Introduction: Vintage Cassette Deck Hand Bag - Get Decked Out!

About: Electric car builder (cityofdomes channel on YouTube), engineer, technical writer, and published author of many paper airplane and origami books (Paper Plane Lab on YouTube)

We found this old cassette deck in a pile of trash next to a yard sale, and considering it looked in good condition (though it didn't work) we wondered if it could have another use. I decided to make a hand bag come carry case for my documents and stuff. I use this regularly on the daily commute. It has my phone which is plugged inside through to headphone jack for realistic retro music on the go. I kept the eject mechanism and built a transit card into a cassette, which works with the reader at the station. Add some lights and it's disco bag time :)

You could use any kind of old cassette deck; we used a home deck as it was bigger yet light enough not to pose a problem with weight. You could try converting an old portable cassette player, such as a Tiffen Showcorder (which I considered) but it depends on how much you want to carry as the portables don't leave much room inside if you want to keep VU meters, cassette keys, etc. You could also try converting an old boom box, but that could be seen as sacrilege!

We liked this cassette deck model as it had the classic retro chrome and wood grain look. I will eventually place corner protectors on it but so far it's easy to carry around and takes some bumps.

View these instructions as generic as specifics will apply to your own situation.The best part of creating this hand bag was the challenges of figuring out how to piece everything together.

What you will need:

  • An old cassette tape deck. Ideally one which does not have the eject button built into the mechanism (as that takes up space). The deck we are using is a Sharp RT442X, circa 1976. It has a separate eject button that takes up little room under the lid. There are plenty that can be found on ebay for a few dollars and often in local yard sales and junk markets. Look for one that doesn't work and save :)
  • A screwdriver set, wire strippers, wire cutters.
  • Lots of Araldite adhesive or other strong glue (24 hour type). We don't like using glue much, but often it's the thing that will reinforce the case in corners, back panels etc, depending on which tape deck you choose
  • Soldering iron/station (optional: this is to restore panel lights and add LEDs where the tape spindle heads used to be).
  • Battery holder (optional: 2 x AA to drive the LEDs).
  • 3.5mm stereo plug and wire (for connecting phone in bag to headphone jack).
  • Hinges for the lid (these can be half inch craft types or something stronger/thick from Home Depot). Ideally a piano hinge would be stronger but we could not find one narrow enough.
  • The receiving end of a slide bolt.
  • Springs, washers and screws (these can be removed from the old cassette mechanism). A spring will be used to make the catch.
  • Old pieces of plastic to cover the working mechanisms and protect from bag contents.
  • Some craft felt of desired color, one with a sticky back to line the inside of the bag and over components used, such as switches.
  • Spray paint and clear coat to protect woodgrain.

The outcome of your project will depend on the type of cassette deck you find, so hang onto any old bits of junk you come across such as metal brackets, screws, fasteners, etc -many of which will be found inside your cassette deck!.

Let's get building...

Step 1: Remove Old Chassis

A lot of the cassette decks from the 70s have nice wood grain cabinets, with a mild steel chassis inside. The tricky bit is removing the cassette mech unit as this is often bolted flush to the underside of the control panel.

  1. The mounting screws are usually on the underside. Place unit upside down on an old soft towel to do this job.
  2. Some mounting screws may go through rubber feet. In our case we couldn't remove the rubber feet as they were glued in place. Put all removed screws in a safe container and carefully lift out the chassis. You may need to lift it out via the control side as some bolts could still be holding. I snipped off non-essential cable connectors (put some leads aside to wire in new LED lights (explained in this Instructable).
  3. Remove the PCB. If your cassette deck has a headphone jack, remove it and the panel it's attached to from the chassis. You may need to hacksaw the section off the chassis if it is in one piece. We will be using this as the headphone to cell phone (inside bag) connection.You could keep the soldered lead and wire a plug, or connect a new lead (discussed later).
  4. Unbolt the cassette mechanism and carefully remove. There will be lots of springs. Keep these. I used a cassette deck with a separate eject control. The entire eject control was on the underside of the control panel and took up little space. If your eject control is among the keys, you will need to devise a way to eject a tape using a spring underside, with a push lever to flip the tape lid. I wanted a realistic eject mechanism so I can produce a cassette that houses a transit card (more on that later).
  5. Not having seen the inside of many cassette decks, I assume the key positioning is similar, using a metal rod that holds the keys firmly so they can swing and stay aligned. You could put springs on the underside of each key for a 'press-down effect' but I wanted something stronger and just glued them together, keeping the metal rod so I could secure the ends to the underside of the control panel. You will probably need to clean all the grease off the mechanism.
  6. Glue the keyboard back into place and make sure it is carefully aligned, applying blue masking tape to hold it in place. The underside of the keys are ugly so we glued piece of plastic over the exposed area and then covered it in felt.
  7. As for the rest of the features on the control panel side, we want to keep it all; the VU meters, buttons, sliders and lights (replacing with LEDs). In our unit, the meters and slider controls didn't take up much space and we covered them with felt, shown in later images.

