Saturday, October 15, 2011

Birth of a Ray Gun

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!


Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!


  1. Thank you for showing us how you made your ray guns. This gives me some great ideas. Now I'll have to make my own ray gun!!!

  2. Jen, your posts make me want to take up steam punk! Thanks for the tutorial on how you made the ray gun.

    Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories is the place to go for LED information and tutorials. They also have some pretty amazing and fun projects they write about.

  3. So cool! I'm giving my husband a link to this so he can make me one for Christmas!

  4. I don't know why I would need my own ray gun...but I'm strangely inspired to go make one! I love steampunk, but don't do the cons, dress up or anything. Hmm. Mere details. I think I need one just to put on my bookshelf in my library. To the junk/craft boxes! Thank you!

  5. So cool! Thanks! Now I might have a use for a couple of weird brass candlesticks I inherited and was thinking about painting. A ray gun would be infinitely more fun!

    Here's something else I've been wanting to try - Becky Stern's LED flowers for high heels:

    (Sorry I don't remember how to post a fancy link!)

  6. If I might suggest one addition. A slightly larger barrel on the gun with a pocket pen laser pointer mounted inside. That way the barrel glows and it's functional (low power anyway.)

    They also have these "talk back" toys where you can record a sound, push a button and it plays it back. You could probably dissassemble one, and mount the chip and speaker in your gun somewhere. Record any sound you like frome a verbal "pew" to hitting a high tension wire on a telephone pole (thats a Star Wars blaster).

  7. @ customstyle
    jen posted instructions on how to embed a link here
    you should try what I did and bookmark the page :)

  8. love the gun! you actually made electric work look easy :)
    wv: prempe- what pepe the king prawn says instead of prompt


  9. How are you guys not addicted to Make? has TONS of DIY tutorials and videos etc. Plus I can totally see you two getting into using the Arduino to your advantage with these things.

  10. I read somewhere recently (Pinterest, maybe?) that you can "cut" glass by wrapping it a couple times with cotton kitchen twine and then soaking it in acetone and burning it with a lighter. I don't know if it's better than a dremel, but it might help the dremel-less.

  11. You two are so dang clever. Even the glass and the candlestick pieces put together would make awesome candlesticks in general!

    Also, as a tip to everyone who reads this: When cutting glass and wood, ALWAYS wear protective eyewear. Slip on safety glasses are available at Home Depot/Lowe's/etc. for just a few bucks, and you can get ones that go over your glasses (if you wear glasses like me). I only point this out because I once got a tiny piece of glass in my eye, and it actually punctured a hole in my retina. The hole healed and I was no worse for wear, but it could have been worse!

    Remember, like Mike Rowe in Dirty Jobs says: SAFETY THIRD!

  12. You guys make the coolest stuff!!!


    P.S. Can't wait to see you in Pittsburgh!

  13. Thank you thank you thank you! I'm so excited to make one of these when I'm finished sewing our costumes!

    I'm so excited to hit up the thrift stores for brass candlesticks!

  14. I was totally disapointed by the lack of pew pew, until I saw the comment under the video.

  15. See what she did, isn't is greaaat! :

  16. Out of all the blogs I read, I thought you might be the one who re-posted this:

  17. Hi Jen!

    I love your ray guns:) I don't know if this book will have anything specifically about LED wiring, but I wanted to suggest Thomas Willeford's new book to you. Its a how to book. I know Thomas, from Brute Force Leather personally and his stuff is awesome (he supplied a lot of the steampunk props for the steampunk episode of Castle last year). Here is a link to the amazon page. Have fun!

    Steampunk Gear Gadgets Gizmos

  18. have you seen this site yet?

  19. Those are pretty awesome.

    My hubby got us some "Evil Genius" books a while back. We haven't done much with them yet but they are great instructional resources for stuff like this.

  20. Thanks for the tutorial! Here's a website for a Cosplay blogger I follow. She has tutorials about creating various costumes (and they're really amazing!) as well as making weapons, and she has several step-by-step instructions for creating gems with silicon and adding LED's to them, as well as in other areas of her costumes.

