The Compatriot and I teamed up for my mom’s Christmas present this year. He got her a Raspberry Pi — she’s a gamer, but has been simplifying her life and doesn’t want to have a ton of consoles and controllers lying around. This was his thoughtful solution. (On a related note, I have the best Compatriot a girl could hope to have on her team!)
My mom is also a huge reader, so I made a custom case for it out of a book, and titled it The Tome of Galaxies. (Also the Compatriot’s idea.) It’s a fairly easy project but time consuming, so let’s get going!
Disclaimer: I am not a computer scientist. I don’t know what all the pieces are called — I’m a total layman. If you are a Pi aficionado, you’ll likely cringe at my terminology. You’ve been warned.
- An old book, at least two inches thick
- Raspberry Pi (obviously)
- X-acto knife or box cutter (both is best)
- White glue
- Suedecloth, leather or sturdy fabric of choice for cover
- Embellishments: upholstery tacks, buckles, fabric paint pen/sharpies, etc.
My Pi case is sort of a modified book safe with an extra cover. So first, obtain a book. Make sure it’s a book that no one will miss! The tricky part about the book selection is that you’ll be doing some major deconstruction of a very thick book. If you have access to power tools, go ahead and use a hard cover — it’ll make for a nice, sturdy case. If not, go with the soft cover; why hurt yourself?
Carefully cut the entire book in half. You heard me. Cut it totally in half.
Now you have one side with raw-edged pages and two sides with neat edges. Guess what? Cut about an inch off the other sides too, until it’s about 1/2 inch bigger than the Pi on all sides.
I suggest orienting the Pi with the USB square toward the spine when you’re measuring where you should cut. This will result in a more realistic-looking book. If you orient it the other way, you’ll end up with stubby pages and some problems
Take some sandpaper to the uneven edges to help even them out. This will result in some clumped pages (not to mention a lot of mess). So then take some scissors or a knife and run the blade along the pages horizontally and vertically at random until it looks more uniformly disheveled.
Optional Step: Put a black tea bag into a spray bottle and spray over the pages to artificially age them. I didn’t think of it until after I had already covered the book, and didn’t want to ruin the cover I’d made. Do it now if you want “aged” pages.
Now, measure out the Pi and draw a rectangle several pages into the book. I ended up with a 3.5″x2.5″x1″ shape. Make sure you have rounded corners! I tried to make my corners sharp, and ended up with really sloped corners that were very difficult to fix. Rounded corners will be much easier to cut properly.
I measured the case I already had for the Pi, and made the square reflect that size, but didn’t end up putting the case into the book.
There’s two ways to move forward: You can brush glue along the edges before you hollow out the Pi compartment. This will hold the pages in place and make cutting easier, but it’s a lot harder to keep the pages a uniform size with an x-acto knife. They’ll slope inward, requiring tons of sanding and heartache later.
The other way is to not glue the pages yet, and every 10 pages or so redraw the square and cut out with the knife. This will take longer initially, but is a much neater decision in the long run.
Either way, you’ll be brushing glue at some point. I used tacky glue and poured a few drops of water into it, stirred and brushed. This is a bit tricky; too much water is bad, but too little and you’ll be able to see the glue. I used just enough water to make it paint-able.
Also, both methods will result in your work space looking a lot like a hamster nest. And it will take a lot of time, especially if you don’t have a box cutter. Put on some movies, start a new TV show, and take a deep breath. It’s mindless work, but worth it.
In a normal book safe, you’ll want to leave a half inch around every edge, including the spine. For this project, you’ll cut pretty close to the spine; you’ll be cutting a hole later to allow things to be plugged in.
CAUTION: Be VERY careful when testing your Pi to make sure it fits. I actually used my case as the testing vehicle for a while; the Pi is kind of fragile and you can easily break a bit off of it if you aren’t careful. Just be mindful, and you shouldn’t have a problem.
You’ll be cutting a hole through the spine to accommodate the two metal squares; they’re the bulkiest part of the Pi, which is why I chose to orient them toward the spine.
With your pages all cut out, it should be pretty easy to just stick your knife all the way through, carve out your hole, and pull out the bits.
Now you should be able to gently insert the Pi with the USB metal square accessible through the spine.
Next, I marked where the other ports were and carefully cut out squares big enough to fit the intended plug into. In my version, the Pi is removable: this means that in order to plug something into the smaller ports, the user sometimes has to open up the top of the book and use their finger to hold the Pi in place. This is worth it to me for the removable aspect, but you could easily glue the Pi in place if you wanted to maintain the whole “plug into the book” aspect better.
PHEW. That was pretty time consuming. Now comes the fun part — covering the book and decorating!
You’ll need a rectangle of sturdy cover cloth that is about 1/2 inch bigger than the open book. Remember those book covers you used to make in middle school? We’re basically making one of those.
Lay out the book, fold everything in and dollop some glue on there.
You’ll have to cut a hole in the spine and fold and glue the edges. I didn’t take a picture of that… you’ll figure it out. Even out any uneven edges with sandpaper and knife. In my case, I chose to leave a lot of irregularity for effect. The front edge of my book (opposite the spine) kind of bowed out a bit. I was going to fix it, but it perfectly hid the SD card, so I left it. Play around with it until you’re happy.
Now you can decorate your cover! You could draw crazy sigils on it in metallic pen, add a latch, metal corners… whatever floats your boat!
I chose to write the title in gold fabric paint pen (My handwriting is naturally kind of arcane-looking) and push upholstery tacks into the spine. When perusing Joann’s (there aren’t any local fabric stores where I live), I found ornate hooks and eyes. These I superglued onto the cover and a length of ribbon glued to the back cover, to form latches.
Completed project! It has some specks of paper still on it; a once-over with a lint roller fixed that up before Christmas, though.