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Topic: Iron Man Mark II Arc Reactor (with process pics, of course!)  (Read 17859 times)
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« on: October 22, 2012 09:57:46 PM »

OK everyone, I finally have a moment to breathe, so hereís a little (i.e. extremely long and detailed) tutorial about how I made my Iron Man Mark II arc reactor, with tons of pics and thorough descriptions of the process!

I am a ridiculous fan of Iron Man and all things Marvel Comics as well as costuming, so I decided to make Tony Stark's mech test framework as seen in Iron Man I; just the arc reactor, gauntlet and arm frame, and palm repulsors for now, the boots are going to be a Christmas break project (gauntlets are currently a WIP). Smiley Ooooh, and I'm so excited about the palm repulsors, I'm rigging up a camera flash so that even though they'll glow with continuous LED's, when I cock my hand back, they'll also flash like a boss. Squee!! Anyway! On to the arc reactor!

This will eventually be the end result:


I had all these materials in my garage, but you can get them all at your local hardware store, I estimate that the materials will cost $30-50, depending on how fancy you get.


    -Clear acrylic patio table ring with plug (mine came from a pool and patio store, you can also order one here, make sure it has the ring and the center plug)

    -Large staples like what you use in a staple gun (mine were 9/16Ē or 14mm)

    -Designer bell-style faucet aerator

    -Either individual LEDís with necessary resistors, wiring and tape (try Radio Shack, remember not to use acid core solder), OR ribbon-style pre-wired LEDís from your local auto supply store, like these Flex-LEDís

    -24 gauge copper wire

    -22 gauge brass wire

    -A round mirror about the same size as the acrylic plug (I popped mine out of a makeup compact, it was about 2Ē in diameter)

    -Plastic regular size mason jar lid (my local hardware store sells these individually, farm supply stores tend to have them pretty cheap, too), like these

    -Solder with flux or acid core (or Tacky Glue and silver metallic paint, Iíll get to that later),

    -Black craft paint

    -Silver and gold metallic nail polish (I used Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear in Celeb City and Golden-I, just make sure its a very fine, very concentrated flake that looks more like metal than glitter)

    -Clear nail polish

    -Wire coat hanger

    -Super glue

    -Hot glue

    -Three very small screws

    -Some kind of thin but stiff plastic that you can cut with an X-acto knife, like the cover of a 5-Star notebook


    -Hot glue gun


    -Paddle drill bit large enough to fit inside the center of the acrylic plug

    -Drill bit small enough for your three tiny screws

    -Soldering Iron

    -Needle-nose pliers

    -Wire cutters (or just use the cutter part of the pliers)

    -Very fine-tipped paintbrush

    -Ruler with inches and mm

    -Fine metal file

    -X-acto knife

    -AC/DCís Back in Black to help you get into the right frame of mind Smiley

OK, so start by spreading all your materials out on the dining room table, so when your husband/wife/partner/parents/roommate comes home, theyíll have something suitable to freak out about. Assure them that the mess definitely wonít still be there three weeks after youíve finished the project. Now that the mess is out of the bag, put on your jams (or the Iron Man movie) and make yourself a snack and a gin and tonic. Youíve done a good job so far!

Now you want to separate the acrylic plug from the ring, and drill out the center of the plug. I recommend not doing this at the table, and using a clamp would probably be a lot safer than just holding it with your fingers (who says I did that? Nobody saw anythingÖ). Youíll see in the following pic that my paddle bit wasnít quite big enough (you want the hole big enough that the wide end of the faucet can nestle loosely inside). I cleaned it up later and made it more round with my X-acto and file.

The ring part has two lips, youíll want to trim one of them off with the X-acto knife. In this pic, you can see that the plug has been drilled out (left), the ring has been trimmed and Iíve started with the staples (right), and the piece of ring that I trimmed off is in the upper right corner.

I used the staples to create segments for the copper wire, so it looked more like the wire was part of something that could actually conduct a current, rather than just wrapped around a patio table ring. So that the staples stayed in place, I trimmed each with my wire cutters so it didnít extend past the end of the inner part of the ring, then bent a corner so it would stay in place. Once I pressed each into place, I used my pliers to crimp the bent part into place so it wouldnít budge. I made 18 even segments (9 segments of copper, use your ruler to make sure theyíre evenly spaced) so the 3 prongs of the final piece each line up with a copper segment (looks more intentional that way, rather than just decorative, youíll see when I get to that step).

