Introduction: DIY Beginner's Quadcopter
It has been a dream for me to own a quadcopter for a few years now nevertheless, I did not want a very cheap one, which would break really easily, but at the same time I did not want to buy a really expensive one. At my school, I had to choose a year long project, and I was wondering if it was possible to build a low budget quadcopter, that lots of people, all around the world could build themselves.
Well, and that's when I started researching. I looked into the technology of a quadcopter, but also compared different models that are available already. After that I started buying the parts, designing the quadcopter, and building it. As this is my first quadcopter, I am still improving it, and it is not perfect yet. This project will definitely give you a great overview on how to build a quadcopter, and you always have the option of adapting this tutorial, or giving me feedback on how I can improve it.
Furthermore, please understand that this tutorial requires you to solder. Before building my quadcopter, I only soldered once before, and to be honest it isn’t that hard. It also isn't scary. If you are scared of soldering, there are great tutorials out there that help you understand how to do this. Have fun building your very own quadcopter, or I hope this tutorial will be a great starting point for you!
Step 1: Materials and Tools
For this project you will need lots of parts. I decided to buy them at Hobbyking since that’s an international retailer that ships everywhere. I have attached the product name, and a link to the product. I bought most of the products in the Europe warehouse from Hobbyking nevertheless, you can easily find all the products in the other warehouses. Simply check out the provided link to see all parts:
- 4mm Plywood
- Power glue
- Threaded rods (1 meter should be sufficient, 3mm diameter)
- Screw nuts (Nyloc Nut)
- Cable ties
- Insulation tape (Black)
- Battery Strap (Or just a piece of velcro)
- Camera of your choice (I had an SJ cam at home I used)
- Power supply for charger
So what tools do I need? Well, this is not a very easy question for me to answer since I just took the tools I needed during the build nevertheless, here are some of the major tools you will need:
- Soldering Iron and Solder
- Small set of screwdrivers
- Hot Glue Gun
- Precision Knife
- Metal Saw
- Lighter/ Hot air gun
- Sand Paper
Step 2: Files
For this particular quadcopter build I 3D printed a few parts and used a laser cutter to cut the parts for my general frame. If you don’t have these tools, you have a few options:
- If you don’t have a 3D printer, use a service such as 3D Hubs to find the nearest printer in your neighbourhood. Contact a hub you like, and they will print the 3d parts for you.
- Laser cutters aren’t that common yet, this is why you could simply print out the 2D blueprints I attached on paper, and use a scroll saw to cut out the frame. In theory, you could also use a CNC router. It’s your choice!
- If you don’t want to build your own frame, buy one and follow my tutorial for some electronic basics!
Here are the links to the parts that need to be 3D printed. I used Fusion 360 to design the parts, it is simply the best software to use when it comes to 3D printing. If you don’t have access to Fusion 360, I also attached the .gcode files for you to print directly. If you want to do tweaks, here are the original Fusion 360 files:
Motor Holder: http://a360.co/1NtjeV2
Tube Holder: http://a360.co/1UdsMrb
Step 3: Soldering Female Bullet Connectors to ESC’s
To begin with the quadcopter build you will have to do some soldering. Take out an ESC and a female bullet connector and follow these steps per bullet and wire:
- Put solder into the end of the bullet (watch out that you put solder into the right side, if you accidentally put it into the wrong side, use a drill and carefully drill out the solder) and keep it hot.
- Now take one of the cables of your ESC (either A, B, or C) and insert the cable into the bullet.
- Take away your soldering iron and wait for a few seconds until you are sure the cable is connected securely (watch out the connecter is very hot now!).
- Cut an approx. 2 cm piece of heat shrink (red).
- Slide it over the bullet.
- Use pliers to hold the heat shrink in place. Now take out your lighter (or your hot air gun), and heat up the heat shrink, until it shrinks.
- Remove your pliers so you can heat up the complete heat shrink.
