Ray Gun Prop – A 1 Hour Sci-Fi Prop Build

by | Jul 7, 2017 | Science Fiction Props, Tutorial, Workshop Blog | 0 comments

Like many so many of history’s greatest stories, our journey today begins in tragedy. Ok, tragedy is a bit of an exaggeration. But if you want to know how I build this ray gun prop from a £1 shop toy you’re going to have to put up with my bullshit.

After ham-fistedly breaking my 3D printer in what can only be described as a farcical sitcom like series if increasingly stupid moves, I needed a quick win. This is where the ray-gun prop comes in. A few months ago, I decided to acquire a bunch of cheap toy guns for rainy day projects. And in the blazing sunshine of a July afternoon, I decided it was time to break out the toys and make something worthwhile to boost my spirits.

Ray Gun Prop – 1 Hour Build

If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’re familiar with Adam Savage’s ‘1 day build’ videos for Tested. As it happens, a lot of my builds take around 1 full (long) day. But I needed a quick win, so I asked myself “can I make anything useful in the hour before dinner”. Never being one to shy away from a completely arbitrary challenge, and filled with the kind of conviction that makes one shout aloud in a public place, I yelled “maybe!”.

Your honour, I present Exhibit A. This pile of poorly moulded blue plastic is a terribly cheap NERF knockoff. It didn’t work very well. It’s not very attractive either. If I was going to turn this into a Ray Gun prop in 60 minutes I’d have to get creative.

The first job was to disassemble the gun and discard the firing mechanism. I also removed the NERF dart holder under the barrel. This left a big oval shaped pod that would have to be filled with something, or sawn off. If I got the saw out, I’d have to fill the hole. And, filler takes 30 minutes before you can sand it, so that would require serious commitment.

After musing over the problem I remembered that I had recently replaced the valves in one of my guitar amps. Nothing looks more 1950’s than a valve! Excellent. So I cut a piece of 10mm Foamed PVC (Sintra, Foamex etc.) to fit on the end of the pod and hold the valves. The valves themselves had all but one of their pins removed. The final pin on each valve would be placed in a corresponding hole in the PVC plate. This would create a nice and strong joint. I didn’t glue the valves in place until after painting. That way I could avoid having to waste precious time masking!

Adding The Details

Here you can see the plate mounted on the front of the Ray Gun prop. I used CA Glue (superglue) as there wasn’t time to wait for epoxy to cure.

I cut this little “magazine” extension out of a 10mm Foamed PVC offcut as I felt that the Ray gun looked too squat. There are two rules I live by: Ray Guns shouldn’t be short and Fruit Teas aren’t Tea. Seriously, stop calling it Tea you savages.

And out come the Rivets! I must admit that I’m a sucker for the industrial aesthetic. Adding rivets made from furniture tacks is a super-quick way to add detail to a build. Consequently, I went a bit nuts! The process is simple; drill a pilot hole and then superglue the tacks in place. The clock was at around 40 minutes at this point, which didn’t leave a lot of time for paint.

Painting The Ray Gun Prop

After roughing up the shiny plastic surface with a fine sanding sponge it was time for primer. Had I just painted right on top of the shiny plastic I would have saved a few minutes. However, the paint would not have adhered well, and would likely have resulted in chipping. I threw on a quick coat of primer using my airbrush and dried it using my workshop hairdryer. The hairdryer is one of my most used shop tools. It’s great for drying paint, warming materials that react to heat and maintaining my perfectly coiffured hair during a long shop session.

After the primer had been dried, I applied a coat of gunmetal silver to the top of the ray gun prop. And again, I baked it on with the hairdryer.

Time was fast running out of time by this point, so there was no time to mask the ray gun prop. I applied the blue onto the lower part of the gun and used a scrap of cardboard to stop overspray hitting the silver. This was, err, mostly successful! With the airbrush work done I glued the valves in place using CA glue. It was at this point when the timer ran out.

I figured that I had about 15 minutes’ work left if I worked efficiently. So I covered the gun (except the glass valves) with a thin wash of dirty grey/brown paint. I then wiped away all the excess paint using paper towels. This leaves dirty coloured paint in the recesses, adding a weathered look and highlighting the details of the Ray Gun prop.

The last stage was to add a coat of clear varnish. I used a rattle can this time for the sake of speed. However, I would normally add a couple of coats of gloss polyurethane varnish with the airbrush. This produces a very hardwearing coat. I then hit the prop with a matt or satin varnish to tone down the sheen that the gloss varnish brings.

The Finished 60 Minute Ray Gun Prop

There you have it, a 75-minute ray gun prop build. It’s not going to win any awards. And there is certainly evidence of the short cuts I took in the name of an arbitrary deadline. But this was a fun project to undertake. Ultimately, that’s the whole point of making, at least for me anyway.

I would encourage everyone to try imposing conditions onto one of their builds. While arbitrary limitations may seem pointless, they force creativity and encourage new working methodologies. So much of our species’ progress has happened as a consequence of, or in response to limitation. When you think about it, it’s almost crazy that we don’t try to limit ourselves more often! With that in mind, I typed this blog on a Nokia 5110.

Next time on the Prop-Up-Shop soft science blog for stay at home philosophers: Which tastes worse – 60-second noodles vs the 60-minute Ray Gun?

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