Sci-fi crafting doesn’t need to be expensive nor complicated. Click the pic to check out a few small, budget friendly projects Chris made, and one very large, very expensive project he did not.
POOL NOODLE LIGHTSABERS
I wanted to do something special for my niece’s birthday party, and making some sci-fi party favors for her and her friends seemed like a cool idea. Six bucks at a dollar store bought four pool noodles and two rolls of duct tape, one silver, one black. I cut the noodles in half, wrapped the cut ends with silver tape, then decorated the “handles” with random rectangular cuttings to make it look appropriately greeble.
The adults kept bitching at me that my niece had never seen Star Wars and wouldn’t want to play with them. Blah, blah, blah. Always in motion is the future. I trust in my feelings. One of her little friends would know what a lightsaber was. Sure enough, as soon as they got there, one of them grabbed a noodle with glee, shouted “Lightsabers!,” then ran towards the nearest living thing and tried to kill it.
That was all the explanation they required. Within seconds every kid present had a lightsaber in hand and was whacking the ever loving shit out of everything in sight. They played with them so hard that only one or two survived the day… one or two of the sabers, not the kids. So it seemed they did know what lightsabers were for after all. Wise am I in the ways of The Force. It was just as the prophecy had foretold.
ETHERNET CABLE CHRISTMAS GARLAND
Way back in the day of flip phone cameras I worked third shift as a storage engineer. Monitoring tape backups and making sure the silos are stocked is necessary, but boring as hell. I didn’t have many Christmas decorations, but what I had a lot of was old red and green patch cables, and free time.
Just braid two green cables with one red and you’ve got yourself some fairly passable garland. A dozen or so braids like this were enough to edge my entire cubicle. It looked sparse when I first put it up, so I added a few ornaments and candy canes, which really enhanced the Yuletidiness. Plus, these were destined for a landfill, so go me for upcycling. You hear that, Santa? I’ve been an awfully good boy this year.
DEADLANDS SILVER CHIP
Deadlands is one of my favorite RPGs, and like any roleplaying game, there are many, many house rules to be found online. If you’re not familiar with Deadlands, it’s a wild west action-horror roleplaying game of monsters, mad science, and magic, with game mechanics that use playing cards and poker chips (called Fate Chips in the game) alongside standard polyhedral RPG dice. If your posse does something particularly outstanding, such as killing a unique horror, the rules call for painting a blue poker chip gold and adding this new Legend Chip, better known as the Gold Chip, to your posse’s poker chip stash (the Fate Pot).
Role players love house rules almost as much as we love to fiddle with stuff. Deadlands came out well before the current popularity of poker made finding quality colored poker chips easy. Back in the day we were limited to thin, interlocking plastic wafers that came in white, red, and blue, and that was it. Today’s clay/composite chips that come in dozens of colors were simply not an option. So when the official rules of a game call for us to make alterations to game pieces, you can bet your ass that house rules involving new painted chips were quick to follow. One such rule was the Black Chip, which was added to the Fate Pot when the posse allowed something particularly awful to happen. Manufactured black poker chips are easy to find now, so I simply bought one to add to our Fate Pot of newer composite chips. No craftiness required.
But the other house rule we use is the Arcane Chip, better known as the Silver Chip. The Silver Chip is sort of like a Gold Chip, but only awarded when the posse defeats a major arcane menace or uses magic in a way that changes the game world. In the past I have just painted the center of a blue chip silver, but I got a bunch of green chips when I bought the black ones, so I went a different route.
I started by running a silver Sharpie inside the interior circular cavity. I used a straight edge to draw a five pointed star, which was off center and looked sloppy. Instead of abandoning the chip, I decided to use the imperfections to my advantage. Inspired by the Sigil Of The Gateway… Yog-Sothoth Nafl’-Fthagn! Your servant calls upon you!… um… excuse me. Anyway, inspired by, uh, something, I used the straight edge to draw additional parallel lines, making the formerly awkward pentacle look like a complex magic circle. I’m very happy with the way this turned out.
JURASSIC PARK JEEP
This isn’t mine, nor did I have anything to do with making it. But this pic has been hanging around in the archives for a while now, and needed to be shown.
A few years back, my dad was in the hospital for quite some time, so I spent a lot more time driving around Cincinnati than usual. I saw a few noteworthy cars in the parking garage during my visits, but this was the only one remarkable enough to make me stop and snap a pic. It wasn’t just the paint job that makes this Jeep so impressive. It was that someone had taken the time to paint this, then beat it up a bit.
Anyone who knows modelmaking knows that the best way to add authenticity to a paint job is by aging and weathering. But this was better than aging with paint tricks. This was real. This is real rust over real automotive paint. The canopy was allowed to fray and droop; you can see pieces of it hanging down. The interior was sun faded. The only clean things on this Jeep were the mirrors. Most replica vehicles don’t look quite right because they’re too perfect. There is another Jurassic Park Jeep I’ve seen running around northern Kentucky, one with the yellow/red/green color scheme. It looks great, but it’s too nice. It looks new. This thing, on the other hand, looks like every Jeep from the first movie should look: abandoned. This was perfect.
