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Monday, April 20, 2015

Star Wars Armada - LED Engine Tutorial

Over the weekend I decided I'd crack open some Victory Class Star Destroyers from Fantasy Flight Game's new Star Wars Armada title in order to install some LED lighting inside the engines. I had never done anything like this before, and could not find anything online to show me exactly how it could be done. It took a little bit of crazy, I'll admit, to put the saw to my two Star Destroyers without any idea that the project would even be possible, but I'm pleased with the results. A step-by-step guide for you to use, if you're so inclined, follows after the break.

You'll need many of the products shown above in order to attempt this project. I'm sure a creative or insanely hard working person could accomplish it without the Dremel, but I wouldn't suggest attempting it. Then again. some guys built pyramids a long time ago without Dremel tools, so anything is possible!

The list of stuff I used:
LED Lighting Kit (purchased here)
Electrical Tape
Utility Razor
Razor Saw ("Pull Saw Blade" made by Excel and sold for about $4 at craft stores)
Tiny File
Super Glue
A Nasty Old Paint Brush (or whatever else you have laying around that's non-magnetic)
Extremely Small Magnets (try searching "tiny neodymium magnets" in your browser)
Semi-Permanent Putty (I used Loctite "Fun Tak")

As I mentioned before you could get by without almost any of the above. For example, you could skip the "Fun Tak" and glue everything in place. I preferred to have a less-than-permanent hold for all my wiring. I have listed everything I used, but feel free to experiment on your own, since this entire project was its own experiment in the first place.

Once everything is assembled, stab your precious little Star Destroyer with a thin razor. Twist it slightly as you do. You'll soon find that while a certain degree of caution is wise, this model is pretty durable and resistant to abuse.

You should run the blade up and down the edge of the ship. The seam is found directly below the top half of it. You will quickly find exactly where the glue is you'll next be sawing out. You could probably use your razor blade, but I didn't have the requisite patience. You'll notice this is a recurring theme!

A few swipes with the very thin saw and the first of five bonds is done for. The glue bonds to saw through are on both sides of the ship, in the same place.

The second bond is sawed through quickly as well. Remember the same bond is on the other side.

This bond at the front of the ship goes all the way across. It is readily cut.

Once the front bond is cut, you can pull the front apart easily.

There are pegs and holes inside you'll need to lever apart.

Don't forget to cut the final two bonds at the back of the ship. You should be able to separate it afterwards with just a bit of leverage.

Once the ship is separated, the gutting begins! Cut every vertical peg you see out of the thing. Note, the horizontal pegs that make up the inside of the engines should be ignored at this point. Here's a spot where I suppose you could do this without a Dremel, but it really made it easy to have one on-hand.

A few shots down you can find an image of the inside of the ship after its gutting. Remember to cut the vertical pegs and leave the horizontally-situated cylinders alone for now.

Once the inside is hollowed out as much as possible, drill a neat hole into the center of each engine. The sculptors at FFG were very nice to provide us with circular guides for our drills.

Drill the inside of the engine out as well so that the light can shine all the way through. I hollowed out larger openings on the inside to accommodate the light emitting diodes which would soon be placed inside.

You'll probably be melting plastic as you drill. This means you will occasionally be left with unwanted molten plastic flows, as you can see in the image above within the center engine. This can easily be cleaned away with a small file.

At this stage, take your ridiculously tiny magnets and glue them at the points pictured above. The manufacturer kindly left circular target areas on the back corners that help you easily line up the magnets.

If you've never worked with tiny magnets before, remember that when you forget which side sticks the way you want it to, you can drop it back into the package of magnets. The magical mystery science will show you the way as your magnet connects with the others inside the container. Also, remember they're magnets, so many metal tools won't help you here! I used the old, beat-up paint brush at this point to position the magnets into super glue. Give the magnets plenty of time to dry before testing the magnetic bond of your ship!

While the glue dries your magnets into place, you've got some electrical work to do. The lighting kits I purchased came from "Chip Light Kits" can be purchased from this site, and selecting one of these allows you to be sure you'll have everything you need. Pictured above is one of the kits, with three LED chip-size lights selected and 8" wire. The light color chosen was "cool" rather than "warm". The "cool" color was much bluer and therefore more appropriate to simulate the engine light radiance we see in the films. One three-chip LED kit will set you back about eight bucks.

These kits look more complicated than they are. Remember, I had never done anything like this before this weekend. You basically just wrap red wire to red wire, and green wire to black wire. That's it! I wrapped the twist points with electrical tape after attaching all the wires.

You'll want to coil the wires around the switch at this point, in order to make sure that the entire electrical assembly fits inside the hollowed-out ship.

Use the Fun Tak to semi-permanently affix the battery in place, as well as the switch as pictured above. At this point you should make sure each individual light chip reaches the hollowed-out areas on the inside of each engine. Adjust the position of the wires as needed at this point before "Fun Tak"-ing them into place.

Next, put a piece of Fun Tak on the back side of the LED chip. Position the chip at the engine, where you have previously checked to see if they would fit appropriately.

Once the light is placed centered inside the engine so that the light fills the entire drilled hole, press the Fun Tak into place around the light. It will hold the light in position, but allows you to adjust it later if something happens, or remove it to change the battery, etc.

The above picture shows the light held in place with Fun Tak. Repeat this process for the remaining two LED lights. Once all three are in position, use some Fun Tak to hold the wires in place against the inside of the hollowed-out hull.

Once everything is secured - but the switches are still accessible - you can put the two halves of the ship together and mount the ships on their bases. In a sunlit room, the Star Destroyers should now look like these do above.

Kind of cool, huh? It took about three hours from start to finish. I'm not the sort of guy that generally goes off the deep end like this, but I blame the current lack of product for my odd burst of ambition. See what you've forced me to do, Fantasy Flight Games? Just release the rest of Wave 1 already, so I can throw money at more toys and less lighting effects!

This is a shot of the Star Destroyers in a very well-lit room. Clearly the effect is lessened if the area it's being used in is particularly bright.

Three hours later, I'm sure I'll do this for my final Victory Class Star Destroyer since I've already done it for these two. Time will tell if I will do it for the Imperial Class Star Destroyers as well. Now what I'm really looking forward to figuring out is how to light up the reddish-orange thrusters on those Rebellion ships!

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