Building a District 9 Alien Rifle Replica, Part 1
Announcing a new project, in collaboration with Punished Props and Smooth-On: building a 1:1 replica of the assault rifle from District 9 from scratch!
Norm’s note: We’re super excited to announce a new collaboration project with Bill Doran (aka Punished Props) and Smooth-On. Over the course of this month, Bill is building a 1:1 scale replica of the alien assault rifle from District 9 to unveil with us at Comic-Con. Bill’s build logs and videos will walk through his design and fabrication process, and his finished piece will be paired with a surprise at SDCC. Place your questions for Bill in the comments below!
It’s no secret that I love me some space guns, and District 9 had some of the most incredible weapon designs from the mad geniuses over at Weta! Ok enough gushing, let’s dive into this build!
Design and Reference Material
The design for this gun was mostly based on the 1:1 replica that Weta released a couple of years ago, but I also took a lot of inspiration from the 1:4 scale replica that I have sitting on my desk. I took measurements from these sources and laid out the gun in SketchUp. The 3D design was layout in flat layers, in the thicknesses that I knew I would be using from the MDF wood stock.
Once all of the layers were designed, I was able to have them printed out, full scale, as 2D blueprints for each piece. These shapes were then spray glue adhered to flat MDF stock to prepare for cutting and gluing. The idea is that I can build up a prototype of the gun in layers, clean it up, and then mold and cast pieces for finishing.
It took a lot of extra time to “build” the gun in SketchUp, but the effort was worth it. The blueprints I was able to print out made for a pretty fantastic kit, once all the parts were ready to be cut out. Also, I had already pretty much gone through the entire build once, planning it all out before even buying my material.
Build Materials: MDF and Styrene Plastic
MDF has been my go-to space gun building material for a long time. You can buy it from nearly any local hardware store, it’s fairly cheap, and it doesn’t have any pesky wood grain. It does get a bit fuzzy on the cut ends though, but we will deal with that in due time!
On a side note, I think it’s high time I graduated from MDF and use urethane tooling foam more often. Sure it’s more expensive, but it finishes so much nicer and you don’t have to deal with the fuzzy edges you get from MDF.
For this build, I also used some styrene plastic. Like the wood, you can get it in various thicknesses. I usually pick up a bunch from Tap Plastics here in Seattle, but you can also find it at your hardware stores disguised as “for sale” signs.
For adhesion I used your run of the mill wood glue for some of the larger MDF pieces, but my go-to adhesive for this kind of project is super glue.
Cutting & Sanding the Wood
With all of my design pieces glued down to their respective thicknesses of MDF, I was ready to go on a wood cutting binge. There were a variety of cuts to be made, so it was extremely handy to have several types of saw on hand to tackle each job. My workhorses are my scroll saw, band saw, and jig saw. A lot of the larger cuts were made with the bandsaw, in a fairly rough fashion, and then cleaned up on the disc sander. The internal cuts (like around the handle) and some of the trickier bits were done with a bit more precision on the scroll saw, requiring less clean-up.
For sanding, I also have a plethora of power tools to tackle each particular challenge. It’s hard to beat an oscillating spindle sander for those pesky interior, rounded edges around the handle. I also have a 1″ wide belt sander to handle some spots that needed a lot of wood removed, but were too tucked away to be handled with the disc sander.
I spent a good day or two cutting out and cleaning up the many pieces on the rifle. This is the kind of project where it pays off to have invested in a wide range of power tools to make life a little more bearable.
Creating Bevelled Edges
This gun has a whole bunch of beveled edges. To tackle them, I applied a two step method. First was to trim away as much of the material as possible with a saw. Then I could finish the edge with a hand file and sanding stick.
Trimming some of the bevels with the power saws was a little bit tricky. Fortunately my scroll saw and band saw each tilt to 45 degrees in opposite directions, so I was able to swap between the two to get the lion share of the material removed. The rest was done with elbow grease.
The very large bevels along the barrel (along the top of the gun where the row of tubes go) was different beast altogether. It was too big to fit in either of my saws, so it had to be trimmed with a hand saw. Time to invest in a bigger bandsaw!
Once they were glued together, some of the beveled edges required a bit of filling and sanding to get them looking right. I used a some body filler to get the job done. This is like a cure all finishing anything on a prop that didn’t get cut out perfectly!
I also trimmed out some of the smaller detail pieces using my drill press for round bits and an X-Acto knife for anything that had small, straight edges. Any surfaces that looked fuzzy were covered with some of that really thin (and in this case green) styrene plastic.
Gluing the Space Gun Sandwich
Finally after days of cutting and sanding, it was time to put this space gun sandwich together! The three big main pieces of MDF were wood glued together and served as a platform for the rest of the layers.
With the base shape prepped, I glued on the rest of the layers one at a time. These were tacked down with superglue. I really like super glue for this because it cures really fast and, if need be, can be sprayed with an accelerant to ensure that it will fully cure. This was one of the most fun parts of the build. It felt like putting together a model kit.
It’s impossible to line up these layers perfectly when gluing them together, so I ended up with some edges that had a bit of overlap. This is another instance where having several powered sanding tools saved the day. Sanding those surfaces flat by hand is possible, but sounds like a nightmare.
This entire process went on for a handful of days. Cut, cleanup, bevel, glue, repeat. The effort was worth it though, as the gun has made some significant progress! Next time, I’ll be showing you the process of lathing the cylindrical parts of the gun. I’ll also be prepping the pieces for mold making, so hold onto your butts, it’s gonna get crazy!
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