Making a Steampunk Portable Harddrive Case




About: I currently am working as a software quality assurance tester. I have enjoyed woodworking since I was a kid and have started to build up my tool collection. I love to make all kinds of things and enjoy all o...

Making a Steampunk Portable Harddrive Case
So you already have a steampunked monitor and keyboard and hate that your portable harddrive doesn't match, well here is a way to make that important piece of equipment match and protect it to boot.

Materials Needed:

-Portable Harddrive - I used a WD My Passport
-3/32 x 4 x 36 in Balsa wood piece - bought mine at Michaels Craft Store
-1/4 x 4 x 36 in Balsa wood piece - Michaels Craft Store
-Sheet of medium thin Brass - Hobbytown USA
-Bag of Brass Rivets - Michaels Craft Store but Tandy Leather Brand
-Piece of Tooling Leather - Tandy Leather - Tooling Shoulder
-Black Heavy Thread - Tandy Leather
-Gilded Plastic Gears/ Brass gears - I used plastic ones I gilded from Hobbytown USA
-Leather Dye - I used Tandy Eco-Flo Briar Brown
-Small Digital Clock with fake gold setting - Rockler Hardware
-2" Quartz Brass Fancy Clock - Rockler Hardware

-Drill preferably drill press
-Dremel Rotary tool
-Rivet Setter - Mine came with the rivets
-Rotary Leather Punch
-Sharp Ultility Knife
-Forester Bit set
-Black Sharpie
-2 ziplock bags

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Step 1: Cutting Things to Size

We are going to form a wood and leather case that will protect the harddrive.

Place your drive on top of the thicker balsa wood and trace around it staying as close to possible to the actual size of the drive.
Repeat with the thinner wood.
Now use utility knife to cut out the wood. Should go easy.

Place the thinner piece of wood on the bottom of the drive and the thicker one on top. You should have a wood/drive/wood sandwich. Use this thickness to determine the wrap around size your leather will have to be. Make the height of the leather piece several inches longer then the drive size as you will be making a flap to cover the top.

With the leather now temopary wrapped around the drive as well use that size to cut another piece of the thick balsa wood to become the wooden bottom "plug" of the case. Round the corners with the knife to fit the curve of the leather wrapped "sandwich"

Step 2: Cutting the Brass

My chosen brass shape goes around the larger clock face. I'm not going to tell you how I did this step as it was dangerous and unsafe. Figure out a way yourself or change your brass to not need a blind hole.

Draw a shape on the brass with the sharpie.
I used a Jewler saw with 0/2 blades but a scroll saw or bandsaw would work as well.

Set your Jewler saw blade under tension and the teeth pointing down.
Clamp the brass with the line overhanging the table or use a V block.
Cut out the shape using the saw.

-Tip make sure you keep the saw blade at 90 degrees when cutting otherwise its easy to break the blades.

I used files and sandpaper to debur and smooth the brass edges.

Step 3: Casing the Leather

Leather can be molded when damp and will dry in the molded shape. This is called casing the leather.

Take the gallon ziplock back and add some water.
Place the leather in the bag. It should soak up the water. Drain excess water.
Leave leather in sealed bag for several hours or overnite.

Leather will now be super pliable, but watch out handeling it as any mark or scratch will show up later.

Place your drive in a ziplock bag.
Add the wood like before to make a wood/drive/wood sandwich.
Now wrap the leather around the "sandwich" and temporary secure it with staples at ends.

Let dry untill leather returns to original color.

Step 4: Making Some Holes

Remove the now dry leather from the sandwich. it should keep its shape.

We will eventually attach the leather to the wood with the rivets and will sew some of the leather together. So we need some holes.

Rivet Holes:

Take the thick piece of wood and the brass. I used rivets to hold the brass to the leather/wood.
Place the brass on the top(thick) piece of wood. You can drill through the brass and the wood at the same time. Forget about the leather at the moment. This allows your holes to match up. Drilling small holes in brass is easy and safe if you clamp your piece to the drill press table.

