Custom Nerf Guns

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of videos about prop making and cosplay. I’m not sure I’m bold enough to dress up myself but I really like the idea of making amazing looking costumes and props from such cheap materials. Unfortunately living in London means our flat is tiny and there’s no space for a workshop or even a spare room. Fortunately my wife is awesome and she suggested that we take a long weekend off work so that we could scratch our creative itches. Leave was booked, craft shops, builders merchants and toy shops were visited and a number of Amazon orders were made.

My original plan had been to replicate a large rifle from Borderlands 2 using foam and PVC pipe. However after watching Adam Savage’s video where he built a custom Nerf rifle in a day I decided to give it a go.

The first attempt

Nerf Strongarm

I picked up one of the cheaper Nerf blasters on sale in a toy shop for under a tenner. It’s called a Strongarm, and it seems pretty oversized for a pistol so I thought it would probably make a pretty cool looking Sci-Fi weapon.

Strongarm colour scheme

First I had to decide how I wanted to paint it. I found a template on the web, and using a pallet of the spray paint colours I had available planned out the colour scheme. The project finally gave me a chance to use my Dremel so I got to work removing the raised Nerf logo, Strongarm branding and the safety instructions from the blaster. This left the plastic a bit chewed up so I tidied it up with a few different grits of wet and dry sandpaper.

Nerf Strongarm with black base coatNext up I disassembled the blaster making sure to take lots of pictures of how the internals fitted together. Then I sprayed the whole thing with a matte black spray paint as a base coat.

Spray paint having a bad reactionOnce it was dry I sprayed the entire blaster with a bright blue spray paint. This is where I hit my first problem. The paint started curling and creating a weird scaly texture. I jumped on to the Facebook group for The PropTarts of Punished Props (a group for fans of the Punished Props YouTube channel) to ask for some advice. Amazingly over thirty people replied to give me advice, what a great community!

It seems the most likely cause was that I had used a solvent based paint for the base layer and the blue acrylic paint had reacted to it. Lesson learned. When it was dry I smoothed out the worst of it with some wet sandpaper and it didn’t look too bad. One of the other suggestions I was given was that spray paint works best if both the can and the surface you’re spraying are warmed up first. So I gently warmed one of the two pieces that make up the slide using a heatgun. It promptly melted and deformed. Second lesson learned. After a bit of heating and bending I managed to get it to fit back on the blaster but it was still pretty mangled.

Next up I masked off the sections I wanted to stay blue leaving only the grip and the “tactical rail” uncovered and sprayed them gloss black. In hindsight I think I probably should have gone with a more matte black but it was beginning to look like my plan.

Custom spray painted Nef Strongarm

As you can see from the image above I chipped quite a lot of paint off of the cylinder while trying to fit the two halves back together. It took a considerable amount of force to get it back together and in the end I resorted to covering it with a tea-towel and hitting it with a rubber mallet. There’s got to be a better way.

With the blaster reassembled I gave the whole thing a coat of a matte clear top coat. Once it had cured I started work on the weathering, touch-ups and finer details. I was pretty proud of the end result.

Custom painted Nerf Strongarm

The second attempt

Nerf Firestrike

Having discovered what not to do and armed with some actual primer I figured I’d give it another go. So the following weekend I started work on a smaller pistol, a Nerf Firestrike Elite. It’s a single shot blaster with an integrated “laser sight”. It has a very futuristic looking silhouette and I thought I could probably get it done fairly quickly as it’s much smaller than the Strongarm above.

I looked around online for an existing template to work out the colour scheme on. I was unable to find one so I threw one up together in Illustrator. It’s not perfect but it’s good enough fo figuring out a colour scheme. Please feel free to use it if it’s useful to you, the outline image to the right links to an A4 transparent version.

Firestrike colour schemeHaving bought a few more colours of spray paint I decided to go with a lighter and more muted colour scheme this time to see how that would work out. I also wanted to break up the shapes of the gun a bit so I used the moulding of the gun to separate the sections of colours.

Nerf Firestrike prepped for spray paintingAs before I ground off the NERF logo, Firestrike branding and the safety instructions. I used a much lower speed this time and that left me with a lot less sanding to do afterwards. Then I roughed up all the surfaces of the blaster with some wire wool to give the paint something to grip into.

Spray painted Nerf FierstrikeThe whole thing got painted with a grey primer and left to dry. Once it was dry I sprayed the whole thing once again with a slightly different shade of grey spray paint. Then the masking began. It took quite a while to cover all of the sections I wanted to stay grey. I used 3M blue painters tape and a scalpel to mask as accurately as I could and then sprayed the ivory coloured sections. When I peeled off the tape I was pretty pleased with the results (and confident I could hide any mistakes with weathering later on). The grip got sprayed matte black and the barrel got sprayed silver.

I decided that I didn’t want to mask up the whole thing again to spray they cylinder at the front silver so I painted that in with a brush along with the screws and  the plaque. I did the same thing for the black dial above the grip. The handle got a matte clear coat and the rest of it got a gloss clear coat. Then I had to reassemble the blaster and reconnect the wires and laser, again taking lots of pictures before made this a lot easier than it could have been. Next up came the weathering and a final clear coat which left me with this.

Custom painted Nerf Firestrike

…and the rest

So I got a little carried away and won an eBay auction for someone’s Nerf collection. So now I have thirteen more blasters of varying styles and sizes to work on. I’m sure I’ll post the finished versions online as I get them finished.

