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Click here for the 2015/2016/2017 scale R2D2 build

One day back in late 2009 ish I saw a a nice stainless steel salad bowl dome at someone's house. They had it upside down and it looked just like an R2D2 head. At that moment I thought I'd buy one and make a model R2-D2 from it!

The bowl was a Blanda from Ikea and since my original blog back in 2010/2011 that over 200,000 have read, the blanda and subsequent larger Ikea lamp shades have become a very popular source of R2D2 domes. So if you're wondering who did it first, here is the original article and the home of the Ikea R2-D2!.

The intention was to make a real, stand-alone robot, not a radio controlled one and make all the parts myself from bits and bobs to keep the cost down. This R2-D2 is made completely from bits around your house / garage and is at 80% scale. Ikea do do lamps that are nearly 100% scale all but a few mm. (Look in their kitchen light area)

1 Year later and here is what I did.....

1 - Skills, knowledge - have you got what it takes? if not then I'll help you learn!

Right, will you be able to make one your no doubt asking yourself, I know I did! So the following skills will be handy, but not essential to know before starting, after all this is about learning too:

  • Basic electronics, understanding of parts, uses, components and the simple formula P = IV and the V I R triangle, ohm's law.
  • Motors, stepper motors, servo motors, differences, cables and wiring.
  • Motor control concepts, stepper control, power requirements, communication etc.
  • Computers (choice 1) - Installation of apps and connecting up (basic), ebay for parts !
  • Computers (choice 2) - Programming in C#, - speech recognition, vision processing, control systems. I will give you the R2-D2 software if you ask.
  • Metalwork - how to use of a lathe and milling machine.
  • Woodwork - mdf, routing - tools: router, jig saw, scroll saw.
  • Car body painting, wet sanding, filling etc
  • A budding artist
  • Imagination, common sense and to be a Star Wars Fan!
  • That's it - Lets get started building our R2-D2... !!!

    STEP 2 - Lets get measuring and woodworking

    I know you can't wait, but first download as many R2-D2 pictures as you can from the Internet but taken from the actual movies. Be careful of a few things that caught me out:

    R2-D2's varied across films!; other builder's pictures are not all accurate. You will notice small detail changes in different movies. Try and get a perfect face on shot as well, that way you can you only need one measurement and you can scale the rest using a ruler. For example, if your dome is 360mm wide, measure it in you picture and if its say 72mm wide then every 1mm on your picture is 5mm in real life ! (360/72mm or what ever your measurements are). You now know how to work out / scale your robot from any picture. In case your wondering R2-D2 in episode 1 diameter was about 18.3 inches or about 460mm.

    Choosing the dome / R2-D2's head first:

    The dome is the limiting factor as it is tricky to find in metal. Ikea do a blanda bowl or a steel kitchen lamp in either 360mm (stainless for £9.99) or 450mm (mild steel for £35). I used the 360mm, so mine is slightly under-sized but this helps with weight, power requirements, cost and realism as his head is real steel. You can buy a dome on ebay for about £100 in resin if your feeling lazy. Once you've chosen your dome blank, go buy a big sheet of 6mm MDF and some no-more-nails tackle.

    Making the body

    Do your scaling and based on your diameter. Then you need to make a tube from MDF of that diameter. If you google bending MDF you will see many experts say that it can't be done...really? look above and you'll see it's a piece of cake if done slowly.

    To make the tube you need to make a rectangle that you can roll up, so take you diameter and times it by PI, so in my case 360mm X 3.142 (PI) and that's the length of the rectangle. Now get a router with a circle cutting pivot rod and some 12mm MDF sheet so that you can cut 2 circles of the inner diameter of the body then rolled.

    If you not sure what this is, it's the diameter of your head less twice the thickness of your body mdf so...DIA - (2x 6mm) = 348mm. Cut the two circles and the make one into a polo shape with the polo being about 6cm wide and a big hole in it.

    Okay, now to steam it into a circle...go boil the kettle and lay the rectangle on the lawn glossy side DOWN. Tip hot water all over it EXCEPT for the last 2 inches (1 inch each side) where the ends will meet.

    Using your two circles, roll the MDF around it very slowly. If it's stiff, put more hot water on it and leave it for a few minutes. It will soon go around. When it does, get some tacks and tack around it in a few places. Now stand it up and leave it in the sun to dry. 2 hours later you'll have a nice glossy MDF cylinder that is apparently impossible. When dry, glue the bottom flush and the top polo one about 20mm down from the top, like the picture here. (painted white)

    Some builders choose to build a skeleton and then a white skin, but the skin here is structural and more like the way cars are built today, rather than a sub-frame from back in the day. There are pros and cons to both, but this method is light, cheap and quick.

