Runner Up in the
Halloween Decor Contest 2015
Yes. It's been done before. But not like this. I hope more people build their own.
There isn't much on television more creepy than BBC's (New) Doctor Who. Season 3 Episode 10 (Episode 11 on Netflix) titled "Blink" is an excellent example of that. You will never look at a statue the same way again. The TARDIS makes an excellent Halloween choice. Why is it on your lawn? Where are the aliens? Where is the Doctor?
Tthe TARDIS is a 1950's -1960's London Police box. It's a disguise for a space/time travel ship and it's an integral part of the BBC show. It's probably the longest running science fiction show ever. And it's fans are legion.
SO this year, I built one for Halloween and the 2015 San Diego Maker Faire. I'd like to share how I did it.
This is fan replica art and a celebration of BBC's Doctor Who. I do not wish to infringe on the artists and hard working people who make a living from entertaining. I will not make one for you nor sell you it for profit. But I do hope you enjoy it and potentially encourage you to be a fan of the show.
Step 1: Research, Internet Resources, and Plans.
I used two primary sources.
Woodworking for Mere Mortals. Steve has some fantastic plans for your own TARDIS including a Sketchup file. If you use his site or plans, consider dropping him a tip. He's done a great job of finishing the heavy lifting of design and construction plans. I modified his plans to suit my needs, and I was grateful for the giant leap ahead it provided me.
tardisbuilders.com You will not find a better source for TARDIS details. The contributors to this site have done a fantastic job of not only documenting their own builds but offering helpful advice and encouragement. I highly recommend bookmarking for gawking at some fantastic woodworking and attention to details.
Step 2: Materials
I acquired all of the wood from a local big box hardware store. Pine, hardboard, 2x4, plywood (1/8", 1/4", 1/2" and 3/4"), various screws, handles and the lamp. The electronics were acquired from Adafruit and Amazon.
I've posted my Excel worksheet of my Build of Materials. My rough estimate is that it will cost around $750 for wood, electronics, and paint. I had some of the stuff lying around so I can't give an exact cost. I am sure you can do it for less with more resourcefulness. I had to build this in my spare time in under 5 weeks so I was limited in my choices. I would also resize the top to accommodate 1/2" plywood versus the 3/4" in the plans. It's nice to have a heavier top but it's harder to lift for a portable model. You could also build your own lamp and save a little cash.
Step 3: Woodworking
I cut the pine frames with a miter saw. The plywood top was cut using a home made CNC router and track saw. A table saw would be a better option.
Steve from WWFMM has some step by step instructions for construction. I followed them initially pretty closely until I got to the signs and roof. The panels go together nicely as long as you keep them square and flat when you screwing them together. I highly recommend the Kreg system for joining the wood together. I used an air stapler to attach the hardboard to the pine panels. I used screws to construct the first three tiers of the roof together. Wood glue is also a necessity. I had some difficulty with the base because I cut a few boards short or long but I was able to shave, sand and saw things into place. If you don't get the base right, it will be a struggle when you're putting it together on display.
Step 4: Windows
I was particular about the windows. I decided to replicate the Matt Smith box. I liked the lines, windows and window frames. I laser cut the frames out of baltic birch and painted it with white enamel. I found some acrylic scraps and patterned it accordingly. The bottom right and left windows are 1960's pebble glass which I would find hard to get so I used some patterned acrylic. This will be around kids and need transport so I decided against glass upfront anyways.
Step 5: Roof
The roof in the WWFMM model is flat. It calls for a 1/2" sheet of plywood. Most of the TARDIS props have a slanted roof. Slanted roofs are hard to do with thick plywood so I understand simplification. So I designed a slotted roof with 1/4" ply and a 1/8" ply and then cut it with a laser. Using the thin sheet on the roof made it much easier than having to cut the sheets at an angle to form a tight fit. Message me if you want the DXF files for that. I also added some holes for some spare speakers I had recycled. A silent TARDIS would be unimpressive.
Step 6: Lamp
If you have time, consider making yourself one. It's a bit cheaper. Then again I found a porch light from Home Depot that had a nice Fresnel lens and looked so close to the lamp on a real TARDIS I had to get it. Unless your friends are avid Tardisbuilders.com users, they probably won't be able to detect your shortcut. :)
Step 7: Dry Run
I recommend a dry run to help you figure out how the parts go together before you paint. You don't need to paint all the surfaces and it's nice to know what you're going to have to fix before you pull out the paint brushes. The design is pretty forgiving so don't fret over the mistakes. When it's painted blue, most people are just in awe of what's sitting in front of them. It was helpful to me to get an idea of how this thing comes together.
