Introduction: 11th Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver

About: I'm a designer/fabricator working in the Waterloo Region of Ontario, Canada. Currently working on practicing my TIG welding, CNC production, and working on bringing some small stainless steel products to marke…
Time for a Halloween ible!

This year I decided that I wanted to put together an 11th Doctor costume for Halloween.  Of course, this meant that I needed to get myself a sonic screwdriver!  Without the time or funds to make a decent working version from scratch I decided to buy one of the spring-loaded plastic toys from Chapters Indigo.  I was pretty happy with it, until I quickly discovered some design flaws present in the toy right after installing the batteries.  Here they are:
  1. The screwdriver toy has very obvious buttons, which are not present in the actual prop.
  2. The main activation button for the lights and sounds only works when the screwdriver is in the closed position.  If it is open you are stuck using the silly red button on the bottom, which is also not present on the actual prop.
  3. The screwdriver has a spring action.  The real prop is flicked open.
  4. The claws are hollow!  The prop definitely doesn't have hollowed out claws.
After playing with the toy for a day I decided that these bothered me too much to ignore.  I did some poking around on the internets and found votesaxon07's series of youtube videos on the toy and the modifications he has made to it.  He has made 6 versions of the sonic screwdriver, each succession coming closer and closer to the actual prop.  The videos were very handy because I got a good look at the inside of the toy without ever having to take mine apart, so when the time came I already knew what I was getting into.

I have essentially done the same modifications that he made in his 6th version, except I traded out duck tape and hot glue for heat shrink and epoxy, just to give the final product more longevity.  I also wrapped the handle in leather as he did in his early versions, repurposed the switch from inside the screwdriver, and weathered the screwdriver a bit.

Step 1: Stuff You Will Need

So during this project I used:
  • an assortment of screwdrivers and small allen keys
  • a small knife
  • a soldering gun
  • sandpaper
  • pliers
  • a heat gun
  • needle and thread
  • metallic spray paints
  • metallic acrylic paints
  • epoxy
  • heat shrink
  • electrical tape
  • rare-earth magnets
  • earbud cables
  • steel rod (for weight)

Step 2: Dissasembly

The first thing that you will need to do is take apart your screwdriver.  It is pretty easy, but you have to be careful to avoid snapping any of the molded plastic parts.

Twist off the top of the screwdriver like you would to replace the batteries.

Use your knife to pry the ring on the top of the handle off of the body of the handle.  Then do the same to the hinged piece at the base of the screwdriver that covers the silly red button.


Now time to take apart the top of the screwdriver.  I didn't have the fancy triangular bit for the tamper resistant screws that they have, so I used a very tiny allen-key to loosen all of them.  Then I took apart the claw assembly, making careful note of where all the parts went and how they interacted so that I could put everything back together.

Step 3: Masking, Filling and Painting

I wanted to brighten up the colors on the sonic a bit before I weathered it so that it would show up a bit more.  I decided to use some metallic spraypaints.  I have to say, I really enjoyed working with the plutonium spray pain.  It was purchased at an art store for cheap and it dries very quickly and evenly.

Before I could paint, however, I needed to cover all of the pieces that I didn't want to get paint on.  These were mainly the "ceramic" part of the handle and the emitter tip (clear green piece).  I used standard masking tape and made sure to get around all of the little curves.

The final thing that I did before spraypainting was fill the silly hollows in the claws with epoxy.  I originally simply smoothed it flat with my fingers but later decided to get rid of the fingerprints by sanding it down.

Step 4: Now for the Actual Modifications

Here is where we dive into the problem with the button.  I really hated that the main switch didn't work when the screwdriver was open, so this step is what I did to fix it.  I personally think that this is the most important part of my instructable and am very confused as to why something similar wasn't put in the original toy design.

First things first. In order for me to be able to flick the screwdriver open the moving piece needed to have a little heft.  I put two pieces of steel rod inside the green internal piece by cutting it open with a hot knife and then closed it back up.

