Building Hal 9000




Introduction: Building Hal 9000

About: Performer, Tinkerer, Builder. Focused on functional and simple to produce projects.

I wanted a HAL 9000 to go with my Halloween display for 2019. This is how it all came together.

Given that this was a Halloween project it came with some caveats that would not apply if the build was for a different purpose. Namely that it didn't have to be completely perfect, and that it had to come in on time, and on a reduced budget.

Keeping that in mind, here is an overview.

Outlining goals:

In my case my goals were as such.

- Build a replica of the 2001 HAL.
- Stay on limited time and fiscal budget. Use as many materials as I have on hand. Or find materials inexpensively
- Be as close to screen accurate as possible. Within the limits of budget and time.

- Limit the fidelity of my reproduction. In my case, no one would be closer to the model than 5 feet. Any small detail, or intricacy that can't be seen from that distance is effort that could be spent on the greater project.
- Be realistic with my own expectations. We are all limited to the tools, skill and time we have on hand. We might not be able to recreate what is in our minds exactly, but something is better than nothing.
- Document the process. To provide others the opportunity to repeat. As well as provide alternate methods / materials when possible.
- Demonstrate the problem solving involved.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

As you work through your own project you may find your application is not the same as mine. Pictured here are the majority of things I used. Also included are some items that I didn't use. Some necessary items are pictured later in the build process. (I will list them here)

I will outline the general supplies at this point.

SPECIAL SAFETY NOTE: Your eyes and lungs are important. Safety equipment is not optional. Respiratory illnesses are a serious concern for woodworkers, makers, crafters and the like.


- Hearing Protection

- Safety Glasses

- Dust Mask

- Disposable gloves


- Electric Drill

- Twist drill bits

- Hole saws

- Olfa style Knife (An exacto knife will work as well

- Speed Square

- Ruler / Straightedge

- Measuring Tape / Folding Rule

- Putty Knife

- Pencil

- Scissors

- Tweezers

- Fine Screwdriver set

- Circular saw (A manual hand saw will also suffice)

- Hot Glue Gun (Glue Sticks) - (Not Pictured)

- Lettering Stencils


- MDF - I used a scrap of 1/2" (12mm) thickness material I had left over from another project.

- Black Foam Core Board

- Sandpaper (Sanding Block)

- Spray Primer

- Wood filler (Drydex or similar. The material has to dry hard, so "Fast n' Final" or other Spackle variants, will not work, as they stay flexible after drying.)

- Black Spray Paint

- Chalk board paint

- Silver Spray Paint

- Zip Ties

- Acrylic paint (Blue, Teal, White, Silvered)

- Battery powered LED / or Lamp

- Aluminum Ducting Tape

- Brasso metal polish

- Small toy telescope

- Red Lighting Gel (Or red Plastic)

In the Next step I will outline some of the materials that I used that will be difficult to find, or will need to be substituted for another more suitable material to your project.

Step 2: Custom or Specialty Parts and Materials

The basis of my HAL 9000 were some parts I had on hand. These parts have been itemized separately because they are somewhat unique.

Custom Parts:

- Wesclox vintage clock.

- Maimya Accessory lens.

- Hanimex Vintage lens.

I have had some of these items for years, and never really found a use for them so I am not bothered by the idea of taking them apart to be repurposed into something else. Used off-brand manual lenses are very inexpensive and plentiful. The clock was a hand me down. I had a box of them.

These parts worked in my application, but you may need to revise your plan to work with what you can find.

Step 3: Breaking It Down

How do you build a HAL 9000? Where do I start?

Lets break it down into PARTS

1) The Eye
2) The Body
3) The Details

1) The EYE
HAL 9000 is uniquely identifiable because of the great wide lens that serves as "his" eye. This is where I chose to start. It is the most complex part of the assembly, and offers the greatest constraint. If you don't nail the eye. It's not quite HAL.

Any research that I was able to find, this Adam Savage hands-on with the prop, for example. Displays the size and the curve of the front taking element of the HAL lens.

This is a very expensive and rare Nikon lens, that we're never going to be able to find, see, or measure. From the video you can see how simple the prop is, the lens fits inside the body, and they shine a light through it to make the characteristic glow.
How can I reproduce this cheaply?

The simplest way to reproduce this, would be to remake it exactly as it is. Find a lens, and a board to put it into. However the front element of the Nikon is not reproducible in my at home workshop.

I have a vintage CLOCK with a bubble plastic face, which by approximation seem to be the correct size.
That plastic lens will fit over the other vintage lenses to give us the results we want.

