How To Scrap Hard Drives

  • Sharebar

 

Please be sure to read my info on platinum recovery and refining from scrap hard drives. 

I have been experimenting with different types of computer scrap, including HDDs, or hard disk drives. Hard drives are an impressive feat of computer, mechanical, and materials engineering; And as far as I’m concerned, engineering in general. Hard drives are composed of several main components, namely the magnetic actuator, the small write head, the platinum-plated aluminum platters, the circuit boards, a small motor, an aluminum block, and a stainless steel cover.

Just like a CD/DVD drive, the hard drive has a precision logic board/circuit board that handles all the i/o and information processing in the drive. These circuit boards use high value metals like palladium and gold in their construction.

The logic boards off a scrap hard drive are considered a premium grade of circuit board scrap. They are worth more than computer motherboards because they are more densely packed with trace amounts of precious metals (parts per million).

800px Apertura hard disk 04 How To Scrap Hard Drives
A disassembled hard drive showing the platinum alloy plated platters, the neodymium
magnet bracket in the top right, the aluminum case, and the stainless steel cover on the left.

I first became interested in hard drives when I disassembled one to harvest its super magnets. These magnets are made of a standard neodymium iron boron composite (NdFeB). Neodymium is a rare earth metal that corrodes rather quickly. To fix this, the magnets are plated with nickel.

800px Neodymag How To Scrap Hard Drives
Because NdFeB magnets corrode in air fairly quickly,
nickel is electroplated onto the magnet and bracket.

These magnets are quite powerful, almost dangerous if they are strong enough. This poses a threat to computers, seeing as most data is magnetically sensitive (at least to some degree).  To combat this problem, computer engineers make the magnet’s brackets out of an IRON, NICKEL and MOLYBDENUM based alloy called a permalloy! Permalloy has an extremely high magnetic permittivity, meaning it will stop most magnetic fields.

I have started collecting the individual hard drive components, seeing as they are worth quite a bit more individually then as shred steel! I have a box that I put the aluminum base, the supermagnets and brackets, and the stainless steel covers.

Last I checked, I could get a little more than copper price for my permalloy brackets. I shopped around at some of the bigger yards, but they thought it was too small of a amount to be worth their time. At the family owned place near me, I can get over $3 per pound for the brackets.

Also in every HDD are platinum alloy plated platters. The extreme mirror finish attests to the platinum coating, and if you cut the disk, you can see it is made of aluminum. These mirror like disks have such a small amount of platinum, that it is completely worthless to try to harvest. You will, however, see people selling mass quantities of hard drive platters on Ebay for just that reason though.

If you are considering harvesting the platinum from the hard drive platters, GOOD LUCK; The coating is atoms thick, and is at most 40% platinum ALLOY. I have had some questions regarding refining this platinum coating, and I can assure you it is not lucrative unless you have TONNES of hard drives. We are talking platinum in the parts per billion. For more info, check out http://www.goldrefiningforum.com/

More recently I have learned that artists will buy these old hard drives for use in crafts and projects; the coolest of which I have seen is this clock:

harddriveclcok2 How To Scrap Hard Drives

harddriveclock1 How To Scrap Hard Drives

This clock has a special microprocessor that times the oscillation of a set of LED lights such that it displays the correct time. Not bad, considering the platters rotate at
10,000 rpm. Learn more here.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Heartkill November 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Hey man, how about a "how-to" on how to dissect these? I have a stack of about 75 of them on my workbench. I took a 'sledge to one for the magnet a long time ago but the rest are untouched. I can't find small enough to get the star-bit fasteners off.

Reply

The Irrationalist November 8, 2010 at 7:21 pm

To take them all mine apart I bought a precision Torx set here: Ebay. It ended up only costing me like 3 dollars. I just check and there are several sets up for 2.50. Here is a link to a set that is buy it now, and only costs $2.79 with free shipping. Thats a really good deal, even though its a pretty crappy little thing made in china; it gets the job done. I just take the bits I get from the set, and use my power drill to take out the screws. It can be a tedious process, but it is not bad if you want to harvest the individual pieces. I hope this helps, and I may come out with a more detailed post on my blog soon!

Thanks for the question,

Reply

Spookei March 3, 2011 at 8:32 am

If you don't have a Torx driver find an appropriate flat-headed jewellers screwdriver: it did the trick for me!

Reply

Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 3:40 am

I've found that smaller (laptop) hard drive platters are commonly made of glass.

Also, I like to use a jaw-type gear puller to pop the motor assembly from the case. Since they are epoxied in to the aluminum. That way I can get #1 aluminum price for the shell.