    STEP 3 - Cutting and painting the R2-D2 body

    You will have to study the picture of R2 to work out all of his ports, doors and markings. Once you've drawn them on with pencil, cut out the openings with a hole saw. Remember that R2 has a recess line around almost all openings as in the picture with the soldering iron. I used the soldering iron because it kind of melts into MDF like a branding iron and leaves a smooth groove. I tried a dremel, but not good.

    Now for the painting. MDF can be a bit fluffy and tricky to paint so you need to kind of glue it. The best way is to use normal household primer for wood work. Put it on with a brush, nice and think. No when you rub it down, spray paint will still and finish ok. I spray with a different colour primer each time so I can see and undulations or "highs and lows".

    The picture in grey shows just how fine some dents are and this is kind of like you would re-spraying a classic car. When there are no colour differences showing when sanding, you will have a very smooth finish.

    Keep priming and rubbing (wet sand if needs be with wet and dry) because it's all in the finish! ask any custom car builder and they will tell you it's all in the prep. Once your happy, you can spray with white and apply at least two coats of clear / gloss. I use cellulose paints as they are very hard.

    There you have it, one super smooth glossy white body that feels as smooth as a car. Obviously you will have had to make the skirt and side flat cuts, but you and do that easy enough.

    Painting effects / ageing the body - being a special effects artist.... I don't know if your like me but I want a real looking R2-D2 robot, and robots don't take showers so I went for the "used" look, covered in oil and fake rust (well real rust in glue). Once you have your nice new body, think to yourself...."imagine if i covered it completely in oil and wiped off when I could in a hurry, where would I wipe." only the easy bits is the answer, a bit like never cleaning between the spokes on your alloy wheels!.

    So step 1 is to get some kids black and rust coloured paints and paint into all the groves etc. Once you've done this, get a packet of baby wipes (because they have some cleaner in them) and rub off the paint, but not in the grooves. See the pictures.

    Apply rust colours in the the way, wipe on and wipe of, spodge etc. See the finished feet to see how real it looks.

    STEP 4 - R2-D2 Legs and Feet

    I cut the legs in oak from old think kitchen worksurface using a jigsaw then routed out at the back to make them lighter and to give space for wire to go down. Once they are cut lay them on thick MDF use as a template. Cut out the new leg backs, inset the wires between the oak fronts and the wood backs and glue and clamp. Once dried, prime with paint, fill and spray.

    The aluminium control rods were made on an Emco Compact 8 lathe as here. If you're looking for an accurate lathe the Emco Compact 5 and 8 are good Austrian (yellow version) lathes.

    Make form MDF again and cut on a fret or scroll saw, glue, prime and spray. These are a bit tricky as are the legs for that matter. Study Artoo Detoo pictures to get them right. Remember to design around your motor choice!!

    You can see from one of the pictures how I installed my wheels and motors. The motor itself hides inside the removable covers. These motors are from a 306 door window and I made the aluminium adapters on the lathe.

    The tyres are from a 1:8th scale RC car.The copper pipes are Belking IDE cables. They do PC pimping kit for about £3

    STEP 5 - R2-D2 Head & Bearing

    Making R2-D2 Head / Dome and Bearing

    Okay so this is the bit everyone likes as it makes R2-D2 into who he is. Take the dome and with a fine permenant marker mark out a template head. Start at the top with the 6 peices. Remember that there is 360 degrees in a circle so devide that by 6.

    An easy way to do the division is to draw a circle with a compass around the top of the dome then take the compass point and move it to the line and make a intersect mark over the line you have just drawn. Then move the compass point to this intersect and keep doing it all the way around. You will then and divided the head into 6 equal parts. Easy.

    You'll see that tape cutting tool next to Artoo's Dome.This is a peice of wood with a razor at one end and a pivot nail at the other. This is used for cutting tape in a circular motion to ensure it fits the dome tight when spraying.

    So what colour is R2-D2 Blue? well the perfect blue colour seems to be "Citroen Poseidon Blue". It takes a few coats and is best if you pre-spray with Ford Crystal Met Blue which is darker. You can buy both in Halford's. When you see citroen poseidon blue, you will see that it's perfect.

