Introduction: How to Make an Iron Man Arc Reactor

Iron Man Arc Reactor

This instructable is one of two parts detailing how to build an arc reactor and an iron man mask. Both work together but are written as seperate instructables for clarity. This part is for the Arc Reactor the Iron Man Mask can be found here:

My costume was built for a fancy dress party but it is so cool I'm thinking about wearing it else where.

First I needed something to copy, I work best when I'm copying someone elses ideas so I used the following screen shot of Tony Stark in Iron man as a basis for my arc reactor. As you can see it has 10 well defined sections and a glowing centre. I'm also going to use the sleeveless T-shirt and I attempted to grow my own facial hair in time for the party.

I'm rather pleased at my attempt to make the arc reactor and very happy with the segments of light that eminate from it. I'd also like to pay respects to the other arc light reactor on instructables, imagine my horror as the weekly round up arrives in my inbox only find out that I had been beaten to the write up for the same project.

Update - September 2010

Halloween is coming rounnd again and yes I'm still making them so order now in time for halloween.

"Will you make me one of these?"
I finally got round to making myself a webpage about these and all of my other projects, it's still a work in progress but I think it covers the basics for now.

"I live in X where can I buy Polymorph From?"
I get this question a lot, sadly I don't live in x so my insight is never very helpful. Google is your friend as always but if that fails or you don't feel you can create a mould to shape the polymorph contact me and I will happily sell you some polymorph and/or a shaped disk.

Step 1: The Materials

I wanted to make something a bit more substantial for this project and I remembered I had some suitable plastic in my cupboard. This is the key compenent for the project. This stuff is called polymorph and can be bought from places such as Ebay. It's a thermal plastic that melts around 60 degrees C and it becomes something resembling plastacine. From there it is simple to mold it into the desired shapes.

The next thing we will need is a light source. I wanted the whole thing to be quite thin when it was finished and sat on my chest so I opted for some surface mount white LEDs. Surface mount LED's have a very wide viewing angle and being white they produce quite a lot of light so they are perfect for this application. I bought mine from Rapid Electronics, I would plug them with a link but they charged me more for P&P on the LED's than the LED's cost, so I'm not going to. These LED's are in a PLCC 2 package which means they are still large enough to be soldered by hand.

You may also want some surface mount resistors to go with those LEDs. I used the amazing program at to work out exactly which values I need. As I am running these LED's from a 9V battery and wanted 20mA of current to flow throw them. They suggested how exactly they should be wired and what values I needed (incidently I have stolen the circuit diagram from them too). For my LED's I required 5x 180 Ohm resistors and 1x 330Ohm resistor.

I mounted the LED's on a peice of plywood, anything will do as you are glueing the surface mount components down for ease of soldering. A 9V battery and battery clip are providing the power for the system. These can be bought from any electrical store as required.

Finally you'll need some wire for the detailed decoration. Wire coathangers could be used but I used tin copper wire of 22 AWG gauge. There is nothin special about the wire, it's just hard finding something chunky enough for the job.

Step 2: Wiring of the LED's

Some assembly is required for the LED's. I took my round piece of wood that I was using to mount the LEDS on and I started to glue the LED's in the desired places. The circuit from LEDCalc suggested I used 5x 2 LED's and 1 single LED in parallel. This ties in well with the arc reactor so I had the single LED in the middle and the pairs arranged around the edges.

As you can see from picture I made two rings of wire around the edges, the outer wire is 9V and the inner wire is 0V. This ring has the added advantage of providing an secondary route for the power should something go dramatically wrong in construction.

The power wires are passed through the back plate through a small hole, this will allow me to power the LED's when they are encased in the plastic.

Step 3: Making the Plastic Shape

This is the key stage of the make. The polymorph plastic behaves like plastacine when it is heated to temperature. This allows it to be pressed into a mold and form the desired shape. As always I wish I had more photos of the stages involved but I dont and it's too late to go back (let this be a lesson for budding instructable writers)

The mold is formed using balsa wood again on a more solid plywood base. The outer circle was cut out of balsa to be the required depth of the arc reactor. Thinner strips of balse were used as relief pieces and provide the detail in the plastic (These are roughly the same depth as the wire I used)

I heated the plastic using water from the kettle, once ready it becomes transparent and maleable. Care was taken to make sure it was pushed right into the mold to reach all the corners of the mold. Once fully pushed into the mold the LED disc was then pushed into the back of the plastic. The plastic pushes slightly around the disc which holds it in place. The disk must be alligned with the slots in the mold so that each LED is directly under a raised piece of plastic. (There are no photos of this because it was all done with some haste)

The final picture shows the plastic once it has been removed from the mold. You can clearly see the raised sections of plastic and the gaps that are due to be filled with wire. Under each bump there is an LED, the plastic adds to the diffusion of each LED and really adds to the overall effect.

Step 4: Adding the Details

The final step of the Arc reactor is to add the wire details. Holes were drilled in the plastic to hold the wire around the edge of the device. Each piece of wire was bent into a C shape, it was then hooked into a hole on the edge of the plastic and again into the holes in the centre (see photo). This was enough to secure them in place. Finally four wire rings were shaped to go around the centre of the reactor. These are held in with PVA wood glue, although any clear drying glue should do the job just as well.

As you can see from the third photo the device lights up very well and looks really good, now onto the final stage to bring it all together.

Step 5: Bringing It Together

As the previous stage finished the arc reactor this final stage is about bringing it all together in a costume. I brought a sleeveless T-Shirt from the local store for a few pounds. I carefully sewed a pocket on the inside of the shirt to hold the reactor, this proved to be a very good idea due to the number of people that wanted me to take it out and show them during the evening. The wires from the reactor run down the T shirt and into my back trouser pocket.

After a weeks worth of effort I officially had nearly zero facial hair so I ended up padding it out with some black shoe polish. I'm particularly proud of the whole chubby Tony Stark thing I had going on but then this photo was taken at the wrong end of the evening after quite a lot of good food and drink, normally I'm only half as fat.

I hope you find this useful and encouraging for your own projects. I hope to add a plan with some dimensions to this instructable in the future which will help anyone trying to replicate my attempts.
Let It Glow!

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