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Turning a Toy into Something Better

by Nick P November 02, 2015

    With Halloween coming up, and stores putting their costumes on sale, there is a lot of pressure to have a decent costume and props. The issue is that most props today look incredibly fake and make noises that don't necessarily correspond to the prop itself, such as laser noises coming from obviously modern weapons. My younger cousin approached me with this exact issue. He got a toy gun from a leading retailer and not only was it florescent green and orange but made the most obnoxious sounds, the noise was so low quality you couldn't identify whether it was suppose to be human speech or a laser. As to not destroy the toy he bought, I went to that exact store and got the same toy gun and had the idea to modify it and surprise him. Here is the entire process needed to take a cheap plastic gun and make it look/sound as cool as possible.

Step 1): Tear Down

We start by removing anything that the toy no longer needs. Take all of the screws out and split the item into its constituent parts. Inside is usually a small motor that rotates, makes the toy vibrate slightly, and some lighting along with a battery back. In our case we want to preserve the battery system but remove everything else, we don't need any fancy lighting nor the unit to vibrate for this project. The way these cheap Chinese guns are assembled usually involves screws and small nooks that hold wires so its not hard to remove everything. Once everything is we need to cover the battery compartment with painters tape to ensure no paint gets on it at all, once paint is on the metal contacts it makes it difficult to transfer electricity and the unit won't work properly. 

Step 2): Paint

Obviously the bright green and orange won't be desirable for our finished gun so it'll need a good coat of paint. The best way to apply the paint, in my case, was to get some metal wire and hang each part of the unit individually, this allows easier access to harder to reach locations such as sharp turns and small inlays, and give it a good spray of flat paint. Depending on what color you want primer may not be necessary, although a nice spray of flat black allows the other colors to coat easier. In my case I gave the toy a good spray of flat black then an overlay of forest green, I left the magazine and barrel black for ascetics. Let each part dry overnight and then give it a good covering of clear coat, also flat or matte, and let it dry for another night. Now you have a very light semi-realistic looking gun.

Step 3): Weight

You'll now realize that the toy is literally just a plastic hull, even with the electronics it'll be quite light, so it'd be good to add some weight to it. Doing this is easy. I had some old metal weights laying around but you can literally use anything and just hot glue it in, the hull is actually quite vacant without the old electronics. Just remember to not add the weights to large areas since your new electronics will go there.

Step 4): Electronics

Now that we have a painted and weighted toy its time for the electronics. You will need a Adafruit Soundboard and a Speaker, an Arduino Sidekick Expansion Set is also required if you do not posses any sort of button or switch. The soundboard will need assembling, just simple soldering, and I'd advise not putting the pins in for breadboard attachment since you may want to directly solder the buttons to the sound board itself via jumper cables. Before even a single component goes into the case we need audio. There are plenty of sites that have free audio clips, such as gun and explosion sounds, but they have to be in either wav or ogg format. Since the soundboard only has 15 megabytes of memory, any sound clip over 3 seconds should be put into ogg format, you lose quality but it'll compress the file up to 10 times smaller than wav. 

Nick P
Nick P


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