Introduction: Quickly Removing Magnetic Tape From Reels

Picture of Quickly Removing Magnetic Tape From Reels

We had some old magnetic tape reels we had salvaged from a recording studio - the reels were nice and sturdy, but the magnetic tape was pretty useless to us. So, we decided to remove the tape from the reels and dispose of it.

Step 1: First Attempt - Use the Intern

Picture of First Attempt - Use the Intern

We at first tasked our workshop intern, Adam, with the task of removing the tape from the reels manually. We rigged up a spindle and he got to work with some serious forearm workout...

After noting that the reels contained 2500' of tape each, we quickly rethought the manual approach.

Step 2: Second Attempt - Be More Clever

Picture of Second Attempt - Be More Clever

Once the intern option became apparent that it would take forever, we decided to leverage some tools to help us with the task. Enter the Dremel Multi-Max...

First, we took off the outer reels, which gave us unencumbered access to the magnetic tape itself.

Step 3: Protect the Table and Get Cutting

Picture of Protect the Table and Get Cutting

We laid done some scrap 1/8" MDF on our work table, and loaded the multimax with an oscillating cutting blade. Being careful to control the depth of the cut (so as not to penetrate our sacrificial layer) we readily cut through yard after yard of magnetic tape with ease... :-)

Step 4: Clean Up the Reel

Picture of Clean Up the Reel

In order not to score the aluminum reel itself, we stopped our cut a bit short and unreeled the last bit manually. Result - clean reels ready for re-use, and a much shorter task for our intern... :-) We assembled the reels again after the magnetic tape was removed, preparing them for re-use (for 3d-printer filament, or whatever).

Step 5: Repeat...

Picture of Repeat...

Since we had multiple reels to process, our intern took over, and for the next hour our space was filled with the glorious sound of the Multimax doing its job.

All things considered, without the Dremel tools we would have scrapped the project and just thrown out the reels. With the Multimax, we were able to salvage something interesting for future reuse.

Thanks Dremel!


three dots (author)2015-09-03

Hello, I have about 25 reels of two-inch recording tape (Quantegy, BASF, Ampex, etc.) My 1990s rock band recorded on it. We have downloaded all the musical information to digital files, and now I want to get rid of the reels of tape. If anyone wants them, or if anyone can suggest a responsible way to dispose of them, please let me know.

offramp (author)2014-10-09

As a recording engineer, I'm a little more than cringing at what might have been on those tapes. Yes, they may have been useless to you, but there's great value in taking them to another studio and having them do a pass on a 2" 24trk machine to see what was on them.
(And let me tell you how expensive that tape was, back in the day...)

KROKKENOSTER (author)offramp2014-10-14

Offramp this makes a lot of us cringing at the tapes getting scrapped like that . Areel of 1200 ft 1/4 inch tape is available in USA @ $1500,00 PER REEL and we were sobbing here about that mistreatment of such a treasure!

spork3000 (author)KROKKENOSTER2014-10-18

Umm, ebay? If you're interested i can front the $25 and the shipping risk and will let you have it for just $1299...

Seriously, this was old tape we got literally from a dumpster (or at least in close proximity to one). It was very likely bulk erased, and has been stored in seriously un-archival conditions for many years. We didn't have to clean pigeon droppings off the reels, but it was close. (Actually, had there been pigeon droppings we may have be more through in our audio due diligence...)

Anyway, I really do feel for those who have an ongoing passion for old audio tape. But, sometimes, old stuff is just old stuff, not magical unicorn dust. And at least we kept something cool from the past as part of this project.


LesB (author)offramp2014-10-12

This is like:

Get an old retro computer, the first Mac model or a Comodore or any of those old relics the IT folks revere and take it apart to use the parts for something else.

Not trying to be un-nice, just giving perspective.

spork3000 (author)LesB2014-10-13

Just to weigh in on the comments here...

