Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beautiful Legs

Today was a better day than Monday. Thanks to those who gave their encouragement during my frustrations.

Earlier in the year I was on the leg run from Ryan. The legs had a lot of heavy grind marks from the welder not taking pride in his work. When a friend of mine saw them he really wanted to take them and clean them up for me.

He took them to "Revive Customs", his muscle car restoration shop in San Bruno where he used red finishing putty and a heavy dose of filler primer on them. Below is the result:

Now they just need a wet sand with 400 and a few coats of white paint!

Special thanks to Ron Gomez of Revive Customs in San Bruno, CA.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Most of the time people post about all their successes and the great work that is being done. Its great to share those things, but why doesn't anyone share their failures and frustrations?

R2 Building is not easy. It takes a lot of time and it takes some failures along the way. Today was one of those days. It was the single most frustrating day in my build so far.

Lets start with this crappy rust bucket car in my garage. Its not mine, its for a "Youth project" which is never going to happen. It crowds my workspace so that I have less than 2.5x3 feet of space in front of my work bench, and I have to crawl over the hood to get there. Just tonight it has been responsible for the loss of 3 screws and a small wrench. It has also torn some of my better jeans with its rusty snags.

As I continued work on my dome plates, I blew out one of the JB welded screws (one of the lost) and had a heck of a time getting the dome plates in place once the HP's and logics were involved.

So, I tried a hand at getting the PSI's set up. I couldn't get the PVC assembly right for holding the lenses and attaching to the plate. I guess I just realized how little I know on the subject, which left me throwing my hands in the air with resignation.

If all that wasn't enough, I found out that my green LED's on my rear PSI have a short and like to go out on me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dome Ring and Component Plates

I have been working on R2 in the evenings over the last few days and I was finally able to get the HDPE ring and lower ring installed on my 300mm dome.

I also continued work on my "Component Plates" that will be mounted inside the dome. Each plate holds the components for the dome (HP's, Logics, PSIs ,etc.) in either the front or the back. Theoretically this makes it easier to install and remove things for working on them and maintaining them later.

Below you can see the various component holes cut from the plates and how the plates fit in the dome.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dome Electronics Mounting

As I looked at the various methods that people have used to mount their HP's, Logics and various electronic boards into their domes, I found that I prefer to give Chris James' method a try.

First thing I did was put my HDPE ring in the dome and mark the upper edge with a marker so that I would know where my panel was supposed to sit.

I bought 2 pieces of 1/4" ABS that were 6"x20". These dimensions were greater than Chris' recommendation, but I wanted to be sure there was plenty of extra plastic hanging out the sides. This gives me a place to mount some servos and boards as needed.

The heat gun wasn't working well because of the volume of plastic, so I had to heat it in the oven.

My broiler wasn't working well (top heating) so I turned the oven on bake. Also the sheets were too long for my cookie sheets so I had to put two side by side. I also had to set the temp to 350 to get much of a result.

After minute I could see the plastic sagging and tried to move it. I found it sticking to one cookie sheet and that the side over the other sheet was still firm. I flipped it around to even out the heat and that did the trick.

Once I got it heated it formed in the dome really well. Results did vary though. The second sheet was problematic and burnt a little on one side. It also got a little deformed, but nothing that I cant fix with a heat gun applied to small areas.

The next step is drilling and countersinking holes so that the plastic can be mounted. With it firmly in place, I can mark the ares where it will need to be cut to allow pass through, such as the PSI's, Logics and the back end of the HP's.

I will continue to post progress as I make the remaining modifications.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cutting the Dome

Today I did some of the final cutting on my dome. Its been a while since I started the task. You can see me cutting my HP and PSI holes in a previous post. Cutting panels has been a completely different task. The previous work was done with Chris James hole cutter but for the panels I used my dremel tool.

Being nervous about cutting the curves of the pie panels and taking too much material off by accident, I hated the thought of attacking the job with a thick dremel in hand. I had also added a personal requirement that the scrap cut out be in one usable piece that I could attach to the bottom of the opening panels. So I tackled the problem in 2 ways.

