Introduction: MixDrive: USB Cassette Tapes Made Easy

I am super far from my photoshop-capable PC, but they're coming. And they'll be hosted more reliably, promise.


I remember the days of the mixtape. Requesting songs from the local radio station and sitting by the cassette deck, finger on the record button. I remember the glorious day I got a dual cassette deck so that I could copy music from one tape to the next. Spending hours making mixes for friends, coloring cassettes with permanent markers or nail polish or glitter. Whatever I had lying around that could safely go into the tape deck. They weren't just plastic cassettes filled with noise, they were little works of art.

With the advent of digital music, it's all too easy just to send someone an iTunes gift card and song list. The physical aspect of the gift is lost, reduced to something that can't be seen or touched. As an expression of affection, I feel it's lacking.

I still want to make mixes for people. I love to give the gift of music. But I want it to be something they can hold, something real and tangible that they can take out and look at. A gift that has a physical presence. Thus, the MixDrive..

Step 1: What You Will Need

To Make A MixDrive You Will Need:

- a USB stick
- a cassette tape
- a craft knife
- a small screwdriver
- a permanent marker
- a tool for cutting the casing of the cassette (I will be using chisels- a rotary tool would be good for this step as well)
- electrical tape
- scissors

To Make A Label and Case Insert For Your MixDrive (Optional):

- High quality paper for your label and case insert (I am using some free samples of glossy photo paper that came with my last ink purchase.)
- a printer
- adhesive for paper/plastic bonding (I will be using rubber cement.)
- Creativity!

Now that we've assembled all the supplies we will need to make our MixDrives, let's get started, shall we?

Step 2: Liberate Your Flash Drive

USB sticks come in all shapes and sizes. For this instructable I'm using a 2gb Kingston Data Traveler. I like Kingston drives for this project because they are incredibly easy to liberate from their casing. 

Since your drive may differ from mine, I can't guide you through this step with great precision. For most USB flash drives, the casing is two halves of a plastic shell which are glued together. The easiest way to disassemble this type of casing is to find the seam and gently work your craft knife into it. Carefully work your craft knife along the seam until the casing feels loose or pops open. You should be able to remove the USB stick from its housing. Take the bits of the case and set them aside for now. We'll salvage some plastic from them later.

Step 3: De-construct Your Cassette Tape

Most cassette tapes are held together with screws at the corners of the casing (with one toward the bottom middle for added structural integrity). Once these screws are removed, the cassette simply comes apart. 

There are tons of removable bits inside, and we don't want to spill them everywhere, so place your cassette flat on your work surface with the screws facing up. Remove the screws, and the top half of the case should lift easily from the bottom.

Step 4: Remove the Insides!

Now that we have the case open, we need to take out all the removable pieces. I've marked all the standard bits in the photo. None of these should be attached to the cassette housing. Remove them all and set them aside. We'll be putting them all back in later.

Step 5: Mark It Up!

Now we need to mark our cassette casing where we would like the USB to slide out. Place your USB stick against the one half of the cassette housing (see photo) in the upper corner and make a mark that is just slightly longer than the width of the stick. Put the housing back together and make a matching mark on the other half.

Step 6: Hack Away!

Take your cutting tool of choice and cut into the cassette's casing. Carefully remove the section that you marked in the previous step. Older cassettes can be made of very brittle plastic - be cautious while cutting so that it doesn't break.

Step 7: Make Sure It Fits.

Put the drive inside the cassette casing with the USB sticking out through the slot we have created. Make sure both halves fit together properly with the USB stick in place.

Step 8: Kick It Up a Notch.

This step can be a little tricky. We need to cut out a notch in the top of the cassette to create a slider button that will move the USB connector out, ready to be connected to a computer. To do this, we need to figure out how far the button will actually slide. Please be sure to refer to the photos for this step.

Take one half of the cassette casing and place the USB stick in the notch we have cut. Make sure that you place it in the notch in the fully extended position. There should already be a small notch in the top of the casing. We will want to line our slider button up with this notch. You can make a small mark with a permanent marker on your USB stick to mark this location.

Now place the USB stick inside the casing in the fully retracted position. I like to line the metal plug up so that it is flush with the outside edge of the cassette housing. The notch that will allow the button to slide must extend just beyond the mark we have made on the USB stick for the button. Mark the casing just behind the mark we have made for placing the button on the USB stick.

Once you have your notch properly marked, start cutting.

Step 9: Make a Button!

Now you'll see why we saved the USB drive's casing. Cut a little bit of plastic off it. We just need a small bit to make the sliding button for the drive. Mine is about 4mm x 3mm. Depending on the thickness of your plastic, you may want to cut two pieces and stack them together. They need to be thick enough that they will be flush with the outer cassette housing once they are attached to the USB stick.

Take your little bits of plastic and wrap them with electrical tape, then trim off the excess tape.

Step 10: Wrap It!

Cut a short piece of electrical tape and wrap it once around your USB stick. This will make it a bit easier to attach your button. 

Place the button on the top edge of the USB stick, and tape it down with the electrical tape. After securing the button, use the tape to cover the rest of the USB stick.

Step 11: Double Check the Fit.

Place the USB stick back into the notch you cut into the cassette housing, and place the two halves of the housing together. Don't screw them together yet - just make sure they properly over the USB drive, and that the button is accessible from the top notch.

If the button isn't tall enough to be usefully accessible, try adding a couple of layers of electrical tape to bulk it up, or taping on an additional piece of plastic to bridge the gap.

Step 12: Reassemble Your MixDrive!

Put all the bits you set aside earlier back in their original places in the tape housing. Add the USB drive, making sure it's in the fully extended position.

Put the top half of the cassette housing on and screw the cassette back together - leaving out the screw in the corner where the USB drive now sits, which is no longer needed. The empty reel should hold the USB drive against the top of the case.

Step 13: Pat Yourself on the Back!

You've made your own MixDrive with awesome USB retraction action!

Step 14: (Optional But Awesome) Make a Label and Case Insert!

I've made a pair of templates for creating a custom label and J-card case inserts for your MixDrive. What mixtape is complete without sweet personalized labels? I've included templates in PSD and JPEG formats for those of you who are photoshop wizards.

Grab them here.

Photoshop your templates or just print one out and grab your pens, pencils, markers, or even crayons! Color it up and make it your own!

Use the guide lines to cut out the label and rubber cement (or other adhesive) to attach it to your cassette. 

Voila! Your personalized MixDrive is complete!

Take photos of your handiwork and post them so we can all be impressed by your wicked style!
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