6th 2005f December, 2005

Things you can do with 20 hard drives

by @ 21:34. Filed under

Things you can do with 20 hard drives

By Christoffer Järnåker

Hard drives
What do you do when you realize after a garage clean-up that you have 20 old 3.5" 10Gb hard drives? This is what I found in my garage a couple of months ago and the sad thing is that they’re all working just fine. 50cm or almost 20 inches of hard drives.
So what should I do with these drives? That is what I’m asking you!!
This is hopefully the first article in a series of ‘Things you can make with 20 hard drives’ but I need your feedback to make it an reality. Sure I’ll manage to come up with a couple of ideas but I need more.
Send in your idea to me at ideas @ or fill in a comment and we’ll see what I can build!

Note: As the project goes on all ‘creations’ will be filed in the ‘hard drive category’

Hard drives
I have 5 Western Digital and 15 Maxtor manufactured between 2000 and 2001 and when they were new they would be sold for $175 a piece. That’s $3500 for 200Gb on these disks. Today you can buy one of these new for less then 10 bucks on eBay, but then again – who wants to buy a 10Gb hard drive today?
Sell them?
Forget about it! I can’t even get rid of these sad oldies even if I’d give them away…
Use them as an anchor? Sorry, I don’t own a boat.
Glue them to the wall as ‘modern art’ (has been done by the way)? No, I’d only get myself into a divorce.
Do what any maker would to – take ’em apart and be creative? YES! That’s what I want to do!!!
Open hard drive
So lets get down to it and see what pieces we have to our disposal. The first thing of course is that we need to take the hard drives apart one by one without leaving any marks on any parts so that we can use it for whatever later.
It speaks for itself that we need a relatively clean working area, but it definitely doesn’t have to be dust free. It’s also a must to have the right tools or we’ll end up with scratch marks all over the place. The main tool is a torx T-9 for basically all screws in these drives.
After removing the lid (6 in the edges and two under white stickers) we have this. I know it’s tempting to start sliding those heads back and forth but don’t or we might end up with a scratched disc.
Removing first voice coil magnet
The ‘roof’ of the ‘engine’, which is actually called the voice coil, can in this model simply be lifted of. It’s kept into place by the magnetic force of the 1st voice coil magnet located here. We need to be careful here as we’re dealing with unpredictable magnetic forces. If you don’t watch it then the ‘roof’ will jump to the side damaging the arm, disc or your fingers. And no, the last is not a joke as these magnets are very powerful.
Preparing head removal
To be able to remove the heads (in this drive it’s actually only one head) we need to make free way for it. If you slide the arm towards its outer position then you’ll notice that something will stop it. In this case there’s a small metal pin by the ‘engine’ and the connector for the heads is also in the way.
Unscrew the two screws that hold the connector down. As this connector has a gasket under it you might need to use a screwdriver to carefully bend a bit here and there before it gives way.
Removal of hard drive heads
Now when the connector is gone we can unscrew the heads. This is done by unscrewing the screw in the middle or centre point of the head mechanism. Then carefully lift out the heads.
Removing the hard drive platters
This step can be a bit tricky but luckily this model has empty holes between each screw. I guess these holes are there for when they mount the disc and need to tighten it as there is no other way to prevent the disc from spinning. I can say this though – it’s worth spending half an hour on finding a tool that fits or building a mechanism to fit in the holes as a single mistake will be clearly visible on the disc later on.
Lifting out the disc
Now it’s time to lift out the disc. As can be seen in this picture there is two rings that hold the disc down and these must be removed first. There’s a third ring below the disc that you can remove later.
Lift up the disc by the edges and if you can’t get it up and need a tool then use a plastic one so that you don’t scratch it.
Removing 2nd voice coil magnet
The second voice coil magnet is a lot easier to remove. Simply remove the screws that hold it into place and lift it out.
Notice that there is a very small magnet on the left side. This one is there to keep the arm still when the disc is powered off. It’s very easy to remove, just use your pliers and lift it out.
Lifting out the lower magnet
Being careful when handling these magnets can’t be stressed enough, they’re very powerful. And getting them out doesn’t become easier as they’re glued into place. Try using a flat screwdriver and bend between these small metal knobs and the magnet to force it loose. If that doesn’t work then you have to do as in the picture below.
Removing the top magnet
Anyone who has handled any kind of magnets before know that they easily chip or crack. It’s the same with these magnets and the shiny surface is only chrome which is what will have to give in when forcing the magnets loose. On this magnet I simply couldn’t get it loose with the screwdriver and had to use a knife.
If you haven’t listened to my warnings before then it’s time that you do so now! I don’t want your mother calling me and blaming me for you cutting off your finger!
You need to apply some serious force to get in between the holder and then magnet, so don’t use a Stanley knife (which I did..) as it flexes and may split under the pressure. And don’t use a hammer to force the blade through as this will usually only make sure that the magnet crack.