Bottom Case Holes:

Fit the bottom wooden plug into the now dry leather. Keep the leather tight around the plug. Drill small holes though the leather/wood leather spaced about 1 cm appart. These will later be threaded together for durability.

Back Case Holes:

Use the rotary punch to add a matching set of holes on both  edges of the leather seam on the back of the case. These will later be sewn together.

Watch holes:

I used a forester bit to drill the clock hole in the top wood piece. Only the bigger clock has a hole that goes through.

Gear Holes:

First drill a singe hole the size of your gear shaft, where you want the bottommost gear situated. Add the shaft bushing and the gear. Now place the second gear with its teeth meshing with the first. Mark center of 2nd gear. Now drill shaft hole for this gear. Repeat with all other gears to ensure a good mesh. Then I used a forester bit that matched my biggest gear and drilled halfway though the thickness of the top wood aligning the bit point with the shaft hole. Forester bits leave a flat bottom so are needed instead of a hole or spade bit. I then used a rotary cutter bit in my dremmel to cut the other gear blind holes so the gears set flush with the top of the wood.

Leather Holes:

I also used the forester bits to cut the leather to match the clock hole.

Step 5: Dye the Leather and Wood

Use the leather dye to dye the leather and the wood.

Use the sponge to apply the dye to the leather and wood. Make sure to use light coats and to cover the whole side of the piece. If a darker coating is required apply a second coat. Make sure any excess is wiped away as it will stay a sticky mess if left on.

Let dry for an hour or two.

Step 6: Putting It All Together

Add the Gears:

Add the gears and bushings/shafts to the holes. I had to use a cut off wheel to shorten the shafts that came with the gears.

Rivet the layers together.

Using the rivet setter connect the three layers together: wood on bottom then leather then brass. I also added another rivet in the corner to help the connection.

Sew it up.

Wrap the loose leather ends around the back of the wood/drive/wood sandwich,trapping the bottom wood plug along the bottom edge. Put super glue IN BETWEEN the holes and allow the edges to dry in place. Now use the thread and a thin needle to saddle stitch through the wood and back up the next hole.

Knot the thread and saddle stitch the back of the case togehter. Super glue can also be used to attach the back to the bottom piece of wood.

Fit the clocks

Remove the clock portion of the small clock. You only want the ring and glass portion. It should friction fit the leather hole and make the gears viewable. Fit the large clock with rubber O ring into the large hole, it should also friction fit. Don't glue the large clock in as you will need to remove it to change battery or set time.

Cut flap and cable hole

Trim off the excess leather from the top's back and sides. Round the edges of the leftover top flap. Cut a rectagle hole for the usb cable to pass through. Insert cable and tuck flap down inside back.

Bend the Brass

Remove your hardrive from the case. Bend the brass around the back side of the case. You may need to use a mallet depending on the thickness of your brass.....Reinsert the hard drive.


Step 7: Enhancements

The original plan was to have the gears powered from a second USB cable. I have drilled and ready a hole for a small motor that will mesh with the gear train. I'm using a tiny motor from Radio Shack little RC cars called ZipZaps. I need help making a circuit to power the drive from the usb. Looks like I need a small current boost. Tried modifing a solar engine circuit from BEAM robots but it didn't work. Any help with this would be appreciated.

I also plan to tool the leather for the 2.0 version as well.

The brass would also look good if it was etched of engraved to mactch the clock center better.

Thanks for looking at this instructable!


I now have a working motor circuit for this. Thanks to all of the people who helped me make it move. Here is the circuit I've use to get the gears to run.

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    24 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Thats a nice little project, great bit of kit to carry around. Might I suggest looking into thread wrapping and covering the black wire?

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    This is also a path I might go. I just didn't have the time yet to look into it yet. I was trying to meet the epilog challenge deadline, and I barely made it with what I have done.

