Introduction: Pimp Your USB Drive

Picture of Pimp Your USB Drive

You like to store data. Sure you do. But when you take it out on the street, people are laughing at you! Yeah, I know, they just don't get you, right? Well, maybe you need to help them. Give yourself a little street cred by building a sandbenders-inspired case for your USB drive.

Step 1: Gather Materials

Picture of Gather Materials

Basic list:

-USB drive
-carving tools + saw
-Casting house

This can be tricky. You're going to need a block of wax to carve (actually some woods will work too, as long as they burn away cleanly and don't leave too much ash residue.) Wax by Kerr or Ferris is designed for carving and clean burnouts, it's what i'm using here. There are different hardnesses, in this project I'll be using green wax, which is both hard and brittle, but takes detail well and allows for very thin walls.

You will need a USB drive. You probably won't ruin it during this project, but you could, and it will probably void your warranty. Feel free to try it with an old 32mb drive or something first if you're unsure. I'm going ahead with my 1G drive because what can I say, I'm fearless.

You will need a place to have this cast. You can take it to a casting house (easy, fast, and pretty inexpensive) or you can cast it yourself. I won't cover that here.

You will need carving tools. You can make do with some scrapers, pointy utility knives, or dental tools, but the real king of speed and flexibility here is a rotary tool like a dremel or a foredom. You'll want some ball burrs, but try not to get anything too fine-toothed because it will gum up with wax pretty fast. A jeweller's saw frame with a spiral wax blade is reccomended, but if you've got a bandsaw or something that can do it, by all means use that.

That should be it.

Step 2: DE-STROY

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Or, carefully take apart your usb drive. I pried mine apart with the bottle opener on my leatherman. Use something thin and strong, and please be careful. You don't want to stab yourself or ruin the drive, at least not this early on. Don't become a failure like my father always said you would.

Step 3: Cut Some Wax

Picture of Cut Some Wax

Use the pre-existing case as a guide to decide how thick you need your new case halves to be. Go ahead and cut a slice of wax off the block, keeping the thickness consistent. You can use a strip of masking tape to help keep your cut straight. Cut it to size, and mark the dimensions of your drive's board on the wax so you know where to carve. Layout is probably the most important step in wax carving. Keep adding layout lines as you carve away old ones.

Step 4: Cut to Fit.

Picture of Cut to Fit.

We're working with the interior first, because it's the more important stage. Sure it needs to look nice, but if you can't assemble it without smashing your drive, you haven't really won, have you? That won't stop them from making fun of you.

Remember to re-check the fit every so often as you carve, making sure not to get too carried away. You'll want to leave the drive a little breathing space, however, because we're going to add a non-conductive liner later.

I started by making thin boxes that just fit the board, and added a layer on top of that afterwards to carve my design into. This helped to control the warpage i experienced when hot-working a one piece shell.

Step 5: Carving

Picture of Carving

This step is up to you. I worked with beetle shell inspired designs and tried to shoot for something that fell between natural and technological.

carve up the top plate and attach it to the case. I attached them by heating up a wax carving tool blade and pushing it through from the inside of the case to about halfway into the top plate. This draws them together. Then i went around the edges and melted them together, adding wax where i needed it.

The cap is hollowed out from a small block, with enough thickness left on the top and bottom to match the carving with the rest of the case. To merge the two halves of the drive case, i wanted to extend the cap over the body, with a wingcase looking flange. I covered the top of teh drive body with tinfoil and worked the hot wax directly over it, ensuring a great fit.

Step 6: Wax Cleanup

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The smoother you get your wax, the easier it will be to clean up in the metal. Also, anywhere it's too thin or you have missing areas, FILL THEM NOW. It's practically impossible to add metal, but it's so easy to add wax. Do it now, or regret it FOREVER.

take the wax to a finished stage, and then take it to a casting house. This set me back about $50 i think.

Step 7: Drill and Clean Up Metal

Picture of Drill and Clean Up Metal

This is really the tedious step.

First, tape some emery paper (i used 220 grit for this brute task) to a desk or piece of glass. Grind the inner face of the drive case until it is flat, using a figure eight motion to keep the wear even.

Next, use a small ball burr to clean out the inside of the drive case and cap until your board fits snugly again. The case will shrink during the casting process, so remove a tiny bit of metal until you can pop the board back in there.