Repeat this step for each of the wires of the four ESC’s. If you started with wire A, continue with B and then C. You get what I mean, hopefully. Finally, at the end of this step, you should have used 12 female bullet connectors.
Step 4: Soldering Male Bullet Connectors to ESC’s
Congratulations, it seems like you have mastered soldering the female bullet connectors. If you enjoyed doing that, I can tell you, there is more soldering to come! Let’s continue. You will need two male bullet connectors per ESC, and here’s what you do:
- Put solder into the top of the bullet connector and keep it hot.
- Now insert the cable (either + or -, does not matter) and remove the soldering iron.
- Be sure that the cable is securely attached before you continue.
- Now put solder into another bullet connector and keep it hot (don’t remove the soldering iron yet).
- Insert the other cable that does not have a connector yet, and now remove the soldering iron.
- Again, be sure that the cable is securely attached before you continue.
- Using your scissors, cut a 2 cm piece of red heat shrink, and a 2 cm piece of black heat shrink.
- Attach the heat shrink the same way you did when connecting the female bullet connectors.
Repeat this step for all four ESC’s.
Step 5: Battery Connector
The battery connector will connect the battery with the power distribution board. For this step you will need the 14AWG wire, both in black and red, and also some heat shrink in black and red. You will also need the XT60 connector. Follow these nine simple steps:
- Cut a 12 cm long red wire and cut a 12 cm long black wire.
- Take away 1 cm of insulator from one side of each of the two wire.
- Take away 0.5 cm of insulator from the other side of both wires.
- Tin all the ends using your soldering iron and solder (Before tinning the wire, be sure that the wire sticks together. You might have to twist it a little).
- Insert some solder into the + side of the XT60 connector, and insert the long end of the red wire.
- Now do the opposite, put some solder into the - side of the XT60 connector, and insert the long side of the black wire.
- Cut a 2 cm long piece of red heat shrink, and a 2 cm long red piece using scissors.
- Use the same technique to attach the heat shrink to the wires.
- I used a little bit of electrical tape to secure both cables to the XT60 connector on the top.
Step 6: Power Distribution Board
Now you have arrived at one of the most work intensive, and frustrating steps, but don’t worry, you’ll manage if you follow these steps:
- Let’s begin with attaching the battery connector you just soldered to the power distribution board:
- Put both cable ends from the battery connector into the holes provided on the power distribution board.
- Now take a little bit of solder and put it onto the power distribution board, but watch out that you don’t connect both + and - terminals together accidentally.
- Also, use some solder on the bottom side of the board to attach the cable.
After doing this, continue with the connections between the power distribution board and the ESC’s. You will have to do the following:
- Cut 4x 10 cm 16AWG red wires using your pliers.
- Cut 4x13 cm 16AWG black wires using your pliers.
- Start off with the black wires:
- Cut off approx. 1 cm of insulator from each end.
- You will attach a female bullet connector to one end of each of the red cables, follow the same procedure as you did before.
- After doing this, put heat shrink over the bullet connector, use a 2 cm piece of it, and attach it the same way you did as before.
- Now attach the cable to the power distribution board. I suggest you to pre solder the attachments on the board, this will make your life easier when attaching the cables.
- Look at the picture to give you an idea of the layout if you are confused.
After you finish with the black cables, continue with the red wires. Follow the exact same steps, but use red heat shrink instead of black, and put the black wires through the center hole. Look at the pictures to understand with what I mean, “...put the black wires through the center hole”.
If you attached everything, there is one last step for you to take. Use a little bit of electrical tape to attach one red and one black cable with each other so they stay together.
Step 7: Changing Servo Leads
You will need some servo leads to connect the flight control board with the receiver which sends a signal to your remote control. For this quadcopter, you are going to use five channels. This means that you will need five servo leads. You don’t need to do anything with one of the servo leads, but you will have to do some changes with the other four. You will detach the positive and negative (brown and red) terminals since the receiver only needs one source of electricity from channel one. This is how you do it:
- Separate the cables that are connected together.
