As part of the Cheapest Gaming PC Challenge, I decided to build something insane and attention grabbing…I turned a Nerf gun into a PC!
Even though I’d made some rough measurements of a Nerf Vulcan beforehand, I didn’t know for certain how all the parts would fit. So after unboxing everything, I installed the CPU, RAM and fan onto the motherboard. There isn’t much to say about this assembly, it’s mostly idiot proof.
But then I discovered I didn’t have a tape measure at home. So, trusting the motherboard’s dimensions, I took a photo, and using the free photo editing program GIMP, related everything back to known dimensions (the motherboard’s).
Thanks for propping that up, Coffee Mug.
Thankfully, from my rough drawings, everything was actually in the ballpark size wise. Of course, I’d need to open up the gun to be certain what I could fit in there, and I already knew the ammo bin would have to get bigger, but it’s no fun if everything just works. So I packed everything up and took it to a local hackspace. These places are everywhere, and for a monthly fee, they let you use their massive stockpiles of tools and parts.
So lets get down to the carnage! Dismantling the Nerf gun is simple for the most part because a majority of the screws fall into 1 of 2 different sizes. Just take photos capturing which of 2 different screw drivers you used on each of them, the place them into different buckets.
Or if you’re doing something more difficult like phone repair, use some double sided tape (or single sided tape folded into a loop 🙂 ) and number the screws as you take them out. This may seem like it’ll slow things down, but take it from me, it’s pretty hard to get a screw back out that’s just small enough to spin freely in a hole that’s too big, but not small enough to not catch on the thread.
Be gentle and test to make sure you have everything undone, then prise apart the shell to reveal the guts.
Inside you have a business bit that does all the cool stuff, and you can remove it pretty much intact if you remove the screws holding it in place (not the ones holding the business bit itself together). But before that, be sure to grab up all the little loose bits so you don’t lose them.
As a side note: I didn’t have to because I bought this thing new, but if you have to take off the top handle when it’s already been attached, you can just pry it off by wedging a flathead screwdriver into the joint where the clip is (sorry, no pic).
Now you can undo those screws. Again, be careful to put these screw somewhere different to the ones that hold the shell together. You’ll need those shell screws for later. Be sure to also unscrew the switches that are fixed to the shell. You’ll need these later as well.
Now that I could see how the inside was laid out, I had to take some time to think through how the power supply and graphics cards were going to nestle against some inside bulkheads and what actually needed to be built. So, marking the insides with a sharpie, I got to have some fun with the Death Wheel!
It’s a bit that attaches to a high RPM Dremel, and it’s pretty damn dangerous in inexperienced hands like mine. So be sure to take it slow and be aware it is not a finishing tool, so I’ll leave some room to cut back later with a sanding bit.
That was a full day’s work for me, so returning the next day I had to work on the videocard. I wanted to use the bracket to give the gun some strength back after removing all it’s internal bulkheads. But I needed to straighten it, so removing it from the card I used a towel and a vice to sort it out.
Actually, I had to rethink the location of the power supply, because the cables for the motherboard were too short to reach. So, flipping it around I had to engineer on the fly to create a socket to bring power from the breech of the gun (where I wanted all the cables to come from) to the now backwards facing socket of the PSU.
And using the Hackspace’s laser cutter, I created a backplate from some scrap prespex they had laying around.
Next was the ammo bin. This was going to be the tricky part and involved laser cutting each part, screwing and gluing it all together and bolting it into the one side of the shell. The laser cutter has been setup to take SVG files created in programs like Inkscape, and then exported into a program called Visicut
Once those files were uploaded, I cut a paper template first to ensure everything was still matching up correctly.
And it seemed to work so cranking it up to kill, I let it loose on the perspex.
Then, cutting out the one side of the ammo bin, I screwed the 2 new panels to the 2 halves of the bin.
Next I had to build a new side for the ammo bin that I had cut off. One panel would be glued and screwed and the other side could be unscrewed to let me dismantle the gun in the future. Sadly when I came back on day 3 (a week later), the laser cutter was out of action (it wasn’t me, I swear). So I had to manually cut everything on a bandsaw, and I suck at that. Time being what it was, I went ahead and cut using a paper template I had cut out on day 2.
Having cut it and thankfully not myself, I needed to bend it. A heat gun, a clamp and a block of wood let me make a pretty sweet bend. This part takes patience, because too much heat will scorch it and you don’t want to break it if it’s not hot enough. So gently try bending it until you feel it’s the right temperature to make a full bend. Then hold it in place while it cools.
Oh, before I forget, I had to glue on some pads to mount the motherboard on. This was a bit tricky because I needed to apply plenty of Acrylic cement, but in exactly the right spots for the bolt holes. I was kind of rushing, so I screwed the pads onto the MB and glued the entire thing on, the removed the MB. It worked, but the pads were a little rotated, so it wasn’t too pretty.
Now comes all the fiddly little details. First, the cocking handles (heh) which were cut and then screwed into place.
Next an extraction fan to pull air to the video card from the barrel.
I didn’t take a photo of it, but I had to drill a ventilation hole inside the back of the gun so the PSU could exhaust properly. I then used some grommets to pretty up the ugly drill holes.
Next were the 2 switches. These were really tricky because without the guts there was nothing to hold them and the trigger in a good place to work the switches. The trigger thankfully could just screw into the shell with some ugly use of washers to create an even mount. I had to rig up a new axle for the trigger, which the Hackspace helpfully had as a length of hose, made rigid with a bit of wood dowel. Onto day 4.
This would be the power switch, while the top switch would be for reset. Sadly the PSU didn’t have a isolator switch that could have been the top switch. Now this top switch proved the hardest bit of the build, forcing me to come up with all kinds of different brackets to not only mouth a switch onto, but also give the switch an axle to pivot on.
The final result wasn’t very stable. but it worked.
Now came the but of the build I liked the finish of the least. I was hoping to hide all the cables and keep the breech gate closed, but the graphics card is so close to the top, I had to cut the gate right back.
Yuck. I tried to fix the finish by using some putty, but this looked just as bad which you can see on the final photos. If I do this again, I’ll try and figure out a way to mount the GFX card differently.
Another disappointment was that I wanted to mount the wifi antenna on the front of the barrel like a bayonet, but the guy at the parts store sold me coaxial cable that was too thick for the end bits. Grrrrr!
Running out of time, and without a laser cutter, I was unable to make the final side panel to completely hide the PC guts from outside. No matter, I can come back and finish that another day.
But soldiering on, the big moment came. Bits, assemble!
I was pretty worried here because the PCI-E flex cable had been horribly abused to get the motherboard in, as it didn’t align with the graphics card inside the main body.
No matter, its done!
I’d love to revisit this design and improve upon it. It works nicely and it actually manages to stay outside melting temperatures, but it would be pretty neat to water cool this sucker to ensure heat is pulled away and dumped outside the case. It would be a lot of work, but it would kick ass if the cocking handle would act to release a break and allow you to point the gun while on a reinforced tripod. But the coolest addition to the design would be to mount one of those small projectors in the barrel and make the entire thing work off just a power cable.
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