Drill the rivet holes in the four little leg posts.

Clean up the case a little. I had a hole in my cap, so i melted a big blob of silver solder there and filled it up (not very professional).

Step 8: Case Closed

Picture of Case Closed

BEFORE YOU RIVET THE CASE SHUT: make sure you coat the board in something non-conductive, because if your components short on the silver drive, your board is toast and it's going to be a messy job getting another one in there. I coated my board in hot glue.

Like me, you may have been unable to get your seams to match up perfectly. It's ok, it happens to everyone, and you don't need to feel ashamed. You're not alone.

There's a simple and elegant solution to this. Once your case is riveted shut, take your punch or chasing tools and use them to close the seam! The process is dead simple, though a little hard to describe. What the punch is doing, essentially, is just massaging the metal into a different location. Using little taps of the hammer, just push the seams closer together. This was really useful in closing up the gaps around the usb plug. Take your time and make it as perfect as possible, because when people can't find the seam they really can't figure out how you've built this.

Step 9: Polish It Up

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My polishing array included emery paper up to 600 grit, various abrasive wheels on my flex-shaft, engraving tools, and buffing wheels.

Make sure you clean out all the polishing compound when you're done, because it looks gross.

My skin is really acidic. I learned this after i finished this project. My finger prints etch metal a fair bit more than average, and if you find your polished works always look smudgy and fingerprinted, try wearing nitrile gloves while you polish. They're not as dangerous on the buffer as regular gloves because if they catch they'll just break up before they suck your hands in. Careful.

Step 10: Bling!

Picture of Bling!

You're done! Now take that drive and staple it to your face because everyone wants to see it. I promise this will net you compliments on your skillz, your genius, and probably your breath and visage. Since i made this, people can't stop telling me how great looking I am.



FrozenIce (author)2011-12-22

Very nice able man :) but for this work and money, i would hae designed the shell a bit better :P but the final product is very impresive :) love it

martzsam (author)2011-07-09

Great ible! Good looking carve.

splazem (author)2011-07-09

Very cool- Respect given.

nitrox027 (author)2008-10-12

use epoxy instead of hot glue epoxy is almost indestructible and water proof

cornflaker (author)nitrox0272008-12-02

As long as you don't plug a flash drive in while its still wet nearly all flash drives are actually waterproof. Ive had one of mine go through a washing machine 3 times! and it still works.

Gamer917 (author)cornflaker2009-02-28

my sandisk cruzer titanium survived a washing machine, a dryer and being taken out of the computer without "ejecting" it about 10 times

nitrox027 (author)Gamer9172009-03-01

no one actually ejects there flashdrive

Robertwan (author)nitrox0272009-12-02

 I take mild offense to your comment.  

I always eject my flash drive; I have several portable apps on said flash drive and if they're not properly closed before removing my flash drive, data on that flash drive could be corrupted.

Besides, it takes ten seconds at the most.

dudemanclc (author)Robertwan2011-02-23

ten seconds too long

cornflaker (author)Robertwan2009-12-04

If the apps aren't actually writting to your flash drive then it should be all fine, i used to use portable apps quite a bit too, and never really had any problems because i always closed them all first and waited for the light on my flash drive to stop blinking.
interestingly the computers at the school i used to go to (just finished :D) actually had the safety eject thing disabled (they were secruity freaks - although i figured out how to get around everything i actually wanted to lol)
It doesn't really take that long, but its just another 10 seconds unnecessarily wasted.

Ganoderma (author)cornflaker2010-05-14

 Exactly the same here, safe eject is blocked on our school computers... but they forgot to block CMD that allows you to do about anything if you know how. 

cornflaker (author)Ganoderma2010-05-14

 haha my school blocked cmd and also the run dialog box, but you can do pretty much anything you can do in cmd in a batch file which i don't think they actually can block