- To remove a cable use a precision knife to put up the black pin, and pull the cable out.
- You will use this method to remove the brown and the red cable.
In theory, you could just cut off the cables nevertheless, this would make the cabling look messy.
Step 8: Frame Build: PART 1
Now you have done the basic electronic work, but it isn’t all done yet. It is time for you to work on the frame. First of all, you need to laser cut, or cut out the frame by hand. I used 4 mm plywood for my quadcopter because it is cheap, but still sturdy.
After doing this, paint the quadcopter. In my case I used some spray paint I had lying around. You could also use another color, or just leave it as it is. This is your decision. Also, print the 3D files I attached in the “Files” section. You will need the following quantity of the prints:
- Rings - 2x
- Motor Holder - 4x
- Tube Holder - 4x
You can choose the color depending on what you have access too, or like. I used ABS plastic for the Rings, and PLA for both the Motor Holder, and the Tube Holder. Just as a side note, I prefer printing in PLA, you usually get a better quality.
Building the frame is quite simple too. Take the top and bottom plates, and simply slide the side pieces through the holes. To make everything sturdy, attach a little bit of glue on the top of the side piece that would touch the top and bottom frame piece. For your information, I used power glue for this step. After that you can use the little bit of glue for the small lock pieces and slide them in.
After 3D printing all other parts, you can do the fine tuning. Do the finishing touches that you would do with any 3D print. After this, you can attach the tube holder to your frame. The next step depends on what glue you buy, and what it tells you to do. My power glue required me to put glue on both surfaces, and wait until it dried a little. When this is done, you connect the holder with the frame. Look at the pictures if you don’t understand what I mean. Watch out that the holder is attached into the center, so your arms will fit in. Do this step for all four holders.
Let’s continue attaching the power distribution board you soldered before. To do this, dosome measurements on the bottom side of the frame, and drill four 3mm holes in. I cut four threaded rods into 2 cm pieces, and used two screw nuts per rod. After this you attach the power distribution board to the bottom of the frame. Keep in mind that the board will not go right into the center of the frame. Before drilling the holes, put in your battery, and your camera to see where the board needs/ can be positioned so the quadcopter is balanced out.
The battery will be positioned on the side with the two slots. You will use a battery strap to tighten it. Nevertheless, to insure that the battery won’t move around I used the lid of the flight control board packaging. Using a precision knife, I cut off two edges. Then I used some hot glue to attach them equally apart on the frame. When the battery strap is tight, the battery will be well in place.
After doing this step you can put the ESC cables through the holes in the center of the holders that you attached to the frame. You can now connect each of the ESC’s power cables (+ and -) with the cables coming from the power distribution board. This is fairly simple, connect the red and black cables correspondingly.
Step 9: Programming ESC’s
You have now completed part 1 of the frame build, which means it is time for you to program the ESC’s. This step is very easy if you follow these steps:
- Plug the servo lead into the BEC port on the programming board. Watch out to line up the cables correctly:
- Signal - White
- Positive - Red
- Negative - Black
Repeat the exact same steps for every ESC.
Step 10: Frame Build: PART 2
The time has come for you to hook up the brain of the quadcopter, the flight control board, with the other electronics. For this step you will need the black box where the flight controller came in. Follow these steps:
- Attach a little bit of hot glue in each of the four corners of the board.
- Quickly put the board in and check that it won’t fall out after the glue dried.
- Now attach the loudspeaker to the board, and cut a small indent into the holder so the cable isn’t damaged.
- When holding the board and its frame to the cut out at the top of the board, you will notice that the cut out on the sides is slightly too small for the servo leads to connect too. Therefore hold the board beneath the frame, the arrow pointing towards the battery, and mark where the servo leads will go.
