Introduction: Kids Spaceship
I always wanted to build one of these as a kid. Now that I had two young kids myself, I had a good excuse to finally make it.
- Spaceship frame was made from timber, and was covered with plywood panels.
- Electronics were mostly run on 12v. Step-down converters were used to power some components which were 9v or 5v.
- Electronic components were from varying sources. I used a lot of auto/marine 12v buttons/switches. And various other random parts.
- A sounds module was used to play sounds, through a small amplifier and four cheap speakers.
- Lots of spray paint was used for the inside. For the outside I used some tough white gloss paint.
Step 1: The Frame
The frame was made from standard timber. I wanted to make it sturdy enough for the kids to sit and climb on, so I used quite bulky beams. As a result, the finished ship weighs a tonne!
To size the frame I got my 10 year old nephew to sit on the ground, and I measured around him on the ground. I wanted my kids (who were 5 and 3 at the time) to get plenty of use out of it, so I figured if a 10 year old could fit, it would be fine. During the build, I regularly had my kids come and sit in the cockpit so that I could get the height, dashboard positions, seat dimensions, etc correct.
When creating a joint, I'd put PVA glue on the timber to be joined. I'd leave a small place where I could put some hot glue.***. This would (usually) hold the timber in place whilst I put in the screws.
I preferred 'star' headed screws. Sometimes called 'torque screws'. I find these screws are much less prone to stripping the head when driving than Philips head screws.
In some places I used steel brackets to strengthen joints.
To cover the frame I used all plywood. I used some chipboard, but it's so incredibly heavy, and not as strong. For the top panes where I could imagine the kids climbing on, I used thick (8mm?) ply. For the sides, I used a thinner ply.
There were multiple panels which I wanted to be able to easily access. Some of them were for the kids to open, and some were for me to get access to wiring, e.g. the back of the dashboards.
The panels were made from thin ply which I attached to the main frame with hinges.
For the back and side panels I added small strong magnets so that when the panels were fully open they would click and hold open. This was kind of fiddly as I had to get the magnets in the perfect location to get them to hold the panels. I had to buy magnetic latches where the magnets are at the top of the fitting. This required a bit of research as 99% of the latches for sale have the magnets at the side of the fitting.
For panels which I didn't want the kids to get into, e.g. the back of the dashboards, I used spring loaded hasp latches. They pulled these panels closed nice and tight, and had a small hole where a padlock could be added. I ended up using R-shape 'split pins' instead of padlocks, as these are hard for kids to get off, but easy for an adult to remove.
As a cushion for the seat I bought a dog bed from Amazon, and I used a strong adhesive Velcro to fix it to the frame. However it keeps getting misshapen when the kids are playing in it. Since then I've seen these VetBed dog beds which look much more appropriate. They are like a really thick tough carpet.
I bought the racing stripes from ebay. One set of stripes, which were meant for a car, was enough to do the front of the spaceship, and both sides. Searching eBay will show you lots of options.
***If I did it again, I would not use hot glue for 'tacking' timber in place. It's too easy to get burnt, it takes too long to dry, and often creates a gap between joints. Since then I've discovered woodworking glue with a spray activator. The brand I buy is MitreFast. It creates flat joints, hardens in about 5 seconds, and a very strong joint. You just have to watch your fingers on the stuff. I've glued my fingers to joints, and had to rip them off. A couple of times, it has ripped off the top layer of timber rather than the glue breaking! Hot glue is still preferred for holding electronic components in place. As it is relatively easy to remove if you fix something in the wrong place.
Step 2: Electronics
Main 220v to 12v adaptor
There is a 220v (220v is the mains voltage in the UK) extension cord running into the back of the ship.
In the bottom back of the ship (where the kids cannot get to) I made a tray. The only thing in that tray is a 220v to 12v adaptor. I did not want any other wiring in that hidden tray so as to reduce the risk of 220v escaping into the various components (and children!) in the spaceship.
For the adaptor I chose an old XBox adaptor as it was quite high wattage. Once I'd built the ship I measured the overall ampage, and it was very low, so I probably could have gotten away with a much smaller adaptor.
After the fuse I put a small volt/amp meter designed for a car. This allowed me to measure the ampage that the ship was consuming. It turned out to be smaller than I thought, at around 3 amps.
A single cable ran up to another tray at the top of the ship accessible through a small hatch. In this hatch I fanned out the 12v into cables which ran to various parts of the ship. All wiring for the ship including power, sound control signal wiring, speaker connections, etc all came into that small box. It gave me one accessible place to do all the connecting and joining. There's a picture of me above doing some work under this hatch.
