Steampunk USB Flash Drive




About: I am a recent recipient of a BS in Computer Science. Currently working for an eDiscovery company as a web repository technician (hosting, searching and helping attorneys to process their electronic data) but...

"And as they stared in wonder at the glowing box the small device off to their left began to whirr and behold! a luminescence began to grow and fade rythmically while the box's images flashed and changed."

I've been away for a while but I haven't been idle! Here's the first of a few new Instructables on their way!

As an applications developer you can imagine that I do a lot of transferring data. Home to work and back, out from behind firewalls and back etc. I also need to store my own applications that I've developed an of course my writing so that when over at the folks' or friends' houses and an idea strikes I can immediately write it down or use my little tools! So you get it . . . I utilize these little drives extensively but, as usual, I was not pleased with their out of the box look . . .from the branding all over them, to the distinctly modern look, right on down to the mere fact that they are encased in plastic . . . ugh!

Solution: pry them out of their boring little cases and create something worthy of the high profile data stored within! Read on to discover how I applied my love of tinkering and the steampunk aesthetic to a more ordinary device than previous projects!

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Step 1: Gather Materials and Tools

"The bench, old and weathered and cracked, stood resolutely in its place. Upon its wizened surface were carefully placed, an array of tools and materials, the fading light glinting off of their metallic faces. They waited with patience for the morrow upon which their crafter would return to his work"

For this project you'll be needing the following materials (some of these are optional depending on your design decisions):
* USB Flash Memory Drive - available nearly everywhere these days
* Length of Copper Pipe (The diameter depends on how wide the circuit board on your drive is. I used 3/4"
* Variety of sizes of brass tubing
* Hot glue
* JB Weld or JB Quick (if this isn't available near you then some sort of strong 2 part epoxy)
* Silver soldier
* Jeweler's flux
* Silver banding (used for making bezels)
* An assortment of brass and steel watch parts
* Metal polish (I used silver polish)

As well as the following tools:
* A vise
* A hammer
* A torch (if you will be soldiering anything to the case - i used oxygen/propane)
* Needle nose pliers
* Pipe cutter for small diameter pipe (a saw will work too but the cutter provides a nice perpendicular cut!)
* Jeweler's saw and several blades
* Spring loaded Center punch (doesn't have to be spring loaded but it helps immensely)
* Drill with various bits
* Fine files
* Sandpaper in varying grits (100, 600, 1200, 8K)
* Hot glue gun
Of course this list is either too extensive or incomplete depending on what sorts of things you wish to do to create your case. This is just a list of what I used to create mine.
Obviously one does not have to use brass tubing, copper piping, and watch parts . . .you could do it with steel pipe, brass tube and old computer parts for a more dystopian/cyberpunk look as well . . .it's entirely up to you!
Part of the fun with the whole steampunk aesthetic is the creativity possible within it's somewhat loose boundaries!  I am a writer at heart and with luck will be so by profession sometime soon so for me a lot of the fun is derived in creating a background story for each piece. I imagine workshops and a world gone awry and provide little tidbits of this story as intros for each step. I feel that it gives my pieces a figurative weight which is enjoyable! This is an opportunity to express oneself and create something truly personal and wonderful! Leap at the chance!
Read on for instructions of the actual build!

Step 2: Remove Factory Casing

"With a terrible screeching the two halves of the shielding reluctantly released their grip on each other revealing the delicate interior components. With a malignant grin they snatched it up and scampered off their eerie laughter echoing back on the soft night wind."

This is the only part of the whole process that worried me somewhat . . . I don't know if it was just a reluctance to "destroy" something or perhaps just nervousness of breaking my new drive but it went off without a hitch and I quickly moved on counting myself lucky.

Nearly every drive is different so you'll have to improvise just a little here to get the guts out safely.