One thing I've learned from watching Antiques Roadshow, etc. on TV is that "Just because it's old or rare doesn't mean it's valuable". A quick search of ebay for Ampex 2" tape reveals that there is plenty of it still out there (at pretty cheap prices) for those of you who want to re-use it or make rope from it or whatever.

Furthermore, we didn't own the rights to the content, and for all we knew, the tape may have already been bulk-erased or something. And it had been stored in non-temperature controlled, high EMF locations for countless years, so even if we wanted to recover the contents (illegally) who knows what level of success we would have had. And lots of, umm, crap, has been recorded onto studio tape over time - just because one could afford the cost of studio time doesn't mean the content that was recorded had any tangible value to begin with. We are in L.A., after all.

As to the power tools - they were lying around the space, so we gave it a shot. In retrospect, I'd have rather tried harder on the gravity release method - we had enough vertical height in our work area to have made it fun. But to be honest, we were all doing other things at the time, so this turned into a "just get it done" task after we'd tried three or four different methods.

Finally, I'm a consummate archiver of technology and content - I have probably more of 10tb of old archival files of original content I have passable claim to rights on sitting in a drawer in my office, and a garage half-full of obsolete stuff that is worth more to me to keep for historical reasons than any actual value it may still have to anyone else. But there comes a time when you have to throw old that old 14.4kbps modem (even though it was so fast at the time!), SCSI cables, etc. At least in this case, rather than dumpstering the stuff, we decided to preserve the "vintage" qualities of the parts in question and re-purpose them for something still useful... :-)

Anyway, thanks for the vigorous discussion on this thread! Its been enjoyable to follow.

The_Little_Doc (author)spork30002014-10-15

Come on!! It's mag tape! your supposed to play it, not destroy it! (unless you have a magnet collection in the box with the tapes)

emachine56 (author)spork30002014-10-14

Being "vintage" myself I thank you and the others for the occasion to reexamine my thoughts and ideas about how and what we value both personally and as a society. Member Xirtus and I are of one mind here despite 40 years between us. Imagine that!

I wish we could find a way as a community to offer, share, donate, whatever to man's junk is another man's treasure.

Not many places out there that can stimulate a civil discussion like this...gotta love this place.

LesB (author)spork30002014-10-13


ok ok I hear ya

The_Little_Doc (author)offramp2014-10-15

That is true!

I'm only 10, but I love the sound of old cassettes and mag tape! It's different from the sound of the digital format but I like the sound of the tape.

spork3000 (author)offramp2014-10-10

Umm, we didn't have the rights to the material on the tape (we did check the history to see what we had) but there is a reason the tape went into the trash instead of up on to ebay... :-)

The_Little_Doc (author)spork30002014-10-15

What is that?!

BassFace (author)offramp2014-10-13

might have been country music. therefore burn it all

The_Little_Doc (author)BassFace2014-10-15

There was a talk on the radio about a month ago about some country music tapes in Kentucky that today are worth a couple thousand dollars, and for that matter, there are kept in a climate controlled vault under ground!!!

emachine56 (author)offramp2014-10-12

You can spot the IT folks who have no qualms about dumping the stuff. I'm," are crying on my Reel to Reel decks. Some of that data tape was high-end 3M and Ampex studio stuff re-purposed. Didn't anyone notice "Grand Master" on the Ampex reels? Isn't that kinda what Instructables is all about? We used to slit the 2" to 1/4" using double edge razor blades mounted on a 1x6 and a re-purposed Thorens deck drive..I may just be too old to appreciate this site now.

xirtus (author)emachine562014-10-14

I'm 25, you're not too old, they are just inconsiderate ungrateful dude I'm sorry I'm so upset but this genuinely breaks my heart to see them do this, I had dreams last night about bands recording on these, and nasa...

