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Replacing the Housing on Your Flash Drive? 87

TheFarmerInTheDell asks: "I managed to wash my USB flash drive this past weekend (note to self: check your pockets better before doing laundry) and to my surprise, it still works. The problem is that the clothes dryer managed to beat up the plastic housing, and it no longer holds the innards in place as it should. Trying to plug the drive into a USB port is a difficult proposition since the whole mechanism slides into the plastic housing, instead of sliding into the USB port. Rather than using a super glue or an epoxy solution to hold the electronics in place, I was thinking that a custom body would be a cool way to go. I can cast it in resin and have whatever shape I want for the drive, but I am not sure that it will be a good thing to do. Has anyone done anything like this, and if so were there any problems? Are there any issues about not having an air space to help dissipate the heat that the chip generates? Aside from the obvious concerns about allowing the drive to fit into the USB port of a computer, is there any reason that the drive cannot be housed in any shape that I want?"
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Replacing the Housing on Your Flash Drive?

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  • Warning (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 2.7182 ( 819680 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @10:34PM (#14847878)
    Just let me tell you one thing. I tried this and on the table was an open container of turpentine. Apparently the fumes are very damaging, and destroyed my drive when it was open.
  • by srmalloy ( 263556 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @10:36PM (#14847883) Homepage
    Having seen the various odd casings that USB drives are sold in -- tempura, sushi, ducks, a cut-off thumb, dim sum -- as long as you didn't have anything shorting the actual circuitry, and could still slot the drive into a USB port, what you wrap around the electronics is entirely up to you (I recall the pictures of the person who fit the circuitry into the neck of a Barbie doll, so that when you took off the head of the doll, the connector was exposed).
    • I know he didn't want to epoxy the thing back together, but he didn't say anything about going all the way!

      1. Set a sheet of wax paper on a table.
      2. Spray the wax paper with some PAM (cooking spray, not authentication).
      3. Squirt epoxy gel (preferably clear) onto the wax paper into a rough thumbdrive shape.
      4. Lightly press thumbdrive into liquid epoxy EXCEPT FOR THE USB PORT!!! KEEP USB PORT FREE OF EPOXY!!!
      5. Squirt a little epoxy over the thumbdrive EXCEPT FOR THE USB PORT!!!
      6. Let it all set. Make SURE y

      • by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @12:31AM (#14848332) Journal
        Some epoxy formulations shrink and/or expand as they cure, others are conductive to various levels.
        double check what you are using to be sure.
      • Pack the USB connector with wax or clay in advance, then melt or wash it out when you're done. That should let you get careless with the epoxy or whatever you're using, and have more fun with the casing.

        I'd suggest heat-shrink tubing, personally. It's pretty durable, and easily replaced if you don't like it. Not the most waterproof, but you could shellac the board first if you want that.

        If you go the epoxy route, don't use JB-weld or anything else conductive. Look up "potting compound" for details. Try some
        • Are you sure JB weld is conductive? Because I need some conductive epoxy, but all I can find is tiny bottles of this stuff that's more expensive than fine silver (mostly because there *is* silver in it). If JB weld really is that conductive, I'd like to know, because I have some already.

          Or is it just conductive enough to cause problems?

          • I was under the impression that it was slightly conductive, but their site claims it's an insulator and I can't find any direct evidence to the contrary. I guess it's worth a shot!

            As far as conductive epoxy goes, I saw a half-ounce set at MicroCenter for ~$20 the other day.
            • A 'friend of a friend' once assembled an entire Heathkit Color Television in the late 1960's using 'liquid solder' instead of regular metal solder. The 'solder' connections all looked shiny and bright and perfect to the naked eye, nobody could figure out why the TV set was completely non-functional until the fool explained what he had done.
          • Why don't you test it out? Put a line of it on a piece of waxed paper and check the resistance. Remember that the thicker you lay it on, the less resistance per unit of length, assuming that it is conductive, so your number isn't going to be usable in calculations using this method, but it'll tell you HOW conductive it is.
      • MMM Epoxy! (Score:2, Interesting)

