Headphone jack Snapped Off Inside Laptop
April 11, 2009 10:55 AM   Subscribe

I have about a quarter of an inch of a headphone jack snapped off inside my laptop due to a manic dachshund. Can you recommend a tool I can use to get it out? I've tried very small tweezers but I can't get in there. I attempted to open it up but stopped when I got to the point I didn't know what I was doing.
posted by zzazazz to Computers & Internet (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any poster tac? (That stick-um stuff?) Massage it well so it's pliable, then mash it in there. It should adhere and then pull right out. I've gotten many broken things unstuck with this method (not a headphone jack, though).
posted by phunniemee at 10:58 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

A paper clip (unwound) slathered with crazy-glue?
posted by matty at 10:58 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

A very low power magnet? Although, come to think of it, I don't know if headphone jacks are magnetic.
posted by TypographicalError at 11:01 AM on April 11, 2009

I'd try crazy glue too, but the problem is that headphone jacks tend to "clip" in, so they require some force to pull them out... possibly more than a spot of crazy glue could hold up against.

If you continue opening your laptop you maybe able to get to the headjack port, though these are usually enclosed by a plastic shroud. So getting to the "other end" of the connector in an effort to push the jack out may be difficult too.
posted by wfrgms at 11:02 AM on April 11, 2009

I have my doubts that poster tac will be able to get a good enough grip. The crazy glue idea is a good one, but I'd suggest using the gel-style since it is less likely to ooze and make an even bigger problem. Even then though, I'd practice and experiment before I tried the real operation.
posted by Good Brain at 11:06 AM on April 11, 2009

Taking the laptop apart may not help you much anyway. The jack is probably directly attached to the motherboard, and you'll still have a completely contained jack to deal with.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 11:09 AM on April 11, 2009

Oh hey, another thing you could try would be to put super glue on the end of the broken headphone jack you have, plug it in and let it set, then remove.
posted by phunniemee at 11:09 AM on April 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

Unfortunately the last quarter inch is the bit with the nub on it so you're going to have a lot of resistance in pulling it out. There's a little notched spring on either side holding it in, so if you can devise some way to push the spring out of the way, it should just fall out. But you've only got a 1/8" hole to work in. Got any lockpick or dental tools?

How good are you with a screwdriver? Ever taken a laptop apart before? If you have the skill and confidence I'd do that and try to push it out from the back.

I'd only use super glue as a very last resort since there's a better than 50% chance that whatever you stick in there with glue on it will never come out again. I wouldn't use a paperclip however since there's very little surface area. Use the rest of the broken headphone plug.
posted by Ookseer at 11:09 AM on April 11, 2009

My vote is for superglue; superglue (at least most of the stuff I've used) hold better when pulling against it than two pieces sliding against each other. Put a dab of gel superglue on the end of a paperclip or the remaining nub of the plug that broke off, and stick it in. If the glue adheres to the sides, twisting should break the plug away from the sides; the end that's against the broken-off plug should twist with, and allow you to pull it out. While there's still risk of screwing up the phone jack by using superglue, taking apart the laptop is likely to damage far more than headphone compatibility.
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like the magnet idea, but with a twist.

Most laptops now have hard drives which can be removed. If you can power off the laptop and remove the hard drive, you could try a stronger magnet. You can always test the magnet against the rest of the headphone jack to see if this is even worth your time.
posted by adipocere at 11:23 AM on April 11, 2009

I had this problem.
posted by Eater at 11:29 AM on April 11, 2009

Find a small plastic tube about 1/8" diameter, like a cocktail straw or a coffee stirrer. Make sure the inside diameter of the tube is big enough to accommodate plug. Use the unbroken part to check.

Push it in the hole and hopefully it will get between the spring contact and the notch in the broken bit of plug. With luck, you should be able to pull the straw out with the broken bit inside.
posted by kc8nod at 11:31 AM on April 11, 2009 [7 favorites]

I think the plugs are made of brass, I don't think a magnet would pull on them. I'm not sure though.

