We’ve previously discussed ways you can upcycle your old hard drive, but how exactly do you take them apart? And what do you do with the most valuable part — the magnets?
If you want to be absolutely certain that your data has been wiped before attempting this, make sure you check out our ways to completely delete your hdd.
All mechanical hard drives contain rare earth neodymium magnets. These can be expensive to purchase, but did you know just how easily hard drives can be harvested for these precious materials? Let’s jump right in.
What You Need
You only need a few basic tools to get started. Alongside some hard drives to disassemble, you will need:
- Flat-head screwdriver: Useful to pry open the case, and to undo the armature (see below).
- Precision or Torx screwdriver set: Necessary to undo the case and magnet screws.
- Vice grips or pliers: Needed to remove the magnets from their backing.
You may have many of these tools already. The only really specialist tool you need is the precision/torx screwdriver set. This is needed to remove the special star shaped screws. These are security screws, designed to stop people like you and me from tampering. They obviously don’t work very well as a security deterrent though, since you can purchase the necessary screwdrivers on Amazon or from your local hardware store.
Now that you have everything you need, let’s make a start. First, identify the front and back of your hard drives. The front usually contains a label or sticker:
Whereas the back will often contain a circuit board of some sort:
This is not always the case, as it can vary per model of drive, but they will usually follow a similar format.
Start by removing the screws holding the top of the case on (you’ll need your Torx screwdrivers here). You may have to investigate a bit for this, in my case there are six screws visible, and one final screw hidden underneath a warranty sticker. This is a fairly common trick, so make sure you check all over if things are stuck, and especially underneath any warranty stickers.
Once all the screws are removed, it should be easy to lift the top of the case off. You might need a flat-head screwdriver to prise the lid off, if it’s really stuck (remember to check for hidden screws).
In some cases, you may need to remove more parts if the case still won’t come apart. Here’s the circuit board removed, by simply unscrewing it:
As a last resort, try removing each and every screw you can find. This should not be necessary for the majority of drives. Once the top is off, here’s what the guts look like:
Take note of the various parts. The round part at the bottom is called the platter — this is where your data is (or was) stored. The little arm is called the actuator, and acts a bit like the tonearm on a vinyl record player (why should you collect vinyl). It moves backwards and forwards to access data on the various different areas of the platter.
The precious magnets you want surround this actuator, one above and one below. The first one should lift off with no problem, although you may need to use a flat-head screwdriver to remove it, as it will be magnetically stuck to the other components.
Now remove the actuator arm. This will often hinge on a single central flat-head screw, so remove that as well. It may have a small cable connecting it to a circuit in another part of the drive, but you should be able to “fold” it out of the way with relatively little trouble.
Once the actuator arm is removed, you should be able to see the second magnet. This may be held on by one or two more Torx screws, which need removing.
Removing the Backing Plate
The final disassembly step needed is to remove the magnets from the backing plate. This can be difficult, as not only are they magnetically held on (and are very strong magnets), but they are usually glued on too.
The easiest way to separate the two is by using a vice and vice grips, but don’t worry if you don’t own a vice, it can still be done without one. Grip the backing plate with two pairs of vice grips or pliers. Carefully bend it in such a way that the magnet will be slightly freed. Be careful! You don’t want pieces of metal flying into your eyes if it shatters, so wear eye protection!
Once sufficiently bent, it’s an easy task to remove the magnets.
The magnets are often glued onto the actuator, This will leave marks on the surface of the magnets, or may have removed their nickel plating. Carefully cover the magnet with tape to avoid any metal shards going anywhere.
That’s it! You can use these magnets for any task really, and they are much cheaper than going to the shops. I used mine for holding paperwork to my shelving:
Now that you know how to extract rare earth magnets from hard drives, maybe you could combine these with a microwave transformer (how to safely take apart a microwave) for the ultimate mad science project! Don’t go too mad though, as you could cause some serious damage if the magnets were big enough (do you need to protect your computer from magnets?). Alternatively, why not make a magnetic cable organizer, or disguise a USB drive and use a magnet to hold it in a secret location?
Will you be taking apart your old hard drives? What will you do with your magnets? Do you have any magnet tricks to share? Let us know in the comments below!