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    How To Make A Custom Drone Landing Pad

    Many of the sites I use for multi-rotor flying have very rough ground. This sometimes makes it tough to find a suitable spot for launching and landing. Even if I do uncover a patch of level ground, I'm sure to kick up a cloud of dusty West Texas topsoil as soon as the props start spinning. After years of improvising with cardboard boxes, beach towels, or whatever else I happened to have on hand, I finally decided to build a proper landing pad.

    My Requirements

    I looked for commercial options before deciding to build my own pad. There are numerous landing pads on the market, but none seem to fit my needs. First of all, most of them are smaller than I wanted. If I used a circular pad of just 16" (406mm) or 20" (508mm) diameter I would still create dust storms when I flew my larger ships. It also seems that most of the commercial offerings are not rigid. This would not help me deal with rough, uneven ground.

    Once I had decided to build my own landing pad, I considered what material options I had available. I didn't really want to use any type of wood because I felt that the pad should be totally weatherproof. The solution presented itself during a recent trip to my local Tractor Supply Company store. One of the sale items stacked out front was a .5" (13mm)-thick rubber mat measuring 4' (1219mm) by 3' (914mm). I didn't want a pad quite that big, but I figured I could cut it down to the size I needed. For only $20, it was worth a shot.

    The raw 4' x 3' rubber mat was larger than I needed and weighed almost 40 pounds. I cut it into three smaller sections using a utility knife.

    When I picked up the mat, I wasn't quite ready for its nearly 40-pound weight. This is a substantial piece of recycled rubber! I just hoped that it wouldn't be too heavy to handle once I had cut it to size. Once I got the mat home, I decided that I could make three separate landing pads with it. I made one larger pad measuring 3' (914mm) by 2' (610mm), and two 2' (610mm) by 1.5' (457mm) pads. The large pad would be useful for my 350mm-class and larger multi-rotors at particularly rough sites. The small pads were intended for my racing quads, or even the larger ships when I fly from relatively smooth areas.

    I made the two cuts using a regular utility knife. It took numerous swipes of the blade to cut all the way through the thick rubber, but it was not difficult to do. If you're a minimalist, you could actually be done with the project at this point. Turning a big mat into little mats is not very challenging or time consuming. I decided, however, that I wanted to personalize my new landing pads.

    Bits to Atoms: Printing My Custom Cutaway Lightsaber

    With all the design work done for my Custom Cutaway Lightsaber, it's time to 3D print everything on the Form 2 SLA printer. We were lucky enough to get a pre-production Form 2 from FormLabs and had been printing a ton of projects before the official release. We were very pleased with all the prints as Formlabs had upgraded all of the items (and then some) on my wishlist from my time with the Form 1+. The Form 2 had been living up to my expectations but I designed some of the lightsaber parts to torture test it further.

    While the Form 2 was more than capable of printing out an entire half of the saber in one piece, I broke it up into many parts for a few reasons. First, I wanted to show off various resins and designed the saber to make use of the black, grey, clear and flexible materials, most of which had just had formulation upgrades. Second, I wanted to see what the tolerances and fit quality were like for assemblies. Third, as we have talked about before, prints tend to look better when all the parts aren't globbed together but instead printed as individual pieces. Plus, the quality of parts can sometimes be affected by orientation and printing everything as one piece is not always optimal.

    Mesh repair - problem areas highlighted

    Once modeling was finished, the next step was to export all the parts as STL files - generally the standard for 3D printing. The grips and pommel were exported as a whole piece and then cut in half using Netfabb - this was a case of using the right tool for the job. Netfabb (recently acquired by Autodesk) is also my goto program for mesh repair which is a vital part of 3D printing. Any holes, flipped polygon faces or other irregularities can cause a print to fail. Formlabs PreForm software has Netfabb repair functionality built in and will warn you and offer to fix possible issues upon model import.

    How To Paint a Realistic Rusty, Metal Helmet

    This is a plastic helmet. Urethane plastic, to be exact. It's a resin kit that I got from my pal Allen a while back and I was chomping at the bit to get it painted, but really wanted to make sure that it didn't end up looking like that original plastic. I wanted it to look like an old, weather beaten hunk of battle scarred steel. I wanted it to look like real metal.

