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X52 Modification: Saitek Suicide?

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Contrary to the theme set by this title, I have no intention of making my x52 completely INOP. And I'm not the first person to do this - a search on Google will quickly find a site called Saitek.RU, which for those who can read Cyrllic, shows a reader the internals of a Saitek x52 stick. But my project, following in the steps of another Hovercontrol pilot by the name of Paul Metzner, will have me taking the stick off the Saitek x52 and mounting it onto an extended shaft.

Th Saitek X52, All in one piece, before surgery!

Obviously, this means we need to know what's inside the stick, and how it's all put together. Since we can't read Russian, someone literate in English needs to suck it in and dismantle the most expensive, most complicated joystick in the mainstream computer electronica market.

Before I continue, some some consequences need to be made clear. Saitek, like most manufacturers, does not like people taking their stuff apart and rebuilding it. In doing so, you voluntarily void your warranty - that means if you render the stick INOP, you'll pay full price to replace it. By spending $400 Canadian just to keep a working Saitek hooked up to your computer, you might as well have gotten a Thrustmaster Cougar! This project is approached understanding this completely, and I assume NO responsibility if you try the same thing and screw something up.

That said, I got my screwdriver (and Allen wrenches, more on this in a moment) and got to work.

1. HANDGUARD: The first step involved the removal of the handguard. There are four Allen screws - two at the bottom and two at the top. To remove the adjustment knob, look at the front, down its "nose." You will see a small screw - take this out first, and the entire assembly comes apart.

2. HANDREST: Once the handguard is off, this shouldn't be too difficult to remove. USE CAUTION! The metal pinky button will fall off, and the switch itself is attached with a -very- light wire. Remove three screws on the underside of the handrest and the switch comes off. It can not be entirely removed without cutting this wire - let it hang.

3. SIDE PANEL: Remove the screws on the side, about five in all. Taking care of spring tension, gently pull it away from the stick. You can now see everything - the workings of the twist grip, the extensive wiring, the small terminal block that holds it in, and the creative mechanism that gives us a double-stage trigger.

Disassembly is not recommended beyond this step as the wires do not have much play - my project will involve the removal of the entire stick assembly, some modification to put the twist-action potentiometer to a different use, and the addition of a longer cyclic shaft.

This is just a preliminary examination for the project itself. As I proceed, I'll be taking as many pictures as I can and posting them in this thread, with my thoughts and questions - anyone who can help is free to provide input. (Though with my history here of trying to get dialog on anything, maybe my wording should be "encouraged to provide input.")

First Thoughts :

The x52, like many other high-quality peripherals, is robust and well-built. About six months ago, when I bought my x52, I destroyed a Thrustmaster AfterBurner Fox 2, a joystick with a history of problems and issues. On disassembly, I found out why... the Fox 2 uses cheap parts. The potentiometers are little black parts of a Chinese mass-manufacture nature, the wiring was pathetic copper strands looking like they were used from a set of headphones, and there was so much red grease in the actuator assembly the biggest mystery was how none of it ever leaked out.

If you happen to own this stick, you'll be startled to know the reason it's so heavy isn't because of electronics or high-quality material. Small sections of steel, used for weight, are strategically hot-glued to the inside of the stick's base, assumably to give it more heft (we often allude heavy things to being expensive) and to give it more stability when swinging it around while playing games of similar names as the joystick itself.

The Saitek series, on the other hand, is a carefully considered piece of work. Yes, it's very big, but little of this space is wasted. I was surprised to find as the side panel of the stick came off that it was full. The unusually thick base that the stick has isn't just to dedicate it to the right-handed of pilots - it contains a small terminal block with a dozen colored wires, a potentiometer fixed to a spring, a base for the centering mechanism's spring, and at least two microswitches for the trigger assembly. And this is just the stuff I could see.

Contrary to what my disclaimer says, it almost feels as Saitek had modders like Steve, Paul, and so many others in mind when they built this stick. It's surprisingly painless to put together and take apart - unlike the Thrustmaster, which seemed put together like a puzzle determined to confuse anyone attempting to pry into its plastic dungeons. No cheap heat-fusing or esoteric screw-work was involved, so you don't need to buy a $70 triangle-bit screwdriver to get this done.

The reason for this is probably because these sticks are hand-assembled, and as a consequence, need to be easily put together. This, as further consequence, makes them just as easily broken down.

Once I've committed to separating the stick from its base, I expect the process to go somewhat quietly from the first snip of the wire. Though the project will go slow and cautiously (this is my only joystick), the biggest problem I anticipate is that Canadian Tire may not have PVC or plastic fittings I can use to attach the stick to the pipe, or the pipe to the base.