Raspberry Pi PirateBox

A PirateBox is a Linux based system built using free software for the Raspberry Pi that provides private sharing of digital content. The PirateBox creates a local WiFi network, independent from the Internet, with anonymous file sharing and chatting capabilities.

Raspberry Pi PirateBox

I wanted to make a PirateBox and create a cool looking case for it. I used a laser cutter to cut the pieces of the case from 1/8″ thick birch plywood and painted it to look as shown in photos 1 and 2. A small Python program controls custom hardware that makes the arcs above the skull glow when the PirateBox is up and running. Another small Python program controls a push button switch that illuminates when the Raspberry Pi is powered up. When the switch is pressed, the program shuts down the Raspberry Pi preventing the problems that can occur if you just unplug a running Raspberry Pi.

The “PirateBox Wiring Diagram” shows how the various components are connected to the Raspberry Pi. The second diagram and the schematic show the wiring for the LED circuit board. Since the three large LEDs draw more power than the Raspberry Pi can provide, the LED circuit board is powered separately and uses an optoisolator to keep the LED circuit isolated from the Raspberry Pi.

The PirateBox can be painted with different color schemes to create the skins shown in step 19.

This instructable assumes you have experience with setting up and running a Raspberry Pi, that you have experience soldering components to printed circuit boards, and that you have access to and experience with a laser cutter.

I made this at TechShop.

Step 1: Parts

The following parts are needed to construct the Raspberry Pi PirateBox:

Raspberry Pi Parts:

  • 1 Raspberry Pi model B 512MB RAM (Available on Amazon or Adafruit ID 998) (photo 1)
  • 1 16GB SDHC class 4 card (photo 2)
  • 1 HK Mini USB WiFi 150Mbps wireless adapter 150M LAN 802.11n/g/b with antenna (available from Amazon) or other supported WiFi adapter for Raspberry Pi (photo 3)
  • 2 1 1/4″ #4-40 Machine screws and nuts (photo 4)
  • 6 1/4″ Round nylon spacers for #4 or #6 screws (photo 4)

LED Circuit Board Parts:

  • 3 10mm Diffused blue LEDs (Jameco Part no. 2152147) (photo 5)
  • 3 47 Ohm 1/4 watt resistors (photo 6)
  • 1 USB female 4 position solder right angle thru-hole 4 connector (Jameco Part no. 2096181) (photo 7)
  • 1 Adafruit Perma-Proto half-sized breadboard printed circuit board (Adafruit ID 571) (photo 8)
  • 1 NPN Optoisolator PS2501-1 (Jameco Part no. 320653) (photo 9)
  • 1 120 Ohm 1/4 watt resistor (photo 10)
  • 2 12″ Jumper wires (one end male, one end female) (Sparkfun Part number PRT-09385) (photo 11)
  • 24 AWG solid core hookup wire (photo 12)
  • 2 3/8″ #4-40 Machine screws (round head) and nuts (photo 13)
  • 2 Round nylon spacers for #4 screw size, 0.187″ outer diameter, 0.115″ inner diameter, 1/8″ length (Amazon Part B000FP7TY0) (photo 13)

Shutdown Switch Parts:

  • 1 16mm Illuminated push button red momentary switch (Adafruit ID 1439) (photo 14)
  • Heat shrink tubing (1/16″ diameter) (photo 15)
  • 4 12″ Jumper wires (one end male, one end female) (Sparkfun Part number PRT-09385) (photo 16)
  • 1 470 Ohm 1/4 watt resistor (photo 17)

Hardware for the Faceplate:

  • 6 1/2″ #4-40 Machine screws (I used black nylon screws for the black faceplates and zinc screws for the silver faceplates) (photo 19)
  • 6 #4-40 Machine screw nuts (photo 19)

Cables and Cable Mounting Hardware:

  • 1 USB type A male to type A male cable (photo 20)
  • 1 USB type A male to micro USB male cable (photo 21)
  • 2 USB power adapters (5 volts @ at least 1 amp each) (photo 22)
  • 3 Nylon cable clamps for 3/16″ diameter cable (Jameco Part #173729) (photo 23)
  • 3 3/8″ #6-32 Machine screws and nuts (photo 23)
  • Short cable ties (photo 24)

Case Parts:

  • 4 Self adhesive rubber/plastic feet/bumpers (height 1/4″) (photo 25)
  • 1 18″ x 24″ Sheet 1/8″ (3mm) birch plywood
  • 1 8″ x 3″ Sheet of 1/8″ Sign lighting white 60% or 40% transparency acrylic (Available from TAP Plastics)

Finishing Materials:

  • Painter’s tape (photo 26)
  • Flat black spray paint (photo 27)
  • Flat white spray paint (photo 27)
  • Metallic silver spray paint (photo 27)
  • Wood glue (photo 28)
  • Small brush (photo 28)
  • Adjustable band clamp for gluing (photo 29)

Tools (Not pictured):

  • Laser cutter and engraver
  • Soldering iron and solder
  • Wire cutters / wire snips
  • Wire strippers
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Screwdriver (small Philips head)
  • Heat gun, lighter, or matches for the heat shrink tubing

Equipment for installing Raspberry Pi software (Not pictured):

  • HDMI capable computer monitor
  • USB keyboard
  • USB mouse
  • Ethernet cable

Step 2: Cut the case parts with a laser cutter

The first step is to cut the parts for the case out of a sheet of 1/8″ (3mm) birch plywood. A 45 watt Epilog laser cutter at TechShop was used to cut out and engrave the parts. All of the case parts can be cut out of one 18″ x 24″ sheet of the plywood.