Pieces from a hard drive

So there we have it. I’m sorry that I don’t have a complete picture of all the pieces, but I trust you have a vivid imagination.
On the picture:

  • Three pieces of useless steel
  • Two very powerful magnets
  • One decent very small magnet
  • Read/write head with connector
  • The ball bearing for the heads

Not on this picture:

  • One hard disc disc
  • One hard drive lid
  • One hard drive case
  • One controller board
  • Three disc spacer rings
  • Twenty T-9 screws in different lengths

And multiply this with 20. This is what we have to play with. 20 discs, 20 read/write heads, 40 very powerful magnets, 60 spacer rings that sounds -ping- when you… ping them…
My mind is already spinning on high gear with ideas on what can be done with these, now I just want to hear from you.

Fill in a comment or send me an email at ideas @ and we’ll see what I can build!

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68 Responses to “Things you can do with 20 hard drives”

  1. MAKE: Blog Says:

    Things you can do with 20 hard drives

    Chris is looking for things to do with 20 old hard drives “I have twenty 3.5 inch hard drives collecting dust in my garage (10Gb and all working) and I will use them to do things. What things I haven’t decided yet, but I already have a couple of ide…

  2. eric Says:

    these drives have some really nice brushless motors. I’ve always regretted not being able to control them. The dsPic from Microchip will work, I believe, so you could have some really neat little robots.

  3. Patzilla Says:

    I’ve always wanted to make a PC self-destruct device. This can be accomplished by tearing out the guts, filling the case with thermite ( and igniting a magnesium fuse by remote control (i.e. cell phone). A pager or cell phone could be used as a trigger and an internal NiCad battery pack hooked to the existing 5V power plug (for trickle charging) could provide the power to set off the igniter even if the machine is unplugged. If this device is installed on top of the existing hard drives it should easily burn through them (and the case; and the desk; and the floor).

  4. Will Says:

    Well, I saw somewhere that you could make a set of harddrive speakers. It required 3 different sizes of hard drives so you may have to scrounge for some more.. But you could set up a surround sound system with all of them..

    and a better one here,

  5. Annonymous HDD Manfuacturer Employee Says:

    I have tons of these old hard drives lying around from work. I use the magnets on my fridge and the platters make great mirrors. you could make all sorts of things from the PCBs (i’m thinking those old notebooks, keychains, and other office items made from circuit boards and ancient memory sticks). Let me know what else you come up with as i’m always looking for ideas.


  6. Ben Says:

    Here’s an idea : set them up as a natural lighting device for your home. Think of it as an array of mirrors set up to reflect light into your house. Mount the platters each individually on a voice coil, then mount the voice coil/platter assemblies on a frame. Use the strong magnets to make a stepper motor to turn (rotate) the frame, and set up the voice coils to adjust the attitude (up/down position) of the platters. You’ll then be able to program 20 individual mirrors to reflect light from outside in to your home. Since the whole array could probably be run off of 5vdc, it could present a tremendous energy savings by replacing incandescent lighting during the day.

