Last Christmas I gave my family printed photo books, filled with photos I had taken that year. It was a wonderful gift, but it meant having to buy several photo books from a professional printing company, and this wasn't cheap. So this year I decided to make a photo slideshow of photos from 2015 and give each family member a pen drive with the slideshow on it. I then had the idea to embellish the humble plastic pen drive to make the gift a bit more aesthetically pleasing.
Using a router, glue, and some wood, I was able to make new cases to replace the cheap plastic pen drive cases. I used a CNC router for this but a hand held router (or even a dremel with a router attachment) can be used too. I got the wood from a seller on ebay who was selling them as wood turning blanks. Each blank measured 55mm x 55mm x 250mm which is way more than what is needed to make a pen drive case. All that is required is a small square of wood, I cut a slice from one of my blanks about 7mm thick so I would end up with a small square measuring 55 x 55 x 7mm.
I made many pen drives from many types of wood but the one I took photos of to show you was one made from olive wood. Below is a list of things you will need.
Wood - You can use whatever type you like, I started with a turning blank and cut a slice, 55 x 55 x 7mm.
Router - I used a CNC router but a dremel with a depth control attachment will also work
Glue - Your favourite wood glue, I used Gorilla brand.
Hot Glue gun - Will be used to secure the pen drive in the case
Pen Drive - Cheap pen drives are almost always built the same way and can be bought in bulk if required.
Step 1: Prep Your Wood
I used a circular saw to cut slices from a turning blank, but a hand saw will work just as well. It is best to have a thickness between 6 and 7mm. After you have your slice it is recommended that it is surfaced. This can be done by hand with a planing tool or by careful sanding. If you're using a cnc machine this can easily be done with a large diameter tool and a pocket operation; simply skim off enough wood so the surface is nice and flat. The reason for surfacing is that both halves of the case will be cut from this single slice, they will then need to marry up with no gaps so they can be glued together well.
Step 2: Cut the Case
The zip file here contains an SVG image of the pen drive case. If you're using a cnc machine, simply download the svg and open it in a CAM package. A free, simple, and totally browser based CAM package can be found at makercam.com < This is what I used.
Start by selecting the internal paths and creating pocket operations for these. A depth of 2.4mm is needed for these pockets. Cutting internal corners with a round bit can often be problematic, but this time it actually helps with the design. I used a 3mm cutting tool which leaves a little radius on the internal corners which just so happens to hold the circuit board of the pen drive perfectly, so there is no need to worry about correcting for internal corners.
The outer paths need to be outline profiles and will cut all the way through your wood.
If you're making these with a hand held router then you can print the SVG file and secure it to your wood to use as a guide. You do not have to be super neat as any internal mistakes will be hidden from view. If you cut the outline slightly larger than the guide then external untidiness can be sanded off later.
Step 3: Add Electronics
These types of pen drives are often so cheap that they are given away for free by businesses and companies. They can also be bought at a fair price individually or in multi-packs. They are usually all built the same and will have a little hole on the bottom which can be used to pry the case open with a nail or something. After opening the plastic case you may find the circuit board has been glued in with hot glue, this is easily removed with a bit of force.
Once you have extracted the circuit board, you will need to glue it into your new wooden case. This is where the hot glue gun is needed. Simply put a blob of glue towards the back end of the inside of your case, then hold your circuit board in place until the glue dries.
Next you will glue your case closed. Use wood glue for this as hot glue will not be strong enough. Clean the edges of any dust and cover them with wood glue. Press the two halves together and secure in a clamp of some kind. You should leave this overnight to dry.
Step 4: Sand and Finish
Once the glue is dry you can sand your new case to look super smooth. If you want to do this, I recommend protecting the pen drive from dust by covering it tape. I used Kapton tape but masking tape works too. I sanded mine with a range of grits starting at 80 grit and working up to 320. I then used a dremel fitted with a buffer wheel and a little buffering compound to really make it smooth. Finally the wood was polished with a little wax and left to dry.
And that's it! I made a bunch of these using different woods such as walnut, purple heart, and zebrawood. Future designs may incorporate a lid for the pen drives but this time Christmas came just too quickly and I ran out of time.