Introduction: Glowing Death Star Christmas Ornament
What says "Christmas" more than a fun, glowy, miniature superweapon of planetary destruction? Celebrate the theatrical release of Rogue One by hanging this in the Christmas tree as an ornament that'll keep the other ornaments on their best behavior, or use it as a fun decorative reminder of the technological terror of the Galactic Empire.
This Death Star Christmas ornament will consist of a hollow epoxy resin cast containing a string of tiny LED lights. The outside of the cast will be painted grey with tiny round holes drilled through the layers of paint, so that the surface will be dotted with little lights. A recycled cap and hook from an existing ornament will be recycled to enable hanging.
First we'll cast the two epoxy resin parts and assemble them. After painting the sphere, we'll use a Dremel or similar rotary tool to create the lighting effect.
- Death Star Silicone Ice Cube Tray. They're available on Amazon and in most places that sell Star Wars merchandise.
- Epoxy resin. The resin I used consists of two components that harden when mixed together. You'll need about six cubic centimeters of epoxy.
- A small string of tiny LED lights, the one I used was about a meter in length and consisted of a battery pack, and 20 tiny LEDs on about a meter of enameled copper wire.
- Measuring scales for measuring the right proportions of epoxy resin.
- Two styrofoam balls, five centimeters in diameter.
- Cling film or saran wrap, enough to cover the two balls.
- Silicone spray or some other release agent for the epoxy.
- Toothpicks, at least fourteen of them. The flat ones (as opposed to the round type) are easiest.
- Two small heavy rocks to weigh down the styrofoam balls.
- Knife, for cutting the styrofoam. Any utility knife or potato knife will work.
- Plastic Tray to keep any spilled resin at bay
- Poster putty or some other putty that'll plug up the hole in the ice cube tray
- Duct tape to keep the putty in place.
- Green crepe paper to give the superlaser some color
- Clear tape, any clear sticky tape will do.
- Scissors for cutting the tape and cling film.
- Dremel or other rotary tool.
- Two drill bits, one of about 0.8mm and one of roughly 3.2mm. Exact sizes don't matter.
- Caulk gun and transparent silicone to fill up any gaps between the casts and glue them together.
- Primer paint, to create a base coat. I used a spray can of Citadel Black.
- Black and white paint for mixing the two shades of grey on the Death Star. I used acrylic paint to get a good cover that doesn't let any light through.
- Some brushes for painting.
- A wide egg cup or some kind of ring to keep the Death Star from rolling around while you work on it.
- Christmas ornament cap and hook. You can get these off any cheap Christmas ornament.
Step 1: Preparing the Inner Molds
First of all, measure the inner diameter of the Death Star Ice Cube Mold. Mine was roughly 5.5 centimeters. I found some styrofoam balls with a diameter of 5 centimeters at a crafts store. To make it a bit easier to weigh them down (more on that later), I cut off a bit off the top. It doesn't really matter how much you cut off here, just make sure you don't cut it exactly in half.
Styrofoam is porous, so we run the risk of it soaking up the resin, which'll make it harder to get the balls out once the resin has hardened. To prevent this, we wrap both the styrofoam balls in some cling film and tie off the top with some cable ties or a piece of wire.
Step 2: Creating Supports for the Top Inner Mold
To prevent the styrofoam inner molds from dropping to the bottom, we need to create some supports that'll keep them floating roughly a quarter of a centimeter above the bottoms of the outer molds. Find the equators of the styrofoam balls (on mine, a seam in the middle was clearly visible) and stick a toothpick into the ball (piercing the cling film) in such a way that the flat bottom of the toothpick is flush with the seam. Stick three more picks in so that they form a cross. It doesn't matter how long the picks are, because they can rest on the edge of the outer mold and stick out from the sides.
Step 3: Creating Supports for the Bottom Inner Mold
Repeat step 2 for the second inner mold. There's an extra step here though: there's raised outer edge on the bottom outer mold, preventing the toothpicks from sticking out. Measure the thickness of this inner edge (it's easier if you do this on the raised inner edge of the top mold) and clip the toothpicks off at that length so that they'll fit inside the outer mold.
