Animated Death Star Hat: Welcome to the Dork Side




About: By day, mild-mannered CS prof. By night, husband, father, basement tinkerer, video game player.
As it is most years, I procrastinated and didn't put a "real" costume together for Dragon*Con this year.  But I did have this crazy idea for a hat, so....BEHOLD!!!  The power to DESTROY A PLANET!  ON MY HEAD!

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Step 1: Materials and Tools

  1. Large plastic mixing bowl.  Mine is about 13 inches at the rim and is just barely big enough.  Cruise the cheap dishes aisle at Wal-Mart to find a good one for a buck or two.
  2. Hard hat.  These can be found at Home Depot / Lowe's / etc. in the same area as the safety goggles.
  3. Small Xwing and TIE fighter toys.  Mine came as kid's meal toys at Burger King a few years ago.  Other possibilities:
    • As of this writing, I think the Star Wars Titanium toy line has a set with both of these in it (It's pricey, though, about $30, and is probably heavy)
    • There was a Micro Machines Star Wars line several years back.  They're probably cheap on eBay.
    • If you have a 3D printer, I've seen models on Thingiverse that would work
    • Look for papercraft ("print, cut, and fold") models on the web
  4. Gray spray paint.  Look for the kind that works well on plastic (e.g., Krylon Fusion).
  5. 18-gauge wire
  6. Small 6V gear motor.  I think I used one of these (I don't know for certain because it came as part of a larger kit).  The offset-gearbox turned out to be a big plus.
  7. Some clear acrylic ("Plexiglass").  I used a piece about 16" long by 2" wide by about 1/4" thick.
  8. Battery holder, single "C" cell.
  9. toggle switch
  10. a Dean's plug (optional, but adds some convenience)
  11. wire, 20-gauge stranded
  12. some wood scraps
  13. (4x) small eye hooks (I think these were the smallest available at Home Depot)
  14. small wood or sheet metal screws
  1. A black Sharpie.
  2. Utility knife
  3. drill
  4. bandsaw
  5. hot glue gun
  6. soldering iron

Step 2: Install the Motor

  1. (First picture) Drill holes for the motor shaft and retaining bolts.  Try to center the shaft in the middle of the bowl; often there will be a manufacturing defect in the center -- use it to locate the shaft.
  2. (Second picture) With the motor upside-down, dry-fit it (screws and all) and mark the location of the main motor body (the cylindrical part).  When you flip the whole thing over, the shaft and retaining bolts will still be in the same place but the motor body will protrude into the bowl.
  3. (Third picture) Cut a hole for the motor body.
  4. (Fourth picture) In the lower corner you can see the motor mounted to the top of the bowl.
Having the motor mounted this way worked out well -- it let the "helicopter blades" just clear the raised rim on the bottom of the bowl.

Step 3: Wire Up the Motor and Battery Pack

The first picture shows the wiring for the motor and battery pack.

This part was the result of some trial and error.  Even though I'm using a 6V motor, I'm only powering it with a single 1.5V C-cell.  Anything more makes the motor run too fast.  If you want to get fancy you could use an Arduino or something and control the motor speed with PWM, but this was cheap and easy.
  • The battery pack has a red (hot) and black (ground) wire coming out of it.  
  • The rocker switch is connected in series with the red wire to give off/on control to the wearer.  I was lazy and just electrical-taped the switch to the battery pack (second picture).
  • The entire length of cable (the red and black wire together) is long enough to run from the motor on top of the bowl down my body into my pocket.
  • The cable has a Dean's connector (third picture) near the middle to give a convenient way to disconnect the battery/switch unit from the hat.
  • It doesn't matter which wire is soldered to which motor tab.  Swapping them simply reverses the motor direction.

Step 4: Install the Hat Liner

I didn't actually need the hard hat itself for this project -- what I needed was the removable liner that comes with it.  So take out the liner and do something else with the hat.  Maybe save it for that Shoveler costume you always wanted to do.

What's going on here is that you need to adapt the helmet liner to the up-turned bowl.  Use your best guess and/or eyeball it to cut four small scraps of wood, sized to center the liner in the bowl.  Also, make sure you have as much clearance as possible between the top of your head and the motor!  This probably means placing the liner as low on the bowl as possible.

Experiment with the proper size of the blocks and their attachment points on the inside of the bowl.  Use hot glue to temporarily attach them without having to commit to a screw hole on the bowl until you get it the way you want.

