DIY 45U Open Frame Server/Network Rack with Penn Elcom rails and Aluminum Extrusion


It's been a really long time since I've done any kind of build log, so here we go! As posted in the everyday thread:

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I'm building my own 45U open frame server rack! The frame will be made out of 4040/2060/2040/2020 extrusion, this is actually my second rack. The first is all covered up in the background, since I (temporarily) ran out of budget for that project — that one is "work" related while this one is for personal use.

If you want to do something like this, keep in mind that these rails are actually slightly taller than 45U — the double rails are a few mm longer, and the regular rails are twice as much. Buy the rails first, measure them, then buy the extrusion. Maybe I'll make a build log out of this one.

These are from Penn Elcom on Amazon, the double rails will be in the front and the other two in the rear. I probably should've gotten double rails for all four corners since it was like just Rs 100 more per rail. I'm assuming the double rails help with rigidity when mounting equipment that don't extend all the way back and instead have extra mounting points on the sides behind the ears. Or maybe they're for 0U PDU's?

I've never even seen a server rack in person so this is all very exciting for me, I'm loving the high-quality matte black power coating on these — most rack owners probably don't say things like that, haha.

Links to the rails:

Nice. Some words of advice, pay attention to load bearing capacity, make sure to place it in a pace where you can access the rear if that is required, moving it can be a pain, depending upon the type of rack the screws/hardware can be difficult to find and finally try to think ahead about all the things you want to place in it, sometimes there are things that won't fit. Racks are very practical and to the industrially inclined, beautiful. Good luck with your project.

Thank you.

I'm on the top floor and it gets really warm here since we have nothing overhead so I cool down the rooms by having air flow through one corner to the other corner with a few exhaust fans. This helps but it also means a lot more dust than usual, which means a lot more cleaning than usual. I'm intending to have castors under the rack to slide it in and out of the corner for easy sweeping/mopping (I do my own cleaning so nothing is at risk by hired help). I'm not sure if I'll have spinning disks in the rack because people usually advise not having castors on anything with spinning disks. This discussion briefly mentions this:

The castors I'm going to be using are these:

They have 40mm wide mounting hole pattern which is perfect for a 2060 extrusion that I'll use as the base. They're rated for 60kg per castor, so 240kg overall. I'm not intending to use any actual rack mount servers though, there will be a rack mount UPS that's 10KG, a battery pack that's 70KG, and maybe one or two full sized desktops. Maybe a patch panel, a router, a switch or two, and shelf or two holding a few tiny pcs. The 240kg limit might end up being a factor later though I'm not sure how I'll overcome it — the design of the rack in my head is a basically a wireframe cube with castors on the bottom four corners and no solid panels (for now).
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So a build log requires you to do actual building, haha. I've got three of the four rails attached to the extrusions and then I ran out of fasteners — more are on the way, should arrive in a few days.

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Started by putting in sliding T nuts loosely screwed onto M5 x 8mm button head screws, spaced three holes apart on the rail. That should be fine and is probably overkill with how heavy these rails are.

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The extrusion is then coaxed over the sliding T nuts, the double rails went on smooth but the single rails were slightly warped so it need some light hammering with a mallet.

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If you've never seen how T nuts slide inside extrusions, this is how they fit. Once fully slid through, I tightened the first and last screw, then every one in between to make sure the rail as straight as possible with the extrusion.

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Here you can see how the rails are ever so slightly longer than the extrusion. There wasn't much I could do about this, has the best prices for 4040 extrusion and they only sell lengths up to 2 meters.

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Another angle of the overhang, I'll probably end up grinding/cutting away part of the excess which would limit what I could put in the topmost 1U, probably a blanking plate or vent or some kind of status panel.

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Standing them up makes It almost feels official, haha.

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A better angle after I realized that that last photo wasn't very good.

Next update in the middle of next week, or whenever I get those more of M5 8mm button head screws!
Is extrusion actually required for this? If the frame is placed vertically it looks like it will be able to handle a lot of weight, just not lateral forces
No, it's not required but the rails do need some kind of framing. Most DIY racks that are built in the west use scrap wood or very affordable timber that's used in framing walls.

I just happen to like the aesthetics and ease of availability of black anodised custom cut extrusion. And with precut lengths, I don't need to do any fabrication, just assemble like it's giant legos.