Using your black craft paint, paint several layers of black on every other segment on both the front and back, so the light wonít shine through the wires and make it look inauthentic.Try to avoid getting paint on the staples.

When the paint is dry, start wrapping every other segment with the copper wire, trying to keep it smooth, tight, and even, bumping each piece up against each other (there will have to be some overlap to cover all the black, since itís a radial shape rather than linear shape). I anchored the wire ends on the back of the staples, and tucked the ends under, as you can see here.

Ta-da! Time for another drink and Iron Man II!

Now comes the fun part (or frustrating part, depending on how many gin and tonics youíve had by now). Youíll want to cut little tiny pieces of the brass wire, so that you can solder them to the staples. If you donít have flux or an acid core in your solder, it wonít want to stick, and youíll end up with drops of solder stuck to everything but what you want it to stick to. ANYWAY. I purposely didnít get too tidy here, I wanted it to look like it was made under duress in a cave with a box of scraps.

You can also use Tacky Glue to glue the wire bits on, then paint the globs of glue with silver paint or nail polish once itís dried. I like to make things difficult on myself, so I used the random unlabelled solder I found in the garage, because I like to make 15 trips to the hardware store to track down the right kind when the first kind didnít work. The second pic shows that I put the plug back in place to make sure that I didnít put the brass wires too close to the center for it to fit. The plug will be a tight fit with all the staples and copper wire, so just be firm but gentle to get it back into place.

Now take the plug back out, because weíre going to paint the black perforated ring. I looked all over the garage, hardware store, craft store, and interwebz for an appropriate substitute to no avail, so I decided that I would just have to break out my mad paint skillz and make it happen. So I just free-handed a black ring with holes with several coats of black, then coated it in clear nail polish to seal it in.

OK, this next pic shows two steps. First is making the plug that you just painted look like an actual, oxidized piece of metal. To do that, I dipped my finger in a little bit of the silver nail polish and rubbed it around the surface of the plug, concentrating most of it around the outer edge. Donít be afraid to get messy, you can wipe excess off with a damp paper towel. Imperfect is the goal here, you want it to look naturally oxidized.

The other bit in the pic is from the faucet aerator. If you unscrew the back and take it apart, you should end up with two silver metal pieces, two mesh screens, two clear acrylic washers, and 2-3 plastic pieces. Donít lose any of it, and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, remember how you took them apart so you donít waste 45 minutes fumbling like an idiot because thereís a thousand different ways they could possibly go together and you donít remember which of those ways is correct!

I used the gold nail polish to paint the plastic pieces (they hold the mesh in place and are visible in the final product, so I wanted them to look like metal (gold-titanium alloy, maybe? Eh? Eh?). When the nail polish was dry, I dipped my finger in a little of the black craft paint, and rubbed it into the crevices and textured bits (wiping away excess with a damp paper towel), so it also looks oxidized.

You really want to use your fingers for these steps, a brush is too precise and wonít give it that built-in-a-cave, battle-damaged, oxidized look.

Now weíre going to make a spring to go around the faucet. Itís not really part of the original design, but it hides some of the LED guts, adds a nice textural element, and diffuses the light a little. I made two springs, but weíll worry about the other later.

Get your hanger (NO WIRE HANGERS!! JK, you need one here), and cut the long straight part off. Hold the end firmly with one end of the copper wire, and wrap it tightly around the hanger, keeping it tightly and closely coiled. I suppose I made about a 2Ē coil, but I stretched it a smidge to open the coils and trimmed some, so YMMV. I twisted the ends together, then popped it onto the faucet, where it hugged a groove nicely and stayed in place. Never mind the other pieces in the pic, we arenít there yet.

Now youíll need to reassemble the faucet, leaving off the back metal piece and the solid plastic piece with the stem, since theyíll block the light and make it too tall. Eventually youíll have to put a drop of super glue around the edge to keep it all together without the back piece, but donít do that yet because youíll need to trace part of it in a later step, and youíll need to take it apart to do so. Hereís the pieces weíve done so far assembled. Nothing is glued, theyíre just sitting together, just to make sure everything is fitting as it should.

Here it is sitting in the mason jar lid. Thereís plenty of wiggle room, but youíll need that for the LEDís.

