Ever wonder what to do with old hard drives? Then this is the tutorial for you! I got the idea for this computer hard drive clock from my niece. She used to make and sell these clocks for spare pocket change. Since her father (my brother) owns a computer repair shop, there are always dead hard drives around ripe for the picking.
My wife’s first computer was a PC with a whopping 40 MB hard drive (I’m a Mac guy myself). I have to laugh at that now because these days storage devices can hold many thousands of times more memory – and we can easily fill a 3GB hard drive in just over a year with all our blog photos!
We took her old computer apart for this a one-of-a-kind computer hard drive clock.
Watch this Computer Hard Drive Clock Video
My niece made the one pictured in the video above for my mother and it sits proudly on the bulkhead in the kitchen.
Before you can take apart a hard drive, it’s good to know the name of the parts. If you get stuck, refer back to this diagram. Not marked below is the motor which is hidden within the spindle hub.
Don’t forget to wipe the drive clean of data before upcycling it.
* [If you’re looking for some of the things we used, we’ve got you covered (disclosure): Clicking on the affiliate links below means we may receive a commission. But don’t worry, you don’t pay a cent more and it helps us make more unique DIYs to share with you! Thanks for helping to support our blog!]
Apart from the hard drive, you’ll need just a few other items for this project:
- Safety goggles,
- Torx bits (get a kit that includes T6-8 sized bits),
- Screwdrivers (cordless or electric and manual),
- Vise (my favourite vice is a Panavise),
- Drill bits of varying sizes (the largest should be slightly wider than the clock shaft)
- Hammer and
- Clock kit.
If you’re buying eye protection for this project, choose the pair that provides you with a full seal around the face. Because they’ll prevent flying bits of metal from all angles from reaching your eyes, the top pair of goggles shown below is is better for this project (vs. the one underneath it).
I used a clock mechanism that I salvaged from a clock I got for free at a garage sale. If you’re upcyling one with long arms, you can probably still use it but will have to cut the arms to fit within the platter. However, if you have to buy a kit, get one that has a 3/4″ shaft and short clock arms (like the one shown above).
Torx bits are made for a screw head that is shaped like a 6-point star. I used a #8 Torx bit. I found that the #8 worked for every screw in this particular hard drive, but I have had instances where I needed a smaller bit too (i.e. for the motor).
Step 1: Get Your Wife to Take Apart Her Old Computer
Not only did my wife donate the raw materials for this project, but she also helped me take apart the hard drive so I could photograph the steps. She has much better motor skills than me when it comes to the finer details; I’m not that great with tiny fussy pieces!
Salvage the hard drive:
Step 2: Remove Circuit Board
To start, on the back, you can remove the screws holding the circuit board and remove it.
Then remove the rubber membrane.
It will give you a cleaner look.
Step 3: Remove Front
Turn the hard drive over and remove the screws from the front of the case.
If you find that you can’t remove the front plate, it could be because there are at least one or more screws hiding underneath the label.
You can feel for it and use an X-acto knife to score an ‘X’ to cut it open.
There were six visible screws In this case, but also one hiding under the label. Open the case to reveal the shiny mirror-like platter; it’s a thing of beauty! Some hard drives contain two platters to store the magnetic data; this drive had only one.
Remove all the screws around the spindle (there were six). Save the screws for later; you’ll need them when you reassemble.
Then remove the collar and ring, which will free up the platter, and set them aside for later also.
Step 4: Getting to the Platter
In some cases, you’ll be able to lift the platter out by moving the actuator arm. In this case, the arm wouldn’t move far enough to wrangle to platter out.
You can try removing the screws holding down the actuator itself, but the second screw may be hidden in a place that can’t be reached. As a last ditch effort, loosen the large screw on the actuator axis.
Just a few turns to the left and the actuator arm popped up enough that the platter could slide out.
Step 5: Lift Out Platter
With the screw loosened, slide the platter out from the back side.
If you’re able to get the actuator arm cover off, you can reclaim a strong magnet that’s attached to it. You’ll likely have to put it in a vice and tap it apart using a flat head screw driver to free it up.
