for a 30u.

    Thanks again!

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  12. Thanks for the great plans.

    The step numbers seem to be off, though. There's no Step 3 and two Step 12s.

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  13. Do the hinges have enough clearance that equipment mounted on slides will clear them?

    Thanks.

    Kevin

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  14. Hey there. Any chance you could post the general dimensions of the rack you built?

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  15. I am going to start this build this weekend with a few modifications. My servers are in an area of the house where they can be heard from the main living space, so I would like to build in some soundproofing.

    To achieve this, I am going to insulate between the 2x4's and add in a 1/4" sheet of playwood to the interior of the cabinet, I will create two solid access panels... one on the front and one on the back.

    To address ventilation, I will be installing 12x120mm fans, 6 in the front venting into the cabinet and 6 in the back exhausting from the cabinet. each set of 6 fans will have its own individual fan controller with heat sensor and will spin as fast as required to meet the set temp.

    Anything you feel I missed or could improve before I get going on the project?

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    Replies
    1. One you cut holes in the cabinet for fans sound will escape. You could possibly but some sort of air chamber on either side with holes that don't line up but that would make it bigger, more complicated and still would allow a lot of sound to escape.

      Rack mount equipment generally don't have the quietest fans. Especially 1u servers. If I were you the first thing I would look into is some quieter fans. There are some 40mm fans available on Amazon that claim to be silent and have good reviews. http://amzn.to/1S4DukT

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  16. Here are the results of my build, followed your plans with some slight modifications. Thanks for the original post, it made my life about 1000% easier.

    http://imgur.com/a/uh82C

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    1. Looks nice, would you mind putting a link in your imgur post to my instructions?

      I like how it looks inside with the finished panels. How does it do in terms of quieting server noise?

      A couple of things I would suggest... Can you fit a thin foam weatherstrip around the front and back 2x4 frames along with a door latch to seal the doors from letting noise escape? Looks like you left a little bit of lip so maybe you're already planing on that but thought I'd mention. Also make sure the front fan is reversed so it acts as an intake, that way you get the cool isle/hot isle like a mini data center.

      The AC Affinity Fans and thermostat are a nice touch. I'm a big fan of anything with lights and buttons though. :)

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    2. Yeah, you bet, I will add the link now.

      I havent done noise testing yet, just finished it last night and put the gear in for the photo op.

      I am planning on adding the weathstripping to help dampen the noise, I was going to use the aluminum/neoprene ones you would find on an external door. I am planning on using toggle latches on the doors to leave room on the inside in case I need to thicken the doors with insulation for improved sound dampening.

      I have reversed the front fans, then are blowing in, and the rear fans are venting out. I will be doing some heat/noise testing today, ill let you know how the progress goes!

      I also am planning on installing some undermount cabinet lighting to help with visibility inside the rack.

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  17. So after doing some noise testing with an android app (not the best noise dosimeter) here are the results:

    - Both front and rear doors open - ~63db
    - Both doors close, no weather stripping - ~ 42db
    - Both doors closed w\ 1/2" foam weather stripping - ~39db

    Not a huge improvement with the weather stripping, this leads me to believe that most of the left over noise is coming out of the ventilation openings.

    The 24db reduction achieved my goal, I am happy with the noise reduction as it stands. I live in a split level home and the enclosure is located in an open area in the first "basement". Prior to being in the enclosure you could hear the servers anywhere in the house. With the enclosure they are essentially silent unless you are on that level of the home.

    I may attempt to build a shield around the inside of the ventilation openings to reduce the noise further, but i suspect it would only be an additional couple of decibels and would only do it for my own interest not expecting any significant performance improvement.

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    Replies
    1. That's pretty impressive noise reduction! Don't knock that 3db with the weatherstrip every little bit counts. Do you have enough room to put some roxul on the doors? If the 1u server isn't running very cpu intensive tasks it might be worth swapping the fans with some of the ones I linked to above. CFM may be a little less but those stock 40mm fans sound like model plane engines.