Reply

Carl August 26, 2013 at 10:40 pm

would you elaborate on the technique for pulling the motor and what size gear puller you find works best? THX!

Reply

Anonymous March 23, 2011 at 2:16 am

I have a torx bit set and a drill. Cos theres lots of screws but they arent locked too tight drill is perfect. Cuts time by about 2 thirds – useful if you have a big batch of drives.

Reply

Anonymous April 11, 2011 at 1:50 am

Heartkill
follow the last link the author left.

Reply

MacMarty September 12, 2011 at 2:21 am

Any idea which alloy is typically used in hard drive body castings? Is there a way (short of spectroscopy) to tell 6061 from 6065?

Reply

ScrapMetalJunkie September 12, 2011 at 2:43 am

No, there is not. But If you know of any local scrap yards, call and ask them if they have a handheld XRF analyzer. Many scrap yards do! It isn’t very hard. When I am selling soem scrap to my scrap yard, I bring along a sample of something I want tested. I tell one of the crew members, “I need to have this piece of aluminum to get tested with the XRF gun, is that OK?” They are normally able to just grab it and use it, or the boss will do it for them. All in all, it takes about 1 minute (if the gun isn’t being used elsewhere).

Reply

Andre October 7, 2011 at 4:22 am

Is there a easy way to remove the magnet from the bracket? I have never taken one appart and assume its glued together?

Reply

ScrapMetalJunkie October 7, 2011 at 5:30 am

The actual magnet part of the magnet is coated in nickel, and then glued on the mu-metal / permalloy bracket. It really isn’t that hard to get the magnet off; I have popped them off with a screwdriver, but sometimes they break. Another method is to put the bracket in a vice, and then bend the metal part – the magnet just sort of “peels off” as the bracket gets bent into a U-shape.

Reply

Andre October 7, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Thanks for the quick resply. I will try that.

Reply

Bill October 9, 2011 at 11:46 pm

I have 15 server drives. Their magnets are at least 1/2″ thick while the sheild brackets are probably 3/8″. They are heavy and STRONG (pinch your finger and make a blood blister strong DAMHIKT). My question is should I separate the magnet from the sheild before selling? I amc oncern about what to do with the magnet once it is loose. When thinking about shipping them to a buyer I imagined my ship box stuck to the side of the delivery van (did I mention that they are STRONG?). What are the value upside/downside to separating them?

Bill

Reply

ScrapMetalJunkie October 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm

The brackets are made of permalloy, which is an alloy that literally blocks magnetic fields, meaning the bracket side of the magnet will not stick to anything. If you stick two magnets together, with the brackets on the outside like a magnet sandwitch, then they should cause no problems when you are shipping them. also, wrap them in some bubble wrap and put them in a small cardboard box (USPS flat rate, or whatever you like)

IF you would rather sell them separated from the brackets, then make sure you wrap them in A LOT of bubble wrap. The magnets should all be stuck together in a ball of bubble wrap that makes them easy to handle, but much bulkier to ship.

Reply

Bill October 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Thank you for the response. I hope I can find a buyer. They can be fun to play with but I don’t need all of them.

Bill

Reply

sharif October 18, 2011 at 4:07 am

i have so many hardisk and not work what i do

Reply

ScrapMetalJunkie October 18, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Sell them for scrap metal!

Reply

Andre October 19, 2011 at 12:16 am

If the electroplating is removed, is there any paint that I can use to stop the corrosion, but that will not interfere with the magnetic fields?

Reply

ScrapMetalJunkie October 19, 2011 at 2:38 am

I can’t think of any type of paint that would cause problems with the magnetic field. You can use any paint you want, but avoid red,because it often used iron oxide as a pigment, which may possibly effect the magnetic field. I suggest black.

Reply

Andre October 20, 2011 at 12:23 am

Ok thanks

Reply

Muhammad November 3, 2011 at 7:42 am

I am owning a Samsung 7200 rpm, 320GB hard disk and its not showing up in the bios after the power failure. I identified the damage in its board, so changed the board with another similar board and then identified that the platters inside the hard drive have pasted or locked together. The lock doesn’t seems to get released even though the hard disk starts on after changing the board and again the hard drive is not showing up in the bios. Please advice me on how i am gonna release the platters, is it OK if i release it manually with my hand or is there any other alternative methods to recover data?

