Latest StoriesHow-To
    How to Make a Laser-Cut Prop Stand!

    Inspired by a Blade Runner blaster stand that came with a kit, Bill Doran walks us through the simple process of designing and laser-cutting an acrylic stand for your hand props. In this case, a lightsaber! We take our quick design to our shop's Universal Laser Systems laser cutter and piece together a stand in less than 10 minutes.

    Model Behavior: Weathering a Model (Space)Ship!

    Plastic model kits often need finishing work to make the models look as good as their source material. This week, Kayte and Norm take on the task of painting a Space Battleship Yamato 2199 snap fit kit, using washes and rust effects to make the spaceship look old and battle-worn. The result is a striking transformation!

    Model Behavior: Bug Boy Model Kit!

    This week, Kayte and Norm put together a model kit purchased at this year's Monsterpalooza convention, and attempt to replicate a paint finish of the kit we saw at the show. This delightfully unsettling bug boy kit was sculpted by Andrew Martin (Monster Caesar Studios), and we loved putting it together and experimenting with painting it!

    Model Behavior: Creating a Bronze Finish

    We've used Rub 'n Buff on Tested before to give objects metallic finishes, and this week, Bill Doran takes us through the process of turning two garage kits to bronze. We chose these two kits for the differences in their sculpts: one an organic skull and the other a piece of armor. Here's how a wax metallic finish can bring out the details in your paint work.

    Paint Masking Using a Laser Cutter!

    Tested contributor Bill Doran (aka Punished Props) is in our shop this week and experiments using our Universal Laser Systems laser cutter to make a quick paint mask for a helmet. This can be done with standard painter's tape or a large sheet of masking tape, and we learn some lessons about masking complex curves.

    Tested: Photographing a NASA Rocket Launch!

    While attending the NASA Insight rocket launch recently, we have our first opportunity to set up a remote camera to photograph the nighttime launch. Norm goes over his gear used for his setup and the excitement of leaving that gear so close to a rocket in hopes to capturing a photo of the blast off!

    Building a Hobby RC Plane with Balsa Wood

    The vast majority of modern RC airplanes are factory-built to some degree. It is no longer mandatory to spend long hours cutting, gluing, and sanding pieces of balsa wood to create a flying model. But for many, the process of transforming lightweight lumber into a flying machine is their favorite aspect of the RC hobby. There is certainly an enhanced sense of pride when your hand-built creation takes to the skies.

    Building from kits is now a niche segment of aeromodeling. It was still the norm, however, when I got into the hobby as a kid in the 1980s. So, I learned basic building skills by necessity. I still use those skills today when building a modern kit or repairing a factory-built ship.

    Some aspects of building balsa models can appear rather intimidating. But don't worry. It's all pretty easy once you break it down. In this article, I will walk you through the basic elements of what is involved.

    About the ElectriCub II

    Like so many other aspects of RC, balsa kits have benefitted from new technologies. Most new airplane kits are designed with CAD software and manufactured by laser cutting. This produces clean, sharp edges and parts that fit together perfectly (well, usually).

    Not so long ago, kit components were produced by die-cutting. A cookie cutter-like tool would stamp the parts from balsa sheets. This process works fine so long as the die is sharp. But it was not uncommon to find parts with crushed or unfinished edges.

    Flying any RC airplane is fun. But there is a heightened sense of pride when you've built it yourself.

    The example kit here, a Great Planes ElectriCub II ($100), is a bit of a hybrid. The design dates back to the 1990s and it was originally produced as a die-cut kit. The version you can buy today has most of the legacy die-cut parts, along with some updated pieces that are laser-cut.

    Electric-powered models from the 90s are my favorite genre of airplanes to build. Power systems of the time used brushed motors and Ni-Cad batteries. The brushless motors and LiPo batteries of today can output significantly more power at far less weight. Upgrading to a modern power system often requires a few airframe modifications, but the performance boost makes it worthwhile.

