How do you dispose of your old computer hardware? Some people take their old PCs to the local landfill; others wipe the devices and donate them to schools or relatives. I prefer to make as much use as possible from the components. Some can easily be reused, such as optical drives, switches, USB devices, and slot cards. Power packs can also be repurposed after a clean, while fans and heatsinks can often find their way into other computers.
Motherboards, however, are another matter entirely. While it might be comforting to know that you have an old mobo lying around that can be used in the event of a massive system failure, there are plenty of other ways in which you can use old mainboards around the house and office.
What would you say to a key fob, or perhaps a motherboard used as a notebook cover? Add to that list placemats, jewellery and basically anything you can think of!
Preparing The Motherboard
Of course, a motherboard with all of the PC components unplugged and removed isn’t going to be suitable for these crafty recycling projects on its own. Once you have removed the board from your desktop tower or laptop, you will need to remove the various components that are soldered onto the motherboard. This will leave you with a flat surface with which to work.
There are several ways in which you can remove components from your motherboard. Probably the best three are as follows:
Put It In The Oven
Set the oven for around 200 degrees and place the motherboard above an old (or foil lined) baking tray atop two or more egg cups. Leave it in for at least an hour. The solder should dry out, making chips and components easy to remove. Note that this is the slowest method.
A faster method, this tool will quickly desolder connections, enabling you to quickly remove components with your pliers.
Use a Soldering Iron
Not as slow as the oven, this method means methodically desoldering components and removing them one by one.
With the heat gun technique, you can fix the mainboard into place and pull at the components with pliers or prise them apart with a screwdriver while applying heat. With all of the connectors, chips and other motherboard components removed (from both sides), check that the board is smooth; you’ll need a flat surface for the majority of crafting tasks.
Note that if you can remove chips successfully in one piece, these can make interesting keyfobs or jewellery items on their own. Memory modules can also be used in this way.
With your bare motherboard ready to be used, keep in mind that once it is cut to size you may need to smooth any sharp edges.
What You’ll Need For Crafting With a Motherboard
Now that the main material is stripped, you’ll see how the green (or blue, or brown, etc.) material with the silvery strips running along it can be used for a wide selection of crafting purposes.
In order to cut the device, I would recommend a multi-purpose handheld rotary tool such as those popularised by Albert J. Dremel. This is preferable to a jigsaw, as the thickness of the motherboard (usually made up of several layers) can sometimes lead to the edges splintering – not a pretty sight and something that results in additional work sanding. Rotary multi-tools are perfect for any sanding, and should be used to smooth any corners when appropriate.
On top of this, you’ll also need the additional materials required to convert what was a motherboard into your chosen item. For instance, if you’re planning on creating a placemat or drink mat (above), you’ll need to apply a layer of 1mm cork roll or perhaps some foam or other non-slip substance.
For notebook covers you’ll need to drill holes along the edge to match the spiral binding, whereas jewellery may require drilling and smoothing to remain comfortable.
For Your Own Safety
There are so many possibilities for using motherboards as crafting materials. The main problem is stripping the board down so that there are no (or very few) components and solder remaining.
To do this safely, note the following:
- Work in an aired space. If you are using a soldering iron, heat gun or oven, ensure that windows are open.
- Use goggles. Whether you’re removing items from a mainboard with pliers or cutting the board, make sure you have taken precautions to protect your eyes.
- Wear a mask. Similarly, protect yourself from inhaling solder fumes by wearing a mask.
The creative possibilities of a stripped motherboard are endless, so go and have some fun!