        by dracho ( 774428 )
        I once made a solid epoxy flash drive, it was great: it was hard and durable, very compact, and I made the end (opposite the port) a little longer and drilled a small hole through it... voila, a keychain connection. Highly recommend it. I used an old plastic case from older RAM to keep the perfect rectangular shape, then used the good ol' Dremel to fix up the edges a little.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2006 @10:39PM (#14847896)
    If you want to make your own custom case, I would recommend using the innards from a new device. Otherwise, you may go to a lot of trouble making something really cool only to discover that the spin cycle actually did do some damage to the flash memory.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2006 @10:42PM (#14847909)
    In Soviet Russia, Flash Drive housing replaces YOU.
    • Actually, in Soviet Russia all housing is supplied by the government. Better keep what you have, though, since I understand that the housing provided is generally sub-standard. Better to drink vodka instead, as you soon won't care what your housing looks like.
      • (self mod: offtopic) I'm an American living in western Germany and my wife and I took a vacation to Eastern Germany. Even today, my wife and I were suprised by the housing. In the area we where in, everything was grey, the same type of house, there where empty shells of houses and buildings all over downtown. We where amazed at the difference between the city we live in compared to there. I can't even think of how it was when the Soviets had the area.
  • They're pretty tough (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tooth ( 111958 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @10:45PM (#14847918)
    Washed mine twice so far, still works fine. I'm surprised about the melted case in the dryer though, I wouldn't have guessed that it would survive the heat! As for what to do... hmm, buy a new one anyway? They are really cheap now-days. Or you could attack it with duct tape, for a real low tech solution :-)
  • Two words my friend:
    1. Duct
    2. Tape
    • by Anonymous Coward
      that's actually 4 words:


      I'm just sayin'....
  • You could keep all your pr0n on it!
  • Go naked... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OmniGeek ( 72743 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @11:14PM (#14848022)
    I've seen flash drives that are just a plastic-coated PC board. The heat generated won't be a problem (the USB spec limits the power you can draw to fairly negligible levels).

    Oh, and -- don't trust the washed USB drive with critical data, there may be corrosion that takes a while to manifest itself.
  • Duct tape or toss it and buy another. I wouldn't waste a whole lot of time on it.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Are you aware of the fifty kilograms of raw material that goes into making such a device, and the dozen kilograms of toxic waste produced as a result?

      Nevermind that the energy used to make it is lost forever and the refined materials are lost forever into a landfill.

      Thanks for doing your part to make efficient use of the things in your life. You're a real asset to the world.
    • by binarybum ( 468664 ) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @12:55AM (#14848440) Homepage
      points for duct tape solution. Negative points for suggesting someone not waste a lot of time on tech mod on /.

      correct answer is skip work for a few days, spend a ton of time working on some really cool device mod that will make most people say "that guy has waaaay too much free time," post pictures and a step by step of how you did it, let us slash the hell out of your server for a few hours
  • clear epoxy (Score:4, Informative)

    by zeenixus ( 571630 ) <zeenixus@@@yahoo...com> on Friday March 03, 2006 @11:31PM (#14848089)
    the casing on one of my flash/thumb/pen/whatever drives was just stupidly big for no good reason, so I took it off. To protect it I just got some clear 5 minute epoxy and layered it on there and just kept turning the the drive while it cured.

    You can also put a lanyard hole in a dead space on the board or epoxy something in there and hang it on your keychange. It's working quite well for me.
  • I know it isn't fancy, but I wrapped a busted case with electrical tape and it was fine.

  • Next time I will see an instant rebate deal on flash drives at yourlocal electronics store, I will tell you. Will save you time and probably some money!!
  • Liquid latex (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @12:08AM (#14848237) Homepage
    I got some liquid latex from Home Depot for a similar problem. They talk about using it to coat tool handles, but it works great for coating bare electronics too.
    • Hey, which aisle was it in? I tried to get some the other day there and it wasn't in hand tools - they sent me over to paint but it wasn't there either. The staff was clueless and couldn't figure out how to find it in the computer.
  • I would bet that taking apart the "Desktop" Death Star that came free with the purchase of Star Wars Empire at War and modding it to house the guts of your USB stick. Shit I'd do it. It's a good size too.
  • A few issues... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stienman ( 51024 ) <.adavis. .at. .ubasics.com.> on Saturday March 04, 2006 @12:25AM (#14848304) Homepage Journal

    Look up "electronics potting problems" in Google and you'll get all the fun info.

    The short and sweet of it is that there are two basic issues: During casting/potting, the epoxy generates a LOT of heat. It can be surprising, and damaging. Check the type of epoxy/resin/casting compound you are using. For such a small amount it probably won't be a problem.

    The second issue is the composition of the epoxy and suitability to its purpose. If it has a low resistivity or creates significant capacitance between conductors, then it'll cause problems. If it's not suitable for electronics (ie, degrades over time into other components, is corrosive, etc) then it will cause problems over time.

    In short, chances are good you'll be fine for this particular application with hobby grade casting compound. But be prepared for possible data loss if you don't fully understand the subject and act accordingly.

