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Tips and Lessons from My R2D2 Build

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      I have gotten a few emails asking for more details to how I built R2D2. This list is what I sent in response. It is a list of handy things to keep in mind while building your own R2D2 or other case modifications. Also mixed in are some tips as to what materials and hardware I think are best to work with. This list is in no particular order, I wrote it as I thought of it. This is also more for the novice console modder. If you have any more questions I would be glad to answer them, you can find my email address on my "contact me" page above.


I would use ABS plastic for the structure on the inside. For the shelves I used two 1/4''x3/4'' strips for each layer.

I ran a matrix of ribs around on the inside after I installed the console ports where they needed to be. I did this so that the ribs would not later interfere with any installations. I also recommend using ABS plastic for this. These ribs were installed to increase the stiffness of the skin of R2D2 so that it could handle the pressure created by plugging in and unplugging controllers and video game cartridges.

To build the structure for the legs I used 3/4'' thick particle board that I had lying around. When joining wood I used structural metal braces that can be found at a hardware store coupled with gorilla glue. Remember to use water with the gorilla glue so you get the proper foaming action.

I used the plastic leg covers that came with the cooler to create patterns on the wood that would later become the main structure of R2D2's legs. I then used ABS plastic to cover the wood and I used an epoxy called Super Weld to seamlessly join everything together so it looked like one clean piece.

To keep everything cool in the droid, I used a GE 1480RPM 120VAC 10 inch fan. One fan this size is plenty to keep everything cool, it even runs near silent.

When cutting holes in the cylinder to put in ports, I used a box knife like the one in the picture.  The blades are cheap and durable. It takes a lot of practice to get to a point where cuts are good so practice.

The original bottom of R2D2 had five caster wheels, I cut it off and threw it out. For the new bottom I used a round disc that came from an A&W soda display shelf that was just under the exact diameter needed. I imagine that A&W shelves are not easy to come by, I am not too sure what else to use.

For the electronics side I used 36 wire ribbon cable (look on digikey.com). I counted the longest pin set I would have needed to extend and bought the next widest ribbon cable. I think I went through forty feet of ribbon cable for all twelve systems.

A good wire stripper is nice to have. I have never tried them, but I have seen strippers that will strip multiple wires at once and can strip a good range of gauges without adjustment. Those look really handy.

I would also recommend getting a good soldering iron and learning to use flux properly. This can make everything so much easier. Your consoles will be more durable in the end.

When you run ribbon cables off the boards make sure to fix the cables to the boards so that they are not tugging on the soldered connection. Usually a hot glue gun does this sufficiently. Sometimes I would use pieces of plastic to create a more rigid brace for the ribbon cable.

For the AV switch box I bought a lot of switches and AV plugs all of which can be found on digikey.com

To join the ABS plastic together in a clean fashion I would recommend using a glue called thin cyano-acrylate. The good stuff can be found at hobby shops while the cheaper version can be found at plastic stores such as tapplastics.com. It is worth it to spring for the more expensive stuff. It is a super thin liquid glue that wicks into the crack created by the joined plastic and fuses it together. If you ever wondered how people glue acrylic together so cleanly they use cyano-acrylate glue.

For the wheels on the back two legs I used a set of old skateboard trucks and on the front wheel I used a single large diameter caster wheel.

The sound system in my R2D2 is a stereo receiver with eight speakers. I bought it and all of my speakers at a thrift store. Just be careful to get the right impedance value on all of your speakers. If you don't you will probably burn some fuses. R2D2 has four sets of two speakers each which are in series with each other. This was the only way I could achieve the right impedance with the eight speakers I had on hand.

If you install your stereo receiver at the bottom of the cylinder like I did, I would recommend building a clear acrylic box to go over it (after you remove the original cover) so that no metal objects fall in and accidentally short circuit stuff. I had a couple of close calls because I thought I had cleaned everything out well enough. Luckily my stereo receiver has a power supply check built into its start up procedure.

I used a pre-cut 22'' acrylic disc to create the top cover of R2D2 between the dome and the cylinder. I wanted the insides to be visible through the top

I recommend using multiple strand wire on all of your wires because the connections tend to be more durable and flexible.

