• Are you going to go with AC or
DC? I prefer to use DC whenever
possible. Make a choice early as it will
make stocking parts and spares much
• Will you use LED or
incandescent lighting? In order to
reduce my electrical needs as much as
possible, I am switching all my lighting
to LED. The prices have come down
drastically and the extended life span
is certainly a plus.
• Are you willing to make the
continual investment in batteries or
will you run electrical wiring to your
props? Sometimes power is not
available and batteries are the only
answer, but they can get expensive.
• Plan your budget! This is
especially important when building
projects for others, but is even a good
idea for personal projects. Costs can
get out of hand in a hurry if you are
not paying attention. Plus, many of us
have spouses to report to. (We don’t want to use the bill
paying money to fund our projects.)
• Be willing to work outside your comfort zone and try
new things. This is one of the best ways to learn.
• Consider the size of your audience — kids or adults.
Build accordingly so it is at their level and they can see it.
• Modify an existing design. Original designs are great,
however, there is nothing wrong with modifying someone
else’s design and making it your own. As they say, imitation
is the sincerest form of flattery, but be sure to give credit to
those that came before you and created the original design.
The Build Process
• Have materials on hand. I like to stock up on extra
parts as I hate having to stop what I’m doing and go order
parts or run to the store to pick up a
necessary piece (Figure 1).
• Acquire the necessary tools.
Buy quality or you may buy twice. If
you cannot afford the tools you need,
check to see if there is a MakerPlace
in your town. Here is a link to a video
showing one near me:
• Use your resources. Do you
have a friend who is a great
carpenter? See if he/she would like to
participate in a build by helping with
the set design. Know someone who
sews? Would they like to help out
with costuming? Or, what about your
neighbor who builds his own off-road
vehicles. Maybe he would be willing
to give a hand when you need some
welding done. You may be amazed
at how many people you know that
have no interest in prop building but
have skills that can help with your
• Measure twice, cut once. My
dad told me this when I was first old enough to use a saw
on my own, and it is still relevant today. Saves money and
• Take your time. Safety first! We work with many
dangerous items such as electricity, sharp tools, powerful
motors and mechanisms, and things that can burn. Know
your tools, follow the safety guidelines, and use your safety
• Document and photograph your work. You never
know when you will be asked to provide build information.
It also comes in handy if you ever want to reproduce a
• Plan for inclement weather. That may include cold,
heat, rain, or wind, either separately or in any combination!
You may need to have such items as heat packs, cooling
fans, trash bags, tarps, concrete blocks, and rebar available.
Keep your electronics dry at all costs!
• Watch for cheap or free materials. Buy at post
holiday sales for bargains. Many cities have services such as
Freecycle or Craigslist that allow people to post free items.
It does not get any cheaper than that!
• Allow plenty of time to complete a project. The stress
of meeting a deadline can take all the fun out of a build.
• Overbuild and overengineer. If in doubt, choose the
stronger motor. Use bolts and lock nuts to make sure things
stay together. You want to use materials that are light and
economical, but do not skimp. Make sure that all your
Post comments on this section and find any associated files and/or downloads at
Figure 1. Parts, parts, and more parts.
SERVO 03.2016 49
9V Battery Containers — http://tinyurl.com/zcpzk62
ServoCity Servo Clips — http://tinyurl.com/z4puy6h
Pro-Poxy 20 — http://tinyurl.com/zclu8a2
Froggy’s Fog Scents — http://tinyurl.com/z5l6ol6
My You Tube Channel — http://tinyurl.com/nma2doj
My Website — http://tinyurl.com/pte8efs
Tips of the Trade Forum Thread — http://tinyurl.com/j8txr4e