By the way, when you’re handling the platter, try not to get finger prints on the shiny surface. If you do, it’s a pain to clean them off. Hold the platter on the edges.
Step 6: Remove Motor and Centre Spindle
The motor has to be removed next.Remove the three screws holding it down and lift it out.Once the motor is released, you’ll need to secure it in a vice and tap out the centre spindle/bearing. I looked everywhere for my vise and couldn’t find it, so I did the next best thing. I drilled out a hole into a piece of wood using a hole saw:The hole was just big enough so I could nestle the motor in it.
I inserted a punch into the centre of the spindle and gave it a few taps with the hammer.As you can see below, the spindle was pushed out the bottom.With the spindle removed, I was able to take the two pieces of the motor apart (it’s held together magnetically so give it a good yank to separate it).
Here are the pieces of the motor that the punch and hammer pried apart. A few steps ahead, we’ll be drilling through the aluminum part shown on the right:
Step 7: Clock Mechanism
Below is the clock mechanism we used. It has a convenient metal tab for hanging on the wall.
Step 8: Safety First
Before you start drilling to fit the clock mechanism here are a few safety tips:
Secure your vice to your work surface. If you don’t bolt down the vice, the drill can send it flying like a propeller (trust me on this, I know!)
I can’t stress enough the importance of eye protection; wear safety goggles or a full face shield to protect your eyes from flying bits of metal. As a pro, I buy the best goggles money can buy. A good pair has a soft flexible face seal on the top, bottom and sides, fits over prescription glasses, has fog free lenses and has an adjustable headband for a secure fit.
The goggles below are ideal. You’ll be protected from metal that could potentially fly up from underneath or down from the top too – not just the sides like on some protective eyewear.
Step 9: Drill Out the Motor Cover
As you can see circled in the picture below, the holes in each side of the motor are too small to allow the shaft of the clock mechanism to fit.
If you want to be a purist and reuse every piece of the motor, you can widen both of them with a drill in order to get the clock mechanism through the holes. However, it’s really only necessary to drill out the aluminum motor cover.Secure the piece of metal in a vice. Then drill out the hole in stages: first with a small drill bit then working up to a larger bit that’s slightly larger than the width of the clock shank. I used three bits to achieve the final size.Each bit you use should be slightly larger than the hole, but should fit snugly into the middle so you can work your way up to a larger hole each time.Drill the hole slowly; slow and steady wins the race. Aluminum is a soft metal, so you don’t need a lot of pressure either. When you’re finished drilling, test it with the clock shank to to make sure the hole is large enough.
Step 10: Assemble the Clock Mechanism
Now you can reverse engineer the pieces previously removed and install the clock mechanism.Place the clock mechanism behind the hard drive. We used double sided tape in the video, but you should really use permanent glue to secure the mechanism to the back of the hard drive – especially if you’ll be hanging it.Place the motor cover over the clock shaft.Follow with the ring, mirrored platter and then the collar. Secure the collar with the screws you previously saved.Re-tighten the screw holding the actuator arm to snug it down.
Step 11: Add the Hands
Assemble the remaining pieces of the clock onto the shaft. If you’re using a kit, you can following the directions. Otherwise, add the washer:Tighten on the hex nut:Follow with two arms and smaller nut (the shorter one goes on first):Lastly add the second hand, if your mechanism comes with one.
Step 12: Install a Battery and Enjoy!
Insert a AA battery and set the time. If you like, you can add clock numbers onto the face, but I prefer it just the way it is.
Finally, you can either hang your clock on the wall using the tab on the clock mechanism, or add a bracket so it can sit on a desk.I found a spare pull handle and glued it onto the back so I could prop it on a desk. You could also bend the original hard drive cover into an L-shape, drill holes to fit two of the holes on the back, then attach it with some of the original screws.
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Not wanting to be outdone, my wife surprised me with a clock of my own for my Mancave. I think it’s even more awesome than this one, but I could be biased!
For more upcycle ideas, visit our Craft Rehab section.