Here we have broken a complex assembly into smaller parts, that can be tackled one at a time.

Step 4: The Body


As discussed the HAL lens really determines the size of the completed unit.

Using reference photographs and film stills I determined an approximate size of the entire panel.

Basically, making a ratio between the diameter of the "lens" to the width of the unit, and then compared that to height.

There was a little bit of math involved, but I think the final layout was the result of what felt "correct" rather than exact dimension. Again, remember that we don't need it to be perfect.


Using the scrap of MDF I used one factory cut edge to measure from, and used the speed-square to maintain "square" while laying out the basic shape.

You can see that I have marked out the edge trim, the name badge decal and the centre for the "EYE".

These will be covered up with paint in the next step, but roughing out these details will save us from making a mistake later.

Once I had the shape established, I used the circular saw to cut the MDF to size.

Following that we need a hole for the lens to fit inside.

And again because the goal is to be quick and accurate in the build - I chose the hole saw that was the closest size OVER the size of the lens. This will allow us extra "slop" in the assembly process, this will be our last chance to correct for any errors at the final glue up.


A hole saw is a powerful tool. But there are a few tricks:

- To prevent wandering, and to ensure your hole will be exactly where you need it. You can Pilot the hole with a smaller twist drill bit. (1/16 - 3/16 size) This will ensure that your bit stays straight in the work. This may sound redundant as your hole saw arbour will have a pilot bit, but if you're dealing with a hole saw larger than 1" your pilot bit on your arbour may be be too big, and will wander regardless.

- A hole saw works like a regular twist drill bit, but it applies much more force and torque to the work. It is far more likely to bind, stall and twist your wrists. PREVENT THIS, by clamping your work to the bench so that it doesn't move. It is also very important to keep the hole saw flat, and straight to the plane of the surface you are drilling into. If you tip the hole saw it will increase the drag of the saw in the hole. It risks burning your work, damaging your drill, and worse binding. This can cause tear out, chipping, and will spin the drill from your hands.

- Go slowly, with even pressure.

- When you can drill from the "Good" side of your material to the "bad" side. You can see from my picture that the bottom side of the hole saw cut it rough and incomplete. A hole saw will generally blow out and tear the material as it exits, you can solve this by drilling partially through a material, turning the work over. And completing the cut from the bottom side.

Step 5: Paint Prep

This is a very important but often overlooked step.

From the earlier pictures it is clear that the piece of MDF I had on hand had some damage. Either damage from getting wet, or being scraped. The surface will have to be built back up.

This is an easy fix. It my case I used Dry Dex, purely because it is a product that I am familiar with and use often. You need a product that will become firm, and solid, that doesn't flex after it has dried.

Simply fill in the voids and smooth it over with your putty knife. It doesn't have to be perfect on the first coat, or the first application. Any material that you add will shrink, even a little bit. So it is much better to use two lighter, thinner coats than one big glob.

If you can, wait as long as possible between coats for the material to completely dry.

I used some sandpaper, (100 or 200 grit) just to smooth off the surface. You can use a sanding block, or a piece of sandpaper, but in this case we want to retain the sharp hard edges of the HAL console.

The easiest way to do this is to take the paper and stick it on a known flat surface, and work the MDF against the flat surface. This will increase the chances of getting a flat crisp result.

I'm using an aerosol spray primer "Bullsye 123" this is a product that I use a lot and get predictable results.

The trick is again, two or more really light coats. The primer is very quick to dry, but only if you use it correctly. Two light coats will be perfect.

Step 6: Top Coat

All your prep has paid off it's time to get some top coat on there.

Handling setbacks:

Uh oh. That doesn't look right. The paint is far too shiny, too reflective. It shows off all the imperfection. Turns out I thought I had some MATTE black paint. It was not. It was gloss.
This is not the result I want.

How do I solve this?

Well, I don't have any matte paint. But I do have Chalkboard Paint. Incidentally this is a better paint for this project.

Looking at the reference photos for the HAL 9000, the black isn't completely smooth. It's a industrial texture, it scatters the light in a specific way.

Using the chalkboard paint roughens up the surface in a nice way. it breaks down the reflectivity, but isn't too flat. It is just the right consistency.

This is a Bob Ross happy little accident.

Step 7: Detailing

Using the speed-square and the lettering stencil, I laid out the lettering for the HAL 9000 decal.

Apparently I don't have any detail shots of the painting of the lettering. That process was straight forward, I mixed the acrylic paint to what I thought looked right.

