Easy Fixes for Six Common Laptop Problems

Problem: Cracked notebook case

Cost: $15
Time: 2 to 3 hours (20 minutes to set up the repair, 5 minutes to place and shape the putty, an hour or two to let it cure, 10 minutes to sand it, 30 minutes to paint it and let it dry)
Materials: Epoxy putty, sandpaper, razor blade, Sharpie marker or paint, gloves (optional)

When notebooks get dropped, more often than not they land on the corner, one of the weakest parts of the case. Unless you have a rugged notebook, there's a good chance that after an encounter with gravity, the corner will be cracked or -- as was the case with my Toshiba Satellite Pro 6100 -- broken through completely.

An unfortunate encounter with gravity caused this hole.
(Click to view larger image)

It happened in an airport holding pen some time ago when I sneezed while typing an e-mail. The system went flying and smacked into the floor. Before I got home, I put a Band-Aid over the damaged area to keep the elements out. Now it's time to fix it for real.

The secret is to use epoxy putty to fill in the broken part of the case. Epoxy putty is available online or at any hardware store for around $4 to $6 a tube, so you can even do this repair on the road. The brand of putty you choose doesn't matter, but avoid the quick-setting variety because it might harden before you're done.

First, make sure the damaged area is clean and free of dirt and loose pieces.

Then it's time to prepare the putty. It comes as a cylinder with two components wrapped around each other. Just cut a section off and twist the parts together.

Mix the two putty components completely.
(Click to view larger image)

The key to a smooth case repair is to thoroughly mix the two components together in your hands. Because the putty hardens as the result of a chemical reaction between the two parts, it's important that they are completely blended together. You might want to use gloves for this part because some people are sensitive to the chemicals in the putty.

Try rolling the putty into a long cylinder and then folding it over itself several times. After a few minutes, the putty becomes a uniform white or gray and you're ready.

You'll feel like a kid working with Play-Doh, and in fact, the putty should be the consistency of Play-Doh, which is perfect for working it into the damaged area. Press it firmly into the hole in the case and use your finger or a razor blade to shape it to follow the contour of the case. When it covers the area, take the flat side of a razor blade or back of a ruler and compress the outer surface to flatten it. Any excess putty can be wiped off the case with paper towel before it dries.

When you like the way it looks, go do something else for an hour or two until the epoxy is cured. When it has hardened, the epoxy patch is just as strong as the plastic case.

Press the putty into the damaged area and flatten the outer surface.
(Click to view larger image)

Many DIYers stop here, and use the obvious repair as a road warrior's badge of honor or conversation starter on road trips. I prefer a little more finishing, so I smooth the epoxy with 150- and then 220-grit sandpaper. Then I give it a final sanding with 2,000-grit paper that is slightly wet to remove any surface scratches.

Naturally, the color doesn't match. If it's a small repair, try using a Sharpie marker to cover it up. For this repair, I used model airplane enamel paint, which costs about $5 for a small bottle; a full set of colors with brushes is $10. When it's dry, the repair is done and can only be seen if you look closely.

The final (optional) steps are sanding the dried patch with increasingly finer sandpaper and painting it to match the case. (Click to view larger image)

Subscribe to the Power Tips Newsletter

Comments