    Here's her tutorial about putting LEDs into gems and wiring them:

  21. That is totally awesome!

    For the less technically inclined (if the whole LED thing is intimidating), we made a raygun that has access to the central tank (yours is glass, ours was cloudy plastic) and would just toss in a small glowstick before an event.

  22. I hate the steampunk (sorry!) but this a truly nifty project. I like everything about it!

  23. You just made it on CRAFT!

    Go Jen!!!!!

  24. Have you seen the Tangled Chain earrings and the Steam Punk Goggles on the Instructables website?

  25. You know, it occurs to me that if this was made a bit differently it would be a great flashlight.

  26. a) that's frickin' cool!
    b) it's beautiful!
    c) thank you for showing us how you made it!

  27. Great idea! My question is, how did you make sure the wire could thread through the handle of the gun? Is there a special drilling technique or the way you cut the plywood in order for there to be a path for the thread to follow?

    Thank you!

  28. @ Amber - Nothing too special: John drilled two straight holes into the handle - one from the bottom of the butt, one from the side under where the bottle rests - and the two holes met in the middle forming almost a right angle.

    So you'll need to brace the handle in a table vise, and then just angle your drill bit in a mostly straight line for each section, making sure not to go too far and pop out the other end, of course!

    Hope that helps!

  29. You know, I love this gun. I would love to have several (hundred). My only problem is that I need every tool on the list. *sigh*

  30. Awesome project! I notice you mention wire glue. I tried that stuff once, and it dried very brittle. If you use it, don't count on it to resist even a small amount of tension--it's really a conductor, not much of an adhesive.

  31. You should sell these on Etsy I would soo buy one!

  32. Hi, Jen. I love your rayguns and finally got around to making my own. It's nowhere near the quality that you churn out, but I'm still proud of it. :) You can check it out HERE if you are so inclined.

  33. Awesome raygun! If you are interested, I have a few pictures of my hand-painted Nerf gun. If somebody could tell me how to show you, I would be glad to. I don't own a website (except for, a Listeria website I did for a school project, and that cannot contain pictures of a Nerf gun). Its a really cool gold, silver, bronze, and black paintjob. It took a weekend to do.

  34. to cut the glass easier, soak a piece of string in nail polish, tie it around the bottle where you want it to break, cut loose ends and light the string on fire. let it burn for a maybe 30 seconds and then plunge into cold water, the glass will break. also works on thicker glass like win bottles

  35. Hello. Nice looking piece of work here. I have a couple suggestions with fabrication. First off If you look on Google you can find 'Bottle Cutters' for relatively inexpensive prices. These are a jig with a carbide blade that lets you scribe a line around a glass bottle. You then heat it and quickly quench it in cold water and this creates a sheer plane in the glass which it breaks off smoothly along. It'll save you a lot of trouble and broken bottles and allow you to have a neater assembly.
    Secondly if you wanted to you could sandwich some brass sheet between the two wooden halves of your handle. Then cut both the wood and brass sheet together. After that you can add bolsters by drilling two or three holes through the whole thing and tapping in sections of brass rod that you would find at any hardware store. Glue these in with epoxy and then sand them flush with the wood. After the wood is stained remove the stain from the brass and polish it again.
    You could also find ways to rig an LED in the end of the 'barrel' so that it emits light from one end. A small lens would give you a more focused beam but that is a little more advanced.

    I enjoyed the tutorial. Thanks for sharing!

  36. ARTISANS ALERT! Plywood is made with large amounts of formaldehyde glue (particle board is even worse) If you don't want to end up in a hospital for months like one of my sculpture college art professors please use a respirator (not a flimsy dust mask) and collect the dust carefully, dispose properly!!!

  37. You should really sell these. I want one so much that it hurts. Nothing I make will turn out this nice.

  38. This is gorgeous, and beautifully made.


Please be respectful when commenting; dissenting opinions are great, but personal attacks or hateful remarks will be removed. Also, including a link? Then here's your html cheat sheet: <a href="LINK ADDRESS">YOUR TEXT</a>