I had been struggling for ideas this year, what to make for the annual ornament gift for the Things. Backstory - each year I make a one of a kind ornament gift for the kids. They are beginning to accumulate a nice collection of what I hope will be heirloom ornaments that they enjoy for years to come.
Thing One asked what I was going to make and I told him I had no idea and needed inspiration, so he suggested X-wing Fighters: they could be attacking last year's Death stars, which would be way cooler than the yellow submarine that's currently hanging by a Death Star on the tree. Duh...sold. The design in my head would incorporate a cigar tube (which I have used before for an airplane ornament), parts from old pens, and other odds and ends.
After swearing that this year would be simple, I somehow decided to play with fiber optics...wouldn't it be cool to have lasers shooting out of the guns, etc., etc. This effectively turned a simple model into a somewhat intricate prototype using a number of design techniques, the whole dining room table, spousal patience, and a lot more time that I originally anticipated.
There are a few techniques I have been wanting to try, such as mold-making/casting, Fiber optics, etc., and this project will give me the opportunity to try some new things so I'm excited. Here goes:
Stuff you will need:
- Cigar tube(s)
- Epoxy Cement
- Modeling clay
- Silicone Caulk, Cornstarch
- Bondo filler resin
- Scrap sheet aluminum (for the wings)
- Fiber optics of varying diameter (I used 1mm)
- Pens to disassemble and use the parts. I used old pens from a trade show...you'll need to find 4 alike pens with parts that will serve as engines and other components.
- Hot glue
- Red LED light source (I got mine in a wristband from the dollar store)
- Shop Scissors
- Box Cutter
- small clamps
- Drill press/drill with 1/8" and 1/2" bits
- Paint/ Painters tape
- Soldering Iron/solder and electronic odds and ends from RadioShack. (LEDs, thin wire, small circuit board)
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Step 1: Body - Shaping the Nose Section
1. Cut the bottom off the cigar tube with a box cutter. Use a new blade and it will cut easily. The bottom piece turns out to look kind of Star Wars-y, so I think it may have to become the parabolic thrust inverter on the X-wing powertrain or something. I then flattened out the cut edge on the tube with small needle nose pliers, crimping around the circumference.
2. Sand the tube down to the metal for a solid clean working surface for the epoxy later on.
3. Draw a circle around the tube with a pencil, just over half way from the nose end. Then mark the cut lines. We are reducing the diameter towards the nose as we go, so need to cut out long skinny triangles and then glue the sides back together. I did 4 thin triangles, spaced equally around the tube. Now cut out the triangles - I used my Fiskars shop scissors and they worked fine.
4. Now to glue the nose back together using epoxy. All I had was brown so that's what I used. Epoxy is epoxy, even if mine says it's for wood...it will all be painted anyway. Tip: swab the area with alcohol first to get it nice and clean, and with the bare metal it should produce a strong epoxy bond.
I cut a small piece of rubber the size of the new nose end, and taped it together at the nose. Then apply epoxy to the inside joints using a bamboo grill skewer, making sure some oozes through to the exterior. Go about 3/4 of the way towards the nose - we will finish from the other end once this is cured.
5. When the epoxy is set, remove the rubber end cap and tape, hold the nose together with a rubber band, and finish gluing through the small nose hole.
Step 2: Body - Shaping the Tail End
I wanted to square out the rear of the body, partly for the look, and partly so I could later fit in the LED light, which I found and liberated from an LED wristband I picked up at the dollar store. I was hoping not to have to disassemble the LED lighting, and this looked like it would fit. It didn't, so I had to improvise.
1. Find something with a flat metal side and gently hammer (more of a tap, really) out the rear of the body, turning to form each side. I used a masonry chisel on the anvil, but I guess a flat bar would work, as long as it is not wider than the shape you are looking for.
Step 3: The Wings
1. Scrap metal sheet. I had some old metal siding swatches, and they are aluminum, so bonus. Any scrap thin metal sheet would do, but as the cigar tube body is aluminum, it helps for the wings to be the same, otherwise the different metals can corrode at the join.