First, I put the etching cable attachment on the tool but with the rotary blade. The cable slows things down a bit but that was ok because I did not want to witness the firepower of this fully operational tool.

After tracing my panels on to the dome and masking off the areas with some blue tape for a clearer guide line, I etched the lines on the dome at an extremely slow speed. Then I took another pass at slightly higher speed to form a groove.

Once I had the groove at a comfortable depth I turned the tool up near high and carved about a 1.5mm deep line that could be followed easily with a hack saw. After that I kept the dremel in one place long enough to create a starter hole for the other saw.

You can see the final dremel cuts in the pic below. I know my dome has several scratches and nicks that have come with constantly taking the outer dome on and off, but most of that wont matter once I clean it up with some sand paper.

With the lines nicely etched and the starter holes in place, cutting the panels out is super easy and clean. There is very little filing or sanding to do. I was confident enough with the ease of this last step that I even let my little apprentice to take a hand at it. Since she is interested in robotics and all things Star Wars she is very excited about this droid building process and is learning a great deal by helping out. So far, she has helped me mount the ankles and has cut several pie panels out of the dome.

For those wondering, she isn't leaning on the dome. I thought so at first, but she showed me that she was simply holding it in place. She already knows better than to mess with a delicate dome top. :)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Radar Eye and Lens

I know that my previous post showed the Radar Eye attached to the dome, but it was just held there with tape. This week I have been working with the resin eye to get the curve just right for the 300mm dome.

In the process of working on that, my wife suddenly got up with an exclamation and went to the kitchen. I heard some terrible plastic noises and she returned with a clear radar eye lens for me to try out.

She had cut the lens from a Washington Apples carton from Costco. pictured below.

I tested the fit and it was pretty good. Im not an expert on the lens curve but this seems really close to perfect. It slightly protrudes from the front.

After a number of tests trying to heat the plastic with a hair dryer and mold a lip around the back I gave up on the idea. The plastic was too thin and warped badly. So I decided that I will have to cut the whole thing down once the resin piece is properly shaped.

To add strength to the eye I cut 2 pieces. I plan to paint the inner piece with black paint and then place the outer one on top to add the gloss. I have also considered filling the inner piece with some bondo to give it slightly more durability.

This is just a cheap fix for now. Later I will probably replace it with something better, but its one less thing I have to spend money on before WonderCOn.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Standing Droid

This week Chris came over and we talked through a few of the problems that I was trying to work through on R2. He has challenged me to get the droid up and running for WonderCon at the end of Feb 09 which will be one year since I met him and discovered the group.

When he looked at my parts collection he recommended that I get everything that I have put together so that I know what I really need to deal with before the goal date.

I took his advice to heart, but it left me with some work to do.

First, I had to unpack all my feet that were still in grease and get them cleaned up. I filed down the area where the ankle connects until I got a decent fit and then put a few coats of primer on them.

Then I began the assembly of the legs-feet, finding out that I needed a run to Ace for some hardware. It turned out that the screws required by the threads in Ryan's legs were larger than the holes in the ankles so I had to drill the ankles out a bit.

All of that done, I was ready to mount the legs, but the bushings that I had for connecting to the frame were the wrong size. Rather than spending money for different ones (not even sure where they came from) I just used the grinding wheel and whittled them down to size.

Here is the result of all that work:

So now we have R2 standing in the living room. His center ankle is not attached to the base plate, nor is the center foot attached to the ankle. I don't have any of that hardware yet. Either way, he looks good standing there and my family was very excited to have something to see for all the work that has been put in this far.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Front Logics

Its been a while since I have posted any progress. That's mostly due to a very slow collecting of parts and the need to replace some tools.

Now that I'm back to work on my dome, I finished sanding the HP holes and went to work on the Logic panels. When I finished cutting the front logic area, I put the surrounds in place only to find that they were not well adjusted to the thickness of my dome.

