Monday, February 13, 2012

Welcome to the (Ray) Gun Show

The ray gun John helped me built for my Dragon*Con costume has been sitting forlornly on a back shelf, waiting for a proper display stand so visitors might behold its majesty and goggle at its glory and just generally laud our crafty prowess.

Well, last week, it finally got one:

Behold! Goggle! Laud!

The gun handle is actually inserted into the base about an inch, which helps support it and keep it from tipping over sideways.

Here's how we made it:

First, we clamped two pieces of 3/4 inch poplar together to form one thick board. After the glue dried overnight, John used a router to give it a pretty edge.

We needed the base to be thick so that the gun handle could fit partially inside it, but you might not need this for your own display. Plus, you can buy ready-made wooden plaques from most craft stores for just a few dollars.

We measured the exact size of the gun handle (you'll see how in a sec) and traced the paper template onto the wood:

To get this template, we simply jammed the gun handle into a block of floral foam, which you can see here:

Then we rolled on some black paint around the hole, stuck a piece of paper to the foam to transfer the paint, and cut out that shape to form our template. (You can see the piece of paper up there in my second photo.)

I used my trusty Dremel to carefully carve out the hole to match the angle and depth of the gun handle. My floral foam came in handy here, as I reference it frequently to get the interior shape right. I also had the gun nearby so I could keep checking the fit.

Next, the barrel support is made from copper plumbing pipe:

John bent the top edge like this to form a curve, which we then filled with epoxy putty:

This gave us enough surface area to epoxy on the rounded support piece that the barrel would rest in.

That support piece was made from the same copper pipe, which John cut and hammered into a C shape:

To pad it I cut a small piece off an old leather belt:

The leather was thick and stiff enough that no glue was needed: I just jammed it into the curve of the metal.

The copper tarnishes fast, so we polished it and hit it with a quick coat of lacquer to keep the shine.

Next John drilled the hole for the pipe:

And we gave it a quick test run:

It works!

Believe it or not, the hardest part was still to come, though: figuring out the wood stain.

Take it from two former professional painters: staining is hard. Different woods grab stains differently, the color is never quite what you expect, wood putty stains too dark, and if you don't know exactly what you're doing, odds are it's going to look pretty awful.

John spent over a week playing with samples in the garage, some with pre-stain, some without, mixing colors, and then experimenting with two or three different kinds of clear coat to get the right sheen.

In the end all that trial and effort paid off, though, because this is the best stain piece he's ever done:

John used a wipe-on polyurethane for the top coat, and it gave the wood a beautiful subtle glow. Sooo much nicer than all the brush-on and spray products we've used in the past!

Oh, and can't forget the finishing touch:

This solid brass plaque only cost $8 from our local trophy shop. Isn't it gorgeous? They have several different edges and corner details to choose from, plus at least 20 different fonts you can mix and match, and 3 or 4 different brass finishes. I usually buy everything online when I can, but this was totally worth the drive. (Unfortunately the shop doesn't have a website.)

And if that name looks familiar: yes, it IS an homage to Marvin the Martian's ray gun. It was John's idea. And he might have begged. A lot.

Marvin's gun was named the Illudium PU-36 (Or Q-36, depending on who you ask) Explosive Space Modulator. I changed the PU to SP for "steam powered" and tacked on the Aether because I thought it sounded cool.

The copper pipe and brass plaque pick up the copper and brass in the gun, and the wood stain is different enough from the handle to provide a nice contrast without clashing. All in all, a success!

I hope seeing our process helps any of you out there who have your own prop gun to display. As always, be sure to send me pics if you give it a go!


  1. Loudly lauding your efforts - the two of you are amazingly patient and talented at designing and making these sorts of things! You now have me wondering if I can put together something similar for my husband's megatron ...

  2. awesome! I still have to give the ray gun a try though.

  3. What a beautiful job! Staining wood is hard! It took me days to match our mantlepiece to the floors... Such great craftsmanship!

    (hee hee! my wv is pronap. I've always been very pronap!)

  4. Beautiful work, as always!!
    But now I'm depressed - there's a stain project in my near future and I'm no former professional painter - I'm doomed. Maybe next you could do a tutorial on painting/staining/gluing/etc techniques?? Pretty please???

  5. Awesome! And I love the name! Marvin the Martian is my favorite Loony Toons character.

  6. Awesome! I made a plaque for my husband to put his gun on, no engraved ID tag... just leather-covered screws to keep from damaging the piece. That's way more elaborate and cool!

  7. totally cool! you both come up with great ideas

  8. Awesome! usual. :) One hint though: if you use pre-stain conditioner it'll help your projects turn out perfectly every time. Secret of the pro's..... It helps open/close the pores of the grain so they accept stain more evenly. No more blotches.

  9. Awesome! I love how you two work together to make something beautiful like this. Thanks for sharing.

  10. It's been an interesting morning at work and this was a lovely get away to start my lunch break.

    I LOVE the ray gun and stand and if I can ever pry myself away from making COSTUMES, (mostly star wars) then I'll have to give this a shot!

    (Totally going to Star Wars Celebration VI this year and hope to see you there!!!)

  11. Reason #3990 that I am saving for my first Dremmel.
    That stand is awesome.

  12. Wow, wow, wow.

    Love the Marvin the Martian homage.

  13. Your projects amaze me! I'm not in the least bit crafty, but I love seeing the unique projects you come up with. And they always look so nice!

  14. Very cool. Just be geeky nit-picky, though, the Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator wasn't Marvin the Martian's gun. It was a vital component of his gun (resembling a stick of dynamite) that Bugs Bunny stole to prevent him from destroying the Earth. ;-)

  15. Love it! The two of you are so crafty smart, I am green with envy. :)

  16. It's beautiful and absolutely perfect for your gun! And the inscription is just the cherry on top! LOVE it!

  17. @ Alex - I'm not sure how much a tutorial would help! The best advice I can give is use a test scrap of wood first - and pre-stain conditioner often helps even out the final result, so pick some of that up at the hardware store to test.

    @ Katy - Yes! We discovered pre-stain just within the past few years, and it makes a big difference. Makes the color a little lighter, though. John tried samples with & without, and I *think* he went without on this piece. It helps that the poplar has a subtle wood grain.

    @ afrancis - Oh, yes, we'll be there!

    @ TechDad - Uh-oh, really? I blame John's research skills. :D

  18. I love how you think up these simple solutions to accomplish whatever project you're doing. For example, the floral foam and the paint roller for the template--I never would have thought of that. You amaze me!

  19. WOW ! You guys spend way too much time and effort into making this stuff. I can tell you don't have kids!! (I say jealously)

  20. What, no steampunk valentines? Dang it...:( I really thought you'd post some. There are so few good ones online already.

  21. Sometimes it's hard to believe that you actually created this stuff. Amazing.

  22. Two pieces of poplar, taking care to align the grain. Yep, got that. Then check the atomic weight of the stain and be sure to apply only during a new moon. Check. Then...whoops! Forgot to get frammis pins! Back to the store...

    Speaking as someone who recently replaced a bathroom faucet and needed only two trips to the hardware store and two days to do it (I was so proud), I really admire people who can manipulate matter in clever ways.

    I think I'll have my mail sent to the Bunker.

  23. John is my kind of guy! I love Marvin!

  24. You've totally turned me on to steam punk accoutrements with your ray gun tutorial and this plaque/stand tut. So cool.


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