Ganoderma (author)cornflaker2010-05-15

 Well, it isn't exactly in the start menu either but making a shortcut on the desktop to CMD (nothing else, point it to CMD) works just fine. 
They blocked a shortcut to C:\ already but they need CMD for troubleshooting (we use terminals connecting to like 20 servers and with CMD you can see what server you're on so they know where the problem is)

cornflaker (author)Ganoderma2010-05-15

 nah they actually did disable cmd as well lol, if you opened it up with a shortcut it would say something like "Command prompt has been disabled by your administrator. Press any key to exit".
But like i said they didn't disable batch files which can do all the same things.
(although i think they just blocked CMD on student and teacher accounts, im pretty sure the computing teachers still had access to it)

and if they blocked shortcuts to C:\, try right clicking on the start menu, clicking browse and just going back a few directories - that actually worked at my school

D5quar3 (author)nitrox0272010-03-04

 it can ruin all your memory on it


hg341 (author)nitrox0272009-03-03

damn that eject thing i have never used in my life(i have used in a pc at least 400-700 times)

cornflaker (author)Gamer9172009-03-04

I NEVER eject, unless you still have windows 2000 or earlier then you don't need to, your just wasting your time.

Gamer917 (author)cornflaker2009-03-24

my sandisk cruzer is indestructible.too bad i cant find it :-(

cornflaker (author)Gamer9172009-03-25

Haha don't you hate that

greenbean (author)cornflaker2009-11-29

It's not the water that hurts it, it is the electricity that goes to the wrong places when the water connects all of the components. It shorts it out, but as long as you dont put electricity through it while it is wet it will be fine. Same with other electronics. I did that with my phone.

Bright Shadow (author)cornflaker2009-01-31

I remember leaving a memory stick (not a flash drive) in my pocket... it went through the washing machine, and fell into a lake on a fishing trip in the same day. Surprisingly, it still works.

adam 101 (author)2009-12-08

what kind of metal is this? could i use a soldering iron to fix the seems?

Robotrix (author)adam 1012009-12-09

This metal is silver - a soldering iron isn't hot enough. You need a general, not a local, method of heating it because solder won't flow until the whole piece is at temperature. This type of soldering is actually brazing.

freekofnature (author)2009-12-02

AWESOME coolest USb ever. the steps were a little confusing though.

leadace321 (author)2009-11-29

sick man im gonna go buy a block of wax and make my usb drives
thanks for the idea

Salsa766 (author)2009-11-26

 where did you get the wax?

Robotrix (author)Salsa7662009-11-26

This type of wax can be bought from any jewellery supply house - some of them offer service online. I can only remember Gesswein and Stuller, and I don't know if they sell to people like us who don't have accounts. Lost wax casting is fun to experiment with though - if you can find some other wax that carves nicely and leaves little residue when you burn out your flask, go for it! I have heard of people using this technique with wood, bugs, leaves, whatever! Just remember that if it's porous you have to apply a sealant before making your plaster mould.

hg341 (author)2009-03-03

wow this looks really nice but i would like to know some things
A)what metal is it silver?
B)how do you get the cap to stay on?
C)why rivets why not something else?i dont have rivets
D)and last of all about how much did it cost to get it cast?
i loved this im going to try to make it

Robotrix (author)hg3412009-03-03

In order of asking: 1) Yes, it's sterling silver. 2) The cap is friction fit. Once the steel of the usb connector wore down the silver i had to integrate some shims to make it snug again. 3) My rivets are pieces of wire that i hamemred, not pop rivets. I used rivets because i had to use a cold joining technique, and using rivets allowed my to disguise them into the final mess. I glue doesn't stick very well to polished metal. 4) I spent about $50 on the whole thing. I think i cast it myself, but i had a full workshop at school and so that was an option. You can get an estimate from a casting shop based on weight - wax has a specific gravity of 1 and sterling 10.36. Just weigh your wax model and multiply it, and then ask how much it would cost to get something that weight whatever amount in silver cast. You could also try casting it yourself with some basic sand casting techniques and aluminum or tin, i guess, or pewter, but sand casting isn't great for details.

hg341 (author)Robotrix2009-03-04

well from what you said you should try out some O-rings for your capyour sliver will last longer

imthatguy1125 (author)2009-01-31

wont the wax melt

Robotrix (author)imthatguy11252009-01-31

The wax i'm using here is a carving wax designed for jewellery. Actually, even if you used parafin wax it wouldn't melt while you were working with it, until you heated it up. It does melt during the casting process, though, so if you're not sure about it it's a good idea to make a cold mold of the wax before casting, so you can make more waxes from the mold if you need to try again.