2. Make a cardboard template for the wing shape. I estimated size by looking at other X-wings on the internet. Draw the shape onto the sheet metal with a pencil, and then cut it out with tin snips. Repeat 3 times to get 4 wings.
3. Sand all the wings down to the metal.
4. Glue the first pair of wings to the body with epoxy. I made a rig with modeling clay to hold them in place while the epoxy set. I looked at more X-wing pics online for the 'attack position' angle between each pair...less than 45 degrees but more than 30 I would estimate. These wings will not be hinged - maybe an upgrade idea for 2.0? Clean the surfaces with alcohol before applying the epoxy.
5. Once the epoxy has cured for first pair, repeat for the next pair. I measured the distance tip-to-tip between the first pair of wings, and made sure it was the same for the second pair - held the correct distance apart by a roll of clay.
6. Once everything has cured, sand down the epoxy welds. I wrapped sandpaper around a thin wood dowel to get between the wings.
Step 4: The Nose Cone
The X-wing has a defined nose cone, and so I thought I would use clay to model one, and then cast it with Bondo and sand it smooth. Fun to try new techniques, and quicker than building up layers of Bondo and trying to shape it. I know there are easier ways to accomplish this - Sugru or similar that would be a one step process, but I went with what I had, and wanted to explore molding/casting. Here goes:
1. Use modeling clay and a sharp knife (I used a box cutter blade) to fashion the nose cone on the nose.
2. Cut a small piece of 3/4 PVC pipe to hold the silicone mold (or use something else that will hold it), and grab the silicone tube and the corn starch and a mixing paddle. You can read a really good 'ible on silicone molding (unfortunately the hotlinking feature wouldn't work for me or I would add it here, but you can search for it) , but essentially, adding cornstarch (I used 1 part cornstarch to 4 parts silicone, roughly) to 100% silicone (Type I. Type II doesn't work) will allow you to mold it in any thickness and it cures quickly in under an hour. A really quick process with perfect reproduction.
3. Mix the silicone with cornstarch, stirring vigorously until evenly incorporated. It puts off a heavy acetic smell, so best to do it outside. Load it into the PVC pipe section, flatten/screed the top, and then stick in the nose cone up to the very top, screed/flatten around it and just leave it sticking out until the silicone is set, which shouldn't be very long.
4. When the silicone is fully set, pull off the body, and then push out the silicone mold from the PVC pipe housing. It will be nice and rubbery, will deform as you push it out and also pop out the clay nose cone, and then return to it's shape as a cylinder with a prefect indentation the shape of the nose cone.
5. Mix up a tiny amount of Bondo (or it could be epoxy), press it into the mold, and then stick in the nose of the X-wing and let it set. Once set, out will pop a perfect replica of the clay nose cone, firmly attached to the tube body, and ready to be sanded/painted.
Step 5: Installing the Guns
For the guns on the outer wings, I'm using the heads off rivets, with Q-tips for the barrels. The Q-tip barrels are plastic and hollow - hopefully my plan to run the fiber up the barrel will work, and we'll have red lasers shining out of the optics in the gun barrels.
1. Grab some rivets. I used ones with a long head which fit nicely. Alternatively I could have used one of a couple of plastic inserts from the pen mechanisms , but I preferred the look of aluminium rivet heads. I held the rivet body with pliers and tapped out the nail in each rivet, keeping the hollow heads.
2. Glue the rivet heads to the wing edges with epoxy. I used a small clamp to hold them in place while the epoxy cured. Oh, and I sanded the underside of the rivet and cleaned with alcohol to get a strong bond.
3. Strip off the cotton wool and fit the Q-tip into the rivet body. Beginning to look like an X-wing. Lightly sand the Q tip so that the paint will stick to it a bit better.
Step 6: The Fiber Optics
The goal was to have red 'laser' beams coming out of the wing guns, plus red light out of the back of the engines.