The Nerf Arsenal

Solid, practical and cheap(ish) laptop

I’ve been fortunate enough to be supplied with MacBook Pros for my last few jobs, including my current role. I passed my own (now aged) MacBook Air on to my Wife when we met and since then I’ve been pretty much using my work machines for personal stuff too.

I was thinking about buying a cheap, reliable laptop for web browsing, coding and other odds and ends. Unfortunately the requirement that it should be cheap pretty much disqualified all Apple products. So I thought I’d look through eBay and see what I could find.

The keys feel very similar to, or possibly better than, those on the MacBook Pro.

In the end I settled on a Lenovo ThinkPad T430 (circa 2012). I chose it because it was available under £250, had a reasonable spec, solid build quality and a very, very nice keyboard. The model I bought was an i7 2.90Ghz with 8GB of RAM, NVIDIA NVS 5400M graphics, a 500GB HDD, DVD-CDRW and a 1600 x 900 antiglare display.

The first modification I made was replacing the optical drive with a HDD caddy and relocating the original HDD there. I then installed the cheapest 240GB SSD I could find as the boot drive.

ThinkPad DVDRW & HDD Caddy
I mean seriously, who needs an optical drive in 2017?

Next up I installed Windows 10 Pro and dual booted it with Linux Mint. I followed an online guide to setup a development environment in Windows, although I expect the Windows partition will mostly be used for coding C# in Visual Studio. I set up the Linux partition as I’ve never experimented with Linux before and this seemed like a good opportunity.

The trackpad was showing its age and had that weird spotty texture that only seems to exist on ThinkPads. It turns out the entire surface is just a sticker. So I peeled it off and replaced it with a smooth trackpad surface made to fit the T430.

Hey that’s smooth

So now I had a machine that ran the OSes I was interested in playing with, held a good charge, had a usable trackpad, a secondary drive for storage and booted up quickly thanks to the SSD. The one remaining and somewhat unexpected issue was the screen. The antiglare TN panel fitted to the T430 is one of the worst displays I have ever seen. It had to go.

A bit of research later and it seems that I was by no means alone in my assessment of the display. Several other users had investigated alternative displays. Sadly it seems there are no IPS displays that are a straight swap. The best alternative appears to be the AlienWare M14X R2 glossy display. The first one I ordered from eBay was a bust as they lied in the description and shipped me the same antiglare panel I already had. In the end I found the panel from laptopscreen.com. The difference is night and day, it’s still not an IPS display but the viewing angles are significantly better and the image is so much sharper.

All in all I’m pretty impressed with this ex-corporate brick. It boots up almost instantly thanks to the SSD. The fingerprint scanner is a surprisingly handy addition and works flawlessly with Windows Hello. The discreet graphics, although old, have turned out to be surprisingly capable. I’ve played Darksiders, Tony Hawks HD and Grid 2 at reasonable frame-rates without issues. On the flip-side rendering in blender is pretty lacklustre, the BMW scene renders in 38 minutes. However for under £350 all in it’s a pretty competent all-rounder!


The things I wish I’d known before I started

You can use sellotape to remove the HDD if it has lost its tab
If you watch any of the many YouTube videos on changing the HDD in a ThinkPad you’ll see how you simply undo one screw, slip off the plastic cover, fish out the tab, give it a tug and you’re done. Sadly it turned out that when I tried this my HDD had no tab to tug.
I contemplated a few approaches to retrieving the stubborn storage device, needle-nosed pliers, supergluing wire to it, even disassembling most of the laptop to get better access. Eventually I figured I should try using some tape. It was pretty fiddly to thread the tape between the HDD and the edge of the enclosure, and then to get it to stick to the HDD but I managed it on the third try. One gentle tug and the drive was out.
The standard display on the T430 is truly an abomination
If I had realised how bad the screen was I would probably have spent the extra for a newer ThinkPad that came with an IPS display. I genuinely hadn’t realised how spoilt I had been by the screens on the Apple laptops I’ve had over the years.
Replacement screens are harder to find than I anticipated
I bought an allegedly 1600 x 900 glossy screen from eBay. I removed the screen that was in the laptop and then fitted the new one. Only to discover that when I removed the protective film it wasn’t a glossy screen at all. It was exactly the same antiglare (matte) screen that I had replaced. After a bit of arguing with the supplier, swapping the screens back over and a trip to the post office I managed to get my money back. I then managed to source a replacement from laptopscreens.com. I suppose scarcity of parts for a 5 year old laptop is to be expected but you need to be careful when buying screens online, there are a lot of misinformed dishonest sellers out there.
Make sure you disconnect the battery before swapping displays
In the interests of full disclosure the machine pictured in this post is not the machine I’m using. It’s an i5 model that I did all of the upgrades on. Unfortunately in my excitement to get rid of the awful display that came with the machine I forgot to disconnect the battery. I took the old display out, swapped the new one in and booted it up. The screen showed an image but it was only visible under a very strong light. Some research online led me to believe that I blew a fuse on the motherboard that controls the power to the backlight.
Disassembling the entire machine and a quick continuity test with a multi-meter seemed to confirm my suspicions. I considered my options, a new motherboard would have been around £100, the proper tools to replace a surface mount fuse would have been well over £100 and neither would guarantee a working machine. So I went back on to eBay and bought a second ThinkPad (the i7 mentioned above) and transferred all of the upgrades over to the new machine. I’m hoping I can sell the other one for spares/repairs.