Next, prepare the inside and add hinges...

Step 2: Prepare the Inside and Add Hinges

When we removed the cassette tape deck guts, there was plenty of grime and dirt, and a dead moth to remove, along with neatening up the inside. Although we will use craft felt covering on the inside, it's best to also paint it first as not every corner can be covered effectively in felt. There were holes at the back of the box where the RCA sockets, power etc panels were (on the chassis). I covered these with aluminum panels cut out from an old business card holder. The hinges we got from Home Depot.

  1. Mask out the area you do not want painted, such as the wood grain bezel edges. I could not remove the rubber feet (they were stuck fast by Sharp) so I masked them out too. I also masked out the manufacturer label. Apply liberal amounts of matt spray paint. Black is best, though the color is up to you!
  2. For spraying the underside, I cut out a paper frame to cover the wood grain sides so they were not accidentally sprayed (this box was literally stapled together by the manufacturer).
  3. To protect the wood, spray with non-reflective clear coat. Add corner protectors if you feel the need. These can be found on eBay.
  4. Block out the gaps at the back of the box with aluminum mesh or anything else suitable, so long as it is strong. There was a gap with mesh already on the bottom of the box so I covered this with cut-off plastic from a binder, glued in place, and felt on top of that. For the aluminum panels, you can glue them on the inside or use screws. I used glue as the box was not thick enough for screws. Note when screwing stuff against the inside of your box, be careful not to push it through the other side as the laminate could be damaged. Later I added a cut-off card file folder spine which became a flap to protect contents -and something flat to put documents on.
  5. Place the loose control-side lid back on the bag and, adding blue tape, place hinges, mark out holes and drill. Small hinges typically have 3 or 4mm holes. 4mm nuts are preferable for a stronger hold. On the box side glue the hinges down and then screw them in. This will further strengthen the hinges.
  6. Add small rubber feet to this side so the bag can stand upright (available on fleabay)..
  7. In the last photo on this page I found two metal shoulder strap handles from an old multimeter (100 years old in fact!) and used that to hook a shoulder strap. The shoulder strap is a retro-look camera strap found on eBay and cost $4.00. You could use any retro shoulder strap, even a denim one would look nice. If the strap handles you are using have sharp edges, cover with heatshrink tubing to protect the should strap.
  8. To position the shoulder strap handle and align to be equal on both sides, a good trick is to fold a piece of paper from the top edge down (wrapping around the corners too) position strap handle and pen two dots on the paper for drill holes. Then place the same paper with the position markers on the other side for drill holes, and all things should be equal :)
    Drill holes for M5 screws to be bolted on the inside. Once in place, add glue to the nut heads on the inside so the screws don't come loose.
  9. Cover the inside with sticky-back felt. You may wish to hold this step off until you are satisfied that the inside won't change. Of course you can add more felt later.

Let's look at the carry handle and bag catch...

Step 3: Add Carry Handle and Bag Lid Catch

This is pretty straightforward, though it can be tricky aligning the lid and bag box for a flush close/open. If you have secured the lid to hinges you can align more readily, but once this step is complete it is recommended to remove the lid so you can wire the lights and battery holder. Note in the second image that we used old packing plastic to cover the cassette keys. This is fine as we will cover it all in felt when done.

