What to Do With Old Routers: Useful Projects & Repurposing [How-To]
Don’t throw away your old routers! Or at least consider an alternative use for it before throwing it out. While the technology may seem obsolete, you can still make good use of your old device, depending on your level of ingenuity, skill, and boredom.
Alternative Uses For Your Old Router
Install custom router firmware to extend functionality, like port forwarding
DD-WRT or OpenWRT (steeper learning curve) are two open source firmware options to renew your old router’s functionality, if your router is compatible.
Why: Use the custom firmware to set up port forwarding for a local website, configure your router as a wireless bridge for a wired device, or a repeater to extend your existing network range. Router port forwarding is used to allow remote computers to connect to a specific service or computer on a Local Area Network.
- Let’s say you are traveling and want to connect to your computer in your house, and the computer at home is connected to the LAN home network. One of the ways to connect to your home computer is to port forward SSH (port 22) in your home router to your computer’s IP address, and open that ssh port on your computer. Now, if you try to SSH to your public IP address you will be forwarded to your computer at your house.
- Suppose you want to host a website on your computer and you want everyone on the internet to be able to access your website — well then, you will want to setup port forwarding. Port forward HTTP (port 80) or HTTPS (port 443) from your router to the computer IP address (on which your website is deployed). Now anyone with your public IP address can access your website.
These are just two examples where port forwarding is utilized; you could also setup port forwarding to access a camera connected to your LAN, access the printer connected on your LAN from anywhere in the world, or host a game server on your machine and invite friends to connect with it.
How: To forward your ports
Disable the WiFi Access Point, and use your old router as a LAN switch
Why: Configure the router as a switch, or as an Access Point in order to extend the network into a far-away room in your house. Because Ethernet connections are best: online gaming and streaming video is more reliable utilizing Ethernet than wireless.
So, Ethernet connections are more secure and faster than WiFi, but how many LAN ports does your current router boast?
- If you run out of Ethernet ports, add more with a network switch — and if you have an old router laying around, you can use that as a switch; it’s essentially the networking version of a mains power bar, with additional ports plugged into one port on the router
- Your old router typically has four or more ports, so connecting will instantly increase the number of ports available. (Remember to disable wireless networking on the old router, to avoid conflicts.)
How: Login to the router’s web management interface to perform the change.
1. Assign an IP address to the secondary router, which is in the same subnet with the main router.
2.Turn off the DHCP on the secondary router. After this is completed, the router will become the switch.
3. Connect the 2 routers via LAN port.
Set up a network for your IoT smart devices
Why: Internet of Things (IoT) smart devices are directly linked to your private life and habits. If you have multiple smart devices (sensors, cameras, data collectors) in your home that are connected to your router, then you have multiple opportunities for potential cyber-attacks. If cyber-attackers can get to your router, then they can get to everything connected to that router.
How: Use your old router as a standalone internal network with a separate or hidden SSID. Connect all your IoT devices to this isolated network. Similar to creating a wireless bridge, the router can be linked to your main network, and you then simply connect your IoT devices to it. If you need to, you can easily pull the plug, and the built-in router firewall can be used to configure port connections.
If your devices need the Internet to function properly or to access remotely, connect your second router to your first router as described in the video above.
For the hardcore nerds, certain routers may feature a serial port via which you can repurpose your old router to work as a home automation server.
Set up a separate guest network
Why: If you have an AirBNB or share your network with roommates, you might want to isolate your network from their browsing history. Creating a guest network can also isolate their devices to that network and prevent them from accessing other devices on your main network. The purpose is to allow friends and family to use your WiFi network without exposing your internal network to whatever malconfigured device or apps they might use.
How: If your router has a guest network option, choose that. You can untick the box for ‘allow guest to access my local network’ and it will simply limit them to the internet, instead. This is the easiest solution, and you don’t need to add a new SSID; simply give your guest the password to the guest network (yes, make sure your guest network is secure).
Otherwise, add your old router to your new network, and make sure the routers are broadcasting on different channels (so as not to interfere which each other) and different network range.
- If you have a business or cafe and want to allow guest access, you can turn the old router into a hotspot. Configure the hotspot with a captive portal that makes the users agree to your terms, see ads, or make payments before continuing.
Add a NAS or raspberry pi to it as an isolated home network for serving media
Why: Sometimes you want a private network that has all your favourite music, movies, podcasts, and audiobooks ready to stream.
How: You’ll need a harddrive with your media on it. Plug that into your router’s LAN port or a USB por with the appropriate cable. Enable media sharing from within your router to open the right port. A dedicated NAS for your media server is also a good idea.
Why: What’s cooler than having a router radio? And modifying an old router yourself? You’ll need some other software, as well as a USB soundcard to output audio.
While not an easy build, and plenty of other internet radio options are available, these are still great projects that offer you hands-on experience and DIY insight into installing custom firmware, as well as an appreciation of how to stream music.
How: Check out the video above and the one below.
The video below illustrates how to modify a tiny TP-Link 703n wireless router into a standalone web radio, complete with volume and tuner knobs:
- Apparently the TP-Link 703n is a wireless router smaller than a credit card available from the usual Chinese resellers for about $20, and it is able to run OpenWRT. This inexpensive piece of hardware can thus be transformed into a device comparable to the Raspberry Pi — a complete Linux system with a few GPIO pins.
- Add an ATtiny85 connected to two pots and the internal UART. The audio is handled by a USB soundcard with an internal speaker.
Some routers can even be configured to play internet radio, if you install OpenWrt or DD-WRT custom router firmware.
Other home automation mods
Your old router is an embedded system that can be programmed to do cool things. Routers usually have GPIO pins, wireless and Ethernet port connectivity, and sometimes USB host port support.
Utilize any of these input interfaces to serve creative home automation needs: mod your router to make an LED signal, turn water valves on and off, remotely control appliances, etc. Use your imagination!
Use it as a hiding spot for valuables: crypto seed words, other small items
We need more hiding spots in a world gone increasingly authoritarian and idiocratic.
Use your imagination. Take the cover off and remove the innards and replace with your crypto keys or something else. Set it by your modem or on top of a bookcase near your office stuff, looking perfectly functional and natural.
How to Dispose of Old Routers
Okay, so maybe you don’t want to get creative with your old router, you just want to do something responsible with it.
- Donate: the best way to avoid e-waste is to repair and reuse old devices, but if you aren’t in the mood, then give it to somebody else who is. Goodwill accepts computer and electronics parts that are working (or not working, it seems), so if yours still has life in it, let it live again.
- Recycle: Goodwill also recycles e-waste. Lots of other programs might be available in your area, so do a quick internet search for local e-waste or computer donation centres to find the one closest to you. Some are great charities that refurbish computers and peripherals for people who need them.
If you’re going to sell your old router, do these things first.