First, if there are any screws or key rings etc remove them first. Next, get a sharp knife or other thin-edged implement (flat head screwdriver, butter knife, fingernails if you have 'em) and very carefully insert it into the seam of the drive and twist it to pry it open . . .in many cases the plastic may break but if you're careful the circuitry will be fine. The Sandisk Cruzer that I had was very odd and had weird seams that did not go around the equator of the drive but snaked all over . . .these, while a pain, aren't any more difficult you just need to figure out how the drive is constructed to pry in the right places.

Once you get the drive out you're ready to move on unless you're like me and enjoy staring at the circuitry pretending you can figure out what's really going on in there . . .even with my background in digital logic and design these things may as well be rune covered tablets . . .still cool to look at though eh?

Step 3: Create the Main Shell

"With repeated firmness and relentless rhythm the hammer fell and slowly the metal began to take shape. The smith raised a sooty forearm to his head and wiped the grimy sweat from his brow."

Here's where the copper pipe, hammer, vise, and cutter come in. Measure your drive's length from the back of the circuit board to the point just before the line where the metal bit fits into the USB port. . . . That may be difficult to guess so insert the bare drive into a computer and draw a line on the plug where the drive actually enters the machine. Measure from back to just a little bit short of this line. You should have a bit of metal on both sides of your measurement.

Cut a piece of pipe with the cutter a slight bit longer than your measurement (to give yourself a little wiggle room).

Now copper pipe generally comes "annealed" (or heat treated to relax the stresses within the metal) and is quite workable but sometimes, especially if it's been manipulated too much like if you're reusing old pipe (good for you!), it may have become hardened and a real pain to work with. To fix this (assuming you're using copper or other metal with similar properties) get the torch and heat the piece until it's cherry red and then quench in water. In many metals this will harden the piece but due to copper's characteristics this will anneal it.

Heating with a "dirty" fuel will leave carbon on the piece but don't worry about that yet, you can clean up later on.

Now take your annealed section of pipe and carefully rap it with your hammer in its center. First on one side then on the other so that you develop an oval shape. I inserted some steel rods to make sure I didn't go too far. Once its oval shape is achieved, check the fit of your drive. It should slide in and out somewhat easily.

Step 4: Cut Ends and Soldier Silver Bands

"His eye seemed to bulge from behind the magnifying lens and a look of intense concentration could be detected from within its intelligent depths. Hands moved carefully and with precision marking, drilling, sawing all shattering the otherwise complete silence in which he sat."

I've split this step into two parts. Part 1 is all about the end pieces while Part 2 is all about the silver banding. If you do not want silver banding feel free to skip past that portion!

Part 1: The ends
You'll need a bit of scrap copper for this part, I used more pipe that I cut lengthwise and then flattened but you can use sheet copper if you don't want to expend the extra effort. With a sharp tool (a scribe or a knife) trace the outline of each end of your oval casing from last step. The two ends may be different so make sure you trace both of them independently. Next cut out the little ovals you traced with the jeweler's saw. Take it slow and make sure to stay just inside your lines to make sure you get a good fit and don't have too much filing later.
Once they're cut out measure the dimensions of the USB plug (the metal bit of your drive) and making sure it's centered inscribe a rectangle of slightly larger dimensions onto one of the ovals. Take a drill and drill a small hole (but big enough to slip the saw blade through) inside this square. Insert a saw blade and reattach it to the saw and cut the rectangle out. Check to make sure the drive can fit through the rectangular slot and if not file it until it does. Once you have a good fit soldier it to the appropriate end of the case. Remember soldering in this sense is not like electrical . . . its actually welding and you must heat both pieces, flux them and all that. If there are too many questions on this process I'll go ahead and make another ible just on this topic. Don't soldier the other end on here since we'll be doing more hot work and drilling and the drive shouldn't be heated like that. We'll epoxy the other end on securely after everything else is finished.

