Mini How-To: Make a tool to breach Nintendo's security screws

Our hackmasters Will O'Brien and Ben Heckendorn weren't satisfied with their one-slot-per-week How-To gig, so we had to come up with a new way for them to get the word out about some simpler hacks and projects. Enter the Mini How-to.

Mission: Possible.

We've all seen them before, the weird inverse Torx styled Nintendo security screws. Sure you can -- gasp -- SPEND MONEY buying a special bit for them on eBay but it's pretty easy to hack your own tool for the job. In this mini how-to we'll show you a couple of ways to do it. Today's the day many a Nintendo fan has been waiting for. Many of you are probably waiting in line for your Wii right now -- so let's crack these Nintendos open!

One of the aforementioned "screws of doom" on the bottom of a Super Nintendo. If you had no concerns what people thought of bad puns you could call it the "Locked SNES Monster" Oh crap we just typed that didn't we?

The tool(s) we're about to create will open most modern Nintendo consoles, from the SNES, SNES 2 (mini-SNES), Nintendo 64, Gamecube, to -- we presume -- the Wii. To open the cartridges themselves you'll need to create a slightly smaller tool than the sizes mentioned. The theory is by making a "fork" to grab onto either side of the screw we can twist it out. Here's a top-down and profile drawing of the screw head that explains the basic idea:

We'll cover 2 ways of making a Nintendo-busting screw...

Screwdriver version - Tools Required:

  • A Dremel tool with a cut-off disc. The reinforced kind with the checkerboard texture works best. They usually include a few with a Dremel so unless you've busted them all trying to, I dunno, cut diamonds or leftover Malt O' Meal off bowls, you should have one laying around.

  • A flat-head screwdriver you don't care about. I used one with a tip width just slightly smaller than a pencil. As long as it fits inside the device's screw well you should be good. The exact width of the end of the screwdriver I used was .225 inches.

What to do:

  1. Clamp the screwdriver to your bench or otherwise secure it.

  2. Using the Dremel tool, begin cutting a notch in the end of the screwdriver. As you can see in the photo we're cutting on the right side of the wheel -- this causes the sparks to fly downwards away from your eyes. Of course this shouldn't be a concern if you're wearing safety goggles but if you're like me you probably sluff off in that department.

  3. Create a notch that looks like the following photo. The gap is about three CDs wide or 0.16-inches.

The notched screwdriver. Looks like a metal version of one of those KFC "sporks", doesn't it? Great, now I'm hungry for some greasy deals.

Using your screwdriver:

  1. If it isn't already, scrap the driver across an old magnet to magnetize it. Speakers work well, cabinet magnets, really hefty ones on your fridge...

  2. Slide the screwdriver into the screw well. (Pretty obvious, but I'm contractually obligated to say the obvious.)

  3. Center the shaft in the well and fit in the teeth. If you latch around the screw properly you should feel it - the screwdriver won't slip.

  4. If you can't get a good grip try carving out a bit more of the hole. Also you might want to grind on the flat edge of the screwdriver to make the teeth a little sharper.

  5. Make sure you get a good grip before applying any major force - otherwise you might strip the screw. Pressing down on the screw hard before / while turning will help.

  6. Once you've found purchase you should be able to twist out the screw. The biggest part is coaxing it loose - once you do that the rest is easy.

The screwdriver holding a screw. Note how the head of the screw fits into the slot we carved.

Pen version - Tools Required:

  • A pen - the clear plastic type work best. Since about 50% of the pens in the average household don't work anyway you should be able to find one to sacrifice.

  • Some sort of flame source, lighters, matches, gas stove. Sigh -- kids, ask your parents to help with this part.

This pen is about to do a far, far better thing than it has ever done. Writing? Whatever. The hack is mighter than the sword.

What to do:

  1. Have your Nintendo system ready and close at hand, screw wells exposed and up.

  2. Remove any plastic caps and then light the end of the pen. It should burn quite well. Don't let any gunk drip onto yourself, it'll probably hurt. Worse than solder. It will also stink, so open a window if possible.

  3. Once it's burned for a few seconds and the plastic has kind of melted shut the hollow opening, cram it down into the screw well and onto the screw.

  4. Don't move - let it cool for about 15 seconds. The plastic is forming to the shape of the screw.

Carefully pull the pen out - you should see the shape of the screw in the plastic.

It's a bit blurry but you should get the point. (Auto-focus is my sworn enemy.)

You can now use this pen as a screwdriver -- simply stick it in and twist. Make sure you feel the grooves latch into place, then press down hard as you turn for best results. If the plastic bits strip out you can always relight the pen and make another mold.

This SNES is as good as opened!


Well there you go -- now you can help yourself to the guts of modern Nintendo consoles. Remember, to open cartridges you just need to make a slightly smaller tool. Regardless, the days of opening Nintendo systems with sledgehammers is over!