Step 4: Weighing Down the Styrofoam
Styrofoam floats, and as such it won't stay put when you start pouring in the resin. To prevent this, we need to weigh both the balls down with some heavy objects. Stick three or four toothpicks into the sawn-off top of each ball to create a sort of basket that'll hold some heavy objects. I personally used a heavy rock and an old rusty cannon ball.
Step 5: Plugging the Hole
The mold for the bottom of the death star has a hole in it to enable you to fill it with water. Since we're going to pour resin into it, we'll need to plug it up. I used some poster mounting putty to fill up the hole, then covered it with duct tape for extra support.
Step 6: Mixing the Resin
We're almost ready to start casting. First, we need to figure out how much resin we're going to need. To do this, we can subtract the volume of one of the styrofoam balls from the volume of the outer mold. The formula for a sphere's volume is 4/3πr².
The styrofoam has a diameter of 5 centimeters, which means a radius r of 2.5 centimeters. 4/3 * π * 2.5² = 26,17 square centimeters.
The mold has a diameter of 5.5 centimeters, meaning a radius of 2.75 centimeters. 4/3 * π * 2.75² = 31.67 square centimeters.
31.67 - 26.17 = 5.5 square centimeters of resin for our hollow death star.
Mix up a little more resin than you need to allow room for errors and spillage. When mixing, be sure to wear the required safety gear: a breathing mask to prevent you from breathing in toxic fumes, rubber gloves (if only for the fact that epoxy resin is extremely sticky and annoying to get off your fingers) and safety glasses. Wear these. You never know when something will accidentally fall into the resin and cause the liquid epoxy to splash up. You don't want this to get into your eyes.
Step 7: Casting the Death Star
Spray the cling film-wrapped styrofoam balls with some silicone spray. This'll act as a release agent and prevent the hardening resin from sticking to the cling film. Place the molds in a plastic tray: epoxy resin is going to spill out, you want this to drip into the tray and not onto your desk or table. One of the molds has a round bottom, place it onto a ring of some sort to keep it level. I used a plastic case from a roll of medical tape.
Pour roughly 40% of the required amount of resin into each mold. Next, place the styrofoam balls into the outer molds, making sure they're roughtly in the middle. Take care with the Death Star's "dish" in the top mold: you want the styrofoam ball to be a little off center to allow resin to get between the dish and the ball. Place heavy objects on the picks sticking out of the balls to weigh them down.
Step 8: Removing the Casts
After a day or so, the epoxy resin will have set. Remove the silicone outer molds first, then using a little bit of force, pull out the styrofoam balls and the cling film. The resin is still slightly pliable after 24 hours, so be careful not to deform the casts. Leave the casts to harden for another 24 hours.
Step 9: Coloring the Superlaser
Rather than add a separate green LED for the lights in the superlaser dish, we can just use some green crepe paper. Cut a couple of round pieces of paper large enought to cover the dish on the inside, stack them on top of each other, and use some sticky tape to tape them to the inside of the cast, so that they're behind the dish. It doesn't matter if they're slightly outside the dish area, just remember when we're drilling the lights not to drill too close to the dish.
Step 10: Inserting the Lights and Mounting the Cap
Now, we're going to insert the string of LEDs before we glue the two halves together. Using a drill or rotary tool, drill a hole in the top of the Death Star wide enough for your LEDs to fit through. I used a 3.2mm drill bit which was slightly too narrow, so I had to press the drill bit against the side a bit to widen the hole. It doesn't matter if the hole isn't exactly in the center or looks ragged, the cap will cover all this eventually.
Take the cap off of an old Christmas ornament, remove the eye, and use the same drill bit to drill a hole in the cap. Pull the LED string all the way through the cap, then pull the string through the hole in the cast. Hold the cap against the top of the cast and put the eye back in. If your cast is pretty thick, make sure the "legs" of the eye go all the way through.
