In this age of constant computer innovation, most people have had a spare hard drive or two lying around. In an emergency where electrical power may be months or years from returning, every computer will certainly have at least one! Rather than tossing them aside as useless paperweights, you should do your best to scavenge useful materials that can be used to assist you in survival.
Disclaimer: Aside from the dangers of working with some of the materials inside the hardrive (magnets powerful enough to pinch skin and draw blood for example) that require the use of gloves and safety glasses you should also be careful to eliminate all personal information from any hard drive. As this is an in-depth discussion that would take time and I am not an expert in file security by any means, know that simply deleting files on your computer does not suffice. Usually you need to use certain freeware designed for this purpose, or if you will not be using the platters that store your data you should thoroughly destroy them physically, taking care to do so in a place where shards of metal or glass can be easily cleaned up. Whatever you do, do not burn or incinerate your hard drives as the fumes will be toxic. If you have any questions talk to companies that offer destruction services or consult the manufacturer for proper disposal!
Taking apart your typical hard drive to get to the good stuff
Here is what you’ll need to take that baby apart:
- A flat-head screwdriver.
- A torx screwdriver, with multiple bit sizes (varies depending on the hard drive in question).
- A Philips screwdriver with multiple bit sizes (usually only 2, sometimes 3-4 different sizes)
- An easily cleanable surface (NOT A CARPET OR RUG!) in case you accidentally shatter one of the brittle plates.
- Safety goggles and gloves.
- Optionally, a small knife or razor blade to cut through all of those unneeded warranty stickers covering the screws.
Those silver dots are actually warranty stickers that cover certain screws you’ll need to remove before the outer casing will open.
The first thing you’ll want to do is identify all the various screws and tear away all those warranty stickers. Obviously you only want to disassemble an old and unused hard drive for this! Once you’ve determined where all of the screws are, start taking them all out in order to loosen the lid and get to the innards you’re trying to scavenge. Keep the screws if you wish, but know that you won’t be putting everything back together again once the screws are loose.
Next, using the flat head screwdriver gently pry the lid off, taking great pains to avoid nicking the shiny, smooth surface of the hard drive’s plates. You may notice some sticky surfaces once you’ve pried the lid off: this was an adhesive used to keep the hard drive airtight so don’t worry about it.
With the lid removed, you can now see the cornucopia of technological delights you are now able to access. At this point it all depends on what exactly you wish to harvest, as there are two chief pieces of hardware you will probably want:
1.The shiny hard drive platters. Usually made of metal or glass, these delicate, ultra-smooth disks contain the data you once used to run your computer. In a survival situation however, they can be used as mirrors for a variety of purposes since they will have almost no imperfections marring their surface. Aside from use as makeshift travel mirrors for shaving and hygiene, they are also marvelous as signaling mirrors since the smoothness reflects a great deal of light.
Once the lid is off most of the useful parts are immediately visible, and can be removed fairly easily so long as you are careful.
2. The magnets. There are incredibly strong neodymium magnets contained within any old hard drive, and the older the drive the larger the magnets will be. They are among the most powerful you will be able to get your hands on regardless of size, since hard drive manufacturers use the most powerful magnets they can find to improve the performance of their drives. These are brittle and can shatter if they are permitted to slam into each other with full force, but they still have a wide variety of uses.
For example, they can be used to hold relatively large objects (one small magnet was able to hold several knives for example) onto walls without needing screws. Larger magnets from older models were said to be able to hold even larger objects, so it all depends on the magnet you can pull from your own drive. Furthermore, you can also temporarily magnetize screwdrivers and other tools, which could be valuable when performing emergency car or generator repairs when every screw is irreplaceable and precious.
To remove the magnets
Whether or not you want the platters, you must remove the magnets in order to gain access to the rest of the miscellaneous metal bits. The magnets are probably underneath the metal plate that is next to the arm extending over the plates like an old-school record player. Unscrew the 3-4 screws holding the plate on and you should be able to access your magnets. They will be mounted onto brackets that help give their brittle bodies support, so carefully peel each magnet in its bracket away from its fellows. BE CAREFUL as freed magnets may attempt to fly over to their brethren if you don’t keep them apart, and they will squish and smash through human flesh to do it if they must. I strongly recommend gloves here!
Getting at the platters.
Once you’ve gotten the magnets out of the way, you can remove the actuator arm in order to get those shiny plates. The arm is of little value unless you can come up with something, so generally you can just unscrew it and and toss it aside so long you take care not to accidentally scratch the platters while doing so. From there, there is usually a very small torx screw holding the platters themselves into place: remove that and you should be able to pull them free.
And with that you should have the majority of the usable parts that can be harvested from a hard drive. If you have use for the remaining parts by all means keep them, but otherwise just toss it into a scrap heap. Enjoy your new mirrors and magnets!