On the 12v output of the adaptor I put a 'main' fuse. There are smaller fuses scattered throughout the ship. Wherever I put electronics, I started off by adding a fuse. This made me feel more comfortable with having all that wiring around the kids.
I did a fair bit of soldering on the dashboards, but for splicing cables together I used these nifty cable joiners that are available on amazon (pic above). You put a wire in each end, and then hit it with a heat gun. As the tube heats up, the solder inside it melts into the cables. The outside also shrinks, which creates a very strong join. Much easier than soldering.
Step down converters
I ran 12v to each place in the ship which needed power.
If at any of these points I needed less than 12v, e.g. 5v or 9v, I'd use a step down converter.
I used a small board called a LM2596 DC-DC Buck Converter. These things are awesome. They sell on amazon for about £2 each. As an input they take anything up to around 40v, and they will reliably step down to any lower voltage. They have a small screw on the board which adjusts that voltage. Using a multi-meter you can turn the screw until the voltage is right. They also have a handy LED on them which lets you know if the unit is receiving power.
Step 3: The Dashboards (overview)
The dashboards (there are 2) were made from ply. As I was using mostly 12v auto/marine components, the dashboard had to be quite thin. So I used a thin ply which I strengthened with a thicker ply around the edges.
12v auto components are great to work with as they usually require just a round hole to sit in, even the ones which look square at the front often have a round insert. This made it very easy to fit the components as all I needed to do was drill holes. I didn't want the hassle of cutting square shapes for components.
eBay and Amazon have thousands of these auto components available. Be sure to buy a couple and see how they look lit up before you splurge on buying dozens of them.
- I first planned out where all the components would sit, and what size holes each component required.
- I then drilled the appropriate sized holes. You will want to sand the edges of any splintered wood around the holes after drilling.
- I then made sure that the components fit into all the holes.
- After that I spray painted the dashboard(s) with a metallic black spray paint.
- I then fitted all the components.
- I then did all the wiring and soldering.
Be sure to do all this before attaching to the ship. And when attaching to the ship, try and attach so that you can easily remove, e.g. with just screws, no glue. This will make it easier to take the dashboard off later if you want to perform maintenance.
Step 4: The Dashboards (electronics)
Please note, I have no professional experience with electronics. Please seek the advice of someone with qualifications if you are unsure what is safe.
As mentioned in the previous step, most of the switches and lights were 12v auto components. If you search for '12v LED switch' on Amazon or eBay, you'll find a wealth of great switches. Be sure to choose components that fit into a round hole. (Round holes are much easier to drill rather than trying to cut perfectly sized square holes.)
I also used lots of standard LEDs on the dashboard. As mentioned in another step, buy the pre-wired LEDs. This will make wiring much easier. You can buy LEDs in a number of voltages. You can buy different colours, and flashing and non-flashing LEDs.
I used fuses everywhere. I was paranoid about things shorting out, with the ship made of wood, and the kids playing in it. Each dashboard had 3-5 fuses with quite small amp thresholds. This was very useful during the wiring of the dashboards as a few times I wired things incorrectly creating a short-circuit. Also, having multiple fuses made it much easier to work out what was shorting.
Step 5: The Dashboards (Joystick and Steering Wheel)
The joystick I bought second hand on eBay. I'd recommend going for the older models before USB was introduced. You can get some very cool looking joysticks very cheaply. I suspect the older ones probably have simpler wiring in them too.
- I found the wiring inside the joystick that was triggering the movements, and the press of each button. This painstaking process was done with a multi-meter, writing on small bits of tape I attached to the end of each wire to remind me what each wire did.
- I soon realised I wasn't going to be able to detach the joystick fully from it's base. So I ended up temporarily detaching it, and then mounting the base on the back of the dashboard. Once mounted on the back using a right-angle steel bracket, and some Apoxie Sculpt.***
- I ran these wires to a set of relays. I ran 12v through the joystick, so that when a joystick action was triggered a relay would click on. On the other side of the relay, I ran the sound module triggers. This allowed me to separate the voltage running through the joystick, from the wiring to the sound module. After all the time I spent on the sound module, I didn't want to accidentally send a voltage down one of the trigger wires and blow it up. When choosing your relay be sure to match the 'coil voltage' to the voltage that you will use to trigger the relay.
The steering wheel I also bought second hand on eBay, and again I chose an older model. Cheaper, and it had simple wiring inside. I cut the top and bottom off the steering wheel using a hack saw to give it a more 'spaceship' feel.
- Once I'd done this, the whole wheel felt quite 'weak'. I took the wheel apart and pressed Apoxy Sculpt into into the front of the wheel.