I'd try a drop of crazy glue on the end of a little stick. Don't get it on the socket. Push and hold it on the end of the plug for a second then pull gently.

Practice without the glue a couple of times.

A DROP of glue.
posted by sully75 at 11:35 AM on April 11, 2009

Best answer: I'm assuming you mean the headphone plug broke off rather than the jack.

Instead of a paperclip, I'd use the headphone plug that came out as the part to attach to the broken bit inside. I'm hesitant to recommend krazy glue, but your jack is toast anyway, so you don't have much to lose.

If you can't extract the plug, repair is either going to involve a motherboard swap or a component-level replacement - desoldering the existing jack from the motherboard and replacing.

If you are really handy and steady, you might consider the following alternatives:

1. drill the headphone plug out. Get a narrow drill bit - 1/16th perhaps - and drill the plug until it fractures, then extract the pieces.

2. open up the laptop and drill a hole into the headphone jack housing from the side opposite the plug opening. Insert paperclip and push the plug out.

If you don't manage to get the headphone plug out, you could switch to usb microphones / headphones.
posted by zippy at 11:36 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

"from the side opposite the plug jack opening. "
posted by zippy at 11:37 AM on April 11, 2009

Seconding that a magnet will not help, a headphone plug is not going to be made of a ferrous material. Regarding the drill-bit option, plugs are often hollow, if it is not hollow and you have a very steady hand, this looks like a good option though. You would have to be careful about the spring mechanisms that make electrical and mechanical contact, they are made of thin spring-steel and push down toward the center of the jack when nothing is plugged in, and I presume you would not want to damage them.

If you found a very thin screw, and screwed that into the stub of the plug, you could grab the head of that screw and remove it with a pair of pliers. Actually you could probably even just do this with a drill bit if you got it wedged in there.
posted by idiopath at 11:55 AM on April 11, 2009

drill the headphone plug out.

Aaaackk! No! That will leave little metal fragments all over the motherboard.

By far the best plan here is to put a tiny drop of superglue on the end of the original headphone plug. That will get you the most traction.

You can take the machine apart, but usually headphone jacks are little plastic boxes. You can't see inside them. Have a look at this picture to see what I mean.
posted by fake at 11:56 AM on April 11, 2009

5 minute epoxy instead of crazy glue, put a dab on the end of a wooden match stick, or dowel and insert carefully into the jack (here's the important bit) THROUGH a small piece of a straw or piece of tubing that has been jammed up against the broken end. The straw will prevent the epoxy from getting on the jack itself. Let set and pull. Viola!
posted by Gungho at 11:58 AM on April 11, 2009 [7 favorites]

Do NOT blithely drill the headphone jack unless you want small metal filings kicking around the inside of your laptop causing shorts. You can drill if you drill from underneath so that little bits come falling out. I'd drill in 1/16 of an inch tops, You manage this by chucking a small bit (maybe 3/64 or 1/32 - while you're buying this bit, buy 3 they're cheap, they break easily), putting it into the headphone jack until it stops, then mark the bit with a Sharpie. Remove from the machine and put a piece of making tape 1/16" of an inch up from the mark.

Drill GENTLY until the tape reaches the end of the jack. You want enough pressure and speed on the drill that the jack fragment doesn't spin but not so much that you break the bit.

Once you've drilled in 1/16", pull the bit out, remove it from the chuck and put a drop of gel Krazy Glue on the end of the bit (no, really) and put it back in the hole. Wait 5 minutes. Gently pull out the jack, now glues to the drill bit.

Hold it in from of the dog and say, "bad dog! mustn't hurt my laptop", and throw it all away.