My lettering ended up being a bit sloppy, but serviceable. I would suggest a practice run on some scrap material. But your milage will vary.

As the project progressed, I decided to go with the Mamiya lens. Because it was a little bigger and it just felt like it fit better. This needed a little dressing up. I used a little bit of black acrylic paint on the lens to cover up the white lettering.

Step 8: Trim and More Details

The HAL unit has some silver material that picture frames the whole unit. It appears to be a brushed aluminum accent.

I opted to use the zip ties to frame the HAL because they are light, cheap and easy to shape. And I had many here on hand.

This was a simple process to take a measurement off of one side of the unit, and making mitre cuts.

To cut the mitres I used the speed-square and a sharp blade. The zip ties started out as black, but they need to be silvered or aluminum coloured. I tried three different ways to accomplish this. The first was to use aluminum duct tape to wrap the zip ties.

This partially works, however, the zip tie is flexible. And the aluminum tape creases, making bumps in the finish.

The second thing I tried was a silvered acrylic paint I had (Pictured above). This worked temporarily, but handling the painted zip ties would wear off / flex the finish. And it would fail.

The third method was to use the primer, and a chrome spray paint. This worked the best and provided to be the most durable. The surface finish is not perfect, it is lumpy. That may be that I applied too much product too fast, or too heavily.

A note about spraying small objects. The force of the spray paint will flip, or move small light objects. I used some double sided carpet tape to hold the pieces until they dried.


The plastic lens of the clock had been badly scratched over the years. and I wanted to even some of that out. It was a matter of polishing the plastic with some metal polish I had (Brasso) to take the worst of the scratches off.

The last step for the glass was to run a small amount of the silvered acrylic paint around the rim of the glass to give it the look of an aluminum termination.

Step 9: Prepping and Mounting the Lens.

The next problem to solve is how to get the Mamiya lens attached to the MDF body.

I like a simple solution, so I took a scrap of foam core and made a hole just large enough for the Mamiya lens to fit through. A friction fit. This makes this an old fashioned 'lens board'.

The lens board will hold the lens, and then be glued to the MDF body.

If you recall we cut the hole in the MDF larger than the Mamiya. Now that "Slop" is important. We can slide the lens board back and forth to get the appropriate gap. This extra space, allows us to get the lens centred as closely as possible in the space.

Hot glue holds the lens board to the body.


The final element to HAL is the red glow emitting from his eye at all times. And we need to replicate that.

The easiest way to get this to work was to glue some red gel I had to the back of the lens. (I found the red plastic container as an alternate if you don't have access to the gel)

The Mamiya lens is really wide. The aperture is similarly large in comparison the aperture on the HAL is much smaller. In order to replicate that I had to reduce the aperture of my lens. I accomplished this by breaking down a toy telescope. It was glued to the rear element of the Mamiya with unhealthy amounts of glue.

The gel was then added to that.

Step 10: Finishing Touches

Now that the lens is centred in the body. It's time to put the last parts in play.

The silver mitred trim pieces were glued into place.

The plastic lens was also set into place with a dab of hot glue. This will allow for repairs or repositioning late rin the future.


The HAL unit has a very different grill. It appears to be a solid piece of metal with drilled holes.

I couldn't easily reproduce this on a fast turnaround. I tried different textured foam materials. There were a couple trips to the dollar store. Each less fruitful than the last.

So I compromised on a more traditional speaker grill type material. Which again, was more difficult to find than I first anticipated, only because In my head it had to have a silver quality.

Luckily I found a large silver Christmas bow which served well. I was able to cut it to shape with a craft knife, and glue it into place with hot glue. (If I was to repeat this, I would use a contact cement, or a spray adhesive. The hot glue cooled and built up thickness under the fabric. This gives it a lumpy texture.)

The final step for the speaker grill, was a quick wash with some black acrylic paint (thinned) to give the grill some depth, and to take a bit of the shine away.

Step 11: Conclusion

On the workbench I simply plunked a light behind the HAL to give it "life".

When the display was set in front of the house I had the console mounted to another larger piece of foam core. And temporarily set a lamp behind it.

And thats it.

Thats how you can use some scraps and left overs to build your very own Hal 9000.

Let me know how you do.

You can check out more photography and projects over at my instagram,

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    2 years ago

    Looks good! I can practically hear it say "I'm afraid I can't let you do that Dave."


    Reply 2 years ago

    Such a great quote. Thanks! I got a kick out of your ear plugs.


    2 years ago

    This turned out really nicely, well done! : )


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks. I was really excited about how it came together.