Introduction: Steel Belt Clip for an Otterbox Case

Picture of Steel Belt Clip for an Otterbox Case

A friend has a new iPhone 5 and an Otterbox Defender case with the Belt Clip. The springy retaining clip broke. See the second photo.* He is a farmer, so he needs a Belt Clip that stands up to lots of movement as he climbs on and off of tractors and other equipment. He is tired of plastic and asked me if I could make a Belt Clip replacement for him from steel.

One of the challenges is that strap iron is not springy and will not work for the catch that holds the phone in the Belt Clip. I will use a small coil spring from the hardware store and a sliding catch operated by depressing a tab.

I requested that he send his broken Belt Clip to me so I could replicate the dimensions. During the early stages of this project I did not have a phone in the proper case to make certain his phone would fit my steel Belt Clip. At just the right time my wife's iPhone 4S began to lose functionality. She happened to choose a new iPhone 5 with an Otterbox Defender case, but no Belt Clip. During the final critical steps I was able to use her phone (shown in the photo with the purple case) as a pattern.

* User questions at Amazon indicate quite a few owners have had trouble with broken springy clips. Otterbox does sell replacements, but they are plastic, too.

Materials

  • 1/8 x 2 inch mild steel
  • 1/8 x 3/4 inch mild steel
  • 1/8 x 1/2 inch mild steel
  • 1/8 inch steel rod
  • 10 x 32 machine screw
  • 5/16 x 1/2 inch coil spring (#88)

Tools

  • Folding rule
  • Digital caliper
  • Try square
  • Angle head grinder
  • Dremel tool and grinding stone bit
  • Hacksaw
  • Spring clamps
  • Vise
  • Flux core wire feed welder
  • Aluminum angle to hold pieces while welding
  • Welding setup magnet
  • Hammer
  • 7/8 inch diameter steel form stake
  • File
  • Drill
  • Thread tap
  • Masking tape
  • Fine point felt tip marker
  • Oilstone
  • Metal file
  • Assorted pieces of wood 3/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 x 2 inch steel bar
  • Vise-Grip plier

Step 1: Mark and Cut Steel for the Belt Clip

Picture of Mark and Cut Steel for the Belt Clip

I like to use masking tape when marking for cutting steel. It gives a background that makes seeing the line easy.

If you look closely, you can see where the springy clip that comes over the top of the phone has broken away, leaving a jagged edge.

Step 2: Add Some Steel to the Basic Piece

Picture of Add Some Steel to the Basic Piece

The Belt Clip dips downward 5/16 inch at each end. I need to weld tabs of steel 1/8 x 1/2 on each side (5/16 plus 1/8 to cover the thickness of another piece of steel added later). I am using a piece of aluminum angle to hold and to align the pieces. I tack welded them in place. Then I completed the welds.

Step 3: Bottom Edges of the Pocket Corners

Picture of Bottom Edges of the Pocket Corners

I determined the radius of the curves on each lower corner of the Belt Clip is about 7/8 inch. I have a 7/8 inch diameter steel stake for anchoring forms before pouring concrete. I used it, my vise, and a hammer to bend 1/8 x 3/4 inch strap iron halfway around the form stake. (Each curved portion uses less than a quarter of a circle. If I cut the half diameter bend I will have two pieces that are just right. See the text box.)

Also, I reduced the size of the 1/8 x 3/4 inch strap iron to 1/8 x 5/8 inch to mimic the original Belt Clip.

Step 4: Weld the Curved Pieces to the Main Piece

Picture of Weld the Curved Pieces to the Main Piece

I used a magnet designed for setting up welds to hold the curved pieces in place on the lower corners of the main piece. I used the folding rule to check the exact position compared to the original Belt Clip. The 1/8 x 1/4 inch tabs welded to extend the corners of the main piece have not yet been trimmed to make a round corner. Tack the curved pieces.

Step 5: Weld

Picture of Weld

It is a good idea to grind out a recess at the joint lines for deeper penetration, but be careful not to grind away the tack welds that hold the positions in their exact placement. Trim the 1/8 x 1/2 inch tabs to fit the contours of the curved pieces.

Step 6: Fit the Front Part of the Pockets

Picture of Fit the Front Part of the Pockets

I used a piece of 1 x 2 inch pine clamped in place with spring clamps to hold 1/8 x 1/2 inch steel tabs in place for tack welding. The straight edge of the pine insures better alignment of the tabs. These tabs wrap around the front corners of the phone.

Step 7: Trim and Grind Smooth

Picture of Trim and Grind Smooth

Trim all pieces of 1/8 x 1/2 inch steel. (A cut mark from an angle head grinder is visible in the near piece.) Grind the welds smooth.

Step 8: The Sliding Latch

Picture of The Sliding Latch

Cut a piece of 1/8 x 2 inch steel 3 1/4 inches long for the sliding latch fitted to an iPhone 5 or 5S. Mark two parallel lines as shown. The center section should be as wide as possible. But, the pieces on the sides need to be sturdy, too. I made the center piece about 3/4 inch wide.

