I’m an unabashed scavenger and kludger; and as such I have many little pet projects that I plan to do but rarely get around to.  However for one of my more likely projects, I suddenly found a need to create a cheap lazy Susan bearing.

Granted, Lazy Susan bearings aren’t that expensive to begin with.  You can snag one for about $5.  However, those things are pretty noisy so the other criteria of my bearing was that it should be quiet as well as cheap/free.

Enter in the hard-drive.  My wife’s grandparents had a pretty sizable computer crash a few months ago; and after fixing the computer and recycling what parts I could, I ended up with a spare, bad hard drive.

I kept it thinking that maybe I’d use it as a door-stop or something; or at least steal the magnets out of it.  Anyway, once I had the need for a Lazy Susan bearing, I decided to open up the hard-drive to see what I could find.  There are a wealth of little handy parts in a hard-drive, but for my uses the important part is the spindle motor.  Below is my tutorial on how to dismantle a hard drive and harvest the useful parts.

Tutorial: Salvaging Hard-Drive Parts

What you will need:  A set of precision screw drivers/bits that include TorX (star) bits.  You can purchase one of these from HomeDepot for $5-10 last I checked.  Otherwise there is a very affordable and very comprehensive set available at Harbor Freight for $8.  You might also need a pair of circlip pliers.  A good pair of those run about $8.  You may also be able to bum one off of a friend.  The pliers, even when the circlip is present, are optional as they are only really needed to salvage a small bearing and get the bottom of the two magnets.

The first thing you want to do is determine whether or not the hard-drive is worth trying to scavenge from; particularly if you’re looking to snag the motor.  In general the manufacturer of the drive is fairly important in determining what parts you can salvage from it.

All hard-drives (HDD) will have removable rare-earth magnets which are fun but don’t generally serve much purpose unless you’re going to try to build your own speaker.  They also make rockin’ fridge magnets.  There is also a small bearing on the read/write head arm that may either be threaded or have a smooth bore and generally has a flange.  It’s a nice little bearing that, as of yet, I haven’t found a use for.  Also, the platters themselves can sometimes be salvaged.  There are two primary types of platter: Silicone Glass or Aluminum.  The aluminum ones are very useful, the glass not so much.  I’ll mention how to tell the difference below.

Thus far, from hard drives I’ve opened up and salvaged, only two brands (out of a whopping 3!) have had a removable spindle motor.  I opened on Samsung and was able to remove the motor.  I’ve opened 3 Western Digital and found them all with removable motors.  The one Seagate I opened had the motor integrated into the HDD chassis, and was unremovable (at least without going at it with a Saws-All).  There is a tell-tale sign as to whether the HDD will have a removable spindle motor.  If you look on the bottom of the drive you may be able to see where the motor is or it might be covered by a controller circuit board which you can take off to see the base of the motor.  As below, removable motors will have 3 posts surrounding it:

Arrows are pointing to two of the posts where there are screws. The third is hidden by the circuit board. The motor base is also a vastly different color than the surrounding chassis, which is a good sign.

These may be fully enclosed, or you might be able to see the base of a screw.  Sometimes the motor base is also made from a significantly different material than the HDD housing.  If you see this then it’s pretty certain that the motor comes out.  Looking through my HDD collection at work, I noticed that all the Western Digital drives I have show signs of a removable motor, and all Seagate show signs of a built-in motor.  I don’t have drives from any other manufacturer at work, sadly, so I can’t say much about any other companies, such as Maxtor.

First, you’ll need to check out the top (side without the circuit board) and figure out what bit you’ll need.  For Western Digital you’ll need a Torx size 8, for Samsung a Phillips #0 driver (you could probably do it with a 1 if you’re careful).  There will be several screws around the edge of the plate and one or two in the center, generally covered by the manufacturer’s sticker and/or a “warranty void if opened” sticker.  You’ll need to strip away the stickers over these screws before you proceed.

Top of the Samsung drive with the stickers peeled back from the middle screws. My precision driver is there too, armed with a Philips #0 driver bit.

Take all the screws out on this plate, and if you’re not putting the drive back together you can discard the screws.  The plate should come off, though you might need to lever it off with a flat bladed screwdriver.  If it won’t come off, double-check that you found all the screws, every so often there will be a sneaky one that I’ll miss during the first pass.