  1. For the carry handle, use something that will position in the center without too much hassle. The headphone socket panel proved to be a challenge, not leaving enough room for a decent-sized handle. I used the handle off an old junk oscilloscope but guitar case handles work well too. If they are too long, you'll need to cut them shorter and drill a new hole for 'flex room' s you can put your hand through and lift comfortably. Handles are also available from eBay for a few dollars. Drill holes to mount and secure handle strap to the other side with a strip of 2mm mild steel or 3mm aluminum. I used an old car radio DIN mounting hardware bracket for this. Adding strength to the other side will ensure the case doesn't warp when you pick it up.
  2. For the lock catch, mount the barrel bolt receiver in the center front and bolt through to the other side using M3 bolts and nuts. The barrel lock came from eBay and cost a dollar. As the barrel is too big we need to make a spring bolt that will sit comfortably when closed. Very carefully align the receiver and mark out the hole on the case to drill for the bolt. I drilled into the case a six millimeter hole, and then slipped a metal spacer through the wood (PCB spacers work well). I glued this in place with a washer on both sides. Through this I slipped an M3 bolt, added a spring on the inside and on the other end of the bolt screwed in a plastic PCB spacer (if you don't have screw on plastic nuts, try gluing the push button of a ball-point pen). Testing several times closing/opening the lid, adjust the inside PCB spacer so it sits comfortably into the metal socket you positioned under the tape deck lid. It should open smoothly and lock the lid to the case. If the noise of the lock and thread is annoying, either add a small section of shrink wrap to the bolt shaft, file off the exposed thread, or find a threadless spacer (I only had threaded spacers in my junk box).

Next: let's wire up the lights...

Step 4: Add Power and Disco Lights

This was the fun part; making the cassette deck look like a working cassette deck, but with one difference: where the tape spindles were, we are adding two flashing LEDs. Someone mentioned it's not real if it doesn't use the original
incandescent lamps, but that would mean a 12v battery. I needed four LEDs: a small red LED for the power light, a green led for the VU meter (both found in my junk box), and two flashing blue LEDs to mount where the cassette spindles were. All this will run on three volts, and despite the flashing LEDs being five volts, it all works well with minimum drain on two x 1.5v AA cells.

  1. Since the power switch was on the other side to all lit components, I opted to wire through two buttons near the VU meter. Wire the LEDs in parallel so you get the same voltage across all of them. If you haven't wired LEDs before, note the anode (longer lead) is the positive and the cathode (shorter lead) is the negative. As LEDs are diodes, current can only run in one direction, so make sure you connect correctly to the battery holder.
  2. Salvage any wiring leads from the old cassette deck guts, solder and secure LEDs with silicone over the power-on light bezel and VU meter.
  3. Find the best place to mount the twin AA battery holder. I found a gap under the lid off to one side that took up little space.There will probably be many threaded sockets under the lid, unused, as in my case and I used these to hold brackets that in turn secured the battery holder.
  4. For the VU meter I wanted maximum light on the meter face. This is difficult with a low-power LED but can be achieved by covering the back of the LED with reflective paint. In my case I used the reflective backing off an old solar garden lamp and sprayed chrome paint on the surround, but you could easily cover in aluminum foil.
  5. For the tape head 'flashing spindles', I cut the semi-transparent lid off an old jiffy box into two x 1.5mm squares. and used the 5mm holes to mount and silicone the LEDs in place. These were glued behind the spindle hole openings in the cassette bay. The reason I used a semi-translucent plastic was so that the LED light would scatter and spread across the plastic, making it appear bigger and brighter.
  6. To protect the back of the LEDs and wiring on the cassette bay I covered the entire area with a plastic lid from an old box. Be careful not to interfere with the spring eject mechanism lever. Keep testing the eject button for smooth operation as you work in this area.
  7. Use gaffer tape to hold down the wires, or heatshrink tubing and zip ties, then over that cover the entire lid underside in soft black felt.

Under the lid of your deck, you may find plenty of spaces to add hooks for keys, pockets with Velcro to add makeup etc. I used an old fabric box cutter knife holder to hold lipstick and pencil. Very neat!

Next: let's wire the headphone jack to an internal cell phone ear bud connector...

Step 5: Wire Internal Headphone Chassis Socket to 3.5mm Plug for Your Cell Phone

All you'll need is a length of headphone lead, anywhere from 5 to 10 inches (depending where you want to position your cell phone inside), with a typical 3.5mm stereo plug (you may need a different plug depending on what phone you use). Being lazy, we found an old lead in a dumpster and I cut off one end and soldered it to the headphone jack terminals. You could replace with a 3.5mm socket to 3.5mm lead if you want, but I wanted to use the original socket. If your headphones have a 3.5mm connector but you still wish to use the 6.5mm socket, there are adapters you can get from eBay for a few dollars.