DOLLAR TREE CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS
Sci-fi & fantasy Christmas ornaments are fairly easy to get nowadays, but usually not at a price point that will allow you to fill your tree with geeky goodness without blowing your entire holiday budget. Never fear; The Sci-Fi Guys got your back!
Dollar Tree sells an array of keychains and miniature figures that make excellent ornaments. Some of these require a little work, which we’ll get to in a bit. Most of them, however, just need some quick disassembly. Here’s how:
Locate the seam in the metal loop that attaches the figure to the cheap plastic snap clip. Turn the loop so the seam is halfway between the plastic clip and the metal screw eye in the figure.
Pinch the screw eye with your thumb and forefinger to hold it steady while you twist the snap clip. The metal they use for these loops is not the highest quality, so it will bend open pretty easily, allowing you to remove the metal loop and snap clip with no trouble.
Turn the screw eyes in the figures so they lie parallel to the figure’s line of sight. This will allow them to hang facing outward when placed on your Christmas tree.
And that’s it! I prefer the decorative curly ornament hangers as opposed to the old school thin wire hangers. Christmas trees exist for no other reason than to be looked at, so why not make them as pretty as possible? But you do you. Just hang the figure from whatever sort of hanger you see fit, and you’re all done!
Incidentally, I’ve got a ton of these plastic snap clips left over from ornaments I’ve made. I can’t bring myself to throw them out because they look useful. Unfortunately I have yet to find an actual use for them. If anybody out there has any ideas, please let me know!
Some figures are just figures, and don’t come with screw eyes to hang from. For these we will need to do just a little more work. First we gather our tools. All that you need are a couple of simple things to get you started.
Search Amazon for “screw eyes” and you will find no shortage of results. I think I paid $7 for 800 of these, and as you can see I have PLENTY. I have used a few gold and bronze, but for the most part the regular steel finish is the way to go. It reflects the colors of the tree and sort of disappears.
You’ll also need a regular push pin. I keep two of them in the container the screw eyes came in, so when I make an ornament I don’t need to go searching for them.
Next we use the push pin to make a pilot hole for the screw eye. For the most part, the top of a figure’s head is a reliable place to mount the screw eye. It allows the figure to hang in a way that looks good on the tree. Just try to be sure that you are inserting the pin as straight as possible. Also, push the pin in further than you thing you’ll need. These screw eyes can be longer than expected.
After you place the screw eye in the pilot hole, give it a few twists with your fingers just to make sure it’s set. You can use needle-nose pliers to finish the job, but instead of getting another tool involved, I find it’s easier to just use the push pin to turn the screw.
For most of these figures you can just put the pilot hole into the top of the head and be done with it. Other figures, unfortunately, are not so well balanced. In those cases you will need to experiment to find the best place for the screw eye.
Hold the figure lightly at various places, or try to balance it upside down on your finger. By watching the way the figure tends to fall you can get a feel for the center of gravity.
It will not always go as planned. The tuft of hair on Jack-Jack’s head is placed exactly where we need the screw eye to be. Unfortunately the tuft is too fragile to stick the push pin into. I tried shifting the hole slightly to the side, but I miscalculated the center of gravity.
My initial placement of the screw eye left poor Jack-Jack tilting strangely to the side. It did not look good. After I removed the screw eye I used the head of the push pin to press down on the lump around the hole. It helped smooth it a bit, and after a few minutes the soft plastic had started to shrink back to its original shape. The hole continued to shrink over the next few hours; you can still see it above, but it’s tiny. From the front, which is how it will be seen when hanging from the Christmas tree, it is completely hidden.
The final result isn’t perfect, but it’s acceptable. The base is tilted, but Jack-Jack himself is fairly upright, which should look just fine on a tree. If you have to choose an imperfect placement for the screw eye, I find it’s best to place it toward the back of the figure’s head. This will cause the ornament to tilt forward slightly when it hangs, which actually looks pretty good when hung near the top of the tree. Don’t be afraid to use ornament placement to hide imperfections.
Some of these figures are not affixed to their bases as well as they could be. In this case, use a SMALL amount of superglue on the peg and hold it tight for 30 seconds while it sets. You will not be able to use the applicator tip on the superglue tube or bottle; built-in applicator tips release far too much glue to be useful. I like to use toothpicks to apply tiny amounts of superglue, but in this case I used what I had on hand, which was an ornament hanger. The tiny amount of glue on the hook is still too much; I only used about half the amount you see above.
Behold, my Christmas ornament army! Actually, that’s not true, These won’t all remain mine. Many of them are already earmarked as gifts for people who will enjoy them far more than I, and some are duplicates of ornaments I’ve already made for myself.
The important thing to remember is that a good ornament can be nearly anything that looks good to you. If you put enough smaller, generic ornaments on your tree to fill it in, whatever else you like will probably work as a featured ornament. I’ve made ornaments out of everything from Happy Meal toys to Star Wars action figures. As long as it’s something you love it’s almost certain to enhance your tree. So grab yourself some eye screws and get crafting!