The laser cutter settings used were:

  • Raster: Speed 30 Power 60
  • Vector: Speed 10 Power 85
  • Frequency: 500

The finished parts are:

  • Faceplate with eyes (photo 1).
  • Top of the case (photo 2): the faceplate will be mounted on this part.
  • Bottom of the case (photo 3). The design includes engraving that shows where all the electronics will be mounted.
  • Side with cutouts for the Raspberry Pi LAN and USB ports and for the shutdown switch (photo 4). There is engraving around the cutout to help make sure the switch is aligned properly (photo 5).
  • Side with cutouts for the USB power power cables (photo 6).
  • Two sides for the long side of the case (photo 7).

Next, the laser cutter was used to cut a panel out of 1/8″ 40-60% transparent sign lighting white acrylic. This part will be mounted on the top panel and is used to diffuse the light from blue LEDs.

The laser cutter settings used for cutting the acrylic were:

  • Vector: Speed 10 Power 90 Frequency: 2500

The cut acrylic part is shown in photo 8 (with the protective paper on) and photo 9 (with the paper removed).

The laser cutting design files are in the ZIP file attached to this step. The file contains CorelDraw (.cdr) and Encasulated PostScript (.eps) files for the designs.

PirateBox Laser Design Files.zip980 KB

Step 3: Assemble the case

Gather all of the wood parts for the case and align them as shown in the photo 1. Make sure to align the two side pieces with the cutouts as shown in photos 2 and 3. If these are not aligned as shown, the cutouts will not properly match with the electronics inside the case.

Using a small brush, put wood glue on the edges of the side parts and clamp them together as shown in photos 4 and 5. Clamp just enough to the hold the pieces together but don’t make it super tight or it will be difficult to fit the top and bottom panels on.

Raspberry Pi PirateBox

Gently, flip over the case and put glue on the edges of the bottom panel and push it into place as shown in photo 6. Place some heavy objects on the corners as shown in photo 7 and allow the case to dry over night.

The glued the case is shown in photo 8.

Step 4: Paint the top of the case

Paint the faceplate and top panel as follows:

  1. Use black spray paint to paint the faceplate as shown in photos 1 and 2.
  2. Using the lines engraved on the top panel as a guide (photo 3), mask off all but the center part with painter’s tape (photo 4).
  3. Spray paint the exposed area with white (photo 5).
  4. Allow the paint to dry then remove the tape (photo 6). If you want to have the rest of the case be the natural wood color, skip the rest of the steps.
  5. Mask the part of the top panel where the faceplate will be mounted (photo 7).
  6. Place the faceplate on top (photo 8) and align it with the mounting holes. Make sure that none of the tape is visible around the edges and then remove the faceplate and set it aside.
  7. Spray paint the exposed part of the top panel making sure to paint the edges as well as the top surface.

The finished panel is shown in photo 9.

Step 5: Assemble the top panel

Assemble the top panel as follows:

  1. Using the 1/2″ #4-40 machine screws and nuts (photo 3), put the machine screws in the each of the corners of the face plate (photo 1) and put the acrylic panel on the back as shown in photo 2.
  2. Tighten the nuts to hold everything in place.
  3. Use the machine screws and nuts to hold the eyes in place (photo 4)

Step 6: Paint the case

Paint the rest of the case to match the top panel per the instructions below. If you are making a case with the natural wood color, skip this step.

  1. Using painter’s tape, mask the inside of the case as shown in photos 1 and 2. Make sure all the mounting holes in the bottom are covered and the tape is tight against the holes (photo 3): this will ensure that paint doesn’t get inside the case. Also make sure the tape is firmly pressed against the cutouts on the sides and the tape goes up to the top of the tapes on the top edge (photos 4 and 5).
  2. Spray paint the bottom and the sides of the case.
  3. After the paint has fully dried, flip over the case and spray paint the top edges (photos 6 and 7).
  4. Allow the paint to fully dry and then remove the painter’s tape.

The painted case will look like photos 8 and 9.

Step 7: Build the LED circuit board

The LED circuit board sits under the faceplate acrylic panel and illuminates when the Raspberry Pi WiFi is up and running. Assemble it as follows:

  1. Using the diagram as a guide, solder all the components to the circuit board. Solder the parts in this order: (1) wires, (2) resistors, (3) optoisolator, (4) LEDs, and (5) the USB connector. Make sure to solder the optoisolator exactly as shown with the pin numbers in the diagram (there will be a small dot on the chip by pin 1). Also make sure to solder the LEDs with the correct polarity as shown by the “+” in the LEDs in the diagram. The longer wire coming out of the LED is the positive (+) wire. After soldering all the components, trim the wires on the bottom of the circuit board. The finished circuit board is shown in photo 1.
  2. Solder the male ends of two of the 12″ male/female jumper wires to the circuit board as shown in photo 2. Trim the wires on the bottom of the circuit board. The fully wired board is shown in photo 3.
  3. The USB connector is held in place by four solder connections and needs additional support to ensure it doesn’t break off if the cable gets pulled. Reinforce the connector by cutting and stripping two small pieces of wire as shown in photo 4. Put the wires around the USB connector and solder in place as shown in photos 5 to 9. Trim the ends of the wires on the bottom of the circuit board. Make sure the wires are placed parallel as shown in figure 8. If the wires are placed this way, the will not have any effect on the electronics.

The fully completed LED board is shown in photo 10.


For more detail: Raspberry Pi PirateBox

About The Author

Ibrar Ayyub

I am an experienced technical writer holding a Master's degree in computer science from BZU Multan, Pakistan University. With a background spanning various industries, particularly in home automation and engineering, I have honed my skills in crafting clear and concise content. Proficient in leveraging infographics and diagrams, I strive to simplify complex concepts for readers. My strength lies in thorough research and presenting information in a structured and logical format.

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