Your Dead Hard Drive
You can turn your old, dead hard drive into a stud finder that works better on plaster walls than electronic stud finders, and can work better on dry wall, too. What better use is there for that expensive hard drive than turning it into a humble stud finder? I can’t think of one. I call it poetic justice. It’s about time that that thing did something productive. 🙂
Ok, why make a stud finder? You know you secure your furniture from falling during earthquakes, and that you should attach your furniture to nice, secure walls studs, but how do you find those elusive studs? Sure, you can get an electronic stud finder, but they can be finicky, and they don’t work on the plaster and lath walls found in older homes. Besides, sometimes it’s just more fun to take stuff apart and make something rather than just buy a gadget.
Here’s what to do. Hard drives contain powerful magnets. You simply disassemble the hard drive, remove the magnets, hang one on a string and gently swing it pendulum-style across your wall. The magnet sticks to nails or screws that hold the wooden laths (in plaster walls) or the wall board to the studs. Find the nails or screws and you find the studs.
Ok, that sounds pretty easy, and it is. But there are a few things you need to know first:
- Taking apart a hard drive destroys it. Kids: no, you may not take apart mommy and daddy’s hard drive just to get a couple of cool magnets.
- The magnets are powerful and will try to snap together or to metal. Don’t let your fingers get in the way.
- The hard drive must be completely removed from the computer–you know, as in, no wires still hooked up to it. If your hard drive is still in a computer and you don’t know how to safely remove it please don’t try this.
- Keep powerful magnets of any kind away from small children who are prone to putting things in their mouths.
Here’s my hard drive. It’s the 5.25″ size found in desktop computers. It’s filled with precious data, all of it unrecoverable. :-p To take it apart you need a special kind of screw driver, a Torx driver. They are available in hardware stores. Some of the screws are hidden under stickers to remind you that you shouldn’t take apart a hard drive you ever want to use again.
The magnets in the hard drive were glued to the brackets. Although the magnets look like they are made of steel, they are actually somewhat delicate. We pulled them off using ViceGrip pliers because that was the safe-for-people way to get them off. It risked damaging the magnet; however trying to slip a screwdriver under the magnet to pry it off is the you-are-probably-going-to-slip-and-hurt-yourself way, so, um, don’t do that.
And, voilà, magnets. Now just tie fine string to the magnet and cover it with some tape to keep it from scraping the paint on your walls.
To use the stud finder just sweep the magnet across the wall like a pendulum until it sticks or pauses. If the magnet is wide, be sure to rotate it to find the center of the nail it is sticking on. Locate more than one nail up or down the wall to find the average center line (not every nail or screw is guaranteed to have been set in the perfect center of each stud.)
Some of you may be saying, “I don’t have an old hard drive.” or “I am sooo not stupid enough to take apart an entire hard drive just to get a magnet.” No problem! You can use regular magnets, or just buy some powerful magnets. And you can, shudder, just buy a stud detector that uses magnets or an electronic metal detector. There are lots to choose from. Also, consider a combination stud finder that has a metal detector and a voltage detector to help keep you from drilling into water pipes, gas lines and electrical wiring.