I guided an angle head grinder with cutting disc by hand to cut along both lines. The cutting disc was laid over to about 50 degrees so that each piece had a bevel on the cut edges. See the next step.

Be careful to follow the lines as closely as possible. A milling machine would have been ideal for forming the bevels to insure that they are exactly parallel, but my available tools are much more modest.

Step 9: Overview of the Sliding Latch Mechanism

Picture of Overview of the Sliding Latch Mechanism

In the graphic you can see the beveled edges on the pieces. They will be on the back side of the Belt Clip. The bevels will keep the pieces against the back of the main piece, and will also allow the center slide to move smoothly.

Step 10: Fine Tuning the Slide Latch Mechanism

Picture of Fine Tuning the Slide Latch Mechanism

Because the two bevel cuts were made with a hand-guided cutting wheel, it is likely the center piece will not have exactly parallel sides.

Smooth all beveled edges by hand with an oilstone to make sure they are as straight as possible. Try to make them straight with a file or the oilstone.

I welded one of the side pieces in place at the ends so the cooling welds would not pull the side pieces outward from the center slider. Be very careful not to let the weld material extend into the area the slider piece needs for movement. This can be tricky.

The other side piece is held by a spring clamp for now. Slide the center piece and see if it pushes the side piece held by the clamp to make a gap between the sliding piece and the two side pieces. Determine which end of the slider is too wide. Work on it until sliding it is smooth and the slider does not push the piece held by the spring clamp to leave a gap. The slider needs to move only about 3/16 inch in use, so absolute perfection is not necessary. Make it smooth for a movement over about 1/4 inch.

When the slider moves smoothly without binding or creating a gap, position the piece held by the spring clamp and weld its ends to the main piece of the Belt Clip. You want enough looseness for smooth movement, but not so much that the slider feels sloppy.

Step 11: Add a Tab for the Spring

Picture of Add a Tab for the Spring

I welded a piece of 1/8 x 3/4 to the bottom of the Belt Clip at the center. It will support a tab against which the coil spring will press. Grind the welds smooth on both sides.

I used a piece of wood to help me locate the line defined by the bottom of the phone when it is in the Belt Clip. I marked the line. I cut the newly welded piece at the line.

Step 12: Weld the Tab in Place

Picture of Weld the Tab in Place

I cut down the ends of a piece 3/4 x 3/4 inch so the ends would fit in the corner pockets. I laid a piece of steel 1/8 x 3/4 x 3/4 inch on the wood to hold it while I tack welded it. When the tacks are complete, remove the wood and finish the weld. Making another pass insures enough strength. Grind the weld smooth.

Step 13: Put the Slider Into Place

Picture of Put the Slider Into Place

Grind the tab from the last step for smooth edges and rounded corners.

Insert the slider for the latch mechanism into place. Be certain it moves smoothly. NOTE: Each time I welded after inserting the slider, dirt from the flux core wire or tiny balls of spatter got into the slider mechanism and made it operate poorly. I oiled it liberally and worked the mechanism by hand until it moved freely and smoothly again. I intended to cover the mechanism with sheet metal while welding to prevent this, but forgot each time.

Step 14: Add the Tab That Operates the Slider

Picture of Add the Tab That Operates the Slider

Rest a piece of wood across the bottom of the Belt Clip assembly. Rest a piece of steel 1/8 x 3/4 x 3/4 on the wood and weld it to the slider piece. Grind the edges round and make the weld smooth.

Step 15: Add the Coil Spring

Picture of Add the Coil Spring

The coil spring is 5/16 inch in diameter. I drilled a hole that size in a piece of 1/8 x 1/2 inch steel. Then I cut it from the bar to make a square with a hole in the center. I welded that piece to the upper side of the actuator tab just welded to the slider mechanism. I twisted the spring into the hole. Grind away rough edges to protect against cuts while in use.

Step 16: Measure Carefully

Picture of Measure Carefully

At this point I did not have a phone, only the broken Belt Clip. I needed to know how much space the phone would take up.

I taped and propped up the broken plastic springy tab to its original position. I used a piece of wood to define the bottom edge of the phone. I used a digital caliper to lock down the space for the phone. I cut a piece of 3/4 x 3/4 inch pine the length of the distance indicated by the caliper.

Step 17: Position and Weld the Top Tab

Picture of Position and Weld the Top Tab

The spring clamp holds the slider mechanism so there is just a little tension on the coil spring. Available movement is limited, making for close tolerances. Do not preload the spring with too much tension that might use up travel needed to release the phone.

Weld a piece of 1/8 x 3/4 x 3/4 inch steel for the top tab. Use the piece of wood cut to length with measuring assistance from the caliper to rest the tab in place until it can be tack welded.

See the text box on the photo. I added a stop to keep the slider from going too slack, which could allow the spring to fall out.

There seemed to be a number of things that could go wrong, but when I finally was able to check my work my wife's new phone and case, everything fit just as it should. It was a nice surprise.