Cyberscann54 (author)2009-01-06

I made a 1Gb tarantula named SpyderByte

Cyberscann54 (author)2009-01-06

I made A 1Gb Tarantula Named SpyderByte

KasChartreuse (author)2008-12-17

This is WAY CRAZY! I wish I was that creative!!! Coolest USB Drive I've ever seen!

ajmf (author)2008-12-10

A great way to polish the wax and get out any unwanted minute lines etc is to rub it gently with an everyday terry cloth towel. This green wax is plenty hard and allows for a terrific shine.

Robotrix (author)ajmf2008-12-10

that's a great idea! I was using a wax solvent product and a soft cloth with this, but i think i would much prefer using a piece of regular towel.

Plasmana (author)2008-11-14

Wow! That is the best hacked USB pen I ever saw! 5 stars!

corey_caffeine (author)2008-09-03

now i want a frostmourn flash drive that way i can rule the world and store data

TwinEdge (author)2008-08-19

Just thought of doing one,and thought I'd ask how the casting was donel...but no biggy...I'll look around there should be some kind of intructable around...Thanx...Actually this came out very good...Very original...Thanx again for the instructable....

Robotrix (author)TwinEdge2008-08-19

what you need to look up is lost wax casting. There is a ton of information on it available on the web and you should have no problem finding out how to do it.

TwinEdge (author)2008-08-14

this is a very nice job but you missed a step or something...if i'am not mistaken it's the part where you make the casting...there's a step between 5 and 6,you needed to show that,so everyone here can make the casting (the mold of you casting).....thanks

ExtraMedium (author)TwinEdge2008-08-14

as he says in parts 1 and 6 he doesn't do the casting, he took it to a casting house.

Robotrix (author)ExtraMedium2008-08-14

actually, for this one i did end up doing it myself at school. However, for most people, and for me now that i'm out of school, taking it to a casting house is the most efficient option.

ExtraMedium (author)Robotrix2008-08-14

lol, sorry TwinEdge, I feel like a willy. So what metal did you use anyway?

ExtraMedium (author)ExtraMedium2008-08-14

Also Im thinking of pimping my Ipod. Seeing as its highly likely that at some point i'll need to take it out of its case for whatever reason im think that instead of riviting the halfs together I'll put grooves and rails on so that the two halfs slid into each other. The problem is im not sure if the wax will be strong enough not to snap and theres the problem of the casting process changing the dimensions to the point where its doesn't fit together as seen when you had to hammer the seams together. any ideas how to fix this or any other methods? Im thinking of simply tying the halves together with some string. now that i think about it if the metal is bendy enough then I could do that thing you see on some purses where it snaps together and locks.

Robotrix (author)ExtraMedium2008-08-15

I usde sterling silver. You have a couple of options for joining the sides. What you can do, if you want them to have rails that slide and actually join up, is cast the main body of the piece and add the rails afterwards. Just file the sides flush with both pieces clamped together, which will ensure the edges match up. Then design a rail system that will hold them together and solder it on (sterling silver, brass or copper soldering is really brazing). It will give much cleaner results than trying to cast something like that, but there will be moer clean up on your part. You could also do a hinge/snap closure, but hinges are a whole extra instructable in themselves. If you're really interested i can recommend The Complete Metalsmith by Tim McCreight.

ExtraMedium (author)2008-08-14

sorry for being a bit of an r'tard but what happens in the casting process? Im guessing they make some kinda mold (or is it spelled mould?) and then pour teh hot metals over and in that. I'm just not sure what to ask them to do.

Robotrix (author)ExtraMedium2008-08-14

Anywhere you take it that does casting will know exactly what to do, you shouldn't have to ask him anything. FYI, what happens is this. Starting with a wax model, the model is surrounded with a plaster. Then the wax is melted out leaving a cavity that's shaped like a negative of what you're casting. Finally, hot metal is poured into the cavity and when it cools you have your finished product!

ExtraMedium (author)Robotrix2008-08-14

I figured as much on the process but i wasn't too sure about how much heat plaster can take before cracking/melting/burning/rapidly expanding so i started having radical and probably heretical ideas about polymers. Thanks for the help and great idea.

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