Use your X-acto knife to cut a rectangular hole in the mason jar lid on the side near the base to accommodate the LED wire. Youíll be able to kind of see it in the following pics, I tried to make it pretty subtle.

Now you need to paint the entire inside and outside of the lid (not the back that goes against your skin though, if you use spirit gum and actually wear it, it could pull the finish off). Use the silver nail polish for this, it really looks like metal. I used 2-3 coats, and made sure I really got it in all the grooves.

Next it needs to be oxidized (after the polish is dry), so use your fingers and the black craft paint again. Rub the paint all over, concentrating in the grooves, and wiping away excess with a damp paper towel. Streaks, fingerprints, and splotches are all desirable imperfections; remember, weíre shooting for battle-damaged here.

And itís definitely time for another drink, and maybe a pizza.

OK, here is a fiddly bit. I used the stiff plastic cover of my 5-Star notebook to make the little 3-prong cage thing (henceforth referred to as ďThe AssemblyĒ) that sits over the top of the center of the reactor. Before I reassembled and glued the faucet, I took the part that holds the mesh in place (the small part thatís visible that i painted gold), and traced the inside of the circle onto the plastic.

Now VERY SLOWLY AND PATIENTLY AND CAREFULLY use your X-acto to cut out a circle about 1mm inside what you just traced, then cut out on the line that you just traced. You should now have a ring where the widest diameter is the same size as the smallest diameter of the faucet piece. Still with me? Anyway, you should cut the inside first, because itís otherwise impossible to hold onto that little piece and get an even circle.

Now cut three rectangles, about an inch long and 2mm wide. I carved a center groove in each, then painted these and the ring with the gold nail polish, front and back. After they were dry, I burnished each with the black paint as I did in the above steps. The grooves pick up the paint, and make it look like a piece of cast metal.

I super-glued them all together with super glue flat on the table, then glued them to the plug, which I of course donít have a pic of. Note: make sure that when viewed from above, the ring is on top and the prongs are underneath. Since The Assembly was flat on the table, I used the acrylic ring to make sure that the three prongs lined up with a segment of copper (with two copper segments between each prong).

While in that step, I marked on the ring where the prongs would fit, and drilled tiny pilot holes for the screws while the glue dried. Once it was dry, I super-glued The Assembly to the ring, lining the prongs up with the pilot holes and making sure the whole thing was centered (youíll need to trim off some excess length, I made it so they ended just under the screw heads).

Once the glue is dry, put in your screws, and re-insert the plug into the ring (very carefully, it will be a tight fit and now thereís a bunch of little wires and bits that can be easily dislodged).

See! Itís purty!

Now you want to glue your round mirror to the inside bottom of the mason jar lid. I used hot glue for this. My mirror came out of a makeup compact, which I heated up with a heat gun (a blow dryer works too) to loosen the glue.

Whee, itís time to wire your LEDís! If you feel like making a circuit board, go ahead. In all honesty, itís not that hard, but you need to bone up on some basic electrical skills first, which can be intimidating for a beginner. Hereís a nice Instructable if you really want to earn bragging rights. If youíre lazy or otherwise time constrained, use the pre-wired strips. You can certainly get more precise placement if you wire them from scratch, but if you put enough reflective surfaces on the inside, it wonít matter much. I used the super-bright tape kind from the auto supply store, which have a convenient adhesive strip and can be trimmed to length (donít look directly into them when lit, yo. Seriously, theyíre bright. The finished arc reactor will light up the entire room, no joke).

I pulled the strip through the hole that I cut in the lid, and after some measuring and cutting, stuck them around the perimeter so the lights shine inward. The power switch is the kind that you have to keep pressed down, so if you want an on/off switch, you need to rewire one. I got mine at Radio Shack, and now I can turn it on and leave it on.

Get your wire hanger piece and more copper wire out, and make another spring, maybe 5 inches long this time. Twist the ends together, and spot-glue it on top of the LED strip with a very tiny amount of hot glue, so that neither the glue or LED tape will be visible when everything is assembled. The acrylic ring and plug will sit on top of the LEDís, rather than nestle inside, once itís all assembled.

