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Birth of a Ray Gun

Saturday, October 15, 2011




There are more ways to make a ray gun than there are ray guns, but here's how we made mine, and some tips for getting started.

First, you'll need some raw materials to work with:

Every time we're in a thrift store, I pick up the $1 brass candlesticks. When I come home I disassemble them (almost all unscrew into three or more pieces) and throw them in my junk box. The same goes for any interesting metal construction leftovers, wire, nuts and bolts, etc.

Many people make their ray guns completely from metal, but I like the color and interest of adding glass. If you do, too, start collecting small glass bottles from home decor stores:

These were the pieces to a gun we later had to discard, because the bottle shattered during cutting. (Drat.) If completed, it would have looked a lot like John's red gun:


(You can see the finished piece here.)

Once you have your raw materials, start playing. Start with a bottle or large metal piece for the body, and then add various candle cups, plates, etc. to the front and back 'til you see a gun shape emerge:

I usually like the back end of the gun to be larger, and then taper to a point on the front. Search around for inspiration online, though, and see what styles you like.

I should note that you'll probably need to cut the bottle neck off for your design. For my first few I scored deeply all the way around the bottle with a grinding blade on a hacksaw, and then banged the bottle neck on the work bench to knock it off. It's not a pretty edge when you do it that way, but it gets the job done.

For later attempts John used the Dremel with a grinding blade to cut the bottles, which is much better, because then John's doing it. :D Be careful and go slow; bottles like these are cheap glass and break easily if you try to rush it.

To keep all the gun pieces together, we use a threaded metal rod. Many candlesticks have one inside, but if not you can find the rods at a hardware store. The beauty of candlesticks is that their pieces are all interchangeable: they use the same thread size. This lets you mix and match bits and still fit them all to the same rod.

That said, for the front piece of my gun we had to epoxy a nut inside the candle cup, to give the rod something to screw into:

Looking down into the candle cup.

Use steel epoxy putty for this, to stick to the metal. Screw the nut (or two, for added security) onto your rod, fill the candle cup with epoxy putty, and then jam the rod and nuts into the epoxy. (Make sure your angles are straight!) Tamp the putty down around the edges with a screwdriver, unscrew the rod, and let it cure.

Here's my ray gun body assembled:


Once your main body is figured out, lay it on a piece of paper and start sketching your handle. Again, look at pictures online for inspiration.

To get the proper curves and angles along the glass, we used this nifty tool called a contour gauge:

This model costs about $16, but I found another on Amazon for less than $7. Not too shabby.
For the handle, John started by gluing two pieces of 1.5 inch plywood together, clamping them together to dry over night. Next he glued my paper template to the wood, cut the piece out with a scroll saw, and used a router to round the edges.

Which gave us this:

Aren't power tools AWESOME?

You could almost be done at this point, unless you want to wire your gun up with some LEDs, which we did. In that case, you'll need to drill a few holes in the handle for the wires and trigger:

This looks like a wooden banana, but it's actually the underside of the handle. The larger hole is where the trigger button will go, and the smaller hole is for the wires to feed through. Both holes connect with each other inside.

Now, to wire your lights, you will need:

- Small batteries (we used three watch batteries, stacked, to get the voltage we needed)
- thin gauge wire
- electrical tape
- a switch (the small black button next to the tape)
- LEDs (we used two clear ones.)
- and finally (scary stuff alert): a soldering iron and solder - or you could try that nifty new conductible adhesive I've heard about. [Here's a link; it's called Wire Glue.]

This is a relatively easy set-up (said the person who didn't do it): you need to connect your batteries to the LEDs with your wire, with your switch in-between the batteries and LEDs on one side.

That's a different switch than we used for the guns, but this is just to show you the basic setup. The wire we used has both negative & positive side-by-side, but you can also use separate red and black wires.

Now, this is extremely low voltage stuff we're talking, so you can hold the bare wires on the batteries with your fingers and not feel a thing - except a little heat after a few seconds. So go ahead and play around with your LEDs and batteries:

Make sure your batteries add up to the correct amount of voltage for your LED. So if your LED is a 3 volt, you'll need two 1.5 volt button cell batteries. If you use too high of a voltage on your battery - like a 9 volt - you'll blow out the LED, destroying it. Too little, and it just won't light up as brightly (or possibly at all.)