Now take the other oval and drill a small hole through the very center of it. This hole should be the same diameter as one of your brass pipes since that's what we're going to use to make the keyring attach point. Use your center punch to make sure the hole is in the middle and the bit doesn't skitter about while you drill. Take a length of brass tubing and cut about 1/4 inch from it. Now take a slightly smaller diameter tube and cut a length from it just a little bigger than the first one is wide. Drill a hole the diameter of the second through the side of the first and slide the second through the hole to create a + shape out of tubing. Soldier them together and file off the excess from the smaller tube. Soldier this assembly into the hole in the oval from before and affix a gear or some other bob to the open end of the brass tubing to finish it off.

You're now done with the end pieces!

Part 2: Take your silver banding and cut two lengths of it the circumference of each end of the case. Carefully soldier them into loops and then onto each end of the case. For the open end leave a little bit (the thickness of the remaining oval) of a protrusion so that a little cubby is left for the oval for when we affix it. More or fewer bands can be cut depending on your tastes and affixed the same way. Pick widths that suit you and have some creativity with this part!

Now the case is starting to look somewhat more functional but not very decorated yet so continue on to learn how to really punk it up!

Step 5: Drill LED Port and Cut/Shape/Add Extras

"Pulling back the cover they were met with a dazzling display of mechanical miscellany that inspired their minds."

If your drive has an LED then you probably will want that to still work once the case is finished . . .I know I did so here's how to do that:
First find out where the led is . . .for those of you who know what the tiny ones look like this is just a matter of looking for it among the circuitry. For the rest, simply plug it in and take note of where the light is coming from :) !

Now for my design I wanted the light to be centered but my diode was off to one side . . .oh no what to do? I realized (duh) that the hole doesn't need to be directly over the diode if I find some way to diffuse the light! Enter parchment paper. I took a strip of parchment paper and wrapped the drive in it and realized that it serves two purposes . . . first, of course, to diffuse the light but second, to cushion the drive and keep it suspended in the middle of the case! Cool!

Now that I was confident that my light would spread to the middle nicely I drilled a hole into the case at the same lateral location as the diode but in the middle (see finished photos) I then cut two sections of brass tubing drilled 2 small holes near the base of the larger and then soldiered them one inside the other. Those two small holes were spots to place tiny brass tubes that I bent into a neat shape and JB Welded to the case.
Anyway, then take the hot glue gun and fill the tube leading to the inside of the case with hot glue and trim it to size. This is to further diffuse the light and make the light seem as though it's coming from the protruding tube! (See photo with it plugged in)

At this point I grabbed all my gears and other bits and began assembling them into what I considered a pleasing way and then JB Welded and superglued them to the case. For the really small bits I did not want the black JB Weld to detract from the appearance so I used clear superglue to create a pool that the tiny parts veritably swam in until hardened. Those guys ain't goin' nowhere!

Now the photos are after my cleanup was done so they look better than before, but at this point it is time to take the grubby looking case and clean it up some (that is unless you like it with that grunge feel).

Step 6: Cleanup and Polish

"Through abrasion and adversity  one must come. Through trials and tribulations, purified. As the work of our hands must endure strife so must we to become truly great."

Go ahead now and grab that sandpaper and clean up the whole thing starting rough and working your way to the super fine. Then take the polish and give it a real good shine.

Something I've noticed with my drive is that very soon after polishing it the different metals began to oxidize especially in the crevices and all that. My initial reaction was "Nooooo all that work polishing!" but I find now that I really quite like the semi-oxidized state it's in so I left it! Feel free to maintain or not depending on your tastes!

Step 7: Insert Drive and Affix Final End: Finished!

"She watched in admiration as her father finally sat up and stretched his arms out wide behind him. She stood on her little tip toes to see what he had finished and when the top of his bench was visible her eyes lit up with delight!"
If you're clever you'll notice that my final end has been in this whole time . . .I made the mistake of doing that too soon and then realizing that nothing else I did could be soldiered on. . . if you don't mind doing  a lot of gluing and epoxy work then feel free to follow my example but I wish I'd waited a bit :)

Remember that cubby we left near the beginning? Now is when we fill it with the last bit! Get some of that strong epoxy and press the last piece into its place. Wipe away any excess and voila! you're done. Step back and admire your work!