    Model Behavior: Patina and Polish

    We can't get enough of Bill's Skyrim-inspired prop builds, and this week we assemble a cold-cast dagger kit from the Punished Props archive. Bill shows us how you can get a metallic finish by polishing cold cast parts, and then add real patina weathering without any paint!

    Model Behavior: Miniature Wood Flooring

    Fabricator and modelmaker Kayte Sabicer shows us a technique for making simulated wood flooring using simple gatorboard and shellac sealer! This is an effective technique she's used many times in making miniature sets, and can be use for miniature displays. The finished effect is so cool!

    Model Behavior: Fusion 360 Basics!

    Bill designs many of his props for 3D printing using Fusion 360, so it's about time we get acquainted with the modeling software. Using one of Adam's spacesuit parts as reference, we go through some modeling basics in Fusion to replicate a piece of Apollo A7L hardware!

    Model Behavior: Rusted Patina Effects

    Fabricator Kayte Sabicer shows us how to make plastic models and miniatures look like they've rusted with age, using real chemical patinas. The transformation happens before our eyes and the results look awesome!

    How to Safely Organize Your LiPo Battery Storage

    LiPo batteries have been the standard type used by RC hobbyists for several years now. It's tough to beat the hat trick of low cost, light weight, and high discharge capability offered by LiPo chemistry. Every RC modeler I know has at least one LiPo in their shop. Most have dozens of them.

    For all of their performance advantages, LiPo batteries also demand particular care and attention. An incorrect setting on your charger or a few too many amps of discharge might be all that it takes to upset a LiPo. Angry LiPo batteries can reveal themselves in unpredictable and fiery ways. While LiPo fires are relatively uncommon, they are a potential danger to consider.

    Many modelers store their batteries in ammunition cans (with gaskets removed) to mitigate the risk of damage from a LiPo fire. To be clear, these metal boxes do not prevent or snuff out fires. They simply provide a way to contain a LiPo flare-up and avoid collateral damage. You can be sure that everything within the ammo can will be toasted. The goal here is to save everything outside the ammo can.

    How To Keep Action Cameras Warm on RC Vehicles

    You all know that I like to put action cameras on my RC vehicles to record first-person video footage. I've recently had a little trouble with that because of the low temperatures here in Buffalo. The cold was making my cameras shut down in the middle of a flight or drive. The good news is that I've found a simple and cheap DIY solution!

    The Problem

    My current onboard camera of choice is the RunCam 2. I have two of them and a few extra batteries. All of this equipment gets used frequently. Until my recent experiences using the cameras in cold weather, I've found them to be quite reliable.

    When operating my RunCam2s in freezing temperatures, their performance is unpredictable. Everything is usually fine if the camera is on a tripod of other static mount. But all bets are off once you strap it to something that moves it through the air. Unlike other action cameras, such as GoPro Heroes, the RunCam2 does not use a protective outer case. The camera body is directly exposed to the frigid atmosphere. Vent holes in the body also allow the cold air to reach the electronics within.

    The RunCam2 is my favorite action camera to use onboard my RC models, but mine kept shutting down in cold weather.

    I suspected that the root cause of the problem was the camera's battery. LiPo cells just do not work very well when cold. In this case, the LiPo battery was getting so cold that it couldn't keep up with the camera's demands. I began placing microwavable heating pads in my camera bag to keep the batteries warm until right before I used them. While the cameras ran longer, they still shut down in flight.

    The Fix

    I needed to find a way to seal the vent holes in the case and also provide some degree of thermal insulation. Whatever method I used would also have to be lightweight and low-profile. After exploring a few potential options, I decided to borrow a page from the cosplay handbook and use EVA foam.

    Using Cheat Sheets to Remember RC Model Settings

    We've talked before about using checklists for RC activities. They're handy for ensuring that everything is good-to-go with these often-complex machines. Yet, I found that I needed a different, more-specific kind of reminder to help with a common problem that I encounter: RC amnesia.