Apparently the thickness of the 300mm dome is greater than that of the C&J domes and others. Its a positive thing because the dome is more sturdy but when both inner and outer dome are put together, the thickness is great enough that the logic panel is recessed.

Not all of the pictures taken came out, but here is one that shows the logics looking perfectly placed. The problem is that what you are seeing is only the inner dome. The outer thickness hasnt been added yet. All in all I think its a couple of mm short.

I'm not sure how to handle the problem yet. I considered filing down the outside of the logics so that they would sit flush, but that runs the risk of messing up the perfect curve on the face. Another option would be to take a little off of the inner dome.

I'll post the results when I know what I'm going to do.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

First Cuts

Last weekend Chris James came over and helped me with the first cuts to the inner dome.

I had to learn the ways of the force, such as, finding the center of a circle and how to use a hole cutter.

We had some laughs as I got started, but all was well in the end.

I confess that I wasnn't very nervous cutting the holes for the PSIs or the HPs, but when I started on the pie panels I definitely felt the fear.

I still have pie panels left to cut, as well as the fire extinguisher door. I also need to cut the logic holes but there isn't any use for that until I have the logic surrounds.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Maker Faire Interview

While at Maker Faire last weekend we did a lot of talking with people about how to build droids. It stands mentioning because usually at Con's people just love R2 for who he is, they get their pics and move on. They don't really consider what it takes to make him work, or anything.

While Chris was on break I did this interview in his place. Gerard didn't want to get in front of the camera, so he just pointed them to me (I guess he already has my personality nailed). I just thought I would share my moment in the sun with my readers (all 2 of you). Please forgive the sound levels. It was a noisy warehouse and required talking loudly to be heard, which would have been fine if they had done some editing for the final product.

Here is another one from Education Day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Attaching the Rockler Bearing

It was a good weekend at Maker Faire. We won 4 "Editor's Choice" awards, and they can't wait to have us back again next year. We also made it into the NY Times and the Official Star Wars Blog.

Monday was like Christmas. My Rockler Bearing and my center foot arrived. The center foot box had been cut open for inspection. I guess Homeland Security doesn't like small, heavy packages that contain large amounts of steel.

So, tonight I finally had time to head to the garage and work on mounting my bearing.

First, I removed all of the little rubber feet that are inserted into the rings. I tapped up the bearing with masking tape to prevent metal flakes from ruining it, and marked out the areas on the outer ring where the rubber feet had been removed.

The v4 Frame is tapped in 4 places for a 1/4" screw, so I marked off 4 of the 8 partial holes for drilling out. Once the holes were drilled and the tape CAREFULLY removed I checked the holes to be sure that everything fit well.

With that done, I added the 3 screws to the inner ring that will be used to hold the dome and dome plate in place.

All that was left after that was bolting the bearing into place with the 4 screws. I used a split lock washer and a lock nut on each one.

Now that I have that done, its back to the waiting game again. I am currently waiting on my PSI's and my 300mm Dome to arrive.

I'm also trying to find a way to get in on both of the current runs of aluminum legs and steel outer feet which is difficult when you are on a budget.

I think that budget and run timing will continue to be a problem for me. I was introduced to the group by Chris, who has built an impeccable droid, with all aluminum. After seeing such an amazing piece of work, I have a hard time compromising on other materials for parts.

Having said that, I will probably be using resin for any of the blue parts and also for the half moon foot details. That will save me some money (and weight) without compromising the look in any way.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Frame Complete

Today I received and assembled my v4 JAG frame.

This weekend it will be on display at Maker Faire in the San Mateo Fair Grounds. The Bay Area R2 Builders will be exhibiting 2 (Chris James' and Gerard's) R2-D2's. My frame will be there to show the early steps to getting started.

I am currently waiting on my 300mm Dome, Steel Center Foot, PSI's and Rockler Bearing.

Complete part layout (below)

Assembled Frame (below)

Monday, April 7, 2008

First Paint Tests

Today I started testing the paint that I picked up over the weekend. It comes in three cans. A base coat, a color coat and a clear top coat.