    I've covered metallic finishes here on Tested before, but this was a very different beast. It couldn't look chromed and shiny like Rey's blaster. It needed to be dark, textured, rusty, and grimy. When painting something that needs to be metallic, there tends to be an impulse to reach for a "metal" can of spray paint cover every square inch of plastic in a silver metallic sheen. This is the easy way to do it, but if you look at a piece of bare steel, something that spends its days exposed to the elements like a manhole cover, you'll note that there isn't a single bit of shiny silver anywhere on it. This is why I started with a dark color.

    The kit was already primed, so all I needed to do was hit it with the base color. In this instance I used a rattle can of nice bronze paint.

    Once this base coat of dull, dark paint dried, then the real fun began. I started with some silver acrylic paint. Yes I said earlier that we wouldn't see any silver spots, but don't worry, I was incredibly subtle with my use of this bright paint. My application was a slightly heavy drybrush. I applied just a little bit of silver paint to a ratty old brush, wiped most of that paint off on a paper towel, and then "scratched" the bronze base coat with the brush.

    Bits to Atoms: Designing a Custom 3D-Printed Lightsaber

    We've been using the Formlabs Form 2 SLA 3D printer since its release and have loved our experience with it so far. The Form 2 produces high-resolution models using liquid resin cured via laser. Formlabs recently introduced new formulations of most of their resins and various software and firmware updates, which I wanted to put to the test. So when the opportunity came to create a custom project with Formlabs, I wanted to see how far I could push the detail and precision of the Form 2.

    Since I've always wanted to make a Star Wars lightsaber and love seeing how things work, I proposed the Cutaway Lightsaber Project. The first decision was choosing what kind of lightsaber to make. The movie sabers have been done many times over, so I decided to design my own--like a true Jedi... or Sith. The lightsabers from the Star Wars prequels tended to be more sleek and refined, but I wanted the chunkier look of the original movies that I grew up with. As most fans know, many of the original props, including the lightsabers, were designed from found objects such as Graflex camera flash handles. Additional details, known as greeblies, were added to complete the prop and make it look appropriately sci-fi. With my background in film & TV repair, I have collected a lot of oddball and cool-looking parts, so I decided to start in the same way.

    Cobbling parts together with Luke's replica as reference

    I used Luke's Return of the Jedi saber replica as a size reference and started cramming my junk parts together until I had a rough lightsaber that I liked. There was a little of everything: optics, camera parts, hard drive spindles, electrical connectors and miscellaneous gears. I knew this wasn't the final form, but there were a lot of features that I liked. I started recreating approximations of these in 3D, adjusting as needed to accommodate size and other features that I wanted. Early on I knew I wanted to include what I refer to as 'Death Star Grate' which many will recognize as the distinctive pattern of cutouts used as windows, lights, grates, etc throughout the Star Wars Universe. Typically it's used in facilities of the Empire, so I figured this was going to be a bad guy's saber. I wanted it to be beefy and look like it could mess you up even when it wasn't ignited--kind of like a D&D mace.

    Building A Cheap RC Airplane, Part 3: Adding Power

    In previous articles, I've shown you how to convert a toy store glider to RC and how to use that glider for learning to fly. After you've spent a little time with the glider, you should have a much better understanding of what it takes to fly an RC model successfully. In this final installment of the series, I'll show you how I added a power system to give the model longer flights, a wider performance range, and more control.

    The glider I've been using is the Air Hogs Titan. Just like every other aspect of the conversion to RC, I approached the power system with the aim of keeping everything as simple and straightforward as possible. What results is an affordable, functional and well-behaved model that is not likely to overwhelm RC newcomers.

    Power to the People

    I was really happy with the power system that I installed in my Airplane! model (another chuck glider conversion), so I decided to repeat it here. It consists of an ElectriFly Rimfire 250 brushless motor, a GemFan 5x4 propeller, a 3S-500mAh LiPo battery, and a Flight Power 6-amp Electronic Speed Control (ESC). This particular ESC is no longer made. The Castle Creations Thunderbird 9 is a good substitute.

    The ESC has a Battery Eliminator Circuit, which provides power to the onboard radio gear from the flight battery. This allowed me to get rid of the 4-cell 1100mAh NiMH battery that previously powered the radio. In fact, the combined weight of the new power system components is within a gram of the weight of the NiMH battery alone. So the Titan is no heavier as a powered model than it was as a pure glider.