OK, now remember how I told you not to lose all the parts of the faucet aerator? In all likelihood you did, and now those extra parts are on the floor or in the catís mouth. You need to find the two clear rubber washers that came in the faucet. Youíll super-glue these together, then glue them into the narrow end of the aerator. This will raise it up a little and allow the light to shine through the center; otherwise, the very center of the arc reactor will be dark, and we donít want people to think youíre in danger of shrapnel because of a malfunctioning electromagnetic heart.

You may now proceed to super-glue the washers together, then to the faucet, then super-glue the faucet to the very center of the mirror, widest end facing up. Be sure to test the lights first, to make sure they shine through the center. If not, youíll need to come up with something else to raise the aerator and let the light shine through.

Now nestle the ring into the mason jar lid, adjusting it to find where it fits most snugly. I lined it up so that one of the prongs of The Assembly pointed down and lined up with where the wire comes out, which I intend to hide in my epic cleavage. Looks a little less random this way. Once you find the right position, spot glue it with hot glue on the back of the copper segments, using an X-acto knife to trim away any visible glue that squeezes out. Youíre all done, time for a dance party!

All lit up!

Donít forget to leave your mess for the rest of the household to observe and admire!

Time to party, you just made a nuclear-plasmic electromagnet with a fully-integrated miniature particle accelerator! Fuck yeah science, get on wití yo bad self! Hopefully you finished it sometime in the middle of the night, so you can stick it to your chest with double-stick tape and prance around in the house pretending to be Tony Stark. Donít forget to put on a tank top and take a bunch of pics with it shining through your shirt, then lie in bed and marvel about how Tony can possibly sleep with the fucking beacon of Gondor shining out of his chest. Yay!

« Last Edit: April 28, 2013 10:04:26 PM by Phantome » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: October 23, 2012 05:45:59 AM »

What a great tutorial! I've always wanted to make my own arc reactor and this really makes it seem doable without having to have fancy tools or materials.
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« Reply #2 on: October 23, 2012 05:57:07 AM »

Good grief! You are hardcore, and win based on this tut and one piece of Iron Man suit.  Smiley

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« Reply #3 on: October 23, 2012 04:44:56 PM »

Oh my gosh! this is absolutely awesome!  You win!

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« Reply #4 on: October 23, 2012 08:26:58 PM »

Oh-my-golly-wow-bananas-fudge-brownies-chocolate-chips! Shocked This is THE most epic tutorial I've seen on here. I love your arc reactor and can't wait to see the rest of the suit. Also, I loved reading about your process and the in-depth process pics. I couldn't imagine making one myself, but there is that sense of security that if I ever wanted to make my own arc reactor, there is this tutorial. Smiley

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« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2012 11:57:49 AM »

WOW. Shocked

Well. What can I even say to this.

I have no idea what I'd even do with it; but I kind of want to make one just to make one. This is incredible.


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« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2012 01:38:47 PM »

Thanks, everyone! I always love when people share some how-to or process photos when they post their projects, so I try to do the same (yeah, I know I tend to go overboard, lol). I've seen some really great arc reactors out there, but it bugs me how many cosplayers are so secretive of the construction process, like it's a trade secret or something. Everyone should have their very own arc reactor!

I'm really excited about getting the rest of the costume done (I wish it could've been before Halloween, but alas...). I've got the guts of my old computer torn up, the flash components from two cameras, and a whole mess of EL light wire and aluminum stripping all ready to go into the gauntlets. I'm looking forward to some nice cozy fall nights holed up in the workshop (or my "lab" as I like to call it) making this costume come to life. 

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« Reply #7 on: November 04, 2012 02:26:05 PM »

Wow, that has got to be one of the best tutorials I've seen in a long time!  I may have to make this for the boy toy.  Very cool, thanks for sharing Smiley
« Reply #8 on: November 05, 2012 10:39:20 AM »

Holy Crap!!!  That is the coolest most detailed tutorial I have ever seen! I wasn't going to read through it because I already have a perfectly good reactor (not!) but your wit and humor sucked me in.  Glad it did.  Excellent work!
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« Reply #9 on: November 08, 2012 08:02:32 PM »

What I want to know is where these pictures are?Huh?

"prance around in the house pretending to be Tony Stark. Donít forget to put on a tank top and take a bunch of pics with it shining through your shirt, then lie in bed and marvel about how Tony can possibly sleep with the fucking beacon of Gondor shining out of his chest. Yay!"


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