To test these out, I cut apart an aluminum can and started spraying. After adding the minimum number of secondary coats and no clear coat, this is what my torn up can looks like:

Single overhead light and flash (above)

Light from all sides and flash. Shows the full range of color shift.(above)

Light from all sides, no flash and extreme angle (above)

The pics with the multiple light sources resemble what the paint looks like outside. I still need to test it a little more in areas with a lot of overhead florescent lights to be sure that it will look good on a convention floor.

Note: I did the base coat in my garage last night and the limited lighting was tricky on the eyes. The large piece of aluminum was not well covered with the base paint and it shows (at least to me).

So, for anyone reading this let me know what you think of the color scheme. If you know anything about lighting and this sort of paint, give me feedback on the pitfalls or benefits of going this route.


Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Road Less Traveled

Its been a while since I started on this process and I have learned a few things. If you don't have access to a machine shop, building a solid droid will be a long and expensive process.

As a result, I have become a parts collector. As people with certain skills pump out a set of parts I need, I have to get in on it or wait a long time until the event occurs again (like waiting for Haley's Comet as far as I'm concerned).

Being a parts collector is not too bad, but keeping the available cash to purchase things when they are available is the tough part. Most people are like me, living on the edge. With a clergy salary that only pays the mortgage (literally) and living off of the second income of my wife/secretary, I have turned to collecting recyclables from everyone I can so that I can redeem them for droid money.

Its a bit ironic I guess, recycling all that aluminum so that I can purchase more aluminum. My friends hear me constantly say, "If you throw that can away, you are stealing from R2! Hes crippled and needs feet you barbarian!"

So on to the actual meaning of my post title...

I have decided that I don't want to make just another R2-D2. There are several of those out there (at least 2 completed here in the SF Bay). I want to do a custom job, providing the paint that I want comes out correctly when applied.

My wife had the idea of using color change auto paint to replace just the blue parts of R2. I wasn't sure what it would take to do that but found that the paint was readily available at Kragen Auto Parts. (Photoshopped concept to the left)

Providing it all works out and he looks good that way, I figured on calling him R2-XS since his colorful bling looks to be a little bit in excess.

It is also worth noting here that I have started using the Droid Cost Summary sheet. I uploaded it to Google Documents so that I can share it with my wife.

I went through and populated it with all of the parts I can name and added URLs or names of people where the parts can be purchased. It helped me create a comprehensive checklist as well as organize all of the URLs to various hobby stores that were beginning to clutter my favorites list.

Friday, March 7, 2008

My first R2

On a nostalgic note, my dreams of building an R2 were first realised back when I was 8 or 9 years old. Our family visited the Estes Rocket factory in Colorado and I came away with an R2 Rocket kit that I put together and launched.

I tried to locate one today but they don't really exist any more. I think the basic reason for it is that R2 doesn't fly well when launched from a center rocket. Here is someone else's YouTube version of what happened to mine.

After mine hit the ground the legs broke off and the chute was burned up due to engineering problems.

Back to the progress of building a life size droid...

I have been reading about 12v vs 24v systems and looking at wiring diagrams and all of that stuff. Its a bit difficult building a context for some of what I am looking at since I have never done any of this before. It can be overwhelming at times.

Also, I have been struggling over the idea of people purchasing parts, vs. making them yourself. Obviously if your budget is severely limited (like mine) then you cant afford to purchase thousands of dollars in aluminum parts, which may force you to build your own out of other materials.

The result is that you sacrifice realism and a certain amount of quality for cost effectiveness. On the other hand, you have the pride of crafting your own droid, rather than just building one (as one would a model plane).

I know that I will have to purchase some parts that I just can't make look good enough, but it may take me years to nickel and dime them as part runs come out. I'm also trying to find ways to machine some of my own aluminum parts so that I can have the quality without the cost, but my machining resources are limited and sketchy at best.