Honestly though, I would be inclined to use a 1/16" piece of dowel or a toothpick cut in half do you can use the center and use a SMALL droplet of epoxy. It will take longer to dry, but it more forgiving than Krazy glue and I suspect you'll get a better bond from wood<>epoxy<>metal than metal<>Krazy Glue<>metal.
posted by plinth at 12:09 PM on April 11, 2009

As Eater said, lots of jacks, especially the super-compact ones you'll find in a laptop, aren't fully enclosed. (Random example.) So I think that taking the laptop apart to get to the jack would probably work. I'd still try the glue-on-a-stick approaches first, though (verrrry carefully…).
posted by hattifattener at 12:25 PM on April 11, 2009

If you must drill, do not use it in a power drill. Get a small hand chuck and turn it with your fingers. It might jam itself into the stub and allow you to pull it out. I, however, am in the group that does not think that a drill under any circumstances is a good idea. Crazy glue or 5 minute epoxy will not work. Also, if any remains in the hole, you are going to be f**cked.These adhesives are effective only for close tolerance fits. A small diameter coarse threaded tapered screw such as is used for joining soft plastic parts might do. The screws that are used to fasten the top onto a small Radio Shack utility box might do. Use finger pressure only. If this does not work go to a pro to have it repaired.
posted by Raybun at 12:31 PM on April 11, 2009

Photo, perhaps?
posted by Marky at 12:33 PM on April 11, 2009

I think kc8nod's brilliant thin straw solution or disassembly are your only options, short of desoldering the jack and installing a new one on the MB. Please post a followup and let us know how it goes.
posted by Aquaman at 12:38 PM on April 11, 2009

You could try using a wooden toothpick or wooden skewer. The broken tip might embed in the wood and you could simply pull out the toothpick or skewer with the tip affixed to the end. (This is a variation of using a potato to remove a broken lightbulb.)
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 12:46 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

The straw solution will require an extremely narrow tube with a very small diameter that will be difficult or impossible to find.

Also, I wouldn't use the original (broken) connector if you're planning on the Super Glue method. People that suggest this solution are assuming that there is absolutely no play in the jack for the broken-off piece. If there is *any* play you will have a gap when you put in the mating broken connector. A gap means the bond won't be strong, which it needs to be in order to overcome the resistance of the jack retainer mechanism (likely just two opposing pieces of bent wires).

I would try using a paperclip with a very, very, very small drop of Super Glue on the end. That way you can make sure it's pushing against the piece still trapped inside. If you can't guarantee a tight connection, the bonding agents simply won't work effectively.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:37 PM on April 11, 2009

Your best bets above are probably dental tools/lockpicks or trying to glue the broken stub on to what's in the laptop already. Unfortunately you probably can't match the broken ends completely, since you probably can't see the rotation of the tip that's inside the laptop.

Also note that, because the jack is probably not fully enclosed, if you go in with dental tools you run the risk of the tip dropping through the jack and into the body of the laptop -- I'd to this with the power off (and the battery out); if it drops into the body you may be able to shake it to a spot where you can retrieve it without too much disassembly.

Another option would be to tin a stretch of bare wire and attempt to solder it to what's left in the jack (aka, insert 1" of bare wire into hole, press against center of broken stub, and heat from the outside with a soldering iron). Note that this is definitely ninja-level soldering since if you put too much in there it'll wick around the edges and solder the tip to the jack (in which case, well, game over).
posted by range at 1:45 PM on April 11, 2009

I should also have said that your very best friends here will be (a) a very, very bright light you can shine down the hole while you work and (b) doing this when you've gotten enough sleep and not drunk any coffee, so your hands are steady. I'm with Civil_Disobedient that paperclip + superglue is probably the best bet, with plenty of practice so you know you can hit the bullseye reliably.
posted by range at 1:48 PM on April 11, 2009

I agree with the lock pick suggestion. A locksmith would sell you a broken key extractor, it is a flat thin sharply pointed tool with a fish hook sort of end. You wiggle it in next to the broken piece and then pull it out, put a little twist into it as you do. Because what you are dealing with is smaller than a keyhole, you might try an actual fish hook straightened out.
posted by InkaLomax at 2:50 PM on April 11, 2009

On a couple hours pondering I really like the approach with the drinking straw. I'd take a full size one and slit it down the side so it can curl up the diameter of the hole (maybe trim it a little bit so there's not a lot of excess). Then push it in firmly to see if I could dislodge the broken bit from the springs. Then try the super glue/epoxy trick so the only things for it to stick to are the straw or the jack.