- I then located the wires which triggered the buttons. The wheel also had vibrating units which I located the wires for and ran them all out the back.
- I then pressed Apoxie Sculpt into the ends where I'd sawn off the top and bottom of the wheel. After the Apoxie Sculpt had dried, the steering wheel was extremely sturdy.
- I then ran the wires to two sets of relays. The first set I used to trigger the vibrating units inside the wheel. The second set of relays triggered the sound module.
- I attached the wheel to the ship using 4 big screws. I reinforced that part of the dashboard with some extra plywood.
***Apoxie Sculpt is fantastic. I used it at various places in the ship to strengthen and as a filler. It gives you an hour or so working time, and hardens over 24h to a rock hard resin. Super useful for working on and fixing many things.
Step 6: Back Panel - Crystal and Housing
From the rear of the ship is a large panel which leads to the crystal housing.
When I was young, I was captivated by the crystals in the movie 'Superman II', and I wanted to create something a bit like it.
(Side note: oddly enough decades later I stumbled across a small Superman Museum in a small town called Metropolis in Illinois. In that museum, they had the original crystal prop that they used in the movie. Although they now looked like some dusty old perspex tubes, I was overjoyed to see these original props.)
The frame of the crystal housing was timber. You can see pics above. On the front of the housing I installed the speakers that would later be wired up to the amplifier. I designed the whole housing so that it could slide in and out of the back of the spaceship for easy maintenance. I ran all wiring (power, speaker wire, sound triggers) along a single extra long set of wires which I spiral taped with electrical tape so that it would not hinder the sliding of he housing in and out of the main ship's frame.
I added a layer of mesh (just from hardware store, I think it was meant for fencing) on the inside of the housing. And then I added a whole lot of pipes, and cabling and neon wires, to make it look like the cabling inside a spaceship. I then added another layer of mesh on the outside of the housing to "sandwich" in the cabling and hold it all in place.
(I'd read somewhere that some people had received minor electrical shocks from this neon if it was roughly handled / broken as part of a Halloween costumes etc. So I purposefully didn't have it anywhere that the kids could bend and flex it.)
The speakers were mounted in the front of the housing. I bought some old stereo speakers from a second hand store, and broke open the housings and ripped the speakers out.
I added an old motherboard to the housing behind the crystal holder which I spray painted black. I drilled some holes in it which I pushed some LEDs through. (Old motherboards can be found cheaply on eBay. Make sure you search for a broken one first, as you don't need it working, and it will be much cheaper.)
I added some vents which I found in the hardware store. They don't do anything functional, they were just for looks.
The crystal holder was made from an old 'Doctor Who' toy I bought from eBay. (Apparently it's called 'Satan pit elevator'). I then mounted some perforated steel tubing (also from eBay) through the toy, with a space ground from the front using an angle grinder. Within the top and bottom of the steel tubing I put a perspex tube. The top and bottom I filled with green resin.
I removed the door and front of the the 'Doctor Who' toy, and cut two square holes in the top and bottom for the pipe to run through. I used a Dremel for this work.
I ground a section from the side of the steel tubing with an angle grinder, where I could put the diagonally cut perspex to hold the crystal. I then spray painted the steel tubing with matt black spray.
I cut two sections of perspex tube to sit inside the top and bottom of the steel tubing and glow green. On each piece of perspex I blocked up one end (with gaffer tape and plastic bags). I mixed up a batch of resin to which I added some green resin dye. I filled up the two tubes and let them set. The resin actually expanded so much it cracked the perspex. But this was ok, as these tubes were fully hidden inside the steel tubing and would just glow green through the small holes.
For the crystal holder, I used some of the same perspex tube sawed diagonally. In the bottom section, the section the crystal would sit in, I cut a small rectangle hole with a Dremel.
I added the top and bottom and green tubes, and the two diagonally cut pieces of perspex to steel tubing. I did all this assembly before running the whole pipe assembly through the 'Doctor Who' toy, which I fixed to the toy with Apoxie Sculpt, afterwards spray painting the joining Apoxie Sculpt black.
I then mounted the microswitch to the back of the toy. It had a very long lever which went through a hole I'd drilled in the toy, and through a hole I'd ground from the steel tubing and through a hole I'd cut in the perspex.
This was so that I could insert the lever of a microswitch which would trigger sounds and lights when the crystal was inserted into the tube.
Step 7: Rear LHS Panel
Under this panel I put an old motherboard which I bought from eBay. I chose one that was broken (much cheaper) and which had some cool looking components on it.
I first made a timber frame which would fit into the space I'd made for it in the ship, which I spray painted matt black.