Reply

Scrapper man November 9, 2011 at 9:24 am

It’s interesting that newer HDs are now using steel instead of stainless covers. Always check the covers with a magnet. Sometimes a steel sheet is glued to a stainless steel one (you will need to separate these if you just want the stainless steel price).
I have also found on higher end HDs (10-15K spinning speed drives) they use brass for the covers (coated with a silver colour).

Reply

ScrapMetalJunkie November 10, 2011 at 3:41 am

Very good points! Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Stevie December 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm

To separate the magnets from the permalloy, you might try soaking them for a bit in fingernail polish to soften the glue and then try the bending or popping off with a screwdriver. This should minimize breakage.

Reply

Robert WAyne January 19, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I have some hard drive disks platters that are gold color. I know the silver color disks are a low content platinum plate- but what is the gold color disks?

Reply

John Whitelock March 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm

I may have near 4,000,000 ard drives on hand by years end. Would it be feasable to attempt to recover the low grade Platinum coating? Do you know if this is a chemical process which would degrade or disolve the aluminum core?

Any insight would help. Any idea regarding the aluminum alloy used as the core?

Reply

xyz June 27, 2012 at 7:15 pm

thanks for the info! Very helpful

Reply

xyz June 27, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I would like to follow this subject and learn more about scrapping HDD

Reply

daniel July 19, 2012 at 12:05 am

Is it warth the time and musch can you make in take coumputers a part

Reply

Kevin Jones July 28, 2012 at 4:34 pm

How is possible to get the Nd ( Neodymium ) or Mo out of the alloys used in the mentioned hard drives? Being rare earth metals don’t they have some values in large volumes of hard drives to somewhat using electrolyte to remove the nickel or iron coating and expose the Nd or Mo.?

Thanks
Kevin

Reply

Bob June 2, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Very few of the assembly screws from at least one of the 5 hard drives I disassembled are lightly responsive to a magnetic field.

Are these screws typically made of stainless, aluminum, or some other metal?

As I ready to visit the scrap yard I was curious to know what type of metal they are composed of so I can put them in an appropriate container.

Reply

ScrapMetalJunkie June 4, 2013 at 8:28 pm

I have always been under the impression that they are made of 304/316 stainless steel, but they vary from drive to drive.

Reply

David R July 21, 2013 at 7:48 pm

I was wondering what is the little black square thing made of on the the tips that write on the drive? Its very tiny and looks as if there is a gold plating around it as well on the metal. Is that any thing valuable?

Reply

CAROL September 23, 2013 at 2:17 pm

I have 8 hard drives and approx. 15 gold finger boards, I am cleaning up my scrap, I do not know what to do with this . do I take it to a scrap yrd, or should I find a buyer for the gold finger boards, what should I do, any suggestions..?

Reply

Kujo January 27, 2014 at 7:00 pm

You need to get a precision screw driver set, you can find one at your local home depot or lowes.

Reply

Chris February 21, 2014 at 8:54 pm

I have a few hundred pounds of the aluminum base casts. Does anyone know how I can strip the black coating off? What is the coating? Black oxide, black anodized oxide, ceramic-oxide? I’ve tried to dissolve the coating with acetone, mek, greased lightening, oven off, toilet bowl cleaner, aircraft aluminum cleaner. Nothing seems to dissolve the coating. Any help on the process used to strip it down to the bare metal is helpful.

Reply

EOD May 2, 2014 at 1:17 am

try sand blasting, media blasting.

Reply

Brett Bringardner May 19, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Many people think the brackets are a nickel superalloy called permalloy or MUmetal in fact magnet brackets are low carbon steel. Pure iron is one if the best flux carrying materials to use. Cold rolled low carbon steel is a trade-off for manufacturability. The brackets are plated in a nickel alloy and the unique dual polarity of the magnets allow for one direction magnetic field.

Reply

ScrapMetalJunkie May 20, 2014 at 10:11 pm

You may be right about the most modern disk drives, but all the ones I’ve tested (2008 and early models, about a dozen or so different brackets all together) showed permalloy composition (or similar) when tested with the XRF spectrometer.

Reply

Brett Bringardner May 21, 2014 at 8:51 am

Did you grind off some of the surface ?

The plating is indeed permalloy/MUmetal, our tests show and engineers at WD and Seagate confirm most brackers are Iron.

Reply

Cyrus July 28, 2014 at 4:49 am

plss teach me stap by stap how to recover platinum from computer scrap. and sparking plugs

Reply

cottom August 11, 2014 at 10:04 am

Sears carries the small torx driver set for a reasonable price. Also Nintendo uses uses a screw called a
wing, which requires a special 3 wing driver. I got mine from Amazon for around $10,

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: