I tried Damn Small linux, Knoppix etc. They load but I could not see my hard drives.
I have used both OS's you have mentioned to rescue stuff from crashed winbloze systems. You need to mount the drives in either OS before you can copy the files.
DSL has 3.1 has what looks like an icon, kind of square, on the desktop. It may say floppy on it when you first boot. Click that word area, and it will change to CDRom hda hdb etc. There is another button you click once to mount the selected drive. Then you can open a bash console or the file manager and copy to your hearts delight.
Knoppix 5.1.1 shows icons on the desktop for each partition. If they are not mounted, there will be the lack of a little green triangle in the lower right corner. Click the icon, I think you get a menu, and there is an option to mount. Once mounted, ( read only ) you can copy in a console or use Konqueror to copy away.
Key thing is to mount the partition and then you can copy.