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    2. I do have room to put Roxul on the doors, I will probably try it at some point. I might trim it down a little bit instead of using the full thickness.

      I thought about building a frame on the door panels and putting the roxul in it and covering with more 1/4 plywood. But the noise reduction i'll get out of it wont be a huge improvement so I am less motivated to get it done.

      2x4's would be overkill to frame it in, I have to go and take a peek and see what would be a more reasonable fit. Any suggestions?

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  18. Aloha there!

    I've been eyeing this build for a while and getting pretty close to making it (so my wife won't see all my stuff on display 24/7... but she's still curious if a cabinet will make it look better).

    Your instructions are pretty thorough, but I'm very curious about the screws used to attach the rails to the 2x4's... they aren't listed in the materials section and the one sentence simply states "1-inch wood screws"... but what kind of wood screws/diamater did you use? Since I'm going to just give it a try with some 2x4's and a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig, I hope Lowe's will be able to help me find the right size....

    Thanks for the post though! I will send pictures if it all works out!

    C-Dubs

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  19. Maybe adding an air filter of some sort (thin foam) would help keep the equipment inside a bit cleaner as well as add some sound proofing!

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    Replies
    1. Step 12 mentions adding filter foam to the screens. Christopher Cogswell who left some comments above yours used solid doors and added soundproofing insulation. He sent me some photos and your comment reminded me to add them to the post. He was able to cut down on the server noise by 40%.

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  20. Hello,

    I am planning to build this at some point. However, I am wondering how much weight this cabinet could sustain. Any rough figures that you cuold give, please? Thank you

    G

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  21. Tom,

    http://imgur.com/a/27ZJb

    Finished my rack using your plans. Opted for square-hole rails and a 28-7/8" depth to accommodate mixed Dell rails. Currently have 5 R200's, 2 2950's, and 1 2900. Just need to add a patch panel and Mikrotik CRS125-24G-1S-IN. Waiting on the rails for my Dell 15FP rack console to arrive.

    Must say, easy build, and it's sturdy as all get-out. Plan to build another smaller one to house my pfSense router, an Alcatel switch, and UPS. Thanks Tom!

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    Replies
    1. Hey, your build looks awesome.

      I have a Dell R610 with Ready Rails so I could really use the square-holes opposed to the round holes.

      Where did you happen to buy the square hole rack rails?

      Delete
  22. Nice blog/article ... due to space contraints in my Av hub/cupboard under the stairs I haven't the room to build a 19" rack with 3" frame so am thinking of building one out of Dexion right-angle strips and using the strips as shelf rails - so should be just over 19" wide - will post a couple of images when I get it built ...

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  23. You have the instructions in Step 1 backwards:

    "The rails will have holes on each side of the angle. The side that has the variations will be where the equipment gets mounted. The side with the more standard spacing screws into the stud."

    Putting the rails on in this manner wont work because the rails have significantly different widths depending on which side you screw into the stud

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  24. Tom,

    I really enjoyed reading your post and have decided to use your instructions as the basis for an idea I've had mulling around in my head for a while now.

    I have for a while now been contemplating an NAS for my home network. I think I've decided to go the rack mount option. But more than that, I have for a while now, been searching for something that would double as a media/entertainment center. To no avail, after coming across your article I have designed something that I think will fit my bill and wanted to share it with you.

    I basically took your design and stuck 3 of them side by side, essentially making 3 racks in one, to double as an entertainment center where I can place my TV on top of the cabinet, and my A/V equipment inside along with my NAS and other home networking hardware.

    I have a couple screenshots of a 3d model I put together I'll go ahead and email you separately. Looking for any critique/feedback, good or bad that you (or anyone else who reads this) might have with my idea. Looking for ways to improve it as best I can before I actually build it.

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  25. Did you use the Kreg HD jig for this, or will the R3 kit works just fine?

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  26. I don't think using Roxul is a good idea. It's made of mineral wool and slag. If disturbed it constantly sheds dust/fibers. If any of the slag got into your servers, it could short things, clog airways, or act as abrasive on fan motors and other moving surfaces.

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