Introduction: Modern Desk Art Using Junk Hard Drives

About: I'm a computer programmer who loves building electronics, art projects, writing music, and shooting photography.

I often see people talk about recovering parts from things they're throwing out, but I rarely see people do anything with them. This will be a quick and simple Instructable shows something I've recently done with magnets taken out of hard drives. The complexity ranges from almost none to quite complex, depending on how far you want to take your project.


  • Multiple sizes of bearing balls
  • Old hard drives to take apart
  • What you do with your base will dictate any additional supplies


  • Screwdrivers (depends on your hard drives)
  • Some type of prying tool
  • What you do with your base will dictate any additional tools

Step 1: Step 1: Recover Magnets

I take apart a lot of computers, so I come across lots of old hard drives. If a hard drive is in working condition it may be more useful as intended, but if it's broken or antiquated, this is an easy way to recover some strong magnets from it! It's worth noting that there are some other useful parts in hard drives, mostly for art projects. Like the read/write heads, platters and platter separators. You can also re-use the motor, although it's not simple to drive. It can, however, be used as a large rotary encoder if you don't mind the work required to remove it from the casing.

Taking most hard drives apart is a simple task, just removing some screws and the lid to expose the insides. Right away you'll see the first V shaped magnet bracket in the corner. Remove the screw(s) holding this in place and remove it. Then remove the read / write head and underneath where the first magnet was will be a second magnet in a similar V shaped bracket.

Now that you have the magnets removed, the next step will be prying them out of the brackets. I left a few of them mounted because I knew I was going to glue them down to the top and bottom of the container, which saved me some time. The rest I pried of their mounts with a blade prying tool. They're only held on with adhesive so they shouldn't be too much trouble, just be careful not to injure yourself with your prying tool and don't use dull objects with a lot of force. The magnets are very brittle and will chip and crush to dust if you are not careful. You might think releasing the adhesive with heat would simplify this process, but temperatures above 300(ish) degrees C (600F) will demagnetize your magnets so I don't think it's worth the risk.

I also broke most of the magnets I removed into halves or thirds. Having more magnets to work with will allow for larger, more complex builds. Also the full size magnets just tend to be bigger then I needed. Even if you only took apart 3 hard drives, each with 2 magnets, you'd have 6. Then super glue one in it's bracket down to something nice looking and break the rest into thirds, you'd have 15 magnets to build with off the base. Even this is enough to make structure with interesting shapes. Of course more would be better and more interesting, but even this would be a great start!

Step 2: Step 2: Create a Base (Optional)

You could certainly just build up interesting looking things without a stand or container, but this step would make your project go from a toy to a nice piece of desk art! It's up to you how complex you'd want to make this. You could go to the hardware store and get a piece of wood flooring sample to glue a magnet to and build off. Or you could go to the local dollar store and buy a decorative mirrored plate. You could also make your own wooden stand or full container, or even 3D print one.

I designed and 3D printed a full container so I could have magnets permanently glued to the top and bottom. This allows for tall structures. You could get very creative with your container, maybe even try building something with an open top and room to mount magnets to the sides so your structure is suspended?

Step 3: Step 3: Create Art!

At this point you have your magnets prepared and maybe even some type of stand or container. Now you need some steel bearing balls to stick to the magnets. These can be ordered online for extremely cheap. I used 3 different sizes which ends up looking kind of organic and very visually interesting. The smaller size balls are nice for filling small spaces and hiding visible magnets. Hiding all the magnets really turns your project into something beautiful and will make it less obvious to others how it's held together.

Step 4: Step 4: Photograph Your Art!

It's worth noting that aside from being interesting desk art and a relaxing toy to play with, this project photographs wonderfully. Especially with long exposures that use moving colored light sources in a dark room. There is so much room to play with this idea between the light painting techniques and building interesting looking configurations to shoot, different lenses and focal distances, etc. Well worth a try, even if you're only using a phone camera!

Magnets Challenge

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Magnets Challenge