Introduction: Retro-Futuristic USB Drive

Some time ago I got a USB flash drive as a gift. The case of the drive was good-looking, but, unfortunately, it starts to cause a problem with unreliable connection after several months of use. Therefore I had stopped to use that drive. Most people would probably throw such a drive to a trash bin, but I kept it and I decided to repair it later. And I did it. In an interesting way.

In this instructable I describe how I made a new and original retro-futuristic USB drive from the old USB drive and from a box of scrap.

My only inspiration was the box of scrap and old electron tubes, which I saw years ago. I had no intention to follow any particular retro-futuristic style – like steampunk, teslapunk and so on.

Step 1: Material and Tools


  • USB flash drive. I used an old USB 2.0 one...
  • USB A male connector. I used a connector from a broken USB 2.0 cable.
  • blue 3 mm LED. I used an old one with a narrow beam angle.
  • resistor 100 Ω
  • 7 mm hot glue gun stick
  • two plastic tubes from a glue stick
  • aluminum tape
  • copper tape
  • blank PCB
  • wires (I used AWG 26)

Material from "Garbage Collection"

  • tube made of transparent plastic
  • knob from an old radio
  • metal grid (from a small basket)
  • plastic sheet with pinholes
  • old capacitors
  • thin coated copper wire (with a diameter about 0.3 mm)
  • wire with a diameter at least 1.5 mm; preferably coated copper wire


  • soldering iron
  • hot glue gun
  • cyanoacrylate glue (aka super glue)
  • mini drill + sander (aka Dremel tool)
  • drill, drill bits
  • saw
  • small file
  • utility knife
  • pliers
  • Kapton tape
  • matt colorless paint (acrylic-based paint is OK. I used transparent Balakryl)
  • blue and black alcohol-based permanent maker
  • alcohol (for weathering...)

Step 2: Plan

See sketch in the picture above. It should help to clarify what is going on in the next steps.

Step 3: "Datacrystal"

As soon as I got a clearer picture of the final look, I started experimenting with a 7 mm hot glue stick and LEDs. I also tried to drill a hole to the whole axis of the hot glue stick, which showed up as a good idea. You can see the result in the picture above. (It looks better in reality than in the picture.)

The trick to drilling into a hot glue stick is to set very high drilling speed and remove material by melting. I used an old 1 mm dull drill bit. The diameter of the final hole should be almost 3 mm (which is the diameter of the LED).

Resistor for the LED

Blue LED needs typically 3V @ 20 mA. USB voltage is 5V. Therefore, according to the Ohm's law:

R = (5V - 3V) / 0.02A = 100 Ω

Step 4: New USB Connector

In the picture above you can see bare PCB of the Flash drive. Without the whole plastic case, it didn't fit a USB slot at all. It is necessary to solder a new USB A connector anyway. (I used an old connector from a broken USB cable. I only had to remove all the plastic with a utility knife...) In the picture above you can also see USB connector pinout. Corresponding pins should be wired together... GND and +5V wires should be connected to the resistor with the LED. It should be a straightforward soldering task. (If you do not know how to make the circuit, search for "resistor led circuit" on the internet)

I cover the PCB with a Kapton tape and I also secure wires with hot glue after soldering.

Step 5: Body

As a basic body, I used plastic tubes from glue sticks. It could probably look better if I would use copper or brass tubes, but I didn't have any at all. At least, plastic tubes are lightweight.

The printing on the plastic tube does not need to be removed, because it will be covered with an aluminum tape later.

I cut off tubes to the right length and cut out a notch for USB A connector and also a hole for a capacitor. This capacitor has only a decorative purpose and it is not connected at all. See pictures...

Step 6: Body – Plating

I cover whole outside of the bottom and upper body with aluminum tape.

Step 7: Body – More Plating

Then I added some decoration using a copper tape. I also covered the edges of the transparent tube with this tape.

Step 8: "Datacrystal Chamber" – Separators

Between the body and the datacrystal chamber should be separators. (It would look bad without them.) They also have an important purpose: they hold the datacrystal in the axis of the chamber.

I made them from blank PCBs (FR4). First, I drilled a 7 mm holes for the datacrystal, then I removed material from margins until separators fitted the body.

Then I glued pieces of pinhole sheets to separators as a decoration.

It should be clearer from the pictures...

Step 9: "Datacrystal Chamber" – Grid Ring

As another chamber decoration I decided to add a grid ring. I used a metal grid from a basket for office supplies. I cut off the grid to the desired width, then I bent it to ring shape and then I soldered both ends together. Finally, I soldered a piece of wire (from paperclip) to the ring.

I also added some weathering using a blue alcohol-based permanent marker.

Step 10: Coils

I added a copper coil to the upper and bottom body parts close to the middle part. I used a coated copper wire with a diameter = 0.3 mm. Every end of wires I led inside the body and secured with cyanoacrylate glue.

Step 11: Clamping Wires

All three main body parts are actually held together using three thicker copper wires (they are functional and decorative at the same time...) I placed them symmetrically around the body.

Step 12: Upper End

As the upper end of the body I used a knob from an old radio. Mainly because it fitted perfectly and it looked quite good. I drilled a hole in the axis of the knob for another old capacitor, but it wasn't necessary...

Step 13: Bottom End

I used a piece of PCB as the bottom end of the body. I drew my initials and year on it and then I etched it. If I didn't have a PCB, I would use a piece of plastic or a washer or something ...

Step 14: Final Assembly

After I finished all the parts, it was time to put everything together. See again the sketch in the picture above...

I glued some parts together using cyanoacrylate glue or hot glue. I didn't glue the middle transparent tube to the body.

Step 15: Weathering

The main goal of this step was to reduce the newness and the metallic shine and add more personality to the drive.

I tried to make some weathering using alcohol-based permanent markers and it worked quite good. The color stayed in scratches and so on, after raw cleaning. It highlighted imperfections.

Then I coated it with matt acrylic paint. It blurred marks from the permanent markers, but at the end of the day it showed up as unexpected improvement. I did coating in three layers.

Step 16: Last Step

The last step is missing...

I wanted to make also a wooden box for this drive, but I had no useable wood, and I also have had only elementary tools for woodworking. (I couldn't throw a log on a table saw or on a band saw and so on.) Therefore I had only a raw cardboard box for some time (see in a picture above). Searching for useable wood was surprisingly hard. I wasn't able to get a better piece of wood than a spruce lath. Unfortunately, spruce wood is not very suitable for making boxes, because it's very soft and splits too easily.

I improvised a lot in the process of making the wooden box. That's why I decided not to share the process. It could probably insult some experienced woodworkers.

Anyway, I hope I've inspired you with this instructable :-)

Make it Glow Contest

Participated in the
Make it Glow Contest