- Take your precision knife and carve away a little bit of material between the markings you made. Now plug in a servo lead on each side, to check if they will fit in:
- If yes… Continue with step 6
- If no… Take away a little more material until it fits
You now have connected the brain to the frame, but it really isn’t connected yet. Remember, the servo leads you worked on in step 7? This is what you will do with them:
- Put the normal servo lead, that you left normal, into the first channel on the left side of the flight control board, the pins are lined up like this:
- Negative - Brown
- Positive - Red
- Signal - Yellow
Now the point has come where you can plug the ESC servo leads into the flight control board. The control board wants you to plug them in this way when looking at the quadcopter front:
- Channel 1: Motor Top Left
- Channel 2: Motor Top Right
- Channel 3: Motor Bottom Left
- Channel 4: Motor Bottom Right
Step 11: Bind the Receiver With the Remote
Follow these simple steps to bind the receiver with the remote:
- Plug the bind wire into the bind port of the receiver.
- Now connect the battery to the power distribution board.
- Hold the button down on the back side on the remote, and then turn it on.
- After the receiver LED glows in a constant red, it binded successfully.
Step 12: Attaching the Rings to the Arms
This is a very simple step, but it might require you to do some sanding. Attach the rings to the front carbon fibre tubes of the quadcopter. You will need to sand off some material from the inside of the plastic. Then use a saw to cut a straight line into the plastic wall, and slide it over the tube. Use some power glue to keep it in place.
After doing this simple step, attach the carbon fibre tubes to the tube holders. Use the hot glue gun, I did this, or the power glue to attach both components tightly.
The picture above shows an older version of the tube, ignore this.
Step 13: Motors
Now you have arrived at one of the most important steps of the whole tutorial since without the motors, your quadcopter will not fly. Here are the steps you will need to follow:
- Begin with attaching the brackets to each of the motors:
- Put some threadlock onto the end of the screw.
- Align the bracket with the motor.
- Turn the first screw in loosely.
- Now turn in all the other screws in loosely, but don’t forget the threadlock.
- Finally tighten all of the screws.
You need to do this for all of the four motors. After that we can connect the motors with the ESC’s. Follow this order:
- Motor 1 will spin CW (Later it will get the Propellers labeled “R”).
- Yellow - A
- Black - B
- Red - C
- Yellow - A
- Red - B
- Black - C
- Yellow - A
- Black - B
- Red - C
- Yellow - A
- Red - B
- Black - C
Congratulations, you are now done with the actual hardware electronics part. So let’s finnish up this frame, and do the settings.
Step 14: Frame Build: PART 3
We will begin the last part of the frame build with something very simple, attaching the camera to the model. My SJ cam came with many accessories, I just needed to attach the holder on the back of the quadcopter. Yes, my camera is at the back of my quadcopter, and it does not really matter where it is.
The very last step for the frame build, I promise, is to attach the motor holder to the carbon fibre tubes, which will then be attached to the frame. For this step simply use hot glue, and lots of it. I did not use the power glue for this, I rather used the hot glue gun so I am able to upgrade the parts when really needed, or take it apart when something breaks. When glueing the part, watch out that they are tightly connected, and the motors point straight up.
Step 15: Calibrate ESC’s
Watch this great video I found which will explain to you what needs to be done to calibrate the ESC’s.
Step 16: Remote Settings
This is a video I followed to do the settings my remote control.
Step 17: Flight Control Board Settings
For the settings, a video is always the easiest to follow. This is another video I followed to set up the board. Please ignore the voltage alarm in the video, I did not set this up however, if you want to, you could which would require you to do a little bit more of soldering. Also understand that this is for another quadcopter. You will have to find the right settings, to get the perfect flight experience.
Step 18: First Flight
Congratulations, you have successfully built your first quadcopter! I hope this tutorial was helpful for you, and if it was, please leave a comment behind. If you have some feedback for me, or some suggestions on how I could improve this tutorial, or the quadcopter, leave a comment too. This would mean a lot to me! This is the first generation, and I am hoping to improve this quadcopter even more, so stayed tuned!
P.S. If you haven't watched the official product trailer yet, it is at the beginning of this tutorial, and on youtube!