Magnets are lower left, the read/write arm is the silvery wedge thing pointing up to the right, and the platters are the big silver round thing. Technical terms, all of those.

Once you have the top off, you’ll see something similar to that above.  There are several components visible here.  You have the magnets, the read/write head arm, the spindle, and platters.  The first thing to do is get the magnets out.  Some magnets are screwed in place, others are just held together by a combination of magnetic force and the case itself.  Most of the time I find that they’re just held the second way.  Check for screws (you may also need to look at the bottom of the HDD chassis, as sometimes they’ll screw it in from the underside) and if you don’t see any, wedge the top magnet out.  In this case there were two screws (you can see them flanking the magnet).  After I removed those the top magnet came out easily and I was able to slide the bottom magnet out as well.

Both magnets came out without having to remove the arm. Most of the time removing the arm is an optional step anyway.

At this point you can remove the read/write head arm if you want,.  I’ve seen this arm attached in a few ways.  In some drives I’ve seen a weird screw combo that has to be unscrewed from both the top and the bottom at the same time to remove the arm.  However, the most common in Western Digital drives is with a circlip.  You’ll need that pair of circlip pliers to remove this.  If you’re not interested in saving the arm bearing, you can skip this part and instead snap off the part of the arm that’s over the bottom magnet if it’s preventing you from removing that bottom magnet.  In most of the drives I’ve opened, you can move the arm out of the way for removing the platters and spindle motor, so removing the arm isn’t crucial.

I moved the arm all the way over here, as you can see I'll be able to get the platters out without any trouble.

In this case the arm had both a circlamp and a weird tap screw thing that had to be unscrewed from both the top and bottom simultaneously. The bearing wasn't even that good in this case, so it was more trouble than it was worth to remove it.

Once all that is out of the way, you can begin disassembling the platter spindle.  There will be a ring with 4 or 6 small screws.  In a Western Digital drive these are usually a Torx 6 or 7, on the Samsung it’s a Philips #00 or slightly smaller, and on a Seagate most likely a Torx 6.  Be EXTREMELY careful with these screws, as they can be very soft (Samsung) and stripping out the head is fairly easy if it isn’t Torx.

On this Samsung I stripped out the head of one of the screws and ended up having to drill it; not good.  You’ll want to keep the screws and the ring from this as the screws can be very difficult to replace.  Once you’ve got the screws and the ring off, you can now remove the platters and any spacers between them.  Keep all of these things.  Once you have all the platters off, if the motor can be removed, you should see 3 screws around the base of the motor.

The spindle emptied of the platters and rings. Keep it all. You can see the three screws holding the motor onto the base around the spindle here

Now that you have the platters out, you can test them.  Aside from the aluminum platters having a rather distinct metallic ring, and the silicone ones being slightly amber-colored, there is a pretty easy test to tell them apart.  Place the disc on something like a plastic bag, now strike it quite hard with the tip of a screwdriver you don’t care about so much.  Or, alternatively, tap a screwdriver with a hammer with its point on the platter. If the platter shatters, it was silicone glass, if the screwdriver tip makes a dent, it’s aluminum.  Save aluminum platters and discard glass shards from the silicone ones. Now, take the three screws around the spindle motor out with whatever bit you need.  Generally these three screws will the same as the screws on the top casing that you took off first.  You generally don’t need to keep those 3 screws as you’ll be using wood screws to secure the motor to something anyway.

The spindle motor in all its glory!

And there you go, you’ve now processed and salvaged a hard drive.  To use it as a Lazy Susan bearing what you’ll need to do is attach the platters to whatever you’ll be using as your top and attach the motor to whatever is going to be your bottom.  Then attach the platters back to the motor with the ring and screws like you just took off, using the spacers to make sure everything is tight.  I’ll be showing how this is accomplished in a future project.  Feasibly you could instead use small bolts to attach to the bottom for a more polished look, but it would require some more specialized drilling that I’d rather avoid for Kludge projects anyway.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

EDIT: Fixed the formatting issue with the images.  Thanks wordpress for making a thuroughly useless UI for determining if my pictures will or will not get clipped!  *Thumbsup*