Be sure to post pictures and slideshows of any creations! I love admiring others' work!

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    114 Discussions


    9 years ago on Step 7

    Totally great piece....LOVE the tubes, and the working LED. I feel like Sherlock Holmes was once challenged by the guy who owned that USB key! Great piece, and great instructable!!!! Fun way for us to get into the 'punking scene!

    1 reply

    what you don't know is that my nickname among my colleagues at the university has been simply "M" Thanks for the comment! Post some of your creations for the betterment of the scene!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I saw a steampunk exhibit in oxford last year at the history of science museum. It was brilliant. I love the reinfusion of art into soulless technology.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    "reinfusuion of art into soulless technology" <-- love it! Heh I wish i could see an exhibit like that! shoot . . .I merely wish i could be in Oxford!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction will take you to the photos of the exhibit. Also check out the scientific instruments! Drew

    Absolutely love it... steampunk can be done well and this is such an example... I'll have to see what bits and pieces I can find locally and try it out... I love the gears... has anyone tried running a micro motor (or a mobile's vibrator motor) to make the gears spin and whir? Now that would be cool! I especially like the quotes (did you write them? or are they from a book - very poetic either way)... Thanks for the instructable.

    4 replies

    Moving parts would be wicked cool . . . *muses* I would imagine that if one made the initial casing longer and left room for a motor they could use the power from the computer coming in through the usb port (splice in a couple of wires?) to run a small motor which could indeed spin the gears while it's plugged in . . .that's a REALLY cool idea! I did indeed write the quotes . . . I just made them up on the spot for each step (heh so THAT's why they're so applicable lol). I started doing that a couple ibles ago and have fun with it so I'm going to keep it up :D some day i'll be putting more than a couple of those kinds of things together and calling them books but for now I'm winning the bread by programming computers Glad you like the ible and the quotes too!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    You used one of those slide-y type right?I'm sure you could make some sort of motor that retracted the USB once power was cut off.Might take alot of programming and a really,really tiny motor,but it's possible.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    yep initially it was the slidey kind but after removing all the case components it's really just like every other one. It's definitely possible . . .size is negotiable too since you can always make the case bigger . . .after a certain point pockets aren't good containers any more

    If you switched the motor to run only when the disk is being accessed (ie when the led is on) then the faint whir of gears would be present just every now and then... I'll have to give it a try... the quotes are a lot of fun and they really tie the room together (so to speak)... booker prize here you come ... again... great 'ible!

    Finally a good Instructable on how to make a Steampunk USB case. I've searched for the last few weeks and have only found slideshows that don't provide enough detail. Thanks for posting this. It's going to be my summer project along with some goggles.

    2 replies

    3 years ago

    I love the story line. Great imagination! I will try to do this.


    3 years ago

    Thumbs up.:)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Ditto on it looks great - nice job punkin it out. - love to see a cap for the usb end and then it'd look good enough to serve a dual purpose - as a usb flash drive and a cool looking punked out necklace charm - heck i'd wear it. ;0) again - great job Kaelessin

    4 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    ooh . . .a necklace . . .good idea! I don't really wear jewelry (aside from a watch) so i never thought of this but perhaps my next one will be a necklace! I hope to be able to make and sell these (and similar) things some day and I would imagine necklaces would be popular!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Lanyards for ID cards are commonplace, and sometimes for a USB drive, so a steampunk lanyard, sort of jewelry, would work well with this. Just a basic metal lanyard isn't so expensive, but getting a steampunk feel to it looks tricky. I would want a cover for the USB connector. How about some sort of pocket clip?

    Why don't you try Steampunking your watch. Hopefully, I'll post an Istructable on a Steampunk watch soon (when I have time, and a watch).

    I have to keep a somewhat professional exterior right now since I'm in the consulting business but definitely a project for a time when I get a new one! (heh with a watch you always have the time! (get it!!??))