MacBook Air: A Guide to Falling in Love

Posted by Lance Atkins on February 07, 2011 5 Comments

Two months ago, we welcomed a MacBook Air to our Blackbox Case family. Our decision was based upon pure logic. The MacBook Air was a very *cough* practical, necessary purchase for us. Kind of like an IBM Thinkpad…

Actually, it’s the high-end 13” screen model, full of 4gb of ram and a 256 gig SSD.

We have fallen hopelessley in love. It’s just amazing. It kicked out a faster 15” Intel Core i7 MacBook Pro, so the Air isn’t technically a performance upgrade. Here is our gut reaction to the Air, we will save you the nerd-detail-review: 

-It's oh-my-gosh light. 2.9 pounds. Almost 3 pounds lighter than the 15" MacBook Pro workhorse I was using. It's so portable, it may inspire you to travel to new corners of the earth to get work done.

-One thing I hate about MacBook Pros is the sharp, tall front lip of the computer. The Air has a low lip that doesn’t scrape your carpal tunnel wrist area. I am now known to continuously compute for 71+ hours without wrist blisters. Relief.

-Oh lordy is it fast! The processor is %30 slower than the Intel Core i7 equipped 15” pro I used to rely on. But the solid state drive makes it feel much more “snappy” than any computer I’ve ever owned. Loading applications doesn’t give me time to take a sip of coffee anymore.

-It fell out of the car, took a concrete gash, and has kept on rocking. We may have to make an Air case, eh?

- I never, ever, ever use an optical drive. The Air doesn’t have one. Without fail, two weeks into my AirLove, I desperately wanted to watch a DVD and could not. You can exchange your “not watching DVD” time for “People admire me for my MacBook Air” time now.

-Coffee shops are filled with loiterers wanting to see that “neat little thing.” Consider it your best meet-people-business-card ever.

-I don’t mind my workflow with a smaller 13” screen. If design work gets really crazy, it gets plugged into a 22” monitor.


If you’re thinking about a MacBook Pro, try to change your mind. A few more dollars and you will have a fast, lighter, more comfortable piece of art. Kudos, Apple. Kudos

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Make a wood wedding ring with 2 hours and $30

Posted by Lance Atkins on February 01, 2011 6 Comments

Hi. It's Lance here. I may or may not be getting married this summer. So I made a wood wedding ring because wearing a tungsten ring would be like selling my soul to the devil. Well, kind of like that.

Make one yourself:

This one is made out of birdseye maple, but you could use any sort of wood. Get yourself some wood veneer (make sure it's thin, pure wood with no backing-stuff) and a sterling silver ring liner. Take a strip of your veneer and put a dab of super glue on your ring liner to stick it to the veneer:

After the super glue has dried, sand down the small tab of wood sticking off the ring. Your goal is to get the wood to wind up smoothly without any big bumps in the roll.

take your strip of wood and soak it in hot water for about 10 minutes until saturated and pliable. This will help it wind up around the ring without cracking. lay the strip flat on the table and brush on a thin coat of  White drying Gorilla Glue. This glue cures with moisture, so it's perfect for wet wood.

Once the glue is on, snugly wind up the wood strip around the ring. You'll only need to wind about 12" of wood to get enough thickness to the ring. Tightly tape or clamp the ring to keep it from unwinding while drying. The glue will foam up as it cures, filling any small gaps.

Let it set for an hour, then attack it with some sandpaper until you get your desired shape. I would recommend starting with ~80 grit (really coarse) to get it to shape, then 120 grit then 180 grit (very fine, to a smooth surface without sanding marks.) You may also want to use various grits of 3M Sanding Sponges (Home Depot) because they're, well, wonderful. For this ring, I was able to wedge the ring onto a round, tapered screwdriver handle, put the screwdriver shaft in a drill, and spin it. This will do the sanding work for you and help easily get the ring symmetrical quickly.

Once you have the ring sanded to shape, I recommend a wipe-on, soak, wipe-off, and repeat finish. After about 4 coats, go wear your ring!


I got married June 3 to the most wonderful girl. We honeymooned in South America and decided to wear wooden rings for the six week adventure. I'm blown away with how good they faired on the road. The oil in my skin actually is helping the ring to look better with time and scratches are not a problem. Here's a his-and-hers set. The red wood you see is Padauk and yes, that is the natural color of the wood. The black "cap" on my ring is ebony wood, and has been epoxied to the top of the rough ring, then sanded to shape. Enjoy!

So, we're not selling rings at the time (but with all your requests we might have to) but we do make really excellent wood cases for Apple products. We've just launched a huge project to preorder our brand new line of cases.... Bamboo! We can cover you and your loved ones' MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or iPad 2 and have it to you in time for Christmas. Feel free to meander over to Kickstarter, where we have launched the project.

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Why We (Nerds) Love (and Hate) Red Oak Hardwood

Posted by Lance Atkins on January 25, 2011 2 Comments

We hand make all of our cases out of red oak hardwood. We like it. A lot. Sometimes we hate it like a teenage daughter too. We like to think we have chosen oak like a child carefully picks our their new puppy from the litter. Color, Attitude, Size, Love-ability...

Red oak is a really cool wood. The pores running through the grain of red oak are so open that we have used a stick as a water straw. You can suck liquids through it! (Okay, maybe not a fruit smoothie) Relive your childhood and blow bubbles with it:

Eco-friendly. A huge new trend in engineering and design is Life Cycle Analysis. It's a way of determining how "bad" something is for the earth/people/environment. It considers the production (wood, plastic, oil, unicorn horns), lifetime use (electricity, fuel), and disposal (recycle, trash). One of the scoring methods is the Eco-Indicator 99 method. Big number=bad. Small number=better.