    Like most RC hobbyists that I know, I have a sizeable fleet of airplanes, multi-rotors, helicopters, cars, and boats. So it's not uncommon for many of these models to sit idle while other projects are my focus. When I come back to a model that has been hibernating, I find that I've usually forgotten many of the nuances specific to that machine. I'm left with important questions to answer:

    "Hmm…what radio was this linked to?" "Now, do I change the flight modes with switch C, or was it switch E?" "Is this the truck that made a funny noise the last time I drove it?"

    These small cheat sheets help me remember important details about RC models that do not get used frequently.

    It can sometimes take me quite a while to refamiliarize myself before I'm ready to go. That's especially true with my multi-rotors, which are so dependent on flight controller programming, firmware updates, switch positions, etc. To combat this trend, I began creating cheat sheets to be stored with all of my RC vehicles. Every model will eventually have a dedicated cheat sheet that contains all of the relevant info I need to pull it off the shelf and boogie!

    Hobby RC: Upgrading an RC Snow Toy

    I estimate that I'm about halfway through my first winter in Buffalo. And in this weather, I'm always on the lookout for RC gadgets that can thrive in the snow. My latest project began life as a toy-grade RC vehicle with a dubious reputation, but a few simple modifications turned it into a super snow machine. More-extensive tweaking made it even better!

    Terrain Twister

    The Terrain Twister is an RC toy that was previously sold by Mattel under both the Hot Wheels and Tyco RC labels. It's discontinued now, but new and used examples are readily available on the internet. What caught my attention is the Twister's really unique screw propulsion system. Rather than wheels or tank treads, this vehicle is motivated by a pair of counter-rotating cylindrical pontoons that have external threads like a screw.

    There have been a few examples of screw-propelled vehicles throughout history. The buoyancy of the rotating pontoons allows them to move across swampy or muddy terrain that would cause wheeled or tracked vehicles to get hopelessly stuck. Screw-propelled vehicles also excel in the snow.

    Online reviews of the Terrain Twister are all over the map. Some people love them, and lots of people despise them. A cursory analysis hinted that many of the haters had tried using the Terrain Twister on surfaces that it wasn't meant for. Spoiler: a screw-propelled toy is NOT going to work well on your concrete driveway or the tile floor of your kitchen. I eagerly pulled the trigger on a used unit I found on eBay…a whopping $5 investment (+$9 for shipping)!

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: The Zeal60 PCB

    At the heart of most custom keyboards is a PCB, or printed circuit board. The PCB determines how you program a board and what switch layouts it supports. The Zeal60 from ZealPC is one of the most popular PCBs for a compact custom keyboard project right now. It does not come cheap, and that's not just because of the pretty purple color. It runs powerful firmware with one of the most advanced lighting setups available in a DIY keyboard.

    A keyboard's PCB is roughly analogous to the motherboard in your PC—it's where everything connects to make your keyboard work. In a high-end custom board, the PCB includes a microcontroller with user-programmable features. In the case of the Zeal60, it's an ATmega32U4 chip. Unlike many PCBs, this one is not part of a full kit (case, plate, switches, etc.). If you buy a Zeal60, that's just the start of your keyboard adventure. However, it's compatible with a wide variety of parts.

    You'll need to work some magic with function layers if you build with the Zeal60. It only supports 60% layouts similar to the popular Poker 3 and HHKB2 boards. That means you don't have arrows, an F-row, or a number pad. All those actions still exist, but they're in function layers. For example, the arrows are accessed via Fn1+WASD in the default configuration. Many people prefer 60% boards because they're compact and require less hand movement.

    How To Make Tire Chains for RC Cars

    Snow is still quite a novelty to me. Until recently, I've only lived in Florida or Texas. Now I'm in Buffalo, New York, where the average yearly snowfall is 95 inches. The transition has been relatively painless so far (knocking on wood), but there is definitely some adaptation required for my RC activities! This article highlights a recent example. I was originally intending to do a straightforward review of the Kyosho Outlaw Rampage RC truck. Snow was hampering my test drives, so I improvised.

