by Tom "Christmas" Bozic
Feel free to blithely ignore this little warning while reading the tutorial!
Welcome to the first in a series of tutorials from the keyboard of yours truly, where I show
you how to, essentially, void the warranty that comes with videotapes and video cassette recorders!
Seriously, though, if you have a niggling interest in what exactly goes on inside your VCR when
you've got a tape in there, then I encourage you to read on! Or if you've ever had "tape troubles"
(tape's caught in the VCR, tape's all chewed up, tape won't play etc.), then these tutorials should
be just what the "doctor" ordered!
Today, we're going to start off nice-and-gentle-like and show you how to properly open up a
cassette (and we are
dealing with video cassettes here, NOT cartridges or open-reel tapes),
remove the tape reels, re-align them in a cassette and close the cassette up - akin, perhaps,
to learning how to start and stop a car; they're small, but essential steps that need to be
learnt - all the same when you're playing with the innards of a video cassette. Although we'll be
Video Home System (VHS)
cassette type throughout this tutorial due to its accessibility, you'll
find that a lot of what is written here will apply when dealing with other cassette types (and,
yes, there are
other types, believe you me!).
As with the other articles on this site, I'd like to divide this tutorial into the following
Let's begin!0. Preparation
Before we even lay a finger on a video cassette, we need to find you a suitable work area. To
"tamper with tape", you will need a clean, flat surface to work on - if you've got access to
a dust-and-microbe-free clean-room complete with temperature control and a sophisticated security
system, by all means go
nuts, however if you don't have access to a hi-tech laboratory (which I assume is the vast majority
of you!), a desk or bench with a smooth finish in a well-lit area should be fine.
integrity is paramount, feel free to put on a pair of disposable surgical gloves while
handling the tape, alternating between different gloves when handling different tapes - recommended,
but not essential.
If possible, make sure the tape has been rewound/fast-forwarded to about the half-way point (i.e.
there's an even amount of tape on both reels) - it will make handling the tape a lot easier, trust
Finally, get yourself a good set of screwdrivers to unscrew the screws and a
blunt, flat, rigid implement (e.g. a butterknife) to help pry apart the most stubborn of cassettes
(more on this later).1. Open the cassette
Now that you're well equipped, let's move on now to opening up a cassette! I trust that you have
a cassette that's expendable (I recommend that you get ahold of a blank VHS cassette tape for this,
although a cassette with your friend's friend's wedding or episodes of Hey Dad!
will do just fine).
Have a look at the front of the cassette - the side with the two windows on it
- there you can see, safely housed within the cassette, the storage reel
to your left and
the takeup reel
to your right - when you press Play or Fast Forward on your VCR and your tape
is loaded in the machine, the reels move clockwise and the tape from the storage reel goes through
the tape path inside the VCR and ends up on the takeup reel; as you can imagine, when you press
Rewind, the reverse happens - the reels move anti/counter-clockwise and the tape on the takeup
reel ends up on the storage reel.
Pick up your cassette and examine the right-hand side of the cassette - you'll notice a little,
rectangular button just beneath the hinge of the flap (the bit with the annoying message for
techno-plebs that I asked you to ignore earlier). Press and hold this button, then gently pull back
the flap and this happens:
Top view of the cassette with the tape exposed - the tape is wrapped around two little
That button you pressed is the cassette's release mechanism
- when you load the tape into the
VCR, the machine presses & holds the release mechanism and opens the flap and then
(when you press Play, Fast Forward or Rewind) proceeds to draw out and lace up its tape path with
the tape inside the cassette before playing.
This is a great little party trick you can play on your lowly neophyte friends - watch with glee as
they try to open the flap in vain while you open the flap with minimal effort. Don't tell anyone
else about the release mechanism; it's our little secret!
"Let's open the cassette, already!", you're saying. Very well, oh most unpatient one, we shall open
the cassette!1. Open the cassette (for real now!)
Horizontally flip the cassette and place the cassette on your workbench with the rear-side (the one
with the two round socket-thingys)
facing you. Upon close examination, you will notice five (5) screws screwed-in to the cassette -
four in each of the four corners of the cassette and one in the middle for good measure. In most
cases, all five screws should be of the Phillips (i.e. four-pronged) variety and are usually 2.4mm
(nearly 1/10") in width - as there are many and varied brands of cassettes, so too there are many and
varied exceptions to the rule.
My set of six "jewellers screwdrivers" with the 2.4mm Phillips out of the case.
Dick Smith's/Tandy's (what's the difference nowadays!?) are practically giving them away
at $AU1.97 a set (NOT an endorsement!)
If you come across one of those cassettes that have that super-annoying three-pronged screw in
the middle, then you'll need to get yourself one of these:
33-piece security bit set - $AU15.00 approx. from all good electronics stores - alas, they
generally do not sell three-pronged screwdrivers separately...