To add the switch, carefully separate your two wires and cut one of them (it doesn't matter which) in the middle:

You'll be soldering the two wires to your LED on the end and to the two contacts on the switch in the middle. Your batteries, however, you can just tape in place with electrical tape. (Sandwich the batteries between the two wires.)

We didn't solder this bit because it's only an example, but again, you'll want to solder (or use that conductible glue) the LED to your wires:

Once this is done, you can see that the light turns on with your switch:


And goes off when the switch is off:

Ta da!

Ok, now that you've got those basics down (kind of, at least...), thread your wire through your gun handle and wire up your simple circuit. (Don't go soldering everything first, or you'll never get the wire threaded through.)


The LEDs go in the bottle, and the batteries can go either in your handle or the brass candle cups of your gun body - wherever they'll fit and won't be seen.

We used three button cell batteries, so they would only fit in the front of the gun. We then had to add a small copper pipe from the handle to the brass cup for the wire to feed through:

This actually ended up being one of my favorite features on the gun; I love the copper with the fuchsia glass. We added more copper by wrapping heavy gauge copper wire around the bottle, securing it with brass screws:

Those wires also hold the entire gun body to the handle; the only bit of glue used on the entire gun is under the decorative screw head on the grip.

As a final finishing touch, we filled the bottle with clear craft beads to help reflect and diffuse the light of the LEDs. It gives it a neat, icy look when the gun isn't lit, and also neatly hides the threaded rod and LEDs peeking out on the edges.

And finally, here's a quick vid of the gun in action:


Next time, we add "pew pew!" sound effects. :D


I hope this helps inspire some of you to make your own ray guns, and if so, please be sure to send me pictures!

Also, I'm looking for good tutorial sites and instructional videos on wiring LEDS, since I'm the newest of newbies and need someplace to refer folks who have more in-depth questions. If any of you have suggestions, would you list them in the comments? Thanks, guys!

Posted by Jen at 3:09 PM   |  38 comments  |   Labels: ,

Star Wars In A Whole New Light

Thursday, October 13, 2011

(This started out as a Facebook update, but then it got way too long!)

John & I watched the new Blu-ray Star Wars (the original) last night with friends, and WOW. Their TV allows you to increase the film's frame rate from 30 to 60, and when you combine that feature with the Blu-ray's quality, it shows you every pore, every hair, & every single background detail - it was actually kind of creepy! The movie looked completely different, and we kept making them stop & replay sections while I yelled, "And look at THAT!"


Things like the baby-pink eyeshadow Leia wore stood out in razor sharp detail (did YOU know she wore pink eyeshadow? 'Cuz I didn't!), and C3PO is *covered* in dents and scratches and gunk I never saw before last night. Lots of the background also jumped into focus, so much so it was hard to track the action sometimes; I was too absorbed in staring at the sets and prop dressings. Hard to believe all that detail was on the original film, and we've just never seen it before now!

Oh, and the best part? In the final dogfight, you can CLEARLY see Darth Vader's eyes through his helmet in several scenes. It was surreal; you could literally see behind the mask! (And his eyeshields are dark red, not black. Yeah. Like, whoah.)

I know I sound like a raving fangirl - and I'll admit this was my first time seeing a movie on Blu-ray, so I'm ridiculously late to this party - so allow me to temper my review by saying that Obi Wan's new "dragon call" is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. It sounds like a drunk frat boy falling over in the shower, dying, and then zooming off as a new poltergeist. Srsly.

Don't believe me? Take a listen:




Really. THAT is the "new and improved" version?!

Plus, all the CGI stuff Lucas added in ten years ago looks like it was added about fifteen years ago. So, so bad. I wish he's just taken it out for this latest release; it's just embarrassing, not to mention reaaallly distracting from the original film.

That said, now I can't wait to see all of my favorite films on Blu-ray, to see what else we've been missing! Although I wonder if we'll have to get a new TV for that special frame rate feature. We turned it off at one point to compare, and while the Blu-ray quality was still quite impressive, it wasn't quite as smooth and pop-off-the-screen-at-you-ish. Hmm... (And I'm sure John would just HATE getting a new TV. You know, because all guys hate upgrading their electronics.)

Ok, rave/rant over. So tell me, Blu-ray aficionados: which movies do we HAVE to see on Blu-ray now?

Posted by Jen at 4:20 PM   |  91 comments  |   Labels: ,

Nostalgia Rocks

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

This week the interwebz have seen fit to pander to my geek girl sensibilities by showering me with goodies from not one, but two of my all-time favorite movies.

