Week 4: Pre-Assembled Boxes

Well Sequenced Synthesizers
Well Sequenced Synthesizers, image by Luisa Pereira


We will quickly discuss our USB HID controller concepts.


UI Panel Layout

User testing is the quickest way to see if your controllers make sense.  Paper prototypes, components on laser cut panels, get your device is users’ hands and watch what they do.

Tip: Record user testing on video.  User test early and often, you learn so much.

Iterations of the Counterpointer

Rapidly iterate your panels.  Do you need control labels?  Indicator lights or haptic feedback?  How do users hold your device?


Weezie Boxes

Cutlery boxes

Drawer organizers from the Container Store and laser cut/etched control panels make for great project enclosures.  We lovingly refer to this technique as “Weezie Boxes”.

Project enclosure made with laser cut panel and cutlery organizer
Image by Luisa Pereira

Luisa Pereira used a drawer organizer from the Container Store and a laser cut/etched control panel for her Counterpointer project.



Threaded Inserts

Keeping your control panels fastened to the drawer organizer can be challenging.  Standoffs or threaded inserts can be used with screws.

Brass threaded insert

Metal threaded inserts allow you to connect machine screws to plastic and wood parts.

I’m using press fit threaded inserts from McMaster-Carr in this example.


Steel Conduit Boxes

Electrical conduit box

Off the shelf electrical conduit boxes make for cheap, durable, and repeatable project enclosures.

Electrical conduit project enclosure

Electrical conduit project enclosure

Powder Coating

Powder coated tin can robots

Powder coating is an incredibly durable paint job.  The main difference between traditional paint and powder coating, the pigment is in powder form and applied electrostatically and baked on using an oven.  Only materials that can hold a charge and withstand 400 degrees can be powder coated (basically metal only).

Unfinished cans

Powdered cans

Powdered cans after baking

The prepping of the material and loading the powder.

The spraying and baking of the parts.

Note: All powder coating takes place in the spray booth in the first floor big shop.


Fitting Stuff Into the Box

Fitting everything into your enclosure can be tricky.  Whenever possible, go with a box that is bigger than you think you’ll need.

Panel Mount USB Cables

Panel mount USB cables

Panel Mount USB Cables are great adding a USB connector to an enclosure surface.

B Male to B Female
Micro B Male to Micro B Female

Illustrator file for mounting plate.


Avoid using breadboards in your projects.  Wires and components can come loose and they are much bulkier than soldered circuit boards.

Breadboard style proto-boards are very useful when making your circuits more permanent.

Tip: Clip off the wires and connectors of broken servos, they can be useful for other components.


Use make and female headers when you can in your projects.  It is a good idea to use these connectors for panel mount components.

View this post on Instagram

Wiring up some motorized sliders.

A post shared by Ben Light (@blight_design) on

Male and female header pins.

Circuit board with male headers and connectors.

Adafruit JST plugs and connectors.


Whenever possible use stranded wire over solid core wire.  Keep your wires neat and short (but not too short).


If your project runs on batteries, make sure you can change your batteries easily (easy access, separate door for batteries).  Use a battery pack whenever possible.

Note: Adhesive backed velcro makes for a useful battery holder in a pinch.



Fancy USB cables.  Brightly colored, fabric covered, or coiled.  The right USB cable can add something extra to your projects.

USB Patterned Fabric Cable

Coiled USB Cable


In Class

Fit control panels into drawer organizers.

Powder coat conduit boxes.



Related Reading/Viewing

Powder Coating How To

The Well-Sequenced Synthesizer

Haptic motor controller project