Wed
Oct 27 2010 2:18pm

Building A Raygun For The Flying City

A great appeal of steampunk for me is the rayguns. They are perhaps one of the most delightful anachronisms of the steampunk conceit, being neither of the past nor the future, but with elements of both.

So naturally, when I was working on the steampunk fictional world, Fables of the Flying City, there had to be rayguns. Steve Walker, the artist for the project—including the upcoming graphic novel, due out in the fall of 2012—designed me a humdinger of a device, complete with a glass sphere crackling with energy right where the cylinder would be on a revolver.

Steampunk rayguns

After months of planning—and scrapping said plans once I found out that yes, they do make battery-powered plasma balls and I would not have to convert a plug-in model—I was finally ready to make the gun myself. I had to deviate somewhat from Steve’s sketch, but I completely captured its spirit. Feel free to follow along with my process and make one of your own.

Building your own steampunk raygun

I used:

  • 1 NERF Maverick: A steampunk weaponry staple, available at anywhere toys are sold.
  • 1 battery operated plasma ball: Hard to find in stores, but ridiculously easy to procure online. I got mine on eBay.
  • 4 decorative wood moldings: From the back of the hardware store, where all the edgings and moldings are kept.
  • 1 barrel from a Bunsen burner: Mine came from a Tirrell Bunsen burner that my workplace was throwing away. There’s plenty of burners on eBay, but I just wanted something light. Any lightweight tube would do.
  • 2 tubes of plumber’s epoxy putty: Again, from the hardware store.

I also got two drawer handles that I ended up not using (they seemed like a good idea at the time). Not shown: super glue (plumber’s epoxy doesn’t work well with wood).

Step 1: Hack up the Maverick

I’m only using half of the Maverick for this: the handle, the trigger, and the area that leads to the rotating cylinder. The rest of it had to go. Luckily, that pepperbox section can find an excellent use in other rayguns. I used a Dremel rotary tool here, which made the job quick and clean.

Step 2: Paint the base coat

After slicing the Nerf gun in half and painstakingly covering the glass ball with masking tape, I was ready to paint on the base coat. Standard coloring for most steampunk rayguns is brass, but I wanted to give this raygun a different feel, so I went with copper. I didn’t want the aluminum barrel to be the only silver thing on the raygun, so the wooden moldings were given two coats of chrome.

Building your own steampunk raygun

Step 3: Sculpting with epoxy

Plumbing epoxy putty is nasty, noxious stuff that I hate working with. That said, there is no better way to secure glass to plastic in a matter of minutes. The trick is to work a little bit at a time, mashing small pieces of putty into place to fill in the space in between the glass and what’s left of the Maverick. It took almost all of both tubes to secure it properly, but the result is a solid connection between the plasma sphere and the toy gun. Since the barrel was so lightweight, I went ahead and glued it right on to the glass. After being glued together, the curvy moldings make a nice buttress for the barrel, and the square ones cover up the Nerf logo.

Building your own steampunk raygun

Voila! The basic raygun is now complete! At this point there was lots of running around making “pew pew” noises.

Step 4: Finishing

Now the raygun is basically finished, but it still looks pretty rough. I considered gluing some more doodads and wingdings in order to cover up the epoxy, but I wanted to keep it simple. So I used some scraps of pleather I had in the workshop, and glued them over the rough putty and grip. I did add one little doodad on top—I couldn’t help it!—and gave the entire a raygun a coat of diluted black paint. The black wash gives the raygun a nice “lived-in” feel, a layer of grime from its years of use.

Step 5: Turn It On

Building your own steampunk raygun To active the lightning-jar raygun, one simply flips the switch under the plasma ball and allows the awe and fear to play across one’s enemies’ faces.

And that was all it took! An enviable sidearm for any clouddog or Chiropt pilot from the Flying City.

It’s a nice piece. Sturdy. Eye-catching. Bound to be a hit everywhere it shows up  (conventions, readings, my cousin’s wedding). And distinctly one of a kind.

Until you make one, of course. But I’m okay with that, as long as you send me a picture.


Jared Axelrod is an author, an illustrator, a sculptor, a podcaster and quite a few other things that he’s lost track of, but will no doubt remember when the situation calls for it. You can find out more about him and his myriad projects at jaredaxelrod.com

5 comments
Scott Roche
2. Doc Coleman
Interesting. Is there a reason why you didn't open up the base of the plasma ball and put it into a smaller case?

Doc
Jared Axelrod
3. Jared_Axelrod
Thanks, Scott!

Doc, the easy answer is I wanted this build to be as simple as possible, and opening up the base and stashing the electronics elsewhere changes the gun from "simple build" to "slightly complex." As frustrated as I was trying to figure out how to attach the globe and still have access the batteries, I would have just as much frustration soldering in a new battery back and finding a place to put that. Plus, I rather liked the clunky, "gas gun" feel to having the base on the bottom like that.

That said, I still want to make a gun closer to Steve's original design, so future versions will probably be base-free.
Scott Roche
4. elana
What kind of paint are you using?
Scott Roche
5. S. Reesa Herberth
This totally rocks. I have been wanting to create a ray gun with a plasma ball, but I couldn't figure out how I'd go about it. I didn't even know they made battery operated versions.

Thank you! Now I'll have something cool to tote around at Balticon this year.

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