Step 8: Signs
The Police Box signs to me are one of the most important features of the Tardis next to the lamp. Most people can’t tell if the molding is right. But if the sign isn’t the right size or the font is a little off, it can be a little disconcerting to some. The WWFMM box has a sign feature but it isn’t lit up. It won’t be good at night especially for Halloween.
So I modified the sign design by cutting out some layers of 1/4” Baltic birch to accommodate two sheets of acrylic and LED strips. The first layer is a protective clear layer of acrylic. The second layer is a white translucent with a mask of black flat paint. Acrylic comes with a protective coating. You can laser out an image or text just cutting the protective paper, remove the template that you want to paint black and then finally remove the last bit of paper to create after the paint is dry for a near perfect transmissive sign or image.
I cut holes in the back of each sign so that the wiring for the LEDS could go to the roof where I will store all of the electronics.
Step 9: Sign Electronics
The first stop for the TARDIS before it gets to my front yard for Halloween will be the 2015 San Diego Maker Faire. So I decided to kick the signs up a notch with WS2812B (Neopixel) Strips. These strips allow for each light to be addressable and provides thousands to millions of colors. Eight strips of 45 LEDs where installed along the edge of the signs before the acrylic and final frame was placed on top. Each strip is a channel on a FadeCandy board that will be driven by a Raspberry Pi. I was very pleased with the result. I used the strips with 60 LEDs per meter and that seemed sufficient and bright enough. You could get by with some simple LEDs strips that show only one color at a time or just white to save some expense.
Step 10: Lamp Electronics
I took a meter of 144 Neopixels and wrapped it around a 1.5" PVC pipe and stuffed it in the center of the lamp through the hole in the roof. I drive these with a small Arduino Nano I had sitting around using the FastLED library. (FastLED.io) It waits for a serial signal from the Raspberry Pi to operate independently. The signal is just a number to tell it what mode to go into. I made multiple modes to create various effects. The lens of the porch light does it justice but I'd consider putting in some mylar or translucent material to blur the pixels.
Step 11: Main Electronics
I completed this project in less than 5 weeks. I needed to get it finished for this years San Diego Maker Faire so I didn't have much time to clean up the wires and electronics. But it works. An older Raspberry Pi drives the Arduino for the lamp and FadeCandy board for the signs. The audio output of the Pi goes to a 100Wx2 amplifier. The amplifier is connected to the two speakers in the roof. The electronics are power by a 5V 30A DC converter and 36V 8.8A DC converter. It's all connected with terminal blocks for quick takedown. All the electronics are attached to a board hinged to the roof so that it can drop down for quick access. To control the TARDIS, you log in via wifi and VNC to the Pi and run a python script with a Tickle GUI. A button press activates each of the 4 modes currently available.
Step 12: Painting
So the official color of the TARDIS is Pantone 2955C. The big box stores have difficulty coming up with that color. I went to a Sherwin Williams and they had a Pantone Swatch book and found the color I wanted. I ordered a gallon of the Exterior Latex paint and used nearly the whole gallon. I primed it first to fill in the cracks and dings and put two coats of paint on every visible surface. Using a paint with a built-in primer might have saved a coat but I had some defects and the primer did a good job of hiding that. Rolling this is much faster than a paint brush. I smiled when I opened up the can of paint.
Step 13: Other Details
The Tardis Builders website has links to the other details you might like to include for your Tardis including the front door signs and door hardware. The door handles are some simple handles that have sort of a weathered look about them.
I chose not to construct a small telephone behind the left sided door. I’d have to build a box behind it but in the interest of Halloween I don’t think that level of detail is necessary. Though at some point I may revisit that option
The door panel signs can be printed or purchased. I found them for sale in a size on both Amazon and Ebay. For the Matt Smith box look I was going for, I added the Police Box Pull sign and the St. John’s Ambulance Sticker.
I selected to not to weather my box with paint and dirt. Though the advantage would be not to have to worry if it gets banged up during transport and it would look more official. I will get to that at some point but all the effort to paint it makes me cringe at the thought.
Step 14: Results
Am I happy with the results? YES!
It takes about an hour and half to two hours to set up and about an hour to take down. I brought it to the 2015 San Diego Maker Faire. She had hundreds to thousands of kids and adults explore and take pictures. The Whovians all wore smiles so big. A few youngsters were intimidate by the creepy sounds.
The sound effects I downloaded from the BBC website were perfect. They are both creepy and also give you a thrill knowing that the sound can only come from a TARDIS. The lights are bright and engaging. When I was building it, I'd look out my back window and think "I can't believe there's a TARDIS in my backyard!"
For those inspired to build their own TARDIS, I hope I've given you some good starting points. I have some refinements in mind before the 31st but for now, I hope I have motivated you to go make something cool.
I can't wait for Halloween...
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Please be positive and constructive.