We're going to attach the wood blocks with screws.  Drill a pilot hole on each side of the block so you don't split the wood (third picture).

For each block, attach it to a liner support (the parts that would snap into the hard hat if we still had it) with a screw (fourth picture).

The last picture shows all the spacer blocks installed.  Attach them to the bowl with screws.

Step 5: Paint and Decorate

Now, disassemble everything.  Before you do, though, mark and number the positions of your wood spacers (second picture) so you remember where they go when you re-assemble.

Spray-paint the bowl a medium-to-dark gray.  Give it plenty of time to dry and cure before you start drawing on it.

Now, use a black Sharpie to fill in the Death Star details:
  1. Using whatever circular lids and whatnots that seem appropriate (picture #4), draw the turbolaser (picture #5)
  2. Add in the latitude lines.  One each at the top and bottom, with two in the middle, should be plenty (last two pictures)
  3. Finally, randomly add some longitudinal lines as in the first picture.
When you're done, you can re-assemble everything you have so far.

Step 6: The "Helicopter Blades"

I used a piece of 1/4" thick clear acrylic for the helicopter blades:
  1. (first picture) cut to about 15-1/2" x 2" using the bandsaw.  Adjust the measurements based on the size your spaceships and bowl.
  2. Mark the center (second picture) with a scratch awl or sharp nail.  Drill a hole here, picking your drill bit such that the hole will be a very snug fit on the motor shaft.
  3. (third picture) As shown in the picture notes, drill two small holes near each end of the helicopter blade.  The spaceships will hang from here.
  4. Remove the film from the acrylic (if needed) and then attach it to the motor on top of the bowl. (last picture)  If you cut the shaft-hole correctly, it should press-fit tightly.
The last picture shows the ships attached with heavy-duty twist ties.  Originally I had planned to hang them with fishing line, but couldn't for the life of me remember where I'd put it.  When I finally found some, much later, I realized it wouldn't work very well.  I came up with a better way which I'll detail in the next step.

Step 7: Hang the X-wing and TIE Fighter

First off, turn it on and see which way it spins.  You don't want your X-Wing to fly backwards.  It's embarrassing.

As shown in the first picture, drill very tiny holes, just big enough to accommodate the eye hooks, then screw in the eye hooks.  You should use two hooks per ship; this will keep it stable as it flies

In the second picture, I've use a piece of 18-gauge wire to connect the eye hooks to the helicopter blades.

Repeat for the TIE Fighter.

And with that, it's done!  Thanks for looking and if you make one for yourself, post a picture!

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    16 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I like it


    6 years ago on Step 7

    You are strong in the Dork side! I sense the whimsy welling up in you! Give in to your feelings of fun!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome - somebody has got to turn that video clip into an animated gif!

    My only suggestion would be to somehow install the batteries within the hat (there looks to be enough space), thus saving that dangling wire.

    4 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    The animated gif is hopefully forthcoming. :)

    It has enough space inside to stuff the battery in there. The wire is nice in that I can turn it on and off without removing the hat.


    7 years ago on Introduction


    Took kiteman and Jayefuu's advice and consolidated the switch and battery pack into the helmet. The switch is now located in the back of the helmet near the bottom rim and the battery pack is mounted on the underside of the top of the helmet.

    Also discovered that the motor I used can accept a screw into the center of the output shaft, similar to how arms are mounted on servo shafts and held in place with a small screw. Used that and a oddball screw with a wide flat head to reinforce the helicopter blades and keep them from popping off the shaft.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is fantastic! Though I'm with kiteman, batteries and switch in the helmet, if you know where the switch is, near the rim, you shouldn't have to take the hat off.

    Oh and I like the pun in the title, stellar work ;)

    5 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I may have to bend to peer pressure on this one. :) I've another project that has priority between now and Dragon*Con, but if I have a free evening I'll take your suggestion.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Next year you should do R2D2. Paint the bowl like R2D2 and make the bowl spin back and forth slowly with a servo. Add a few blinking LEDs and some chirping noises.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Get on it! You still have 2 weeks until Dragon*Con. Then whoever you're going with can look as awesome as you, plus you can get another featured instructable :p

    I wish I could go to Dragon*Con, Brandon Sanderson's meant to be reading another excerpt from A Memory of Light. (due January)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    If my mini-sumo 'bot gets ready before then I may try!

    I'm kicking myself now because I used to have a large snack-bowl with an R2D2 design that would have been perfect -- especially since my artistic skills are...less than stellar. Sadly, a couple of moves later and it's long-gone...