    I've seen cloth coverings done but I haven't sewn anything in almost 20 years and thats one of the few crafting skills I just have very little interest in.

    The Arbiternevets_mcd

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Not sure if you are still working on this, maybe this will help a future project, but you can take the outer covering from paracord and then some gloss brown/black paint to make the plug look like bakelite.. I have seen other folks use the paracord covering and it looks really nice.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I see you have not had a comment since Sept, just wanted you to know people are still appreciating your craftsmanship.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    1) Beautiful mind...
    2)Keep pressing on with where ever this project is taking you.
    3)How ever I would be first in line to purchase your product, if this were a purse or clutch, my late father was a Horologist, and I love clocks. You have done a very classy spin on your steam punk portable hard drive case.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    About two years ago, I made something similar for my old but reliable Tungsten T3. Here are some shots for you to enjoy:

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    That is pretty nice looking from what I can see. You should post at least a photo instuctable showing it off.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I didn't know about Instructables at that time so didn't t mind about taking step by step shots for that...Looking back, it should have been nice, so I keep it for my next project...


    8 years ago on Step 7

    Things probably would have been easier had you run the motor and diode in parallel rather than in series (each with their own current limit resistor.) Generally motors pull a lot more current than LED's, and in a series circuit, all devices have to pass the same amount of current. With a parallel circuit you can separately choose your current limiting resistors for each device.
    The drawback to a parallel circuit is that it will burn more power and generate more heat.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    There should be an output for a LED somewhere, preferably one that blinks only when the drive is reading or writing, connect that to a transistorswitch to power your cog-motor. That woulod be cool.

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Just what I was thinking.
    However, a opto-isolator would probably work better. It's a chip with an LED on the input and a light-controlled transistor on the output . Since there was an LED for the drive status to begin with, it should work well with minimum support parts.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    The new circuit I have to run the motor also has a yellow LED to light up the gears. However it is going to be on when the motor is one. Since I'm not willing to open the hard drive (yet) the circuit control is just a simple switch. I have an opto-isolator chip somewhere but I thought they were mainly used to isolate seperate power suplies from a signal. I'll look into it perhaps for version 2.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Are there any problems with heat buildup?

    Very nice 'ible. Something relatively easy that I could make at home. I've got a Seagate 320 Gb just asking for it....

    1 reply

    Well...maybe. I've been using it at work since I've made it and on two occasions the case has felt slightly warm. Other times I've not noticed any extra heat and it had been plugged in for hours then as well. I don't know if the warm feeleing is any more then what it used to get without a case or not but I'm now keeping an eye on it. For version two of it I may try to include some sort of more airflow.


    8 years ago on Step 7

    You can find suitable motors in a DVD drive that you'll be really happy with I'm sure. In most DVD drives there are separate motors for spinning the disc, moving the laser assembly, and for opening the tray. The ones I've seen use 12V for these motors but they work just fine with 5V from a USB cable, would probably work fine in your application. One is direct drive and two are geared, you can roughly adjust the speed by adding a resistor. In this video I used the disc spin motor, full speed first two spins, then reverse and slower (35 ohm resistor) on the green spin. Short video of my project is at Utube


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I love the idea, regardless of the functionality of the cogs!


    8 years ago on Step 7

    hi sir, i'm french i speak litle english sorry for my langage,
    i have one idéa for lvl up your instructables, can you add a smal motors tomove the "gears" under the ring of glass.

    for the power you can use the 5v dc of the usb and includethe motor in your box no ?

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 7

    That was the original plan. I have a motor and the hole all drilled. I've been having some trouble getting enough amps to power it. (I think thats the problem) I need a circuit to increase the usb output. The toy car I took the motor from (ZipZaps) has a 1.5 volt battery in it so the motor should work with very little voltage but like all motors it needs some amperage to run. I only have very basic electronic skills so I abandoned this for now but want to make the gears spin. The idea being it looks like they are part of the clock componets.