Finally, scrunch up the string of lights so that they'll fit inside the Death Star.
Step 11: Gluing the Two Halves Together
Using some transparent silicone caulk and a caulk gun, apply a ring of silicone on the edge of one of the two casts, then press them together. The stiff string of lights may try to push the two halves apart, so if necessary, jam the Death Star between some heavy books or use clamps to keep them in place until the silicone has dried after about 24 hours.
Now that we're caulking, we might as well fill up some gaps in the cast. Apply a thin line of silicone over the gaps, dip your fingers in some soapy water to prevent the silicone from sticking to them, then use your finger to push the silicone into the gap and smooth it out. Carefully remove excess silicone with some soapy water and a paper towel.
Step 12: Applying the Base Coat
Next, we're going to apply a base coat to the mold. I used a spray can of Citadel Chaos Black. Spray the underside first, wait for it to dry, then turn the Death Star over. To prevent any paint from getting on the inside, I plugged up the hole with a rolled up piece of paper towel before spraying. Make sure to remove the paper immediately after spraying so that it doesn't stick to the Death Star when the paint dries.
The base coat will be terrible at blocking light, but don't worry, that's where the next paint job comes in.
Step 13: Painting the Death Star
Using white and black acrylic paint, mix up a good dark shade of grey. I used some Star Wars Lego as a reference: it uses a light and a dark shade of grey that's perfect. Make sure to mix the dark grey slightly darker than you want it: it'll get lighter later on.
Once you've painted the Death Star with about two coats of dark paint, be sure to check your paint job with the LEDs on, and correct any mistakes where the light still seeps through. This is the most tedious and error prone part of the job, but it's essential for the effect.
Step 14: Painting the Trenches
The Death Star's trenches are a lighter grey than the rest of the station. Once again, I used Lego as a color reference. It's a real pain to get nice, straight edges painted on there by hand, and you can try if you want to, but I personally prefer a different technique. I diluted the paint with a bit of water to make it slightly more runny by loading the brush with some paint and then dipping it into a glass of water.
Quickly paint one hemisphere of the Death Star, making sure to get the paint into all the tiny grooves. Immediately after, use a paper towel to wipe the wet paint off again: the paint in the grooves will remain, looking nice and straight. The rest of the Death Star will get a grey haze over it, but that's okay since we painted the darker coat slightly too dark. Also, this gives it a sense of texture. Take some time to fix small details by hand.
Step 15: Drilling the Lights
Final step! Using a thin, preferably waterproof marker, draw tiny dots on the Death Star's surface. On this scale it's impossible to go for movie accuracy, so I'd recommend just going for what looks good. This amazing prop by Etsy seller iscreamcandy is a good reference for the basic "pattern" of lights: rows and columns of two or three next to each other, some lone lights in some corners, etc. Don't overdo it, or the Death Star will look too glittery and star-studded. Also remember not to drill too close to the dish to avoid any green lights on the Death Star's surface.
The Death Stars superlaser consists of eight green lasers around the dish, that converge to form a single huge beam in the center. I used a pencil to mark eight evenly spaced points around the dish's circumference.
Once the pattern is marked out, turn on the LEDs. Using a rotary tool on a low speed setting and a standard 0.8mm drill bit, touch the drill bit very lightly on each mark untiI the light shines through. Remember that you're not drilling any holes: you're just touching the drill bit to the surcface to get rid of the paint there. Don't push down: just touch the drill bit to the surface and let the tool's speed do the work for you. It helps if you work in slightly dimmed light, enough to still see the marks but dim enough to see the LED lights when you're through.
Once all the marks have been drilled, you're done! It's up to you of you also want a green light in the middle: technically there's no laser coming from there, but I felt it was missing something without the suggestion of the large center beam, so I added a green light in the middle as well.
You're done! All that's left now is to hang the Death Star in the tree, and allow it to spread the terror of the Galactic Empire among all ornaments big and small. For the Emperor!