RadioShell: Hacking a Radio for Backpacking




This instructable will show you how to hack a standard radio to be durable enough to withstand being carried around within a traveller's backpack.

The RadioShell is a small, ergonomic, clamshell radio for those who value durability while travelling. The RadioShell closes flush on all sides, protecting the internal electronics and the user controls from light water damage and hard knocks. The RadioShells closed form is easy and safe to pack and once opened, intuitive to use. The RadioShell is designed for backpackers and travellers who can open the device safe in the knowledge it will not be damaged. The RadioShells portable design means that it can be used wherever the user is staying such as hotels and hostels but can also be taken with them to the park or on public transport.

Standard Radio

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Step 1: Exploded View and What You Will Need Materials List

I have attached an exploded view of my design to help with the construction. The view also contains a material and parts list downloadable as a .PDF.

If you are unable to download the .PDF the tool and material lists are also below.

Tools Required:

• Precision Screwdrivers
• Soldering Iron
• Solder Sucker
• Wire Stripper
• Laser Cutter or Drill Press for front faces
• Hot melt glue gun
• Disc Sander or Hand Sander
• Bandsaw to cut Styrene and MDF
• Vacuum Former

Materials Required:

• 500mm Square - 5mm MDF
• 2x3100mm square – 2mm Styrene
• 300mm square – 2mm Styrene
• Hot Melt Glue
• Hard Plastic Adhesive
• Extruded Acrylic Hinge
• 16 Neodymium Magnets
• ICF – S22 Sony Portable Radio

Step 2: De Constructing Your Radio

Taking your portable radio and using a precision screw driver kit, unscrew all of the outer casing screws and prise apart careful not to pull too hard and cause damage to any of the inner components.

Once the radio has been opened, remove the circuitry from its clips and prise the speaker from its mount. 

You will now have a free standing circuit minus the casing for the battery.

Step 3: Altering Your Circuit

Using a soldering iron you will need to extend the connections between the circuit board and the speaker, battery connections, volume control/on off switch, tuner and aerial.

Using a soldering iron heat up the current component connections to the board until solder is fully melted and using a solder sucker remove all traces of the solder.

Once done the component will then come away from the board. At this point it is useful to take images or mark the component in some way so as to connect to wires back to the correct holes.

Cut a strip of wire to your desired length and strip both ends to show the metal core. I used multi core cable in my design as due to the hinged movement of the radio single coil has a greater chance of breaking. Touch the wire to the component connection and add a small amount of heated solder to create a solid connection. Repeat with the opposite end of the wire to your circuit.

At this stage you can choose to cut free the battery casing from the initial radio or use a separately sold casing, making sure that it does not exceed 70mm in width.

Step 4: Creating the Mount and Face of Your Radio

 Both faces are built from 5mm MDF with a 2mm styrene covering.

Attached is a CAD file containing the size and dimensions of both faces. The MDF is cut to a slightly different size on the control side as it is used to stop the dials falling within the shell.

The easiest way to cut is by a laser cutter using the attached CAD file but if one is not available the attached files can be used as a guide as long as the control panels are cut accurately and the round discards are kept as they will be used to create the radios dials in later stages. 

The speaker holes are wholly aesthetic but some are required to avoid an echo distortion.

Once created these faces can then be held together using a 'hard plastic' adhesive.

Step 5: Building the Radios Dials

Unscrew the current volume and tuning dials making sure to keep the screws as they will be used in the new controls.

Using the cut outs from the previous step we can build the dials. Drill through the centre of both MDF pieces and insert the screws from earlier. 

To attach the MDF and Plastic dial cover together apply a layer of hard plastic adhesive to both and leave for 30 seconds before attaching them together and applying light pressure.

These new dials can then be screwed onto the extended volume and tuner through the previously cut control face.

Step 6: Creating Mounts to Secure Your Dials

To hold the volume control in place, use MDF to create a small bracket as pictured in the first image below. The gap should be just wide enough to fit around the circular dial catch the silver connectors on both sides to stop the whole control rotating when turning the volume up or down. Using either hot melt glue or a wood adhesive attach the bracket to the underside of the control face.

To hold the tuning dial in position an L shaped bracket can be made from MDF also each side 10mm in length. As in the second image below, attach the bracket to the underside of the control face and also to the tuner itself using hot melt glue for the tuner and a wood adhesive to the MDF face.

Step 7: Mounting the Magnets

To make sure the radio stays closed magnets are attached to the underside of both the faces. I used small neodymium magnets as they are exceptionally strong for their size. 

Space them equally along the outside edge of your inner faces in columns of two making sure to have each side with a different pole face down.

