Signal head

Signal head

Scout leader finds discarded hard drives make great mirrors in the wild

By Christopher Nyerges 04/01/2010

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Boy Scout leader Frank Loaiza has found a way to use high-tech trash to enhance his outdoor experience. 
“With everyone ‘going green’ these days, it’s neat for me to try to find new ways to re-use broken or used items for another purpose besides their original design,” said Loaiza. “With technology changing so rapidly, we are often left with great volumes of cyber junk.”
Where Loaiza works as a member of the technical staff for at a local aerospace company, he comes across many hard drives that need to be destroyed and disposed of. “I have found that I can recycle and reuse these as emergency signaling mirrors, and they are better than the signaling mirrors you find at most backpacking stores,” Loaiza said with a smile. 
He explains that most hard drives are housed in an aluminum housing that can be recycled, but you first need to remove all of the screws, circuit boards and other parts that will not be accepted by your local recycling center. He discovered that the hard drive platters themselves are highly polished metallic discs that are nearly indestructible. 
“Once the data is erased, I give these platters to the Boy Scouts in my troop and they use them as emergency signal mirrors and camp mirrors to see themselves as they comb their hair, etc.,” explained Loaiza. 
Loaiza explains that the older [1980s and ’90s] hard drive platters were made of aluminum, with a coating of magnetic material that is very resistant to scratching. As a result of some quick Internet research, he learned that the newer platters are composed of several materials, including ferro magnetic and nonmagnetic materials, which include cobalt, platinum and chromium. These materials, or some combination thereof, are then coated on fused aluminum oxide substrate discs. 
Loaiza found that these recycled signal mirrors are incredibly durable. “I have tried to drop these ‘signal mirrors’ and thrown them to the hard ground quite violently and have only been able to break them by ‘accidentally’ dropping them from a four-story balcony … Mind you, this was purely an accident, and luckily there was nobody down below,” he said, smiling.
“These are great and durable signal mirrors, and this is the mirror I carry with me in the wilderness at all times,” Loaiza said. 
Even if you’re not lost and needing to signal a distant airplane, the mirror is also used for grooming, removing splinters and various forms of communication.
According to Loaiza, assistant Scout Master for Troop 476 in Montebello, the mirrors sold at backpacking shops are smaller than and not as durable as his recycled hard drive platters. Also, though some people have used a recycled CD for a signaling mirror, according to Loaiza, “A recycled CD is just made of plastic with foil attached to it. The CDs are far inferior for signaling and durability when compared to the hard drive platter.” 

Nyerges is the author of “Self-Sufficient Home” and other books, the editor of Wilderness Way magazine and a teacher of survival skills. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, Calif., 90041, or


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