    Why Snow Chains?

    There was only a little bit of snow on the ground the first time I took the Outlaw out for a spin (quite literally). In fact, it was the same outing where I photographed the Ultima RB6.6 at the park. While the Ultima's Goose Bumps tires hooked up really well in the snow, the Outlaw's stock treads were nearly useless. The truck would constantly spin out or get stuck. I definitely needed to find better traction one way or another.

    I'm sure that there are off-the-shelf tires that would fit the Outlaw's wheels and provide better traction in snow. However, I thought it would be more fun to try a DIY approach. I've seen examples of tire chains on RC trucks before. So I decided to create my own version. It is a simple and inexpensive project that actually works quite well.

    Those of you in warmer climates may be wondering just what the heck tire chains are. It's all new to me too. Apparently, there are many different types of tire chains (aka snow chains), but all stick to a common theme. As the name implies, they are chains that you attach to your car or truck tires. The profile of the chain acts like a paddle to give you extra traction in really bad winter conditions. Tire chains are obviously intended for temporary use and only when necessary.

    How To Make a Simple LED Work Lamp

    I recently decided that I needed a practical work lamp. The overhead lighting in my workshop is adequate most of the time, but not always. My ideal lamp is something I can place near my workspace and orient in different ways. I experimented with some desk lamps and battery-powered portable lights. However, all of the units that I tried produced overly-harsh light that created glare and strong shadows. Some were also limited by insufficient positioning options and the constraint of being tethered to a power cord.

    There may be a suitable commercial unit out there, but I decided to take the DIY approach instead. I was inspired by a friend's light board that he created using LED light strips attached to foamboard. He uses his contraption for studio lighting when shooting photos and videos. Since it runs off of a common 3-cell LiPo battery for RC models, he can take it anywhere. I created a downsized adaptation of this idea that works well for my needs.

    Building a Retro RC Racer: The Kyosho Optima

    It's a little funny to think that there are such things as "classic" RC cars, but it's true. Off-road RC racing really blossomed during the 1980s. Many of the popular designs from that era are now sought after by collectors. These enthusiasts restore their machines with the same attention to detail that one might dote on a numbers-matching 1969 Charger Daytona.

    You don't have to scour thrift stores or eBay to own a retro RC racer. Several companies have re-opened the production lines for a selection of 80s-era kits. You can find classics from Tamiya, Associated Electrics, Schumacher, and others. Kyosho has actually reintroduced several of their legacy off-roaders. There is the Scorpion, Turbo Scorpion, Tomahawk, Beetle, and the low-slung model you see here: the Optima. I always wanted an Optima as a kid. It just took me a few decades to get my hands on one!

    About the Optima

    The Optima was introduced in 1985. At the time, it was a revolutionary design for 4-wheel-drive racing. It spawned a long line of descendants that remained popular and competitive for many years.

    Kyosho's re-release of the Optima ($300) is not a carbon copy of the original. It's mostly the same, but a few concessions have been made to reflect modern RC norms. For instance, ball bearings were an upgrade on the original Optima, but they now come as standard equipment.

    The Kyosho Optima represented cutting-edge racing technology when it was first introduced in 1985. The modern re-release has only a few minor changes.

    There were certainly powerful motors back in the day, but modern systems kick the horsepower potential up a few notches. Kyosho implemented a couple of changes to accommodate monster set-ups. The transmission now includes a slipper clutch that protects the driveline from heavy power surges. The clutch also helps to improve traction. Additionally, the kit includes both the original chain drive system and an upgraded belt drive.

    There are no factory-assembled components here. The Optima is packaged today just as it was 30+ years ago. You get a box full of aluminum and nylon components that you put together piece by piece. It also comes with a clear Lexan body that must be painted. Don't look at the assembly process as a chore. Take your time and enjoy the experience. It's all part of the fun.