Wiring is typical unbalanced tip/ring/sleeve. If you have trouble wiring, there's plenty of info elsewhere in Instructables. Alternatively, get one of those double socket adapters that are chassis mount, found on eBay. You can then feed through to your phone neatly without needing to solder.

  1. Remove the 6.5mm headphone socket from the panel.
  2. With the cut-lead, use wire strippers to cut back the insulator by a half inch; you will typically see a red wire and a white wire for left/right channel, and a copper wire (ground). Solder the lugs on the headphone connector to left and right channel colored wires and wire the ground to the copper or braid. Sorry about the dodgy diagram, it's all I could find at the time, but it should explain clearly enough where to wire the leads to the internal original headphone jack.
  3. Once soldered, test continuity with a multi-meter and then test left/right listening by plugging in your cell phone, and headphone from the outside. Sometimes left and right may be the wrong way around, as we discovered in the original wiring in our old cassette deck :) and if the sound is scratchy, check your soldered connectors
  4. If you have heat shrink tubing, cut some and slip over the headphone connector. Use a lighter if you don't have a heat gun (though carbon may show on colored tubing, so black tubing is best).
  5. Place sticky felt around the connector on the inside to add further strength. In case it comes apart, finish with a thick zip tie to hold it all in place. What we did here was lame, so feel free to approach this more neatly. Note that if you wire to a 3.5mm stereo chassis socket it will take up less room inside the case :)

Step 6: Make a RFID Transit Card Cassette Holder

There's nothing worse than losing your transit card. Some of the protective cases are fine but don't always pass radio signals. By using a cassette tape housing and mounting your card in it, no one will think twice to steal it :)

Not all places have an RFID or NFC (near-field communication) card but they are being rolled out in more places. Eventually, for example, New Yorkers will be saying goodbye to Metrocard and welcoming the electronic transit card. If you are lucky to have an RFID transit card you can proceed with these instructions.

Make sure you use an old cassette that has screws in the corners so you can open it easily. Pick your favorite; an old Elvis Presley or Bee Gees etc.

An Australian friend kindly loaned us her card for this demonstration, and this method will work for any RFID transit card, such as Oyster etc, so long as it fits snug inside a cassette.

This example has two holes drilled in it so the flashing LED lights underneath will show while the cassette is in its tray. Please check with the service provider in your state first, as some states may see this as illegal and consider the card its property.

  1. First we need to ensure we will not drill holes in the wrong place. Open an old cassette tape and remove the tape, spindle wheels, and guide wheels.
  2. Position transit card in the middle and with a marker draw circles on the underside, using the spindle holes as a guide.
  3. Now remove transit card and hold it against a cree LED flashlight. This is the best way to see the hidden Wi-Fi antenna wiring and reader inside. The wires typically go around the outside, with the reader closer to the middle. These radio frequency transit cards differ from state-to-state and country-to-country, so it's important to confirm the internal antenna position. If your marked-out holes don't overlap the wiring then you are safe to proceed with drilling holes. WARNING: You will damage your card if you break any wiring! Hold the card firm on a piece of wood and drill carefully.
  4. Now place card against one open side of the cassette. Mark out around the edges where to cut the internal ridges so the card can sit flush inside.
  5. With cutters or a box knife, carefully cut and snap out the inside ridged areas of plastic that from part of the cassette's reinforcement, so that the transit card will not bulge out the cassette when you close it up.
  6. You are ready to close up the cassette case. But before you do, you may wish to draw in a fake image of a tape reel with sprocket markings and slip two pieces of paper with this drawing on each side. I did this somewhat clumsily with a marker pen but it looks good enough through the cassette bay window. You could draw up something in Illustrator or Visio etc and print out and stick onto the card so when you look through the cassette window you'll think you are seeing a more realistic-looking tape.
  7. Finally, for that realistic tape effect, cut a length of plastic off an old file folder cover; cut it into a strip that is long enough to fill the bottom of the cassette, with the width of a tape. People will think you are producing a real cassette!
  8. Keep the little felt head cleaner and metal backing to complete the effect, and screw your cassette back together.

This is the final stage in completing your cassette deck bag. Please review the video again if you missed anything. This guide should get you going to finish your own bag, and although your approach may be different, I hope you enjoy the challenges in completing this fun retro project.

Happy building!

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