The slots on the extrusion do allow for a multitude of mounting points for anything and everything I would want though (monitor arm, switch boxes, etc).
I would like to see how you're making yours — can you tell me more about what those dampeners are how you're using them?

I have these stuck to the four corners of the external drives I have:

The drives are placed on the shelves of a letter tray:

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And the letter tray is on top of a cupboard. They've been this way about two years now, I haven't shucked or dusted them since connecting them up to USB hubs.

They're this way because I've avoided spinning disks for over a decade now and I don't know how resilient drives are so I took all the precautions that I could.

I'll probably shuck them after the warranty runs out next year.
When I first designed this in my head, I didn't really want to do any fabrication at all (cutting/drilling/grinding) — it's one of the reasons why I chose custom cut extrusions as the framing material.

But the rails ended up being longer than expected, and they needed to be cut/grinded down to match the length of the extrusions. So I did my best to channel This Old Tony's work ethic and managed to get some cuts in with a rotary tool, I've never actually done anything like this before but it turned out alright:

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I actually cut the wrong side of the single rail, I should've cut the side with the square holes.

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But the cuts were clean, so I'm happy with how it turned out.

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The first of the joining plates, connecting two of the pillars together on top and bottom. I might not have access to the first and last 1U, that's okay, there's plenty of space left and I like how these joining plates look instead of the regular L shaped ones. There's another joining plate to be added next to this, a straight "I" shaped one.

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That's the front and the rear of the rack half-way done for now

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The front and back will be connected to each other with 2040 on top and 2060 on the bottom.

But I need more joining plates and more fasteners so I'm waiting on those now.
Still waiting on the fasteners, so a small update for now:

I usually use 4 hole straight "I" joining plates from but they've been out of stock for a while now, so I settled on 3 hole plates from and it turns out they're made for M4 screws, not the M5 I prefer. So I had to find another source of these plates, or source M4 screws along with M4 T nuts... or spend most of the night drilling out the holes for M5 screws.

So the night just ended and here we are. I used a file to sharpen the bit I had to make it easier, but it took a while to drill out nearly 50 holes, three at a time. I remember a tip I saw on a machining video on Youtube a while ago, that's placing a strong magnet nearby to catch the shavings so you don't make a mess of it all:


And with the plate attached:


I remember a lifetime ago, I was critical of modders who used socket head screws like these in their scratch builds instead of the more sleek button head or flat head ones. But now, years later, I think I finally understand why everyone preferred the more prominent/hardcore/imposing/extreme appearance of socket head fasteners. They just look so serious and overbuilt.

I might be some kind of weird fastener afficinado, earlier today I was happy to receive a pack of flat stainless steel spring washers. My family thought I had gotten a promotion with how happy I was.

So any way, that's the general idea of each corner, an "L" shaped joining plate next to an "I" shaped joining plate. Four corners per side and four sides, so that's 16 plates each. this adds up to 128 fasteners and 128 sliding T nuts.

Nothing planned for the top, but the bottom will have a castor on each corner.
The fasteners are here! Look at these freshly oiled beauties:


128 sliding T nuts.

It's actually 120, eight of the fasteners thread directly into the ends of the 2020 extrusion like this:


Rotating that a quarter turn to attach the 2060 pieces for the base:


And then attaching the castors:


I could've used socket head screws here, there's plenty of clearance.

Front bottom inside corner looks like this:


Rear bottom inside corner:


Front top inside corner, with the cut I made in the rails:


This gap is intentional for future side panels and/or cables:


Top of the completed rack:


Bottom of the completed rack:


And finally, the finished open frame rack:


The 4040 extrusion actually ended up being 38.5mm on each side so there's a 3mm extra inner space between the front and the back, which isn't much of an issue in this design since it's all open.

I estimate this would've taken about three hours if I had all of the fasteners I needed and there was nothing to drill out and/or fabricate.

Total cost was around Rs 25k.
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This frame has basically been sitting in a corner the last few weeks since all my attention has been trying to get my inverter/ups situation resolved, so all of my finances are have been tied up there.

@rahuljawale kindly offered to send over some cage nuts and screws so I was finally able to mount something in this rack:

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Top to bottom are:
  1. A 10" shelf from Mass Rack on Amazon, purchased two years ago in anticipation of this project — finally put to use!
  2. Front panel of a 2U Tasmota based energy monitoring PDU that I've been working on.
  3. The remains of the mangled MuscleGrid enclosure because why not.