Go download your free trial of Eco-It and try checking stuff you use. I've seen cars vs. airplanes, wood pencils vs. mechanical pencils. We did a quick comparison of wood vs. plastic... We start with 3lb of wood and end up with 1.5lb after woodworking. A speck plastic case is ~1.1lb of polycarbonate plastic. 3lb wood-against-1.1lb plastic:

Wood wins 91pts to 400 pts. Polycarbonate scores 4.39 times worse for mother-take-care-of-her-nature. That's what Nalgene water bottles are made of too. We also donate the waste wood: sawdust to horse ranchers, small pieces for firewood, and large pieces for other woodworking projects.

Red Oak is grown here in North America, so it doesn't have to travel far, just from somewhere east of the Mississippi River to Golden, Colorado. Exotic woods like Mahogany have to make a long, petroleum-fueled journey from another continent. Foreign exotic woods often are harvested less responsibly due to lack of regulation, too.

Wood is nature's perfect composite. It has fibers that make it directionally strong... Kind of like the graphite shaft on your buddies' golf clubs. Our wood MacBook cases are stiffer and lighter than if we made the identical thing out of plastic. Oak is also super awesome for these laptop cases because it's the right blend of weight and hardness. Light wood is way too soft (we hate scratches) and really hard/heavy woods are too brittle (cracks suck). Oak=Perfecto.

It's pretty dang light too. Our MacBook cases average 1.5 pounds (0.68kg). That's just what a beer in a glass bottle weighs. For comparison, a plastic Speck MacBook case weighs 1.1 pounds. Pretty darn close. Oak is getting cooler.

Oak makes us cuss sometimes, though. It especially presents challenges with applying finish. The first coat of finish typically pulls up fibers that had been pushed into its pores during finish sanding. So you sand again and again to get a smooth finish. The pores in the oak sometimes create "bleed-back." This happens when wet finish soaks into the deep pores, waits for the surface to dry, then pukes back onto the surface. More swearin....sanding.

Why not bamboo MacBook cases? Bamboo is actually a grass, which is cool. However, it grows and shrinks much, much more with changes in humidity. That means that moisture changes introduce tension and, perhaps, cracks. Dry climates (Colorado) are the worst. Go to your local Target, go find the bamboo cutting boards. I would bet that a few of them have cracks running through them. We don't want business-traveler-Joe to have his Laptop Case disintegrate.

Now go have Fun.
-Team BBX

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Video Review by Labmonkeys

Posted by Lance Atkins on December 17, 2010 2 Comments

Wonderful independent video review from the guys at

Merry Christmas,
Team Blackbox

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Of MacBook Cases and Men

Posted by Lance Atkins on December 03, 2010 2 Comments

 A short history of your Blackbox Computer Case:

Lance Andrew Atkins is born. With premature lungs. As a bonus for not breathing, he gets a sweet Flight-For-Life helicopter flight. His love for aviation is born.

His first utterance of words were, "I'm gonna make the world's most beautiful laptop case." He's been preparing for your MacBook since 1986. So he starts building things. Like forts and Legos.

Then potato guns.

Then starts fixing tractors.

And building cars.

He goes to Colorado School of Mines to be a mechanical engineer. He makes it. His 1986 computer case dream is a few inches closer.

But goes crazy in the school process.

He goes to live in Kenya and gets to fly some airplanes. The name "blackbox" is born out of his aviation passion and the infamous black box in an airplane.

More importantly, he meets a bunch of amazing people. They're full of life, smiles, and community. It's just sometimes they'd love clean water and a big chance to pursue their dreams. The 15% Challenge is born.

Lance's poor MacBook gets crushed in his bag while traveling around Africa. It's a sign. He must make that Beautiful MacBook Pro CASE! And it now must be hard shelled to make his MacBook happy. And it will be awesome.

Tools, tinkering, prototypes.

He decides to build a 6.5 horsepower router table to make them more perfect. 

Lance is best friends with Anthony. He is a professional hardwood floor master. Another piece is added to the wooden MacBook case puzzle.

They get a warehouse.

They build an office with their friend Eric and fill the shop with tools.

They reunite with old friends. Evan is a graphic designer. AK is a videographer, Mike is a business guru. They're in. So they get a bunch of wood.

And steal Grandpa's 88' Ford.

And keep working.

Squeaking every bit of perfection out of the wood.

And working.

It's perfect.


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Dream Big. Or Else.

Posted by Lance Atkins on November 23, 2010 7 Comments

As a little kid, what did you dream to be? Astronaut? Dancer? Cowboy? Robber?  I, for decades, have wanted to be an airplane pilot. I blame it on the movie “Top Gun,” which was clearly the pinnacle of Tom Cruise’s life and career.

Blackbox Case has formed as a product of friendships and, well, dreams. We dream of being artisans, giving back to our community, changing the industry norm, pushing wood to a new and unseen level of perfection, creating something new, employing someone who is down-and-out, building a children’s school in Abu Dhabi.

…There is one caveat to your dreams, though. You have to risk that which you fear most: failure. So we set before you our risk. We have been working so, so hard to perfection. There are jobs that have been quit, money invested, and a few cuts and criticisms along the way.

We encourage you to follow our journey and to start your own. What do you want most? Start a business? That pretty girl on the subway? Ride a wild ostrich? Believe you want it and do it. We promise, the freedom is wonderful.

Welcome to the family, and meet the new Blackbox Case.

Lance Atkins
-Chief Dreamer-

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