    The power system components I used are almost the exact same weight as the radio battery used for the glider version of the Titan (right).

    Rather than locating the motor in the tail, as I did with my knotted airliner, I decided to mount the Rimfire to a pylon on top of the fuselage. Among the benefits of this configuration are short wires and minimal weight distribution. The high location also helps to keep the motor out of the dirt and grass during landings (and crashes). The only significant tradeoff of the pylon-mounted motor arises when you launch the model. I'll talk about that a bit later.

    Sculpting a Realistic LEGO Cosplay Mask

    Frank and Norm show and talk through the sculpting process for our LEGO-inspired Creepyfig cosplay. Frank explains how he formed this massive mask and gave it the necessary detail to make the sculpture look like it had a real skin.

    Building A Cheap RC Glider, Part 2: Flying

    In the first article of this series, I showed you how to add RC controls to a common toy store chuck glider, the Air Hogs Titan. It may not be pretty, but it has elements that most budding RC pilots truly need: simplicity and affordability. This time around, I'll illustrate a few techniques for using the Titan to learn how to fly. You'll probably get some exercise while you're at it!

    No matter what model you are using as your primary trainer, the learning curve is always eased when you have an experienced pilot who can show you the basics. Most RC clubs have a process ironed out for training new pilots. The Titan probably doesn't fit that traditional training template. However, it would still benefit you to enlist the aid of a seasoned pilot to get you over the initial hurdles. If you don't have access to a pilot, any eager helper with a decent throwing arm and tireless legs is a useful alternative. Kids seem to enjoy it and there are plenty of opportunities for hand-on physics lessons.

    Gentle hand launches of the Titan will provide a low-stress path to grasp the rudiments of RC flying without much crash risk.

    As you go through the process of learning how to fly, you will make a lot of mistakes…that's okay. The airplane will be flying slowly and close to the ground most of the time. So you're not dealing with much energy. Additionally, the Titan has several ways of dissipating energy when it hits the ground. It isn't likely that you will break anything.

    In most minor crashes, the wings will pop loose from the fuselage. Just put them back in. A harder impact may cause the battery to rip free of the Velcro. Again, just put it back in place and keep on flying. If you do manage to break the Titan, repairs can be made with white glue or even tape. So go forth with no worries about breaking the airplane. It's no big deal.

    Building a Cheap RC Glider. Part 1: Assembly

    I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the foam "chuck" gliders that you can buy from toy and craft stores. They are lots of fun in their intended role, but I've always enjoyed modifying these inexpensive airframes into RC models. My knotted "Airplane!" model from 2014 is a recent example. While my chuck glider projects lean toward the whimsical and unusual, I figured out early on that these same models can also serve as low-stress trainers for new pilots.

    The traditional path to earning your RC pilot's wings is to purchase an almost-ready-to-fly kit and then have an experienced pilot provide instruction over the course of several weeks or months. Even though prices for these types of models are as low as they've ever been, the cost of entry is at least $150 dollars…usually much more. That's a significant investment for someone who probably isn't quite sure if RC flying will be something they want to stick with.

    The Air Hogs Titan is a great starting point for creating a DIY RC trainer model.

    Modifying a chuck glider for RC will probably cost about $50 for the airborne components. That is still not an insignificant sum, but it certainly relieves a lot of the crash anxiety that most new pilots feel. Furthermore, you can complete the conversion in a single afternoon. So there isn't much sweat equity required to get off the ground.

    How To Get Started with RC Sailboats

    I know what some of you are thinking: At a time when the RC hobby offers excitement such as speedy FPV racing quads, 20-pound gas-powered dune buggies, and even robots that fight to the death, how can anyone get jazzed about a silent sailboat meandering across a pond? I get it. I used to think the same thing. Although I've known about the existence of RC sailboats for decades, they never captured my attention enough to actually give one a try. I really should have known better after my similar experience with rock crawlers. I soon discovered that even though sailboats are not fast (relatively speaking), they offer abundant technical and skill-oriented challenges that keep drawing me in deeper.