  7. Dan Says:

    You could use the platters as a mirror array to power a solar device. Or use the motors to make lock-picking devices. the plans are out there somewhere…

  8. Joe Says:

    I have seen people make clocks out of them..
    Make some clocks… sell on ebay…

  9. bob Says:

    I say make a parabola from the platters.

  10. Travis Says:

    Platters can be used to make coasters, I would suggest sand blasting an image onto the top side and putting felt pads on the bottom for an interesting coaster. The rings that separate the platters can be used as windchimes or napkin rings, pcbs can be used to make a putter or driver like you can buy on the net. You can also use the entire harddrives to make either speakers or even a clock. How to’s on the speakers are at afrotech mods but the clock might be harder to find. You can use the coiled wire in the arm to make battery heated clothes/steering wheel cover(also on afrotech). You might be able to create your own musical percussion instrument by using these platters as cymbols. I really like the projects with the platters so you could maybe solder them together into a shape and make something from it, maybe a computer case? That’s all I got.

  11. chuck Says:

    if you take the magnets and wrap them with very fine wire you can use them as magnetic pickups in a homemade guitar {be sure to keep them far enough away from the strings cause these puppies will damp out the vibrations if you get to close

  12. willis Says:

    hi…i was thinking on my way home from work about this;
    does anybody know if it is practical/ if someone has written code to get a serial port or usb to talk to an ide device? i think it has been done in external hardrives. i am pretty sure an external drive has a power supply but does it have any bits of circuitry to interface an ide device to a non-ide bus, anybody seen plans for this kind of adapter and supporting code???diy external hard drive?

  13. gsullivan Says:

    The platters can be attached to piezo transducers (good one for this: radioshack pt# 273-073a), and used as part of an electronic drum trigger. I’ve buit a few of these, and wih some effort, they work just as well as the expensive kind.


  14. a soggy waffle Says:

    RAID 0!!!!

  15. Curt Onstott Says:

    I had on old drive. I took the cover off of it, drilled a hole through this motor spindle and installed a clock movement.

  16. Dodd Carlton Says:

    Well, not so much an idea as a part you missed…

    There is a nice (stepper) motor in there that can (sometimes) be unscrewed or pressed out of the housing. Even if you don’t use it as a motor, it has interesting applications as a bearing (I’ve seen DIY arcade type spinners made out of one).

    Can’t wait to see what you can make out of these things! I’ve got a bunch of old ones (some 1.2GB!) lying around as well.


  17. Peter Hunsberger Says:

    Whatever it’s going to be it’s got to be magnetically suspended in mid air…

  18. TJ Says:

    How about a gauss rifle made from the magnets – should be fun…

  19. Ed Tapanes Says:

    1. Collect 20+ obsolete Hard Drives
    2. Assemble kitschy uses for them
    3. ???????
    4. PROFIT!!!!

  20. Tav Falco Says:

    wind generator!

  21. SatcomSoldier Says:

    This is an idea that I was going to implement, but I have neither the time nor resources at this point, so you are happy to have it.
    The idea it to make a retro lamp out of a bunch of platters, with a cold cathode light running up the middle. Hide the inverter
    in the base and wire it to a headphones type jack and plug a wallwart into that for your power. I think having a lamp like this would be

  22. diluded000 Says:

    – I made art out of a drive by painting it with fluorescent paint, then running the drive with the cover off and dripping paint onto the rotating platter under a blacklight.
    – The magnets are useful, grab the magnet with one side of the pliers and the metal base with the other, and pinch until the glue breaks loose. The magnet face will be at roughly a 90 degree angle to the plier jaws.
    – Taking drives in the woods for target practice is always fun.
    – The aluminum base casting is a pretty good grade for melting down. I always wanted to build a homemade propane forge, and melt some of these down for some home sandcasting.
    – The spacer rings between the disks are kinda interesting. I have glued one at an angle to another > and put on a rotating surface (another disk) to look like the top ring is rolling in circles.
    – Put on some safety googles and beat one flat with a sledgehammer to make interesting wall art.
    – Hold the circuit board upside down and carefully heat it with a propane torch so all the components fall off.

