The Thing Speaks for Whatever

MixDrive: USB Cassette Tapes Made Easy

In I Make Things, Rikka on July 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm

*UPDATE* I’ve entered the USB contest at! If you’ve enjoyed this post, please go here and vote for my instructable!

I remember the days of the mixtape. Requesting songs from the local radio station and sitting by the cassette deck, finger on the record button. I remember the glorious day I got a dual cassette deck so that I could copy music from one tape to the next. Spending hours making mixes for friends, coloring cassettes with permanent markers or nail polish or glitter. Whatever I had lying around that could safely go into the tape deck probably ended up there at one point or another. They weren’t just plastic cassettes filled with noise, they were little works of art.

With the advent of digital music, it’s all too easy to just send an iTunes gift card and a song list. The tangible aspect of the gift is lost- it becomes wholly intangible. Just a few digital files. It’s not something you can see or touch. As an expression of affection, I feel that this is lacking.  Or would, if it weren’t intangible.

I still want to make mixes for people. I love to give the gift of music. But I want it to be something they can hold. A real world item that they can take out and look at. A gift that has a physical presence. Thus, the MixDrive.

MixDrive: USB Cassette Tapes Made Easy

To Make A MixDrive You Will Need:

– a USB stick
– a cassette tape (the kind with screws)
– a craft knife
– a small screwdriver
– a permanent marker
– a tool for cutting the casing of the cassette (I will be using chisels- a rotary tool would be good for this step as well)
– electrical tape
– scissors

To Make A Label and Case Insert For Your MixDrive (Optional):

– High quality paper for your label and case insert (I am using some free samples of glossy photo paper that came with my last ink purchase.)
– a printer
– adhesive for paper/plastic bonding (I will be using rubber cement.)
– Creativity!

Now that we’ve assembled all the supplies we will need to make our MixDrives, let’s get started, shall we?

What You Will Need

Liberate Your Flash Drive

USB sticks come in all shapes and sizes. For this instructable I’m using a 2gb Kingston DataTraveler . I like Kingston drives for this project because they are incredibly easy to liberate from their casing.

Since your drive may differ from mine, I can’t guide you through this step with great precision. For most USB flash drives, the casing is two halves of a plastic shell which are glued together. The easiest way to disassemble this type of casing is to find the seam and gently work your craft knife into it. Carefully work your craft knife along the seam until the casing feels loose or pops open. You should be able to remove the USB stick from its housing. Take the bits of the case and set them aside for now. We’ll salvage some plastic from them later.

Liberate Your Flash Drive

Deconstruct Your Cassette Tape

Most cassette tapes are held together with screws at the corners of the casing (with one toward the bottom middle for added structural integrity). Once these screws are removed, the cassette simply comes apart.

There are tons of removable bits inside, and we don’t want to spill them everywhere, so place your cassette flat on your work surface with the screws facing up. Remove the screws, and the top half of the case should lift easily from the bottom.

De-construct Your Cassette Tape
De-construct Your Cassette Tape

Remove the Insides!

Now that we have the case open, we need to take out all the removable pieces. I’ve marked all the standard bits in the photo. None of these should be attached to the cassette housing. Remove them all and set them aside. We’ll be putting them all back in later.

Remove the Insides!

Mark It Up!

Now we need to mark our cassette casing where we would like the USB to slide out. Place your USB stick against the one half of the cassette housing (see photo) in the upper corner and make a mark that is just slightly longer than the width of the stick. Put the housing back together and make a matching mark on the other half.

Mark It Up!
Mark It Up!

Hack Away!

Take your cutting tool of choice and cut into the cassette’s casing. Carefully remove the section that you marked in the previous step. Older cassettes can be made of very brittle plastic – be cautious while cutting so that it doesn’t break.

Hack Away!

Make Sure It Fits

Put the drive inside the cassette casing with the USB sticking out through the slot we have created. Make sure both halves fit together properly with the USB stick in place.

Make Sure It Fits.

Kick It Up a Notch.

This step can be a little tricky. We need to cut out a notch in the top of the cassette for a slider button. To do this, we need to figure out how far the button will actually slide. Please be sure to refer to the photos for this step.

Take one half of the cassette casing and place the USB stick in the notch we have cut. Make sure that you place it in the notch in the fully extended position. There should already be a small notch in the top of the casing. We will want to line our slider button up with this notch. You can make a small mark with a permanent marker on your USB stick to mark this location.

Now place the USB stick inside the casing in the fully retracted position. I like to line the metal plug up so that it is flush with the outside edge of the cassette housing. The notch that will allow the button to slide must extend just beyond the mark we have made on the USB stick for the button. Mark the casing just behind the mark we have made for placing the button on the USB stick.

Once you have your notch properly marked, start cutting.

Kick It Up A Notch.
Kick It Up A Notch.
Kick It Up A Notch.

Make A Button!

This is the step we’ve saved the flash drive casing for. Cut a little bit of plastic off the casing. We just need a small bit to make the sliding button for our flash drive. Mine is about 4mm x 3mm. Depending on the thickness of your plastic, you may want to cut two pieces and stack them together. They need to be thick enough that they will be flush with the outer cassette housing once they are attached to the flash drive.

Take your little bits of plastic and wrap them with electrical tape. Trim off the excess tape.

Make A Button!
Make A Button!

Wrap It!

Cut a short piece of electrical tape and wrap it once around your USB stick. This will make it a bit easier to attach your button.

Place the button on the top edge of your flash drive and tape it down with your electrical tape. After securing the button, cover the rest of the flash drive with electrical tape.

Wrap It!
Wrap It!
Wrap It!

Double Check the Fit.

Place your flash drive back in the notch and place the top half of the case on. Make sure it closes properly over the USB stick, and that the button is accessible from the top notch.

Double Check the Fit.

Reassemble Your MixDrive

Put all the bits you set aside earlier back in the tape where they belong. Add the flash drive and make sure it is in the fully extended position.

Put the top half of the case on and screw it back together, leaving out the screw from the corner your flash drive now extends from. The empty reel should hold your flash drive against the top of the case.

Reassemble Your MixDrive!

Pat Yourself On the Back

You’ve made your own MixDrive with awesome USB retraction action!

Pat Yourself On The Back!

(Optional But Awesome) Make A Label and Case Insert!

I’ve made a pair of templates for creating a custom label and J-card case inserts for your MixDrive. What mixtape is complete without sweet personalized labels? I’ve included templates in PSD and JPEG formats for those of you who are photoshop wizards.

Grab them here .

Photoshop your templates or just print one out and grab your pens, pencils, markers, or even crayons! Color it up and make it your own!

Use the guide lines to cut out the label and rubber cement (or other adhesive) to attach it to your cassette.

Viola! Your personalized MixDrive is complete!

Take photos of your handiwork and post them so we can all be impressed by your wicked style!

(Optional But Awesome) Make A Label and Case Insert!
  1. You are amazing.

  2. If by amazing you mean really good at stabbing my fingers with a chisel, yes. Yes I am.

  3. Awesome! I’ll definitely be trying this… thanks for the instructions!

  4. be still, my heart.

  5. […] to say we don’t all love music. We do. Some of us even make wicked awesome mixtapes. USB-styles. But if there’s one thing I think the intersphere has enough of (other than porn sites, of […]

  6. […] “mixtape” over that of the “playlist” – misnomered though mixtapes mostly are, these days – is the built-in constraint.  With a playlist, you can do any ol’ length; […]


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