While working on making my own steampunk costume, I decided I wanted a Tesla gun, similar to the style seen in the TV show Warehouse 13, but I was unable to find any DIY instructions.
In addition, vacuum tubes are expensive and fragile, and I do not have the tools to make a good replica with glass or resin, so I had to figure out how to make one out of plastic I already had.
So here is my Instructable, using mostly supplies found around my house!
- Small bottle with nozzle -- I used an empty bamboo fertilizer bottle but any plastic bottle around 1 inch in diameter should work
- Clear tube -- diameter should be just slightly larger than the bottle. I used a plastic tube from Hobby Lobby glass beads.
- Smaller clear bottle -- I used an empty bottle of hotel shampoo
- Cardboard -- I used 24 point chipboard
- Large cardboard spool or tube, ~ 1.5 inches in diameter -- I found a cardboard spool with medal in the ends that I think used to be a spool of lace. A section of paper towel roll should work fairly well but will be less sturdy.
- Acrylic paint: black, metallic gold, metallic silver, burnt sienna, brown
- Glue -- hot glue, tacky glue, school glue
- 20 gauge wire and spool -- I used this one from Hobby Lobby
- Narrow plastic tubing
- Metal washers
- Paint brush
- Sandpaper (I sand down every plastic piece before I paint, for a good surface
- Needle-nose pliers
- Hot glue gun
- Wood-pattern scrapbook paper
- Modge podge
- Small metal gears
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Step 1: Design Your Handle
If you want to use my handle design as is, use the attached PDF and skip to the end of this step. (Note: if you do use mine, the handle may not fit your components correctly, so you may need to adapt it anyway.)
- Based off of your components, estimate the length you want your gun to be. You can even lay your components on the sheet of paper you use to draw your design. (The pieces shown in image 2 were what I originally planned to use. My components changed, but the overall design did not.)
- Using a pencil, sketch the design you want for the grip of the gun, as well as the ring around the trigger and the supporting piece that extends to the front of the gun. The trigger will be made separate from the large main piece, but you will need the sketch for its size and placement. (I originally drew a trigger ring but later changed the design for a large trigger.)
- Cut out the design, then cut apart the grip+supporting arm from the trigger ring. Set aside the trigger piece for now.
Step 2: Building the Grip
- Trace the template onto your cardboard twice and cut out the pieces. (I used scrap cardboard from another project.)
- If your cardboard has one side that is better than the other (i.e. paint stains, pen marks, etc. on one side but not the other), flip the template over when tracing the second side so that the nicer side can face out and will not interfere with painting or finishing steps later.
- Sandwich a piece of plastic or cardboard the thickness you want your trigger to be between the two sides and use scotch tape or masking tape to secure them together. (I originally used a trigger from a toy gun but decided later to build my own trigger from the cardboard.)
- Cut four narrow trapezoidal (i.e. triangles with a flat tip) pieces of cardboard that will fit between the two sides so that they are wider at the bottom than at the top and supported throughout.
- *NOTE* This honestly takes experimentation and sightwork. Make the bottom of the shapes the desired depth of the base of the grip. The supports closer to the outside of the grip taper less than those closer to the inside.
- Cut several rectangular pieces of cardboard of varying widths to act as cross-supports.
- Using a piece of string, measure around the outside of the grip where the two sides will not be touching.
- Cut a piece of cardboard the same length as the string. The width of this piece should be the desired depth of the grip's base.
- Lightly dampen this strip of cardboard, using a spray bottle or damp cloth, and gently bend it to the shape of the outside of the grip. Draw lines marking where it is too wide and cut it to taper to the shape of the grip.
- Remove the tape holding the two sides together.
- *NOTE* In retrospect, it might have been a better idea to use a clip of some sort, as it was very hard to remove the tape without damaging the cardboard
- Hot glue the strip of cardboard in place to one side.
- Cut slots in the supports so that they can be fitted together and glue them in place.
Step 3: The Trigger
- Using the pattern for the trigger you cut out earlier, cut two pieces of cardboard, leaving an extra centimeter or so at the top.
- Dampen the cardboard lightly, and use a round object like a pen to curve it.
- Using hot glue, glue the two sides of the trigger together to make a rounded trigger with a tapered flat end.
- Using hot glue, glue the trigger onto the side of the gun with the support lattice, then glue the second side on top.
- Glue the remaining area of the cardboard pieces together with tacky glue and use a clip to hold them together so they can dry.
- (Optional) Apply tacky glue around the edges of the grip seam to strengthen the structure.
- Allow the gun to dry for several hours to overnight. (You can work on the next steps while waiting.)