I then screwed the motherboard in place, I mounted the motherboard so that the cable connectors of the board were facing upwards, so that I could run some 'fake' cabling up to the top of the timber frame.
I then screwed a load of small holes to push LEDs through from the back. Be sure to buy the pre-wired LEDs, as it makes them much easier to wire in. (Keep in mind the voltage of the LEDs when purchasing. Most of the ones I used on the ship were 5v LEDs. It doesn't really matter much which voltage I used as long as it was <= 12v. LEDs don't like being fed a voltage more than they are specified for. If you accidentally feed them a higher voltage they will blink out never to light again!). To fix the LEDs in place I put a drop of hot glue on the back of each LED.
I also managed to get the fan on the motherboard working by feeding it a small voltage. I used a step-down Buck Converter (mentioned in previous step) and gradually wound the voltage up until it was running.
I added a couple of small switches which turned some of the LEDs on and off. And a small push button that triggered a 'weird' sound in the sound module. Be sure to choose a 'momentary push button', which doesn't 'lock on'.
I then ran some 'fake' cabling in between the top of the motherboard and the top of the timber frame. I used plugs which fit the motherboard plugs so that he kids could take the plugs in and out.
Step 8: Rear RHS Panel
In the rear RHS panel I built a small display from another old toy I found in a second hand store. I think it was also an old 'Doctor Who' toy.
I cut the toy up with the Dremel, so that it only had the piece I wanted.
The toy had a series of small acrylic windows under each of which I fitted a blue LED.
I then wired each LED to a female banana plug socket.
For each socket I fitted a wire with a male banana plug socket, which would join the circuit for the LED. This was so that the kids play around plugging and unplugging each LED. Because these plugs were exposed to the kids, I ensured the voltage was quite low by using 5v LEDs. Again, I used a step-down buck converter to get the voltage right.
The whole unit could be turned off and on with a master switch at the top of the frame. I used a big 'missile switch' that lights up and has the cool cover. They are kind of expensive at around $7 USD. But look good.
Step 9: Sound Module
Sound card and housing
The sounds module was built using a small card called a WAV Trigger from a company called 'Spark Fun'.
It provides up to 16 triggered sounds which are stored in WAV format on a microSD Card.
It comes with some easy to use software which allows you to configure which triggers fire which sounds. It has lots of config like whether sounds should be triggered when the circuit is connected, or when it is unconnected.
I made a housing for the sound unit from a small black electronics hobby box.
I wired up 16 small PCB mounted switches which stuck out of the top of the box, which could be used to test the sounds on each trigger point.
I also mounted 16 wire connection points which would allow me to easily connect wires that were coming from various switches and trigger points on the spaceship.
This was was a project in itself. I hope to write it up one day as a separate Instructable.
Sparkfun also sell another MP3 Trigger card. However when I was researching them I found that the WAV Trigger had a number of advantages. One of them being that it could play multiple sounds at the same time which was a must for a project like this. e.g. I didn't want all other sounds to be unavailable if the kids were listening to a long running sound. So unless things have changed, go for the WAV Trigger card.
For an amplifier, I found a cheap 12v amplifier online made by Lepy. It was more than enough to provide sound for the ship. I wired the sound module straight into the back of the amplifier.
Step 10: Small Hidden Diorama
OK, this addition was weird.
Originally I was going to have speakers on the side of the ship, hence the two big round holes on each side. But I didn't end up needing them so I had a bit of space inside the ship.
I drilled some additional holes in the side of the ship where the kids could look through. And another smaller hole where I mounted a hidden button.
I was going to put a spooky alien. But the toy alien I had was too spooky, and I came up with this idea. I agree, not at all space-like. But this turns out to be the kid's favourite part of the ship.
I made a small diorama with:
- Some green fake grass.
- A small cabin. (I've tried to locate the small cottage I bought, but I can't find it anywhere online. There are lots of alternatives though. Just ensure it's made of resin so that it can be drilled.)
- Some fake trees.
- A painted background.
- I made the diorama in a small box made out of thick cardboard.
- Under the grass I used Apoxie Sculp to form a small hill.
- I bought some fake trees which I poked through the fake grass into the Apoxie Sculpt
- In the bottom of the small cabin I drilled a large hole. I then drilled out the windows. This was so that I could put a warm LED to look like the lights were on inside the cabin.
- The hidden button was wired to the sound module, which played a 'nature background sound' with birds chirping and the sound of a stream.
- Behind the larger holes which the kids could look through I stapled some wire mesh. This was so the kids couldn't get their hands stuck in the holes.
As I said. Weird.
Participated in the