  23. Dr Hangup Says:

    I work for a large company and our IT people saved a bunch of drives when upgrading some old sun stations. Some quantum, some IBM, some seagate, some really large and scary looking drives.
    Mostly 1-2G drives SCSI drives.
    Then when the upgrade was completed the drives were sitting in storage for a few years.
    About a year ago someone decided it’s time to send them to reclamations.
    I got two boxes of them loaded in a crate and hid them in of of the labs.
    Me and my boss spent a couple of months now opening them up :)
    We sure learned a lot about mechanical engineering and of course THE MAGNETS!
    I have a box full of them. Very dangerous. We pinched ourselvs a few times.
    Magnets used to attract a lot of visitors to my cube :)
    Most people take two magnets and then try to see how strong they are . . . holding them in two hands, moving close, WHACK! magnet or both are cracked in pieces!
    I can now safely handle magnets of just about any strength.
    On some really large drives we had to use a vice to separate the magnet assembly.
    I can also take apart any harddrive in a very short time :)
    I’m not sure how useful these skills are, but i sure had a ton of fun with these drives!
    My boss was building a backyard furnice to melt the aluminium from the drives :)
    I still have maybe 50 or 60 drives to take apart, but no time for them right now :(

  24. Scott Morris Says:

    I’ve found that the disks from hard drives conduct heat amazingly well — you can’t melt them with a torch very easily. Thus, components for a Stirling-cycle engine (displacer piston, flywheel, heat transfer plate or similar)/ heat exchanger/radiator for a solar collector etc?

  25. Bobby Says:

    well… i didn’t cut OFF my finger, but I did cut it….. :-p

  26. Marco Says:

    why not send some to me? im in need of some hard drives no matter what size
    i live in sydney btw

  27. JoeBob Says:

    U can donate them to the middle school where I volunteer one day every other week. They use older computers and have drive problems (being so old). I could use them for replacements drives.

  28. g pierson Says:

    A couple of ideas:

    Use the platters as a means to recording finger prints (if you have small kids just have them touch one temporarily). Store the platters in a safe place in a large ziplock.

    Have some fun with sun…use the platters to try and heat a glass of water on a warm (or better cool) day.

    Make a Dobsonian type telescope out of the mirror like platters.

  29. kendall Says:

    i would like to build a removable usb storage system

  30. wallwager Says:

    plz plz plz
    give them to me
    conect them all up and use them….

  31. Blake Says: Any suggestions as to combining the working drives into an IDE array thats then patched into usb controller? sugestions or examples or resources, please email them to me or post.

  32. jon osbeck Says:

    You could sell 2 of those hard drives to me, since I found 2 700mhz PCs on the sidewalk, minus hard drives… how about 9.95 each? PLEASE!?!??!?!?!?!

  33. dave Says:

    dasiy chain them

    the best idea is i see here tho is

    doante em to needy places

  34. Mark Says:

    Donate each to a “useful” cause: Send one to Darfur, the IRS, the Red Cross, PETA, etc. I’m sure each of these places could find a use for them. :) Then you could write off the donation!

  35. Rick Says:

    Is it possible to build a helicopter with the spinning motor? I’ve been browsing to see if it would be possible. I’m thinking the weight of it would make it a no go though.

  36. daveytay Says:

    Give back to schools. The Science teacher will be glad to have a couple so he can show his students how drives and voice coils work.

  37. Random J. Nerd Says:

    Use the platters to make a tesla turbine.

  38. skids Says:

    URL says most of it. With 15 identical drives, you should have enough voice coil magnets for a kickass PM generator. Just be reeeeel careful when putting it together. Also if you gear up the spindle motors, assuming they aren’t built in to the frames, around a worn-smooth 10-speed wheel you can probably get between 2W to 10W out of each of them depending on the model. You need to get those up pretty fast to get decent power from them.