Use hot melt glue to fix them into position.

Step 8: Mounting Battery Pack and Speaker

In my radio I decided to cut the original battery pack from the portable radio although battery packs can be bought separately. Just make sure the width of the pack does not exceed the 70mm of the speaker face. Use hot melt glue to then fix this to the speaker frame.

The speaker can then be fixed face down onto the same speaker face with a light amount of hot melt glue around the edge, careful not to get any onto the black vibrating part.

You should now have both your control and speaker faces complete.

Step 9: Creating Shell Mould

To create the mould for the outer shell you will need a block of wood (I used pine) 70 x 110 x 30mm

On the base mark out the 10mm radius of each corner found on the downloadable AutoCAD drawing. Using either a disc sander or a hand sander round off these edges

You can use the laser cut faces as a guide to the size of each corner. You are aiming to have both the base and face the same size as it is this snug fit that will hold the faces in the shell.

For the rounded edges on the top of the mould I used a radius of 20mm on all edges. Use a disc sander or hand sander to round of these edges. 

Step 10: Vacuum Forming Outer Shell

Place your mould as shown and lower the platform.

Taking your styrene sheeting and fit it to a vacuum former.

The former I used was 3100mm square although sizes may vary. 

The following video is a handy tutorial for those who may not have used a vacuum former before, the video was not created by me and all credit to youtube user georgapur2


After you have removed your shells from the vacuum former you will now need to remove your mould. The mould can be quite difficult to remove so, to help, drill a screw into the underside of the mould as shown on the previous step and use this to ease the mould out careful to not put too much strain on the plastic.

Once removed use a band-saw to trim the excess plastic and then hand sander to clean the edges until you get your shells like the two shown below.

Step 11: Inserting Faces Into Final Shell

Place both shells face up in front of you and lower both faces into the shells. Make sure to keep your wires together through the provided gaps from the AutoCad cut out. Thread your aerial into the speaker side of the radio to reduce interference and get the best reception. 

As the mould for your shell and laser cut faces are both the same size a very snug fit should be achieved. With a small amount of force the faces should with inside the shells and hold themselves firmly in place. If need be the faces can be sanded lightly. 

You should now have your radio held in each of your shells.

Step 12: Attaching Hinge

The final thing to add is your hinge.

I ordered online an acrylic extruded hinge that can be attached using hard plastic adhesive. Make a small coating on the hinge and also the radio side. After 30 seconds apply pressure between them keeping the hinge crease centred between your shells. Hold in place with masking tape and leave for up to 12 hours to guarantee maximum strength.

Step 13: The Finale

By now you should have your own RadioShell. I hope you give it a try and feel free to message or comment me about any queries you may have.

Feedback would also be greatly appreciated.

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    20 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I understand the enjoyment of customizing a standard Item, and enjoying using it, in that regard you have created a good instructable detailing how you went about it. But not every instructable is one that my be duplicated by many in my opinion most would use the donor radio as is, and maybe the hardcore hikers would set out to shave some weight off it. I find it interesting that is the second project where the same model of donor radio was used, and the builder decided not to include the tuning indicator. Also interesting is the use of strong magnets in a product whose sole purpose is to receive relatively weak electromagnetic waves, however if there's no apparent problems, no problem.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I can understand where you are coming from, many would choose to use the original radio but I think many who come to this website are looking fro adaptations of ready existing ideas. The choice to not include a tuning indicator was purely aesthetic in my design but I cannot speak for the others that you have looked at.

    The magnets used have had no adverse effects on the signal being received, which also surprised me. What you must watch for though is that the magnets do not come into contact with this circuit board as this will create a short circuit and signal will be lost.

    Thanks for taking the time to look at my instructable.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Nice and simple looking. Easy to build!

    I had lots of fun and exciting times showing the neighbours kids how to make it!


    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is very cool. But if one doesn't have access to such wonderful shop tools as you have, perhaps a more basic shell can be constructed using Shapelock. I love that stuff.

    1 reply

    To be honest I am not familiar with shape lock but i just had a quick look online. As long as the final plastic once set is fairly strong I do see it as being a perfect alternative to vacuum forming especially with the added freedom of being able to mould by hand.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I have been showing everyone that I'm travelling with and they think this is really cool....big thumbs up from oz!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This would be perfect me just now! I'm travelling round Australia and want one for Christmas!!!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This backpacking radio instructable changed my life.

    For the better!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Great work dude! Going have to try make one of these myself :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I would looove to have that on my travels!! Can i buy it off you please? It's so modern and simplistic!!