xirtus (author)emachine562014-10-14

this is like watching Mongolians sack the library of Alexandria or even nazi's burning books in the streets as amazon's kindle gets released. I think it's the lack of guilt or consideration for the consequences that really gets me. How dare they? sorry if that's not nice... I want to use reels for 3d printing filament and repurpose the winding technology, but not like this, never like this ;(

oilitright (author)emachine562014-10-12

I can remember dumpster diving and coming up with 2" tape which we split to use on my almost antique rack mounted Stancil Hoffman recorder and the "portable" Berlant Concertone which was in 2 huge cases. When I went on locations to record I carried a ton of equipment. Big Kane amplifiers, Voice of the Theater speakers. Good thing I had a strong back. We did recordings for church and school choirs, orchestras and bands. Which we then edited and cut a master on a huge old RCA cutter that must have weighed 700 lbs. Then they were sent to be pressed and they came back sleeved and ready to go.

Clouds (author)2014-10-18

The fun way:

Office Prank and Backup Tape Destruction in One

LesB (author)2014-10-15

There's a slight chance one of these was the missing Beatles tape, in which case you just chopped up $10 million.

rimar2000 (author)2014-10-07

¬°Please don't throw to the waste old tapes, they are ideal for rope making!

The_Little_Doc (author)rimar20002014-10-15

Just play the tape, for goodness sakes!

spork3000 (author)rimar20002014-10-07

Really? Rope? Weird.

The_Little_Doc (author)2014-10-15

Is there actually stuff on the tape? If there is, you should check what it is!

swereska (author)2014-10-12

Gotta Second Gary B.W here. I'm glad you got to play with the power tools, but once you had the side off, 1 Flip and 2 good shakes and most of the tape is in a trashcan. Also works that way for film... Generally when you weren't trying to dump the reel...

bpark1000 (author)2014-10-12

Put tape reel on spindle so it can freely turn. Feed tape end through a 2 foot long piece of pipe. Clamp pipe. Shoot airgun into pipe on end tape enters. Tape will be dragged through pipe by airflow, unreeling tape at high speed. Multiple reels can be unwound at once by this method.

For very small reels of tape, you can suck tape off the reel with a shop vacuum.

If you are at the top of a high cliff, you can unreal tape by gravity.

xirtus (author)2014-10-12

Christ almighty you nazi butchers how could you?

emachine56 (author)xirtus2014-10-12

Indeed. Ampex metal reels, no less. Did anyone look to see what kind of tape it was? There are folks who recycle/reuse mag tape.

eryl (author)2014-10-12

Is there a market for empty spools these days? We just used to take the flanges off and send them for scrap. When we had a pile we used to get enough cash to make it worth the effort.

Mayhem2 (author)2014-10-12

Total overkill!

Talk about trying to 'reinvent the wheel'... very badly!

fixfireleo (author)2014-10-12

your intern should be modelling or acting!

techie54 (author)2014-10-12

A demagnetizer works wonders on the tape. Then you could sell it to survivalists as a rope making kit.

Regats (author)2014-10-12

It's not that complicated.

Just fast-wind the tape to to a hub, then just push it off.

MikB (author)2014-10-11

Gravity will also do the work, if you get a long enough drop away from the reel, and a good low friction bearing (so, not a broom handle). (Old half-inch computer tapes in my case!)

Once the spool starts turning, the pull of the length of tape to the ground keeps it moving. Just let it spin.

kloopk (author)2014-10-09

or mind you some great spools there

rickharris (author)2014-10-07

When I was a main fame engineer we dumped tape by unscrewing one side of the reel. Stand over a bin and turn the reel so the tape spool is horizontal - Once started the tape will self fall away from the reel into the bin a neat pile.

Getting it back on was a different task - thankfully we had a motorised winder for that.

PS the tape makes fantastic rope if you twist it up with a drill.

spork3000 (author)rickharris2014-10-07

We tried that, but I guess our tape was wound a bit more tightly, or maybe we just weren't patient enough... :-)

seamster (author)2014-10-06

Nice, clever solution!

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