Step 18: Locating the Position of the Tip

Picture of Locating the Position of the Tip

The original plastic springy tab has a tip on it that fits into a rectangular recess on the side of the phone case. I added masking tape and extended the lines that define the location of the recess so I can mark the top tab while I am unable to see the recess and its location, except for the marks on the tape.

Step 19: Mark the Tab for Drilling

Picture of Mark the Tab for Drilling

I put masking tape on the top surface of the top tab. Then I put the phone into the Belt Clip. With the help of the lines from the last step, I was able to locate the center of the hole for screw to serve as the tip that holds the phone in the Belt Clip.

Step 20: Add a Short Screw Section

Picture of Add a Short Screw Section

I drilled and threaded the hole for a 10-32 screw. I cut a piece of a 10-32 screw to about 1/4 inch in length. I turned it into the hole so it was a little below the surface so I could weld it to keep it from turning. Then I ground the weld smooth.

Step 21: File the Screw to Fit the Rectangle

Picture of File the Screw to Fit the Rectangle

I filed the end of the screw to length and rounded its edges a little to make it more compatible with the plastic recess on the phone case. I filed flat sides on it to parallel the long dimension of the recessed rectangle on the phone case. When I was finished, the tip of the screw catches and holds the phone in the Belt Clip very nicely.

Step 22: Belt Loops

Picture of Belt Loops

I used 1/8 inch rod to bend two loops around a piece of 1/4 x 2 steel. Cut and bend the rod so the ends meet.

Step 23: Weld Belt Loops to the Belt Clip

Picture of Weld Belt Loops to the Belt Clip

I used the welding magnet to hold the belt loops in position and weld them just enough to hold well.

I welded two pieces between them. These will allow the Belt Clip to carry the phone vertically or horizontally by threading the belt through the loops in a different direction 90 degrees different.

Grind all welds smooth and remove any rough edges. A grinding stone bit on a Dremel tool works well. Go over the Belt Clip with a wire wheel to remove scale from the steel and discoloration from heat marks.

This Belt Clip does not look as polished as a production model. But, my tools are more limited. It is steel and will survive lots of adverse conditions where plastic is likely to fail.

Step 24: Horizontal Position

Picture of Horizontal Position

This is the phone on my belt in the horizontal position.

Step 25: To Remove the Phone

Picture of To Remove the Phone

Place the thumb on top of the phone and gently press out away from your body while depressing the spring loaded tab on the slider with one of your fingers. Putting the phone back into the Belt Clip is the same, but in reverse.

Step 26: The Vertical Position

Picture of The Vertical Position

The first photo shows the phone in the vertical position. The second photo shows the belt loops on the back of the steel Belt Clip.

Update: After about a month the owner of this Belt Clip responded to my inquiry on how this works for him. He said it works great. He did not mention any concerns or make any requests for changes to it.

Comments

mattmolitor (author)2015-12-06

Yep, that's awesome. Would you be interested in selling one of these?

Phil B (author)mattmolitor2015-12-06

Thank you for your interest. What phone do you have? The one I made fits a 5s. When the man has to get a new phone, resizing the holder I made is not really an option. There is that caution. A new phone pretty much means starting over.

I could give some thought to making another. I will be away from my shop until after the New Year, though.

mattmolitor (author)Phil B2015-12-06

I've still got a 5... yeah, you've got a good point that it probably isn't long for this world. What lead me here was I've gone through 4 of the plastic hoslters, so was looking for an alternative. Also, working in power plants most of the time, this would fit right in. I'll wait till I get a new phone and work something out. Great build!

3366carlos (author)2015-05-09

wow, thats all i can say.

Phil B (author)3366carlos2015-05-09

Thank you. I never had any idea I would do anything like it.

TRBrew (author)2014-12-27

Sweet!

The latch is the first thing that breaks on ANY of my cell phones, and this would be the perfect solution! When I get another phone, all of the "hard" work of the belt clips/loops and latch will have been done and should be relatively easy to transfer to another "frame".

Thanks for the detailed instructions!

Phil B (author)TRBrew2014-12-27

Thank you for looking. I have thought about what happens when my friend must upgrade to a new phone with slightly different dimensions. Resizing the belt clip could be almost as much work as starting at the beginning. It just depends what the changes are.

MsSweetSatisfaction (author)2014-10-12

That's so awesome! I bet it'll out last phone! I love the mechanism for releasing the phone, so clever! Thanks for sharing!

Thank you for looking and for your comment. The man for whom I made this case is new to iPhones. I do not have the heart to tell him his phone will probably need replacement in two or three years, and the replacement will likely not fit this Belt Clip. It was a good thing when the iPhones were the same physical size from 2007 until the introduction of the "5" almost a year ago.

The sliding latch mechanism was a challenge. I considered several variations on it, but settled on the one shown. Even if I had been able to find some springy steel, strange things happen due to the heat of welding and it may become prone to break.

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Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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