Thursday, January 16, 2020

Storage Case for NCE PowerCab

Almost three years ago to the day, I posted about a box I made from foamcore to mount and use my NCE PowerCab more easily. Click here for how I did that project.

The small size of NCE's PowerCab DCC system makes it ideal for taking to the workbench - or even taking to a show. But not being mounted to anything makes its ungainly components a bit inconvenient to manage. The foamcore box solved that problem.

Well, after almost 3 years of use, turns out the foamcore box - while nice - had a couple of shortcomings. First, its light weight wouldn't prevent it from being pulled around by the wires if I had to move them. Admittedly, that didn't happen that often and wasn't really a problem - but I wanted something a little heavier and more substantial. Even if that didn't bother me, one of the hot glue mounting connections came undone and wasn't where I could repair it easily.

This is the old foam box. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you'll see the vertical PCB has some unattached.

This thing was more like a tray than a box - no lid and the throttle would just lay on top of everything.
So, being one to embrace a new woodworking project, I figured I'd just make a new box.

Beware: This post has a LOT of photos, but I let them do (most of) the talking. And if you make it to the end, you'll know how to make a cool box like this of your own:

Everything is mounted directly to the wood - including the throttle (mounted with velcro) - and the wires are stapled in place, so no fear of things moving or coming apart.

I started with a wooden box I got from Michael's Arts & Crafts. I think it's used primarily as a keepsake box, but I liked its plainness - and lid.
Here it is on my bench, ready to be modified.

First thing I did was lay out all the components so see how they'd best fit and work in relation to each other. Then I marked where the plug-in panel would go.

Three hole-saw holes got me started . . .

. . . and a 4-in-hand file made quick work of the remainder of the soft wood.

I also used a small saw when I wanted to remove material more quickly. It also came in handy when squaring things off.

And here is the panel all mounted, and a mark for the USB interface made, there on the left. Given the size of the box, I was able to include my Lokprogrammer module as well - something I couldn't do with the foamcore box. It's mounted inside toward the back of this photo. I'll get into precisely how it's mounted a bit later.

I couldn't mount the USB interface directly to the floor of the box since there are components on both sides. So I put it on its own wooden pad to lift it up. Since I'd be drilling the hole for the plug from outside the box, I needed to mark the outside. And since I needed to account for the thickness of the floor of the box, I mocked it up to get the correct height of the hole.

Once that was done, I drilled a couple 1/4" holes and filed to the markings.

Here's the mounting pad I mentioned. I was too impatient to just get the proper plastic screw sleeves to mount the board, so I used some balsa I had on-hand to create the needed clearance. Bonus: the balsa glued nicely to the plywood base.
Here are a couple of views of the mounting pad glued in place, showing how it was made.

Here's the USB panel all mounted - not as pretty as the plug-in panel, but just as effective.

And here's how it looks inside.

Remember I mentioned the Lokprogrammer had to be mounted with a screw? Well, that screw comes up through the bottom of the box and the Lokprogrammer is secured with a nut on the end of that screw. Problem is, now I had a screw head sticking out that would mar any surface the box was placed on. And I couldn't countersink the screw since the floor of the box is so thin. So I used these little wooden plugs to make four "feet" - thereby keeping the screwhead from ever hitting anything.

Da feets

Closeup view. The little feet were simply wood-glued to the box.

So here's the box "done" - but I took everything out so I could give it a much better, more finished appearance.
The smell of Minwax brings back many great childhood memories of my dad refinishing furniture. One of the running jokes was that he stained everything Provincial - and it turns out, that's what I chose for my DCC box :^)

Just brush it on and rub it down with a rag. ProTip: Don't do this while wearing nice clothes. And be careful of the brush whipping stain all over the place, well beyond the newspapers you put down . . .

But doesn't it look purdy?

Huge improvement over just a plain wooden box.

Here it is with the components mounted. And I added a little hook & clasp to keep the lid shut.

At first, I figured I'd just store the throttle loose on top of everything as I did with the other box. But I changed my mind about this later . . .

Here's everything all out and ready to go.

A couple more closeups of the exterior - this one showing the latch.

And showing the "business end"

I changed my mind about how to store the throttle once I realized that the lid had enough depth to store the throttle there. So I got some velcro . . .

. . . and just used that to mount the throttle in the lid.

Like I said, quite a few photos, but hopefully you enjoyed seeing this little project go from dream to reality. And if it inspires you to do something similar, I hope you'll let us know in the comments!


  1. That's very cool, Chris! That looks very portable and durable.

    1. It is! I'm actually considering putting a handle on it, but that might be a little much...