Lifehacker reader Mike Osborne likes his tech to look better than your average black piece of plastic. This beautiful DIY wooden hard drive enclosure is the result.
This project came about just because I was a bit fed up with the standard not-that-nice looking black plastic drive case my Western Digital Passport Hard drive came in. The answer was to make my own enclosure.
The only thing I had to hand was wood, so wood it was. I'm not a carpenter, so a few of my methods may make a seasoned chippie squirm, but I'm happy with the end result and I am already planning a MK-II version from what I learnt building this.
Here's what you'll need:
- Materials – Teak Plank; 1" thick, 1/8" Ply, Perspex, wood glue.
- Tools Used – Callipers, Square, Pencil, Miter Saw, Hacksaw, Router, Drill, Needle Files, Sander, Hammer, Chisel, Sandpaper.
- Time Taken – About 6 hours. At least 2 more than it should have had I known what I was doing.
Step 0 – Source hard drive
I used a 2.5" hard drive from my WD Passport as it already had the SATA>USB connection thingy on it. Prying open the case was pretty easy with a screwdriver, and the drive popped out of its little rubber buffers. Before I opened up the drive, I made sure there was nothing important on it. I use this as a jump drive, not for backup, so everything on it was expendable should the unforeseen happen.
Step 1 – Source wood
I have a large stock of wood, so I rummaged about and found a nice inch thick bit of teak that was more than big enough for my needs. Without my wood supply, Sydenhams in the UK sell a range of hardwoods in varying thickness from 2m in length. Boatyards may have offcuts of teak if you're not planning on more than 6' of hardwood. I'm not too familiar with US wood shops, but boat building suppliers seem to be pretty good. Jamestown Distributors have up to 3/4" planks, but again they are 6' long. Furniture suppliers may be ok, but again, it's the thickness that's the problem. Another option would be to buy thin strips and laminate them together to get the desired dimensions. I chose teak because I had it lying about. Walnut or other decorative woods would look equally great, and may be easier to get hold of.
Step 2 – Measure and cut
I first measured the overall dimensions of the drive and card, then added about 1/2" all the way round to get the enclosure dimension. Then cut out the block with a Mitre saw so you have nice square corners.
Using an old laptop drive, I drew the outline of the drive along the block to give me the area of wood to router out. I didn't want my 'live' drive to spend too much time in a dusty workshop, so felt a lot safer with a broken laptop drive to throw about. With the router I used a smallish bit, measured the depth and set the depth gauge. I made some 'stops' out of scrap wood (and a miter box) so I would have something to router against and to help prevent going over the lines. As you can see in the photo below, it went a bit wrong to start.
With the outside cut to the lines the inner wood was removed, then the corners and base finished off with a chisel. A few test fits to get a nice tight fit and all was good.
Step 3 – Holes
Both the USB and LED holes were cut by measuring the depth of them on the PCB using the depth gauge on my callipers. Then drilling small pilot holes, then enlarging them with a bigger bit, and finishing the USB hole with a needle file to make it square.
For the LED light I simply drilled a hole and plugged it with a nice bit of perspex rod. Except I didn't have a perspex rod, I had a large square tube of it. So I broke out the hacksaw, cut a tiny square to almost the right size, then got some needle files to make it as circular as I could and just tapped it in with a hammer. For the MK-II I'll save the pain and agony and just buy some perspex rod.
Now if I had planned this out I may have discovered this problem sooner. In order for the USB plug to poke in, the socket end of the case needed to be substantially thinner than the rest of the case. If this happens to you, a quick solution is to file the hole a bit bigger to allow the upper end of the plastic on the USB cable to fit inside the case. Also about 1/4" or so of excess wood on the inside was removed with a chisel to get the socket closer.
This now left a 1/2" gap up the other end of the compartment. This was solved with a nice bit of pine, made to fit tightly so it held the drive in place. You wouldn't notice from the outside, but it does mean that the enclosure could have been 1/2" smaller.
Step 4 – Base
I was a bit stumped on how to do the base, I could use more teak, but I didn't really see the point, and didn't want to make the depth too much thicker, so I got a thin bit of ply, 1/8" ish, and cut that to fit the bottom of the base. Now I had a nice bit of teak and a not very nice bit of ply. This was solved by trimming about 5/8" off all the sides, then insetting the base so it gives a nice shadow line to make the drive look like it's floating. Even though it was still a bit of ply and hidden from view, I still gave it a few coats of black paint with a quick sand in between coats to get it as smooth as possible. Then glued it on. I thought about some nice brass screws but my tolerance was getting a bit tested, so glue it was.
Step 5 – Finishing
This was actually done before the drive was put in for obvious reasons. To finish the case, I first used an electric sander with 180grit paper to get to a smoother finish. Then hand-sanded with 240, and finally with some 1000 to get a nice fine smooth finish. I gave it a wipe with a rag and a drop of white spirit. Being teak it doesn't really need any varnishing or anything, It looks pretty nice as is.
Step 6 – Finished!
Admire all its woody goodness, throw old plastic one in the bin.
Thoughts and things
The only real fabrication things I would change, (apart from the thinner end where the USB socket) is the 'window' for the LED—that really was a pain. And the base. One idea I have is to cut a rebate into the bottom of the wood, then use a thicker bit of wood and press-fit it into the recess, sill allowing for the 'floating' look. This would save on having to use glue, and should the drive ever have to be removed then it would come out a bit easier. One thing I'm still not sure on is the heat issue. I've had the drive on for a good few hours so far, and the wood is hardly warm and everything so far is fine. As I said, I use this drive as temporary storage and as a jump drive, so it's rarely on for long periods of time and never used for backup, so hopefully it will be okay. I cut the wood purposely so the drive was a tight fit and was held in place by friction. There is hardly any room for movement, again this probably isn't the best for heat, but should be ok in case it's dropped or knocked (not that I'm planning on testing that). If I made a 3.5" drive enclosure (possibly) I'd defiantly put in a heat sink or fan of some sort and some mounting points incorporated into the design. As it is for an afternoons work in the shed, it's come out pretty well. I definitely want to make a pimped MK-II version.