  • Epoxy (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    My flash drive came in a really ugly and bulky plastic and metal case. There was an indicator LED on the circuit board that was all but invisible with the opaque casing. So I did the logical thing: took the casing off and painted the board and components in several coats of 3-minute epoxy. (I coulnd't find anything longer lying around.) It now works like a charm even though I carry it around in a fleece sweater with a lot of static. It also looks much nicer than before.
  • Huzzah for Araldite (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Scytheford ( 958819 )
    When the cheap plastic case on my USB memory stick gave way I just mixed up some two-part epoxy (Araldite) and gave it a good healthy coating. After it set (24 hours or so) I crazed the surface up with my Dremel. Now when the read light flashes the whole thing lights up. Looks pretty cool and is nigh on indestructable.
  • lego my lego! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Deitheres ( 98368 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {yportnelaturb}> on Saturday March 04, 2006 @12:35AM (#14848357)
    Without question, this is the only way to go:

    Lego USB flash drive [blogspot.com]... that will give you near-infinite geek points (which can now be exchanged for frequent flier miles!) ;-)
  • by boldra ( 121319 )
    When mine broke, my girlfriend made me one out of lego.

    (crappy) picture [boldra.com]
  • I just didn't like the shape of my case, as it was too wide to allow another USB cord to plug in horizontally next to it, so I intentionally removed the case and covered the circuitry in clear heatshrink. I used three or four layers for a bit of added durability, but just one layer is probably sufficient. This has the benefit of protecting the circuit while still allowing for some room for air to get in to dissipate heat (those things can get a bit warm).
  • mask off the plug. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Stephen Samuel ( 106962 ) <samuel@bc g r e en.com> on Saturday March 04, 2006 @07:04AM (#14849241) Homepage Journal
    If you're worried about getting epoxy over parts where it might get in the way of plugging in, then just mask off the plug part..
    Just mask off the plug itself with masking tape, then wrap that in putty. If you don't like the idea of getting putty on the end of the epoxy, then get a piece of stiff plastic and cut a hole the size of the plug, and slide that up the plug, then continue as above. When you're done, you can usually just peel the plastic off the epoxy. If in doubt, add a thin layer of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to the plastic.
  • Just the other day I was gong to do soemthing similar to mine- Machine a tight fitting case and end cap out of aluminum, coat the flash itself in epoxy and install it into the aluminum housing. Put an o-ring on the cap and make it watertight is my goal :)

  • I just got a 1GB Sandisk Micro Cruzer for $49 after rebate. 512MB flash drives can be had for well under $30 while the 256MB versions are down under $20. Unless you work at McDonalds, your time is worth more than $30.

    If, on the other hand, you have lots of time and want to express yourself artistically, I'd recommend that you look into fancy hardwoods from which to construct the case. You could even laminate thin strips of contrasting hardwoods like Babinga, Maple, Cherry, and Bloodwood.
  • don't use anything that might disolve plastics (like super glue), fill the inside with hot melt glue, let it cool a bit so its still fluid but not gonna get anything too hot

    and if you can, get a new one soon
  • If nothing is shorting the pins, or changing the capacitance between two conductors too much, or damaging the electrolytes in electrolytic capacitors, I'd say electronics are pretty tough. Some parts might rust and tarnish on contact with water, but most boards are coated with material to resist that. I've gotten computer parts wet before, and they worked after being dried immediately. Metal + oxygen + water + time = rust. Otherwise theres no reason it shouldnt work.

    I wonder if the right amount of coating o
  • Update (Score:2, Informative)

    I love all of the ideas and suggestions - especially the lego and hardwood solutions. If I could get my wife to understand what a flash drive is, maybe SHE could do something with it...or maybe I should just find a girlfriend who can do it for me!

    I did get a new drive the day after I found the old one in the dryer, and after a week or so the old one is still working so I guess that the corrosion is not happening very fast (if at all). I will post before / during / after pics as I get the old one rehouse

  • Micro$oft is giving them away, loaded with their crap propaganda. Its easy to wipe off and then you can laff all the way to the bank! http://blogs.pcworld.com/tipsandtweaks/archives/00 1545.html [pcworld.com]
  • Sounds like the perfect job for this really neat stuff (it goes by polymorph in europe)
    http://www.shapelock.com/ [shapelock.com]
  • I made several Barbie flash drives for my sisters and sister-in-laws... they love them. it was great because most barbies are sround 10bucks and with a 128mb flash drive on rebade or deal at fry's made a cool stocking stuffer. i repacked them all neat in the box after i made my modifications and noone could tell they were different. The girls all thought i just got them a barbie and they were like "Thanks.... a barbie". But then i came by and plucked the heads off and they all started laughing and they t
  • Fire up Blender, 3ds max, or what have you, and model a cool looking shell for the flash drive's guts. Then send the file to a 3D printing service such as www.3dArtToPart.com.
  • Don't make the new case too heavy. In many cases, the drive is held horizontal by the connectors at one end. If the case is too heavy, you'll stress the connectors. And as the case gets longer, the leverage makes the situation worse.
  • My memory key went through the wash once (not the dryer). It smelled soapy fresh and it still worked great. Make sure that whatever case you build keeps the part that connects it to the usb fastened well. On an old memory key of mine that part got wiggled loose from the actual data-holding part and you had to hold it at a certain angle to access files on it.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"