Take hold of your screwdriver and unscrew! (If, for some reason, your cassette is not held together
with screws, you will have to risk destroying your cassette and pry the cassette apart with
Very gently separate the two shells of the cassette apart - it is best to separate the shells
completely (labels can be easily replaced or re-affixed with some glue). Take care NOT to get
the flap detached - it is far better, believe me, to leave the flap intact where possible.
The two shells of the cassette now separate, with the reels in full view. Prior to separation,
I flipped over the cassette so that the front-side up is visible, but I leave this up to you.
You'll notice the screws in the top-right hand corner of the picture - their arrangement is by no
means co-incidental! You will need to make sure that each screw goes into the slot that they
originated from when putting the cassette back together again - in theory, the screws are
interchangeable: in practice, they're not, so devise a system of keeping track of which screw goes
into which slot - you can borrow my intuitive system if you wish (the top left screw in the
picture goes in the top left slot, etc....).2. Remove the tape
This should probably be the easiest step to complete - you just carefully lift the tape reels off
the guides taking care not to scrunch up the tape, put the reels to one side, Bob's-your-uncle and
Of course, there is the issue of handling the tape properly to consider. You know the old adage:
Absolute(ly) filthy fingers corrupts (tape) absolutely
(...doesn't go quite like that, but close enough...)
To avoid the effects of Filthy Finger Syndrome, I recommend you go and get yourself a box of
disposable surgical gloves (available at all reputable chemists/drug stores) and wear them
while handling tape.
If sweating it out in Latex is not your cup of tea then thoroughly wash
and dry your hands to get rid of every last trace of sebum, beef tallow, pizza sauce etc. on
your fingers - if you must
then handle the tape directly, try to touch only the non-magnetised
underside of the tape (but even then you risk corrupting the stretch of tape beneath the current
stretch when rolled up), or better yet, use a non-magnetic implement such as a pen to help you.
The reels of tape all by themselves - a thing of beauty is a joy forever!
Now that you have removed the reels from the cassette, you can do all sorts of fun things with them
such as re-attaching/splicing/repairing the tape, manually winding the tape forwards and backwards
and even baking the tape
, all of which
have been, or will be covered in other tutorials. For now, though, we'll just move on to the next
step.3. Insert the tape
This step is only a little bit more difficult than the previous one, however, if you've taken care
so far not to tamper with the other little components in the cassette, it should be a
Guidin' thar tape 'round dem guidin' posts!
First, lay the base cassette shell face-down and clip the storage reel into place as shown above.
Wrap the tape around the left guiding post, then the right one and then clip the takeup reel into
place. Ensure that the reels are seated nicely and that the tape is taut, but not too tight and
please - make sure that you haven't inadvertently twisted the tape in any way!
Couldn't be simpler, could it? Now, the potentially fiddly and tricky part!4. Close the cassette
The final leg of our tape tinkering trek requires us to reunite the top shell with the bottom shell
so as to re-complete the cassette. This step requires a certain amount of concentration and can
easily drive the sanest of people to, well, insanity. However, if you have separated the shells
completely like I had suggested earlier (i.e. the shells are not attached via the label) a dose
of Ventolin may not be required.
It really is a simple matter of ensuring that the "plugs" of the top shell line up exactly with
the "sockets" of the bottom shell. Once they're lined up, gently push the top shell into place,
making sure that the flap does not fall off and that you do not scrunch up the tape around the
If the top shell does not insert effortlessly or, when reunited, the cassette feels a bit bulky in
the middle, remove the top shell and the reels and carefully repeat Step 3.
If all is well so far, flip the tape over, keeping a firm clamp of the tape all the while with
your fingers, screw the screws back in and you're done! Tip: if you're still having trouble
screwing a screw in, a swift quarter-turn anti/counter-clockwise followed by the regular
clockwise action should sink the little bugger like a knife through canola-oil-softened butter.
Now, go and reward yourself with your favourite drink - you have earned it!Extension: transplanting tape from one cassette to another
OK, we're just about done here, but before I go, I would like to leave you with the knowledge of a
common "surgical procedure" - a procedure that does not require you to have studied at medical
You transplant tape from one cassette to another when through your (or someone else's) (in)actions
or simply through the ravages of time, your cassette is basically stuffed! Rather than devote
a whole article to tape transplantation, we can convieniently use this article to summarise
the procedure, like this (let's call our source tape "Cassette A" and our destination tape
- Do Section (1) of this article on Cassette A
- Do (2) on Cassette A
- Do (1) on Cassette B
- Do (2) on Cassette B
- Do (3) on Cassette B using Tape A
- Do (4) on Cassette B
It should go without saying that Tapes A and B should be of the same type. Bye now!