DroidBuilders UK

Uniting all droid builders.

Sam Prentice

So why build a droid?

Prior to droid building I was into keeping marine fish and corals. That hobby, like R2 Building, grew enormously with bigger tanks and fish. When the tank setup was sold and eventually removed from the house, I sat in the lounge looking at a crack in the ceiling, which had previously been masked by the tank’s light reflection. I was sort of lost, ending one hobby, ready to find another. I switched on the TV and lo and behold, one of the Star Wars movies just happened to be on. I joked with Hannah that perhaps I could build an R2D2 to go in the lounge where the fish tank had previously sat. Then I found the UK R2D2 Builders Club on Facebook. The stages of droid building for me have been interesting with the first elements being ‘how to’, ‘doing’ and the finished product, then wondering what happens next. This quickly escalated into being more than just building an R2D2 to fill a corner of the living room and turned into raising money for charity, helping other builders, managing events and becoming a committee member.

Your first build wasn’t an R2-D2 and this is unusual for new builders, what was your first build and why did you go that way?

R2-Q5 was my first droid; it has a black and copper colour scheme. Following attending the Star Wars Celebration event in London there seemed to be a sea of R2D2’s but very few black droids. I attended a builder meet hosted by Brad Oakley over in Oxford; I was a bit embarrassed by the state of my build at that time and didn’t want to take it with me but I already had my heart set on the alternatives to R2D2. Having also been invited to Oliver Steeples’ house to see his droids, I got the fundamental understanding on how things went together, which spurred me on to just get things done. Within a couple of months, I had most of the parts ready and spent weeks outside under a heated canopy spraying the legs and skins. R2-Q5’s colours were found in a photo archive online and I learnt the best ways to paint by trial and error.

You have amassed a small army of droids in what seems like a very short time. From your 3D printed Chopper to aluminium droids, what have you learnt about the various builds and do you have a preference for 3dprint/aluminium/other?

Towards the end of 2018 I purchased an unfinished droid from another builder, which stood my ‘collection’ at 8 droids plus a track droid, which was being planned. Looking back at my droid history, this all started when Oliver sent me a friend request in April 2016, and the first build started around August time; I think it was finished in Feb/March 2017. So just before the 2018 Christmas event I purged a number of parts, 3 frames, ali legs and wooden legs, as I’ve begun to simply run out of space. With regards to materials, my favourite has to be the aluminium builds for several reasons, which include durability and build quality, but they are heavy and not as easy to unload as styrene droids. I do favour the alternative 3D printed domes and styrene frames from a cost and weight advantage, though.

On the 3D printing side, Michael Baddeley has produced some amazing work and continues to evolve his processes along with educating builders on how to make them, so I’d say a fully 3D printed droid is a possibility for the future. Q5 was a mix of wood and metal. Working with wood as a material was interesting and needed further refinement due to an accident with a lift, which broke off the droid’s legs; however, within a couple of weeks I had reinforced the ankle parts with metal inserts.

What challenges have you encountered while building droids?

Early on I wanted to avoid ordering parts from the US because of the overall expense of the import fees and tax, plus I didn’t know these guys – who was I ordering from? More recently Lee Towersey has been producing aluminium domes, which all my R2 droids use. Mark has produced feet in both steel and aluminium and there are now more and more builders fabricating parts for other builders.

It was really frustrating speaking to companies about what I was building as there constantly seemed to be a misguided vision that they were going to make loads of money if they mass produced certain items. Wooden frame and legs manufacturing became messy with it only being worth doing if you order 3 or more frames, or talented engineers needing management in order to get the product finished and installed on the droid. It seemed that even throwing money at something didn’t necessarily mean it was going to happen quickly, or at all. There are plenty of people out there who can make or do but finding the right ones for the job was a real challenge.

Then 3D printing became mainstream, so I was printing parts on the small 200 × 200 i3 duplicator. I had no skills or knowledge on how to do this and in the end the parts just looked tatty, printing for days and days. The finishing was a game changer and again through trial and error, along with plenty of filling and sanding, the parts began to look more refined. I moved up to the Cr10 300 then onto a couple of 500’s in order to print full size domes in one go and also make a start on a C3PO animatronic.

In every build you are going to find areas that you are unfamiliar with, be it lighting or, RC vs Padawan vs Marcduino vs Stealth. That’s on top of skills needed for measurements, cutting, planning, printing, painting and sanding. Fortunately both the US and UK forums have a throng of willing members to assist or advise and without those people I can only imagine that Q5 would be a broken, part-built mess in the shed.