Latest StoriesHow-To
    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.

    How To Make a Silicone Brush-Up Mold

    We turn back the clock to before Comic-Con, as Frank and his team are prepping the Lich King armor made for Blizzard. Frank walks us through how to make a silicone brush-up mold of foam fabricated armor parts. These waste molds can be used to make clay castings to give costume parts additional sculptural detail!

    Action Camera Repairs and Upgrades for Hobby RC

    I have a motley collection of small action cameras. Most of the time, I use them to capture in-flight video with my RC aircraft. I stopped using some of these cameras as they developed problems and annoyances over time. I finally decided to address each of the issues and get all of my dusty gear up and running again. This required me to perform some repairs and a few upgrades. I'll show you how I cracked open these little cameras and got them back into service.

    Mobius Battery Replacement

    One of my Mobius cameras had developed very short battery life. A fully-charged battery would last only a few minutes. I opened up the case to have a look. The 2-piece case is attached with tiny Phillips screws in the front and plastic latches in the rear.

    The Mobius is powered by a single LiPo battery. Dead (or dying) LiPo cells will often swell up like a balloon, but this one had no obvious physical defects. I detached the power connector from the camera PCB and charged the battery on one of my hobby-grade LiPo chargers. This allowed me to rule out any problems with the camera's built-in USB charging circuitry. My run time results were still way below normal, so I was confident that I had a dud battery.

    I replaced the LiPo battery in this Mobius camera. It's a very simple process.

    I ordered a replacement battery from Buy Mobius for $7. Both of my Mobius cameras are from an early production batch and were equipped with 520mAh batteries. The factory later switched to 820mAh cells for longer run time. My replacement battery is the 820mAh variety. The newer battery has almost the exact same footprint as my original. It's just a little thicker.

    The stock battery was held in place with a small square of double-sided tape. I was able to pry up the battery with my finger using gentle pressure. Even the tape was salvageable. The new battery fit into the same spot without any modifications. Since the replacement battery has the appropriate power connector, I was able to simply plug it in and the swap was complete. This cheap, quick fix gave me a brand new battery with more than 50% greater capacity than the original. But I wasn't finished just yet.

    Pressure Casting a Glow-in-the-Dark Slimer Model

    Frank walks us through the casting of a special kit: a slimer by legendary effects artist Steve Johnson, the sculptor of the original slimer from Ghostbusters! We learn how Frank mixes up resin to make these glow in the dark and utilizes a pressure pot to eliminte air bubbles. These kits will be available at the Son of Monsterpalooza convention later this month!

    My Key to Organizing Small Allen Wrenches

    If you're like me, you have an unorganized bin of loose Allen wrenches in your workshop. SAE and metric sizes coexist is this microcosm without discrimination or prejudice. Maybe you call these tools hex keys. Whatever the case, they are a blessing and a curse. In larger sizes (bigger than 3/16" or 4.5mm), they are cheap, convenient, and robust tools. The smaller Allen wrenches, however, present several problems for me.

    First of all, the wrenches and the heads of the fasteners that they drive tend to strip easily. This is exaggerated by the fact that there are many different sizes which are indiscernible by eye. Selecting the correct wrench for an application can be challenging. Oh, did I mention that these wrenches are not even marked with their size?

    Despite their challenges, small Allen wrenches are a fact of life in the RC world. They are used in many, many applications across the RC spectrum. In fact, most of the smaller hex keys in my bin were included with RC products. Many of the larger tools can be traced to Ikea.

    Small Allen wrenches can be frustrating to use. So I came up with a simple system to manage these tools.

    I have a somewhat masochistic MO when I need to find a small Allen wrench. I reach into that disheveled bin and pull out a handful of tools that look to be about the right size. Then I go through the frustrating exercise of test fitting each wrench in the fastener until I find a good fit. If I'm lucky, I'll score a good wrench within the first five tries.

    After years of this inefficient approach, I finally decided to end the madness. I set out to find a simple means of organizing my small Allen wrenches. I decided that my system would have to be easy to understand, easy to implement, and easy to maintain.

    How To Use Spray-On Chrome on Resin Castings!

    For the towering Lich King armor made for Blizzard's Comic-Con event, Frank's team used a chemical spray-on chroming process that silvers resin parts wtihout plating them. Frank demonstrates this transformative process on a prepped casting of the Lich King helmet, explaining along the way how to get the best looking results.

    Shop Tips: Storing 3D Printer Filament

    Frank runs many 3D printers at his shop, and goes through a lot of filament for this big fabrication projects. But when using big filament spools, he needs to properly store and maintain print material to keep print quality consistent. Here are a few ways to do that.

    Making a Large Laser-Cut Dymaxion Globe

    We're enamored by this project by Make Magazine's Gavin Smith: a laser-cut dymaxion globe. After making our own small scale 20-sided globe, we tweak the files to scale up the build on our Universal Laser Systems laser cutter and test using transfer paper to protect our wood sheets from scorching. Find the files for this project on Make!

    This Old FX Shop: Painting a Latex Alien Mask

    For this week's visit to the FX shop, we geek out over a latex mask from talented sculptor Francisco Charlie Hernandez, whose work we've long admired on Instagram. This latex mask presents some interesting paint challenges, from its elongated form to smooth surfaces.

    Building an AMD Ryzen PC for Video Editing!

    Time to build a new PC! Our latest system build tests AMD's Ryzen series of CPUs, putting 8 core and 16 threads toward our video editing workloads. The 1700X processor impressed us for its $300 street price. Norm and Tested's video producer Gunther assemble the PC and put it to work at this year's Comic-Con.