Don’t try this at home – Deconstructing a PS3 Sixaxis Controller

Yesterday I noticed that the X button on one of my controllers was sticking.  I got the bright idea that I should take apart the controller, and clean the buttons; figured some trash or sticky gunk would be causing the problem.  I have disassembled plenty of controllers for all manner of systems, but I have never had the opportunity (or reason) to dismantle a Sixaxis controller.

I figured the project only required a few simple tools.  My mini screwdriver set, some isopropyl alcohol, and some q-tips.  I have cleaned plenty of controller and classic game cartridges, and these are all the tools that are needed.

Getting started was difficult; the controller was a pain in the ass to open.  Removing the five tiny screws that hold the two halves of the controller in place was straight forward, but getting the halves to separate was an altogether different experience.  You can imagine the cussing that ensued when a couple of the shoulder buttons “popped” out and onto counter and floor.  Lucky for me, only the left side fell apart.

Once I got the two halves separated, I had to remove one screw that held the top part of the controller casing to the guts of the Sixaxis.  If the outer shell screws were small, this one is about half their size; so supper tiny for lack of a better description.

Once the screw was removed, another small piece fell onto the counter; this time I had no idea where this part belonged.  At first I thought it went around the USB port, but it obviously did not fit.  For now, we will call this “part X.”  This deconstruction project was not going so well.  I just wanted to unstick the X button; instead I had a $50 pile of junk on the kitchen counter.

I was left with an empty shell (the bottom), an empty shell (the top), a circuit board with attached battery, some shoulder button parts, and “part X” which was a little piece that did not obviously belong anywhere.

The next part of the project was fairly simple.  The top shell contains four buttons with a large plastic covering that helps make contact to the circuit board.  The directional pad is one large piece of plastic, with an additional crosshair plastic part, which looks like it helps apply pressure to the large plastic covering that helps make contact with the circuit board.  Not having an engineering degree, I am not sure what the technical names are, but there is a green microfilm layer that looks like it has most of the circuitry (i.e. it is a microfilm overlay for the circuit board).

I put some isopropyl alcohol on some q-tips and proceeded to clean the microfilm overlay.  I carefully removed the plastic coverings for the buttons and directional pad, and cleaned them.  Each button received special attention, was cleaned, and put back in place.  I did notice that the crosshair part that covered the directional pad was missing a small piece of plastic (i.e. it was broken).  This controller has always had a rattle; I assumed it has been broken for a while.  Taking the controller apart required a lot of force, so I assume the broken part flew across the kitchen somewhere, never to be found again.  Well, actually my dog or youngest son will probably find, and both will decide it should be eaten.  Nothing to be done about it now.

With everything debris free and nice and clean, I turned my attention to the left shoulder buttons.  I had three parts in my hand – L1 and L2 buttons, and a part that somehow fit in-between both.  The L2 button was actually a combination metal cylinder rod, plastic part, and button facing.  I had to put all three back together.  The green microfilm overlay somehow fits into the casing that holds the L2 button.  I tried to do some reverse engineering by looking at the right shoulder buttons, with little success.  At first I got the assembly backwards, which prevented the left shoulder button housing from attaching to the controller casing correctly.  After a lot of time and effort I finally had the left shoulder buttons reassembled.

Unfortunately, the L2 button did not work correctly; it should have some give (analog sensitivity), but it just pressed inward.  After more reverse engineering, I noticed that the R2 button had some sort of spring (or wire) that must help with the pressure sensitivity.  I figured I was out of luck, and the missing spring was gone for good, but I noticed it in my small screwdriver set tray.  I was back in business!

After another round of cussing and fussing, I finally had the spring around the metal cylinder rod, and the left shoulder buttons reassembled.  I just do not have the manual dexterity for this type of work, but I was now on the homestretch.

Up to this point the controller had not been on, but as I put the screw in place that holds the circuit board to the top shell, all of a sudden, the controller indicator light started flashing.  It finally settled in on the first controller slot (i.e. Controller Number 1).  Continuing with assembly, I finally figured out that the “part X” must go around the trigger that resets the controller (located on the bottom of the Sixaxis).  More pain and suffering, and I finally had the controller up and working.

Well, not working, but the PS3 was on, but the controller was not.  No matter what button I pressed, I could not get the controller to turn on.  I was surprised that the controller had such a long range; a good 20 yards three rooms and several walls.  I had to take apart the controller again (this time it was easier because I had the process down) and turn “part X” around, reassemble, and try again.

This time everything worked.  I used the controller for some MLB 08 The Show, and the X button was no longer sticking.  As far as I can tell the other buttons are nice and responsive, but I need to play some other games that require extensive use of the shoulder buttons to make sure they were put back together correctly.

So far so good, but I am going to think twice before deconstructing another Sixaxis controller!

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2 thoughts on “Don’t try this at home – Deconstructing a PS3 Sixaxis Controller”

  1. Best to get a professional to look at it or buy a new one off ebay or sony as the controllers are a pest to get back together I should know I tried this and I would definitely not try this again

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