    The maxtor 7xxx series are my favorite — the screws are all philips #0 — torx are better yes, but rarely do you find a drive that has *all* the screws the same — they come apart like butter. They also use common thread sizes, and all the parts are easier to pervert towards other purposes than any of the other drives I’ve taken apart (and I’ve taken apart most brands.)

    The guy above with the SCSI drives, if they are the half height variety, may find the magnets powerful enough to levitate graphite (again, see the URL.) You might be able to do it as well if you can liberate some of the magnets and stack an extra layer and re-shim the shields to add more gap.

  39. Leba837 Says:

    Make Harddrive windows on the top and install some led’s and create a custom stand, so that they are on there side and sell them as ‘custom’ external hard drives.

    or remove all the lids, somehow connect all the hard drives together, RAID them together, and a cheap and naasty pentium mobo and an LCD screen, and there you have it a media server.

  40. Fuzz Says:

    I say… Buy an old Server case and set them all up in RAID as a server… 200 gb of Network Storage, not bad. Plus the Geek Factor

  41. PlasmaFire Says:

    You find lots of fun things when you’re into dangerous experimenting…this guy used a surge generator (which he eventually beefed up with more pulse capacitors) to crush cans, “flash” EEPROMs, and of course, shoot hard disk platters. Might make an interesting electromagnetic weapon if someone can refine it well. Stay safe!

  42. Nathan Says:

    Make a gyroscope. You can take platters from multiple drives, and put them in a single drive (take out the spacers for room). The increase mass will increase the strength of the gyroscope. I just can’t figure out a way to keep it spinning since it’s not plugged in to a computer.

  43. Wesley Says:

    Make some wind chimes out of the platters. I did one years ago with some OLD 8″ and 5 1/4″ platters.

  44. AXL Says:

    What about an electrogavidic repulsion engine? YOu may need a conductive rail to mount it on, but there is sufficient potential energy within the magnets to lift your body off the ground.

  45. Charles Says:

    id take them off your hands…..ive been looking for a 10 GB hard drive forever and the prices are outragous i tell you……im stuck with a 4 GB drive in my compujter right now :(

  46. tim Says:

    well…you could donate them, or throw them at cars, if you are into that kind of stuff,(minus the aluminum case), you could, take black cats, or other explosive items, or make a killer computer with lots of space, donate them, that is s good idea, sell them, launch them out of a catapult, throw them in a rive, plaster them to the sides to a car, someone that you hate, send them to Mexico, store stuff on them, see what happens to them if you drop them off a really tall building, collect a lot of computers, put the drives into them and sell these computers to people, and make some good money, you could let them sit in you garage for some more years, and come back to this in five years or so. have fun. but hey most of the above suggestions are good, and accomplish something, go with those. not mine.

  47. Idspispopd Says:

    I once made a chain out of spacer rings, and attatched it to a small electric motor.
    Then i put it on the floor in front of my door, and when somebody opened the door
    the rings would fall off the motor and go >pling

  48. Raiden Says:

    in very interested in your project hope u will share it thanks and have a nice day thanks again

  49. Bruce Campbell Says:

    Take the slag idea a little further.
    Sand cast them into a sword.
    For Anti-Zombie training and such.

  50. Yeorwned Says:

    This has to be teh dumbest set of ideas I’ve ever read…you destory nonfunctional hard drives but to take perfectly working drives…

  51. Ian Says:

    you should should take the magnets out then fire the out of a slingshot at som1 who has a mettle
    plate in their head…idk i sounds kinda fun…

  52. Emory Says:

    Hang the platters in pairs with thin fishing line outdoors.
    Cool windchimes. And hey reflect dots of sunlight around the yard.

  53. ciaran54 Says:

    you could make throwies wit the magnets?

  54. John Says:

    Take at least one of them, replace the cover with the cover from a 80 gig or larger drive. Install in a 2ghz or faster computer.
    Install xp.
    Then take to Best Buy and ask them to figure out why you can’t access the rest of the harddrive space.

    Always have fun!!