Step 4: Vacuum Tube
This is probably the most complicated step, and if you have your own vacuum tube, you can skip this entirely. This is also one of the easiest steps to modify in order to personalize your Tesla gun!
- Remove all stickers from the tube and bottle
- Cut the end off of the tube and set aside the black lid (this is a piece that fits tightly into the tube to seal it)
- Cut the top off of the bottle, about half an inch below where it curves toward the nozzle. This should fit nicely inside the clear tube.
- (Note: If you have a clear bottle with a nozzle the same size as the one I used, you just need to remove stickers and cut off the bottom. However, you will need to cut a cardboard circle to attach the inner components to.)
- Cut the tip off the bottle and wrap the straight portion of the nozzle with copper wire.
- (Note: if your bottle has a straight nozzle, rather than the wonky shape of the one I used, do not cut off the tip. Wait until after you paint it and wrap the tip then.)
- Paint the bottle piece, the rim of the clear tube, and a portion of plastic tubing in black.
- After the black paint dries, add metallic paint to the tube and bottle piece.
- I originally used silver but later repainted it brown with a coat of gold to give a bronze/brass look instead
- Wrap your section of black plastic tubing with wire
- Glue together the pieces for the inside of the tube. Here is what I used, from the base to the top:
- Gold button cover
- Wire folded into zig-zag ring about 1 cm tall, filled with hot glue, and with 5 short pieces of copper wire glued around the outside
- Small silver gear
- Black plastic tubing
- Gold washer
- Glue inner structure to the black lid. I had to fill this piece with hot glue first, let this dry, and then attach the inner structure.
- (Note: if using a single bottle instead of the tube+bottle, either find a plastic cylinder that fits in the bottom or cut a circle of cardboard that fits, paint this black, and glue your structure to this.)
- Assemble your tube -- push the inner structure (glued to the lid or other plug) into the end of the bottle. Or glue your cardboard circle to the open end of the tube, with the inner structure inside the tube
- You can glue these together or leave them unglued, depending on how tight the fit is and whether you want the option to re-design the inner structure at some point in the future.
Step 5: Painting and Paneling
For this step, use your paint and imagination to personalize the look of your gun!
- Paint the gun! I mixed metallic gold acrylic paint with a red-brown acrylic paint to make a copper color, which I used on the handle. I then painted the rest gold, using a blend of my copper and gold colors to fade the colors together.
- (I forgot to take pictures while painting the body of the gun, so this image is from after some of the later pieces were added.)
- For wood panelling, I bought some wood-pattern scrapbook paper and brushed a darker brown paint over it, since the original color was too light for my taste.
- Then I cut out pieces of cardboard to the shape I wanted for the handle and cut pieces of paper slightly larger than these cardboard pieces.
- I cut small slits all around the edge of the paper so that I could easily fold it around the cardboard.
- Using white school glue, I glued the paper onto the panel.
- When it dried, I glued the panels onto the gun.
- I also covered an old wire spool and my trigger piece in wood-pattern paper.
Step 6: Dials, Gauges, and Other Steampunk Miscellania
For this step, I recommend not following exactly what I did, but instead using your own imagination and findings to personalize your Tesla gun.
- I cut a small rectangle out of both sides of my cardboard spool, using an x-acto knife.
- I then cut small pieces of cardboard to line the edges of this and make them look neat.
- For the gauges, I printed small images of gauges, cut them to shape, and glued them to cardboard rectangles slightly larger than the holes in the spool.
- See attached file for gauge images I used
- Then I glued the squares behind the holes in the spool.
- Add gears, dials, and other gauges as you like.
- I added four tiny gears onto the wood panel on both sides
- I attached a gold button to the trigger piece (just for show, mine doesn't do anything fancy or electronic)
- I also made a small dial for the trigger
- I used a paper dial image and the plastic end I cut off the plastic barrel tube
- I added modge podge to the plastic a layer at a time, letting it dry clear between layers
- When the plastic was almost full, I added a final thin layer and put the gauge in face-down (so when flipped over it shows through the plastic bevel)
Step 7: Assemble!
Glue together all your pieces.
- I started by attaching the lightbulb to the plastic spool, then gluing that to the cardboard spool (the one with the gauges).
- Next I poked holes in the spool and the body of the gun, then used wire to fasten the spool securely to the gun (Image 3). I also added glue underneath to make it more secure.
- Then I hot glued the "Tesla coil" to the spool and the arm of the gun.
All done! Enjoy your new prop weapon and go be awesome!
I'd love to see yours in the comments if you make it!
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