I ordered some fiber of varying thicknesses from the FiberOpticStore. And a little extra to play with. Also got some 'side glow' fiber (which glows along the whole length, as opposed to 'end glow' that just shines the light from the end of the fiber), but don't think I will end up using it in this project. I ended up going with 1mm diameter fiber - the largest I could fit through the Q-tips/guns.
The optic fibers will need to be run to their destinations and all be bunched together and positioned in front of the red LED. I figured it would be easier to have the light pointing towards the rear, as that would be the direction the fibers start out in their runs to the wings and engine exhausts.
1. Drill small (1/8") holes into the body and under the wings and into the gun rivets to snake the fiber through. Drill another set of holes for the engine fibers.
2. Drill holes in the engines (pieces from the pens). I drilled a couple of extra holes so the epoxy would ooze through and create a rivet like bond when glued to the body.
3. Run the fibers from the body to the top engines. I used an insert from the pen to hold the fiber in the middle of the opening, and a dab of hot glue to hold in in place while everything is glued together with epoxy.
4. Run the fibers from the body under each of the top wings, up into and through to the wing gun (rivet), and glue them to the underside of the wings with epoxy. I did this in stages, clamping the fiber to the wing and gluing half, then finishing once the clamps came off.
5. Repeat for the bottom wings - first the fibers and engines, then the fibers to the guns.
6. I used some leftover cabinet bumper stops on the end of the engine exhaust. When lightly sanded, they help diffuse the pinpoint light into more of an afterburner effect.
Now there is a fiber coming out of each wing gun pointing forwards, and a fiber coming pointing out of the rear of each engine. All the other fiber ends are pointing out of the rear of the body, ready to be trimmed and attached to the light assembly.
Step 7: Lighting for the Fiber Optics
I found a cheap optic wristband at the dollar store which should work perfectly - the red LED is already used for lighting the wristband, so should be fine as the light source for the X-wing. Turned out I had to take it apart/reconfigure in order to get it to fit into the X-wing body.
1. I needed a really compact set-up to fit into the back of the X-wing body, couldn't think of anything so made my own. First I molded an endpiece with clay, and embedded a switch (from an LED tealight) then removed it, leaving a void.
2. Now make a quick mold using the silicone method used earlier, and cast a replica with Bondo. After a light sanding, the endpiece should fit snugly in the rear of the X-wing.
3. Drill out a recess for the batteries. Mine were 1/2". Line up and drill holes for the wires from switch to battery and LED terminal.
4. Finally, solder the LED to a small piece of circuit board and connect the circuit. I drilled 1'8" holes in two corners and used the screws from the wristband to secure it to the block, holding in the batteries in their compartment.
5. The LED and switch are now working, rigid and pointing forward. Install into the rear of the X-wing body and secured with a small screw. I used a piece of drinking straw to connect/line up the LED to the end of the fiber optic cluster inside the body.
When switched on, the optics on the wingtip laser guns light up (lightly sanding the ends of the fibers makes them side glow as well as end glow), and the optics in the engine exhausts diffuse red light through the dome shaped cabinet bumpers.
Step 8: Finishing Touches
Finish up with some paint, the flight deck with R2 unit, and an eye hook to hang on the tree.
1. Rebel Forces paint job. I used masking tape, thin cut with an exacto knife, and loosely copied from pics online.
2. Remember the bonus find from the end of the cigar tube? I cut out a square with a chisel/mallet, the same size as the LED switch. Now slide your parabolic thrust inverter onto the LED switch and secure with a dab of epoxy.
3. I made a quick cockpit section with clay, and cast a mold and replica with Bondo.
4. After a light sanding, I glued a trimmed scrap LED R2 unit behind the cockpit - you gotta have a droid in there.
5. Paint the cockpit and then paint the windows. I used masking tape again. Glue the cockpit section to the X-wing body.
6.Finally, attach a small eye hook to officially turn the X-wing into a hangable ornament.
2014 X-wing ornaments. Done.
Last but not least, Thing One and Thing Two each get a written inscription on the underside of their ornament gift, along with the year of manufacture.