Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 
Atomic DIY: Build Your Own R2-D2!

Atomic DIY: Build Your Own R2-D2!

One thing I think everyone who loves Star Wars has said at least once is “man, I wish I had an R2-D2!” My good friend and fellow archery coach Russell Rucker said the same thing, and then he went ahead and built one. His R2 unit is completely screen-accurate, and has appeared at a number of Star Wars events over the years.

Russell is a member of the 501st Legion and the R2 Droid Builders Club. Naturally, like a whole lot of other people, I asked Russell how he built his R2. It turns out he had already created a Powerpoint presentation showing the whole process, which involved a lot of different skills, materials and techniques. He gave me permission to share his photos and notes here.

(Of course, if you don’t want to spend a year or four fabricating the parts, you could just buy Russell’s R2-D2 for your very own. It’s for sale! If you’re interested, just email R2D2@atomicjunkshop.com and go from there.)

But okay, you want to build your own. Here’s how.

Research is vital.

First, follow the link above to join the R2 Builders Club at AstroMech.net. It’s a lively community of people who have built or are building their own R2 unit, or BB-8, WALL-E, or other droids and bots. That’s where you’ll begin your research. The members there got access to one of the actual screen-used R2-D2 droids and were able to take detailed measurements, and the site can provide you with copies of the actual blueprints to follow.

Naturally, you’re going to want your R2-D2 (“Second Generation Robotic Droid, Series 2” according to Star Wars lore, “Reel 2, Dialog track 2” according to Sound Designer Walter Murch) to be completely accurate, especially if you intend to join the 501st Legion. They are sticklers for that sort of thing. So research is your life now, at least until you have enough information to get started.

Building

R2 is assembled from a lot of pieces, many of them built up in layers, from a variety of materials including wood, aluminum, steel, and various plastics, all meticulously trimmed and assembled. Here’s how the legs go together:

 

R2 leg pieces
R2’s legs are built up in layers.
R2 legs glued and clamped
Once cut and sanded, the leg layers are glued and clamped.
R2 legs assembled
R2’s legs are ready to paint.
Leg details painted
Small pieces need painting separately.
R2 legs painted
R2’s legs gets several layers of paint.
R2 legs complete
The legs are finished!

The chassis is assembled. Some R2 builders use wood, others machine aluminum, some may build from plastic. One way or another, R2’s body is built around a supporting structure.

R2's skeleton
R2’s skeleton is key. Everything is built around it.
R2 skeleton painted
A coat of paint keeps R2 neat and pretty inside and out.

R2’s Outer shell is made of two layers of aluminum skin. This has to be trimmed, holes cut, and then assembled.

Two layers of skin for extra durability.
Skin has its access ports cut and sanded.
Skin is glued on and clamped
Your life as an R2 builder will involve a great many clamps. It’s all clamps all the time.

R2’s dome is also aluminum, with a fiberglass under-dome.

R2 dome parts

All of the dome’s openings have to be meticulously measured and cut and sanded.

R2's dome trimmed
R2’s skull is coming together.

And it fits.

R2 dome in place
R2’s done gets a test-fit.

Before the legs can be attached, there needs to be some support installed. Aluminum mounts are drilled and placed and a supporting axle put in.

R2 leg bracket
R2’s leg mounting block
R2 support axle installed
R2’s leg support in place
R2 legs attached
R2’s legs are attached to the axle.

R2’s feet are prelty complicated; there’s a separate motor in each foot that has to have a mount fabricated, then there’s a covering shell with a lot of detail, as well as the various cables and such.

foot blueprint
Blueprint for placement of foot motor mounts
Drill bit known as “the widowmaker” used to cut holes in motor mount.

drilling motor mount holes

R2 foot enclosures
R2’s feet in process.
wheel motor installed
R2 wheel motor in place
R2 foot shell
R2’s foot shell covering.
R2 foot shell
R2’s foot covering is made of a heavy duty plastic.
R2 wheels
R2’s wheels in place on his legs.
R2’s leg and foot completed

R2’s dome needs its own motor in order to rotate.

R2 dome drive
This wheel drives R2’s dome.

He also needs a voice. This involves three components: a 12-channel relay switching unit, an MP3 player (in red), and an amplifier. If you don’t know how to solder, you’re going to learn.

R2 voice components
The parts that make up R2’s voice.

There’s also a motor controller and 12v battery inside R2, and all of it is controlled by a handheld transmitter.

R2 controller
R2’s brain.

R2 transmitter
The transmitter controls R2.

Here’s a peek inside R2’s head:

R2-D2 interior
R2’s internal components

And of course there are a multitude of little parts that all need to be fabricated….

There are some parts that could be machined, carved out of styrene, 3D printed, or cast in resin. Your choice. This one’s pieces are cast resin.

That’s it!

Now what?

So, after innumerable hours and a whole lot of work, you have your own fully-functional R2 unit; what do you do with it?

You could park him and let him stare at you…

…sit down and be his friend….

R2 in the house
Sit down and chat a while.

Or take him out on the town to make new friends…

A world of adventure and excitement awaits you as the proud owner of an R2 unit!

R2 wants to be your buddy
R2 wants to be your buddy!

So what are you waiting for?

And like I said, if the prospect of spending all those hours (Russell said this guy took almost four years of work in between the regular demands of life) cutting, drilling, sanding, painting, and soldering sounds daunting, you could buy this one. R2D2@atomicjunkshop.com.

5 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    “One thing I think everyone who loves Star Wars has said at least once is “man, I wish I had an R2-D2!”
    I know I did. 😀

    R2’s foot shell covering looks like a mouse droid. 🙂 (An MSE-6, since this article covers accuracy.)

    Wait, the “R2’s internal components” image says “Under the dome”. Is this Stephen King’s R2D2?

    That’s some awesome work there. I’m impressed.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.