Good luck!

If you can power off the laptop and remove the hard drive, you could try a stronger magnet.

The magnets inside the laptop's hard drive are probably the most powerful in your house (outside of another hard drive) so using a magnet is not a danger to the hard drive. You're thinking floppy disks.

posted by Ookseer at 2:57 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another idea: see if a solder sucker can pull the plug out.
posted by zippy at 3:21 PM on April 11, 2009

A variation of the straw technique:

Wrap the remaining end of the tip with cellophane tape, leaving half the width of the tape extending out from the bit, forming a tube that has the same inner diameter as the tip.

Wind it around the tip enough times so that it is fairly stiff, but still narrow enough to fit into the jack.

Now you have a tube that will fit snugly over the lost tip, with the added benefit of an adhesive inside.
posted by orme at 4:35 PM on April 11, 2009

I broke the tip end of a 1/4 inch plug off inside an acoustic guitar once. I'm suspicious of all these superglue suggestions because the amount you would need to make a solid bond on an 1/8 inch plug and the amount that would squeeze out and cause more problems is probably too close to call. What eventually worked, because plugs are hollow, is a wood screw twisted into the plug remnant and then just pulling it out. Now, since you're working with a 1/8 plug you're going to need a thin screw, but Home Depot or any local hardware store should have bins of screws you can look through to find the right length and width. Good luck.
posted by knowles at 4:40 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm in the "disassemble & push out from the back" camp - but I have successfully used something like the plastic straw method on one occasion, albeit when the broken part of the plug wasn't fully home.

The trick was that I used some fairly thin-walled (i.e. cheap) 3 or 4mm heatshrink tubing I had lying around. Stiff enough & with a big enough ID to be pushed over the end of the plug, thin enough to fit between the plug & the wall, & rubbery/grippy enough to pull it out.
posted by Pinback at 5:21 PM on April 11, 2009

I don't like any of the glue on a stick or paper clip suggestions. I think that there is a high probability that it won't work and you will just glue the remaining piece in place.

I do like the various suggestions about trying to fit a piece of straw or heakshrink tubing over the stuck piece. Putting some epoxy glue inside the tubing would make it less like to get smeared on the inside of the jack.

My variation would be to go to a well equipped hobby store and take along a similar headphone jack. I would buy a piece of brass or aluminum tubing that will just fit over the end of the jack. You might also have to buy some needle files so you can file it to make it fit. You may also have to file down the outside diameter to fit. Then I would push the tubing over the stuck piece and try yanking it out quickly.

BTW, I bought a nice set of portable headphones from Newegg that came with an optional USB adapter. I could plug the phones into either a standard audio jack or a USB port. The USB adapter did not require any drivers. One of those adapters could be your solution if you can't get the rest of the plug out.
posted by 14580 at 7:50 PM on April 11, 2009

kc8nod is on the right track. What you can do is cut a slice out of the straw until you can squeeze it down to the right diameter. This way you don't have to find exactly the right size straw. Make certain the sliced edge is on the top side and then run a drop of super glue down the inside of the straw. As long as you don'tuse too much, it will stop when it hits the broken piece.After it sets the whole setup should slide out easily. Just be careful with the superglue. As other have said any in the wrong place will ruin the jack.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 8:07 PM on April 11, 2009

This happened to me! I was able to get it out by taking the other half of the broken plug and screwing it into the jack--there was enough threading on one of the ends that it caught the broken bit and it came right out.
posted by bink at 8:44 PM on April 11, 2009

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