For the computer I used a laptop because it is so much more compact than a desktop. If you put a laptop in it will probably require soldering to flexible circuits due to the power button, LED indicator lights, and other buttons. This takes some practice, you will need to scratch off a light layer of insulating coating, then solder to a joint that cannot take a whole lot of heat without melting off. Once a joint is made hot glue gun it as soon as possible to avoid breaking the connection and possibly ripping traces off the circuit.

I used as few top loading disc systems as possible because those are more difficult to cleanly integrate in R2. For example, I preferred the PS2 phat over the slim.

Try to make everything removable, don't make things permanent. Because this was one big learning process I did ruin things, and on occasion I had permanently glued things in. That only made it harder to replace those parts. When possible use screws instead of epoxy.

A lot of the consoles ports needed customized brackets to give them proper support and hold them on the skin of R2. I used an assortment of ABS plastic and metal strips coupled with acrylic glue, screws, and glue from a hot glue gun.

Never use any silicon based glues, they don't paint sand or hold.

I did use five minute epoxy, it came in handy a number of times. A lot of this build for me was learning when to use what glues and materials and when not to use them. If you need a good sandable, paintable, heat resistant, strong epoxy then I would recommend Super Weld (beware there is super mend and a few others, make sure it is Super Weld, its the best). I bought mine at tapplastics.com, and it comes in a box with two tubes, one part a and one part b. Super Weld also works well as a filler so if you have some deep scratches that are not sandable, Super Weld will fill them easily plus its durable and a little bit flexible

Learn to use heat shrink tubing when it makes sense, it makes a huge difference in the neatness of the mods and the durability.

The NES will require a new set of cartridge pins from a top loading unit if you decide to use an original NES. Or at least I needed it because I wanted to get rid of the click down feature.

The Sega Genesis and N64 will need grounded shielding on the ribbon cables that extend the cartridge pins. If there is no shielding the systems will not work properly. While you are at it, you might as well shield any set of cartridge pins you can just to be sure. I found that on the Sega genesis without shielding some games did work and others did not. You may run into games that need the shielding in other systems, I have not yet found a reason to shield other systems.

The cartridge pins on the systems will typically have a metal shield around them. Where the metal shield touches the motherboard is where you will need to connect the ribbon cable shield, as well as to the metal shield on the pins. To shield the ribbon cables I used standard aluminum foil and soldered it to the ground on both the pins and the motherboard. Make sure not to accidentally short out things on the motherboard with stray aluminum foil. After wrapping the ribbon cables in foil I also wrapped them in electrical tape to prevent shorts.

I used two hundred LED lights to light up R2 as seen in the pictures, 100 blue and 100 white. Buy LED's that have resistance built into them, that makes things a lot easier. I was able to run all two hundred off of a 6 volt battery pack consisting of 4 D batteries. It could run for 6 or 7 hours without dimming. I also had an alternative wall transformer built in that put out 6.5 volts DC at 2 amps max which was plenty to drive the LED's.

There are two options for older systems in terms of their video and audio signals. The first option is to build a video mod circuit. I was able to do this for the Atari 7800 and it is easy to do for the Atari 2600 as well. The second option is to use an RF demodulator. This is a stand alone unit that takes in RF and puts out an AV signal, while not as clean, it is sometimes the only option (for me at least) such as with the Atari 5200 where the video mod is no longer available online and no one seems to have schematics for it. If you are an electrical engineer or have good knowledge of how to design circuits I am sure it is possible to devise a video mod for any console. From what I understand most systems will create the video and audio signal then down convert it for RF transmission. So the right signal is there, someone just needs to find it.

I used spray paint to repaint all of R2D2. With proper masking it can come out looking very clean, but it takes practice. Another option is using pin stripping paint from an automotive store, at least when it comes to straight lines. I used some painters tape from a hobby store that was meant for small models. It did a better job of creating clean lines once removed. Be careful to let things fully dry before trying to tape over them. A couple of times I thought I was in the clear and it turned out I was wrong.

Mix all of the epoxies for the right amount of time and make sure you get the proportions correct. It is so hard to clean off half cured epoxy.



Copyright, Brian De Vitis, 2013       Contact Me at bdevitis@live.com