Procuring a switch: since the internal circuit has not one but two momentary switches I decided to rip out the bottom one.  Essentially, all I am doing is extending the leads from the switch to the internal circuit and mounting the switch to the outside body of the screwdriver so that it functions at all times.

The next thing that I did was melt a new hole in the bottom of the curved "leather" part of the handle with heated pliers.  I cleaned up the hole with the small knife and made it exactly the right size for the tiny button on the switch.

I then soldered some wire leads to the switch, about six inches long to make sure that there was enough room for me to still access the batteries after the screwdriver was sealed back up.  I strengthened and protected the solder joints with epoxy, which also keeps them from shorting each other out and causing the sonic screwdriver to be permanently on. the The original wire I used turned out to be too stiff so I resorted to ripping apart an old set of earbuds.  The wire from earbuds works really well because it is very thin and very bendy.  It also has a nice slippery jacket so that it doesn't get caught on anything on the inside of the screwdriver.

Then I mounted the switch to the body of the screwdriver with epoxy.  Be careful here, because I accidentally temporarily glued my switch stuck as well.  Luckily, the epoxy was still soft enough for me to carve out with my knife but it was a close one!  Also, you need to make sure that you leave enough clearance for all the moving parts.  I later chiseled away some of the epoxy that was on top of the switch to make more room.

After the switch was mounted to the body I soldered the long lead wires to the internal circuitry.  Then did a quick test to make sure everything worked and sealed it all up with heatshrink.

The final thing I did with this part of the screwdriver was fill in the holes from the old buttons.  Simply put masking tape on the outside of the screwdriver and fill it in from the inside, making sure not to get in any of the important channels or grooves in the plastic.

Step 5: Weathering

I wanted to weather my sonic screwdriver to make it a little more unique.  I lightly sanded some parts of the screwdriver that would experience more wear and then painted them.  I used brown, white, yellow, gold, and silver acrylic paints and painted them on in excess.  The I waited a minute or two for the paint to dry in the tiny little scratches that the sanding left and wiped the excess off.

I also used my soldering gun to melt off or texturize small areas of the screwdriver.  Looking back, this was a bit overkill but it does make it look like it has been dropped a few times!

Step 6: Magnetic Latch

This is the setup that keeps the screwdriver closed now that the original catch system is gone.  Now that the magnets I had ordered had finally arrived, I was ready to get started.

The screwdriver needs magnets mounted on the base of the green piece and a corresponding spot on the inside of the body to keep it closed.  What is in the pictures is incorrect.  I actually had to rip all of this out later because it was in the way of the sliding piece and didn't hold anything closed in the slightest.  What I actually used was 2 rare-earth magnets on the green piece and 8 rare-earth magnets lined up on the inside of the body.  I was using 1/4" magnets, I would recommend going with a larger size.

Step 7: Leather Handle

The part that I felt really tied this project together was the leather handle.  Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures at this stage.  I used 1/8" thick leather, which I would not recommend because it made the handle too fat.  The leather should probably be less than half that thickness to keep the handle anywhere near the actual dimensions.

I sanded down the plastic seam so that the leather would not bulk it up even more.  I cut the leather edges at rounded angles so that the leather fit the curve of the handle.  I used doubled up any-purpose thread and pushed the needle through the leather with pliers.

The leather handle is really nice because it covers up the mess underneath.  It also makes it look like their are no buttons anywhere on the handle.  I made sure to position the stitching over the button so that I could find the button.

Step 8: Finished!

Hopefully you have finished your sonic screwdriver without any issues!  I know that I nearly ruined mine several times during the modifications and had to do emergency repairs that luckily worked.  I am very happy with the final result and like the way it works much more than the original toy.

I included some slow motion videos in this step.  They are a rather low resolution but they showcase the screwdriver in action.

I hope you enjoyed my instructable, please vote for me in the Halloween Props Contest!
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