  55. bryce Says:

    hay i have a 20 gig hard drive i think or 30 or some thing at my dads in a draw i might go steal it would u be able to convert it to a external hard drive or hook it up to make a mp3 player or some thing and i also own a external hard drive do u think i could hook that up to a car sterio with a lcd monitor i have a mini monitor i took outa a gameboy just looking how to make it into a mp4 player

  56. gosh Says:

    Donate them to a school. 10GB are more than enough to setup small desktop machines dedicated to teaching, or letting children play. They also can be used to boot dedicated firewalls such as pfsense, ipcop, etc.

  57. mike whisted Says:

    turn then into knife / tool holders
    see my page for directions

  58. jack leventon Says:

    give them back. . .
    to a school
    though you may have little time on your hands,
    install them in “your” local schools
    ’tis better to be noble. . .than to regret

  59. jack leventon Says:

    give them back. . .
    to a school
    though you may have little time on your hands,
    install them in “your” local schools
    ’tis better to be noble. . .than to regret

  60. Billy Says:

    Take them apart use the little pieces to make jewelry, wind chimes with the discs, fishing lures etc………

  61. VJ Chico Says:

    Hard drives and CD-Rom drives are simply wonderful things to have build another cool things
    Here my MySpace,
    Look the first video from top to bottom, it is a midi jog I have made myself to do video scratch using Resolume
    or a direct link to youtube:

    Excuse me but, jewelry and wind chimes with a hard drive is wasted resource.

  62. human Says:

    iv been lookin for extra drives, does anyone want to give a couple away, very appreciated

  63. Mark Says:

    I know it’s very simple – but I’d be quite tempted to make one (or more) into functional art. In as clean an environment as you can get, remove the lid having FIRST cut to size a suitable sided polycarbonate replacement cover, replace metal lid with a perfectly clear one – then use a USB > IDE adaptor with a nice long cable and plug it into PC – even if just used as a “temp directory” for nothing too important. Mount the drive on the wall so when accessed you can actually see the machine working. At the risk of getting dust in there, while lid is off you *could* mount an LED or two in there if you really must – even a colour changing one.

    Would also make an extremely welcome gift to any teaching establishment. Plug into a USB port and tutor can easily demonstrate how the heads scan, platter speed and so on. With some drive toolkits, you can actually make the heads move when you want them – so could demonstrate whey fragmentation is a problem, how fast voice coils can move things etc etc.

    I reckon that would not only keep the drive as functional (10 GB might be small by modern standards but it *IS* still big enough to record (with compression) the name, age and address of everyone who has ever lived on the planet) – but also a rather attractive items of art AND has a third function as an education device.


  64. athul prathap Says:

    just take the old harddisc,throw it on the floor and say goodbye to it for ever.that’s all you can do with an old harddisc.

  65. Martin Says:


    You can make use of the tiny magnet and build a “curie pendulum”.
    Have a look at this site to make things clear:

    Another silly idea is to glue some abrasive paper to the platter and use it for sharpening things like knifes or scissors..

    Have fun!

  66. piningforfjords Says:

    I have a bunch of these around. Seems there are such good materials in drives that there has to be a killer make that somebody is going to come up with. I think the materials are crying for something like a rotary stirling engine design. Or maybe add a skirt and make a hovercraft with the motor.

  67. jack passmore Says:

    The platters fit perfectly at the top of a certain size maglite flashlight. the screw on lens cover torques down to hold them rigidly in place. I attached this to the pump motor from a home spa tub bubbler and ended up with a very cool circular surgical type cutter (grind platter edge to knife sharp edge), saw (notch a platter with snips all the way around)grinding cutter(with a thicker disk platter), dont forget to add a skill saw type blade gaurd (I used the hanle part of a weird circular pizza cutter)– Was able to saw through garden shovel hanle, cut trough stubbon plastics, w/o breaking any blades never tried any surgical or meat cutting though

  68. JoeSchmoe Says:

    You could make a time machine, go back to the early 90s, and sell them for thousands of dollars a piece.
    Then take your new found fortune and solve all the world’s hunger problems, Or you could just smash them with a hammer.

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