First, you've probably already seen The Princess Bride cast reunion on GMA (and if not, it's here) but tonight I just found an even better clip from their EW photo shoot:



Can't. Stop. Grinning. And how amazing is it that Billy Crystal kept the hat?

Kristy J. just shared this on the Epbot FB page, too:

It was shared on imgur, but I'm guessing it's from the EW website. Click for full-size to see all the great details. (Now I have to hunt down this issue and buy it!)

And next, Deena shared this fun acapella rendition of one of my favorite songs from Labyrinth:



She tells me they used it at Geek Girl Con last weekend as a sing-along. JEALOUS.

Speaking of which, Katie-the-Star-Wars-girl and her mom Carrie were both at GGC, and Carrie wrote a sweet post about it here. (Don't miss the ending!) From the few reviews I've heard so far, it sounds like it was a great con - I'm looking forward to hearing more from you readers who were there!

Posted by Jen at 3:29 PM   |  53 comments  |   Labels: ,

Quick Craft: Geek Stitch

Monday, October 10, 2011

Back when I was young and bored, I used to do a lot of cross stitch. I still find the tedium of the craft soothing, but these days I don't have hours on end to sit stitching, so I've mostly retired my floss and needles.

Then I saw this pattern a few weeks ago:


As soon as I saw this I thought of Number1, who recently moved to Minneapolis. C'mon; it's a scannable QR code that reads "Home Sweet Home." Yes, please!

The pattern was only $3.50 from Velvet Elvii, and it was e-mailed over within just a few hours. I still have my old XS materials, too, so I managed to scrounge up everything I needed without spending any more moolah on it.

Oh, and I changed up the colors a bit to give mine more of a graphic punch:

I just love black and white and yellow together. So cheery.

I don't know about you fellow stitchers, but I've never had an easy time of framing my finished pieces. I never remember to leave enough room on the edges, so I usually just sandwich the fabric in a frame and hope it doesn't droop or sag too much.

I planned to frame this one, in fact, and spent a fair amount of time putting together this laser-cut paper background to lay the fabric on:

But unfortunately the X-stitch just didn't look right with it. Too busy. This will have to wait for another project.

If you decide to skip the frame as well, here's what I did:

First, find a heavy mat board to use as a base. Don't use flimsy cardboard or card stock, because those could bend or warp. (Also, I should note that if you want your piece to last, always use acid-free and archival quality materials and adhesives.)

Cut the board to a size just slightly larger than your pattern.

If your board isn't already the color of your fabric, glue a layer of paper to the side your fabric will lay on. (You don't want a distracting color showing through the holes in your fabric.)

Once your paper is glued and trimmed in place, lay your fabric on the board and fold the edges over the edges:

Glues the edges down (I used a simple white craft glue), but leave the corners sticking up for now.

When all the sides are glued and dried, take each corner and press it down so it forms a square, like this:

DON'T GLUE IT YET. Just press with your fingers to get the creases in place.

Now, carefully - carefully - snip off the two wedges your creases outlined:

As you can see, this removes the excess fabric and allows your corners to sit almost flush.

With both side wedges removed, your corner will look like this:

Now simply grab that top point and pull it straight down, being sure to glue the edges well to avoid fraying.

When you're done, the back of your piece should look something like this:

And here's the front:

See how nice and tight the corners are?

Oh, and if you wanted to give your piece a little more of a puffy/pillowy look, you could always add a layer of batting between your fabric and the board. Well, I mean, you can't NOW, but you could have back before we glued the fabric down. (See why you should always read all the instructions before starting?)

I wanted this design to be perfectly flat so the QR code would scan easily, but most small patterns actually look pretty cute as miniature pillows - they look nice hanging on door handles. And in those cases, a few minutes with the sewing machine and a pretty coordinating fabric is all you need.

Anyway, getting back to this project, now all that's left to do is glue on a ribbon for the hanger, and then cover the back with another square of paper or felt to make it look nice and neat:


And finally, with a little help from John and his phone, allow me to present the moment of truth:


[drumroll, please...]


IT WORKS!!

WA-HooOOoo!!


Oh, and Number1? You may have a package coming in the mail soon. Um. Surprise? :D

Next up I have at least four more geeky patterns I want to buy from Velvet Elvii. How 'bout you guys? Where do you find great patterns?

Posted by Jen at 8:33 PM   |  54 comments  |   Labels: , ,

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