Introduction: Mail at 33 1/3 RPM: the Record Etch

Picture of Mail at 33 1/3 RPM: the Record Etch

Thrift stores are drowning in old records so go use 'em! Give them a second life and send them through the mail. You risk a couple bucks and the payoff can be great.

NOTE: Since writing this, others made me aware that etching PVC is bad for the chlorine gas. So, don't do this. I'm still leaving it up for the idea of using records as letters, however, because that worked a treat.

Step 1: Get Some Records

Picture of Get Some Records

I paid the astonishing sum of one dollar per record at the thrift store a block away from my apartment, but at least the profits from the store, Out of the Closet, goes to AIDS research. Any quick trip to a flea market or garage sale could've gotten me a crate of old records for the same price.

But look at these gems! A Star is Born? Christmas with the Canadian Brass? Free to Be You and Me?

OK, I admit that I've never listened to any of these although Free to Be You and Me seems to have some huge nostalgic value for my friends. Whatever... it's time to destroy them.

Step 2: Etch!

Picture of Etch!

Make a design in any graphic design program that you like. Here I used Illustrator.

Here, I laser-etched the records, but that's not recommended for safety reasons. I'd recommend printing a stencil or just using a silver sharpie.

Step 3: Stamp It and Send It

Picture of Stamp It and Send It

I dropped off four of these at the post office yesterday. One (pictured) travelled only inside of San Francisco. Another is going down to Palo Alto, CA. The other two are on their way to Brooklyn.

Since I live with the person who got the San Francisco record I was able to get a picture of it. If I get pics from the others, I'll update with those as well.

Here's hoping.

UPDATE: all the records made the trip in one piece.


trunnion bascule (author)2008-06-14

Speaking as a USPS letter, you are not making any friends at your local post office. [You tip him at Christmas, right?]

I tip mine! but that;s because she bring the mail over to the house if she sees we're outside... but the new one is not very nice.

ladyada (author)2006-11-10

Hey you know how records are often referred to as "vinyl"? And that "vinyl" is often short for "poly-vinyl chloride" (PVC)? And that PVC, when burned can release chlorine gas? ;) I'd make sure you have a good venting system in place...

fungus amungus (author)ladyada2006-11-10

Good to know. The Epilog at Squid has ventilation and the exhaust runs through a filter and I try to avoid being in the room at the same time. Since etching doesn't really burn that much material I think it's OK.

Sorry but you "think" wrong, it's actually NOT safe, as Ladyada says you will release Chlorine gas , this turns into acid in the lungs and can kill you in pretty quick order. It will also burn away the inside of your machine and destroy the electronics.

To the original poster, do some research and don't post ideas that can cause long term harm or death!!

Oh, thanks for reminding me about this. Yes, I did more research at the time and recommend not doing it at all. I updated it with a recommendation to not use laser-etching for applying the addresses, but am leaving it because it still works as a form of mail art.

randofo (author)fungus amungus2006-11-29

Supposedly it is not only harmful to yourself, but to the laser cutter as well. And may run the risk of being a fire-hazard (so rumor has it). Fortunately records made before 1970-something don't use PVC. So, you can cut up all the old polka albums you want.

lyngly (author)randofo2007-01-06

What are records pre 1970-something made of I wonder?

(re: ladyada et al., more specifically, burning PVC releases dioxins, which are some of the *most toxic* substances to humans...reference victims of Agent Orange and Viktor Yushchenko for effects)

porcupinemamma (author)2009-05-20

Did the post office kick up a fuss because of the shape and size?

Culito (author)2006-11-10

Cool. Can I laser-etch a body part?

wolf555hound (author)Culito2008-09-02

that LED chess dude did it. he looked in like so much pain.

Sandisk1duo (author)wolf555hound2009-03-04


wolf555hound (author)Sandisk1duo2009-03-06

Mhm, but for some reason, I can NEVER remember how to spell his name... Thanks.

santy22 (author)wolf555hound2009-04-01

err... its gotta be like a tatoo. Remember starship troopers?

wolf555hound (author)santy222009-04-01

....wait wha?

bob.smitty (author)Culito2008-08-14

but you can't etch your culito...

bob.smitty (author)Culito2008-08-14

look for it... some monkey etched men with beards on his fingernails... the instructable is out there.

zachninme (author)Culito2006-11-14

Depends, do you like pain?

Blanchie (author)2008-12-27

Back in the 1950's I used to make letter holders, bowls, trays etc. out of 78 records. I did not heat them in the oven, but rather heated water in a shallow pan on top of the stove and used a block of wood for shaping the letter holders and just worked with my fingers to shape other items. I am wondering if the records you are using now and heating in the oven can be used in this manner? Babe

STEVENSJDOG (author)2008-12-21

The purpose is that this is a cool post card, of sorts. Cool idea.

nomij (author)2008-12-05

You can't see the purpose? It's like a really cool, fun surprising postard!!! Make it a love note! "you spin me right around, baby!", "You add music to my life", "You broke the 'How much my heart can love' record". (Ok, that last one was a stretch, but you get where I'm going with that!). You can send all sorts of things in the mail... a plastic bottle with some sand in it with a scrolled up letter is the ultimate "message in a bottle". If the message of the record is funny enough, you can add a smile to the mail carrier's day! (At least he's not stuck delivering carton's of paper, remember mr. mail carrier... it could aways be worse!!!).

sypher (author)2008-11-30


bob.smitty (author)2008-08-14

real men use the gimp.