So in the mean time, as I continue to read and plan, I have also designated the family change box as the "Droid Fund". When I cleared it out last time it had almost enough for my Dome down payment.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

In the beginning...

Back before Episode III I started prop building and costuming. I ended up focused on Light sabers and leather working for Jedi Belts, all of which landed me in the Rebel Legion.

Fast forward several years I'm in a new town and needing new challenges. So I went to San Francisco's WonderCon hoping to make some connections with Star Wars geeks of like mind, which is where I was introduced to the R2 Builders.

I have always loved R2-D2 and like every kid of the 70's dreamed of having one of my own. So when I saw the R2 units driving around WonderCon I had to stop and talk with the builders. It was there I met Chris James and found out that he was virtually a neighbor.

After meeting him and joining the R2 Builders Group at Yahoo, I decided that it was time for me to take on new challenges and give this a go. So, I started reading the boards as much as possible. I took the advice of starting a folder of print outs and images and I took the leap of faith to order a dome (since there was a run happening with a few extras available).

I know that most people advise months of research before starting on this project. I didn't fully take that advice for several reasons:

1. I'm basically adult ADD. I cant process that much technical crap without starting somewhere and just getting things done.
2. The information is overwhelming and I just needed to start something in order to get my head around things.
3. If I took too much time theorizing about things then I would just end up being a talker rather than being a doer.

I have taken the leap of faith and started this thing off. Let me say off hand that I could not have taken this leap of faith without the support of family. Many people have spouses and children with varying needs and ideas about the coolness (or lack) of Star Wars replica building.

In my situation, I have a wife that is highly supportive and looks forward to having an R2 that we can be proud of. My kids think Star Wars is the coolest thing in the world and are frustrated that they aren't old enough to be Rebel Legion members themselves. :) What that means is that this is at least starting off as a family project. The beauty of all that is that my wife approves of spending money on parts and my family won't feel like they have been widowed by R2.

Like me you may be wanting to start a droid, but you are worried about taking it on because you have "no skills". As I start this off, I want to let you know about me and my skills that I have coming into the project...

MY SKILLS (Or lack of)

I have worked on prop building in a few areas:
1. Taking Bondo/Resin parts and modifying them with a dremel tool, prepping and painting them to look real.
2. Dremeling aluminum parts to create light saber pieces.
3. Taping aluminum with threads (for blade length adjusters that hold in removable blades)
4. Soldering minor electrical parts together for lighting and power sources. I have never created any special kind of circuit and have no idea what most of the electrical components on a board are called (much less how they function).
5. I have done some mechanical work on cars and have a basic understanding of tools and gears.
6. I spent time in Wood Shop, Auto Shop and Welding Shop in school, but never completed a semester in either. I have also spent time in Machine shops watching other people work, but have no skills in the craft.


I began by looking at an old version of a frame that looked like I could cut by hand. I started creating a styrene prototype with basic styrene boards from Office Depot. It helped me see some details missing in the frame and made me think about what I would need in order to accomplish the droid that I want to build.

Here are the current specs of the droid that I would like to create. I'm sure that later I will look back and realise how much I failed to take into account, but never the less, here it is:

1. Authentic looking droid - I don't want to have to paint wood or resin parts to look aluminum. If its a raw aluminum part, I want it to be made of aluminum.
2. Hatches in the dome and in the body to open and close. In the future maybe those can be automated.
3. Periscope, fire extinguisher and life form scanner functions in the dome.
4. I would like to explore sound and motion sensors in the dome to see if some automation is possible. As well as the possibility of web cam functions in the radar eye.
5. Radio controlled with the possibility of the feet becoming 2-3-2 in the future.
6. The Droid should be sound enabled so that he sounds like R2 and has options for playing a range of beeps and whistles.

So, there it is. I am waiting for my dome (still paying for it) and searching for framing options.
I'm also clearing a work space in my garage so that I will be able to work freely. In the meantime, I keep reading the boards and blogs to find out what I don't know.