    RC sailing clubs are a great resource to get started in the hobby. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

    Diving In

    Once I had decided to give RC sailing a try, I didn't think twice about going at it by myself. After all, I was fairly competent with the Sunfish sailboat that I had as a kid. Plus, RC sailboats only require 2 channels to control. So how hard could it possibly be? As I'm sure you've guessed by now, the reality of my introduction to RC sailing was much different. It involved a few missteps, some humble lessons, and plenty of help from experienced sailors.

    One of the things I learned early on is that there is a lot is specific terminology used in sailing circles. I'm still learning the meaning of most of these foreign-sounding words. For any of you experienced sailors who may be reading this, I'll ask your forgiveness in advance since I'll endeavor to use layman's terms whenever possible here.

    Even though I knew that RC sailboats were only 2-channel machines, I lacked a fundamental understanding of how the controls worked. The various rigging that I had seen on some sailboats caused me to envision their control systems to be much more complex than they actually are. It turns out that most of the visible rigging on a sailboat consists of static lines that only serve to stabilize the sail mast.

    RC sailboats have simple control systems. But until I had one of my own, the various rigging had me convinced otherwise. (Lewis Dunn photo)

    The two main controls of a RC sailboat are the rudder and sail trim. The rudder is used to control the direction of the boat in the water. A single servo actuates the rudder through direct linkages.

    Sail trim refers to the angle of the sails in relation to the boat hull. Both sails can pivot side to side about their leading edge. Rather than a rigid connection, the sail servo is connected to a pair of rope-like lines that terminate near the midpoint of the booms along the bottom edge of each sail. The servo controls the length of these lines, which subsequently determine how far out the sails can swing. At its shortest length, the sails may only have a few degrees of sway. With the line fully relaxed, the sails could approach 90-degrees of travel. Based on the direction of the wind and the orientation of the boat hull, sail trim is adjusted to harness the wind and keep the boat moving forward.

    How to Build a Foam Cosplay Helmet

    For his E3 costume builds, Frank worked with foam fabricator Evil Ted Smith to make three awesome cosplay helmets. Ted joins us this week to show how he turns sheets of cheap floor foam into shapely sci-fi and fantasy helms. It's not too difficult!

    The Best Alternative Home Screen Apps on Android

    From the earliest days of Android, alternative home screens have been one of the most interesting app categories. So much of what you do on your phone starts with the launcher, and Android let's you completely change it. The top replacement home screens have changed a lot over the years with old classics like Launcher Pro falling into disrepair. At the same time, new home screens like Nova appear in the Play Store to fill in the gaps. Let's take a look at the top Android home screens and see what they offer.

    Nova Launcher

    Nova is considered by many to be the most customizable and fully fleshed out launcher for Android. It's a true chameleon among launchers that can be made to look almost any way you want with an intimidatingly long list of features. Once you get acclimated to Nova, you'll probably find a lot to like here.

    I think Nova probably adheres the best to Android ever-changing design guidelines. As soon as Google has a new quirk, Nova is updated with a matching option. And it usually is an option. Almost every visual element in Nova can be tweaked to your heart's content. There are dozens of ways to display folders, a ton of home screen scrolling effects, at least 15 or 20 ways to display the Google search bar, and that's just scratching the surface.

    Some of the distinctive features in Nova include an automated night mode that makes most of the launcher less hard on your eyes, an extremely comprehensive gesture system that lets you operate almost every function with a swipe, and icon scaling that makes oddly sized icons fit in with everything else. I'm particularly impressed with how accurate the icon scaling is. Nova's gestures are cool too, but they can make you phone almost completely unusable for someone else. If you control everything with a gesture, no one will know where anything is. Maybe you want that, though?

    Because Google has not opened the search features up, you won't get easy access to Google Now. The closest you can get is opening the search app with a gesture. Nova Launcher is free to try with a limited feature set, and you can upgrade to the full version for $4.99.

    How To Slush Cast a Prop Helmet

    This week's special project is all about casting! We're in Frank's shop to show you how to create a hollow resin cast of a helmet using slush casting. Here's how slush casting compares to other methods, a demonstration of the full process, as well as tips for your own projects!

    Shop Tips: Respirators vs. Dust Masks

    This week, Frank explains the difference between a dust mask and a respirator, and shows us the proper way to put them on. It's a simple yet essential tip--safety never takes a vacation! Post your own shop tips in the comments below!