Derin (author)bob.smitty2008-11-23

Well said.

amanda22 (author)2008-11-21

i really don't get the purpose of this???????

mandymayhem (author)2008-08-30

whats the purpose of this?

lhm1138 (author)2007-09-01

Being that rare and out-of-print records which are not and probably won't ever be transfered to digital can still be found in Thrift Stores, I can't support this project. Don't really see the point of it either. Not that you had any gems there, and for some reason there's always a dozen or so Barbara Streisand records in any thrift shop.

I think the reason (for the Barbra Streisand records in the thrift store), rings out clear as a bell. (unlike Ms. Streisand)


incorrigible packrat (author)2008-01-14

I once got a record with some horrible sounding children's choir "performing" songs from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". One night, for a chuckle, I made it play backwards, with a roll of duct tape and an overweighted tonearm. This caused some consternation to the dude who was crashed at our place at the time, though not as much as when I intentionally made the record skip on the phrase "touch you with a ..." from the song "Mr. Grinch".

irritant#9 (author)2006-11-17

That laser etcher is a gorgeous bitch. Will it etch metal? What does one pay for such a machine?

calikoala (author)irritant#92007-11-09

yes, it will etch metal. they run about $10000 for the smallest unit. I saw them at a wood show last year and almost put one on my credit card.

adamitron (author)2007-02-23

as long as it doesn't have strings or anything like that hanging off it, and it can't easily break (glass) they'll take it. i've always wanted to use the labels they give out to write postcards on and then send them.

dpocius (author)adamitron2007-10-04

WIRED Magazinefor years has had a monthly "Return to Sender" contest, awarding a T-shirt for the most unusual item sent to them through the U. S. mail, sans envelope or box, of course.

soggycheerios (author)2007-08-10

very nice

alternativesurfer (author)2007-06-10

So this DOES wreak the record? Right, and what i'm asking is not "does it play the first and last few minutes" Does it play the whole record? Who would buy one if it didnt work?

stuarttt (author)2007-04-25

I can't believe you destroyed Free to Be You and Me.

fungus amungus (author)stuarttt2007-04-26

Were you gonna listen to it?

Justinicus (author)2007-03-15

So, just so we're clear... this completely destroys the record, right?

The first and last couple minutes on the etched side are still there and the other side is untouched. How well the post office treats it is another matter entirely.

naikrovek (author)2006-11-10

here's a tip for recording video through glass with a nasty reflection on it. use a polarizing filter. reflection-be-gone.

_soapy_ (author)naikrovek2007-03-01

Make sure you rotate the filter to remove the reflection, don't just think it will work magically!

fungus amungus (author)naikrovek2006-11-10
It is a bit glare-tastic, eh? I really wanted to show off that wire shelf above, I suppose.

Next time I'll see if I can leave the cover up. For now, you can check out this video to see the same machine do its job.

MrWiz (author)2007-02-21

I have a friend who builds guitars. She wanted to try using some Corian for the nut. I had some, so I just wrote her name and address on it with a Sharpie and took it to the Post Office. They stuck some postage on it and a few days later she told me she had it. So I guess anything that doesn't open can be sent with just an address and a stamp. I wonder if you could send, for instance, a plastic tumbler or a a photo sandwiched between two sheets of glued together acrylic?

hissyfit (author)2007-01-13

-If you try to override the machine and leave the cover up, the laser becomes a Class 4 laser. It is a Class 2 laser and therefore safe as long as the cover is closed. In other words, you can blind yourself, and everyone else in the room who looks at it. Also, etching PVC doesn't only release dioxins, which of course are not exactly good for you. It also will cause chlorine gas vapors to be released. This will corrode and destroy the laser and the the whole table of the machine. (It also voids the warranty on the Epilog).

binnie (author)hissyfit2007-02-05

his laser machine ( or his m8s or whatever ) he can do what he likes

if he wants to be dangerous thats his problem, hes the blind fuck with breathing problems later * not that blind people are bad * and the chance or breathing problems from 4 records --- nahhhhhhhh if he did 4 an hour for 4 hours a day for 4 years


erfonz (author)2006-11-27

You should try to etch an animation on it like those old kids records. That would be waaaaay cool!

westfw (author)2006-11-10

You're a sick puppy... How come you haven't done a PCB yet? Can we reach you via squid labs? Maybe it's time you started reaping as ye have sowed! How are you sticking stamps to uncooperative surfaces like vinyl records? Are you mailing these from a postoffice, from your work or from your residence? I think you probably most need to get over that first hurdle; once a postoffice accepts it and postmarks the stamp, everyone else is probably willing to follow along. And your local people are probably getting to know you, but I'm not sure that means that the same sort of thing would be accepted somewhere else!

fungus amungus (author)westfw2006-11-10

Wow, lots of questions. Lessee... I've never messed with PCBs, sure, go for it! (even if that wasn't a question). There ya go! Oh, there's still more. The stamps have some fantastic glue on them. They've stuck to unfinished wood, canvas (with the help of some Krazy Glue), and vinyl with no problems. These are all mailed from a post office and so far I've gone to three different ones to do so, each with employees who were happy to mail the stuff off. Also, stamps from the post office don't get cancelled since they have the info encoded into them. If you think my stuff is weird, at least it's flat. Over in Hawaii it's relatively common for tourists to mail off a coconut to their home addresses. I'd get sick of a bunch of hairy coconuts that could wreck other mail, but it still happens.

zachninme (author)fungus amungus2006-11-14

To etch PCB's would be the main reason I would want one. That would make life sooo much easier than the hour long toner transfer method!

About This Instructable




Bio: I like to make things for the internets. I also sell a pretty cool calendar at You'll like it.
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