    Don't forget to cut the holes first using a TCT or carbide cutter. If you see bosch ones that say they will cut wood, steel, plastic etc, don't waste your money they will blunt in seconds. Also remember that stainless steel is dam hard so cut very slow and spray WD40 as your going or it will burn. To cut the side displays, use a dremel with a mini cutting disc.

    The R2-D2 radar cover is made using a simple technique that I came up with. As you can imagine it's real tricky to shape something solid in 3 dimentions over a curved surface, so I covered the head in cling film and splatted on some filler. Let it dry and then shape and paint.

    The head bearing is made from MDF using a circle cutting router. See in the picture how to do it. Once this is cut you can fit a "lazy susan bearing" . Look on ebay for one. They are about £30. I then took a strip of aluminium and glued it around the outside.

    A motor with a rubber wheel is fitted inside the head to press against the bearing to turn it. Because this R2-D2 is autonomous you need precise control over the position of the head so I use a Nema 23 CNC stepper motor and computer controlled interface.

    Thats it, most of what you need to get going. See my other blogs for software and electronics, vision and the core / brain!! etc.


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    Rob   12/05/2018 at 01:03:09
    Sweet job on the R2D2. It looks like it came straight from the movie set. Out of curiosity how far up from the bottom of the bowl did you begin the 6 blue trapezoids? And how far up from the bottom did you end the first row of blue squares? Because the bowl is a slightly different curvature from the real R2 and there aren’t any templates available for this scale I’m having some difficulty figuring out the proportions. Thanks in advance for any info you can provide!
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    Samir jisan   22/03/2016 at 10:19:22
    Programming in C#, - speech recognition, vision processing, control systems. Please give me the code.
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    Andrew   16/02/2016 at 16:27:00
    Hi we are a small magazine with a considerable following we often show people how to up cycle and use their imagination. Really admire your work could we use it in our publications they are free for all the public and all credit will go to you.
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     - Julian   18/02/2016 at 21:45:31
    Hi, Feel free to use what you like as the purpose of this site will be to encourage people to tinker.... I have loads more to upload soon.

    Ali Sher   03/02/2016 at 05:41:51
    Are any of them on sale?
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     - Ali Sher   05/02/2016 at 10:08:04
    Do you have any of them already done?

    Justin   19/01/2016 at 23:44:56
    Been a while. Starting to 3d print all the parts for my dome. I am using the Ikea bowl. I had a couple of questions for you. What did you use as a motor controller for the drive motors? Also, what did you use to cut the bowl with? Thank you again for all of the very helpful info.
    Reply -------------->
     - Julian   20/01/2016 at 10:25:40
    Hi, For motor control I uesd a Pololu Maestro to a normal RC car speed controller for BRUSHED motors not brushless. The down side is that they use PWM so make a tone at low speed. In my new one, I will who how to get around this. Cutting the bowl is tricky if you have the stainless steel one because you will need a TCT hole saw.

    Siddhartha   16/01/2016 at 13:50:43
    Does it speak English or make sounds like in the first movie
    Reply -------------->
     - Julian   16/01/2016 at 14:46:22
    It makes beeping sounds like it does in the movies. The sounds are mapped to actions and stimulus.

    Siddhartha   16/01/2016 at 13:50:08
    Does it speak English or make sounds like in movies?
    Reply -------------->

    Gabby Hicks   10/01/2016 at 08:50:13
    Hello, can I please know what software you got for r2d2. R2D2 is my favorite and its really cool that you built one.
    Reply -------------->
     - Julian   15/01/2016 at 21:45:31
    Hello, I wrote it all from scratch. As soon as I have finished my new R2 I will revisit it and put it on here for free download.

    ruben   09/01/2016 at 09:18:18
    I get that the lengt around r2 is 360 ×3,14 bu how about the width how long should that be? And can i het the software? I love the project how much did it cost you?
    Reply -------------->
     - Julian   15/01/2016 at 21:46:48
    Hello, The width is 360? As soon as I have finished my new R2 I will revisit it and put it on here for free download. Total cost about £250.

    Jason   07/01/2016 at 09:34:25
    How could I go about getting the software from you, if still avil! Great job, by the way, I have recently started with the ikea salad bowl!
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    kyle   04/01/2016 at 16:10:29
    Reply -------------->

    angad   23/12/2015 at 14:07:08
    How do I get software for it
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    May   23/12/2015 at 05:11:21
    where did you get the bowl?
    Reply -------------->
     - Mane   01/01/2016 at 19:41:42
    He says it very clearly read the first few paragraphs again

    Madhav   21/12/2015 at 03:36:16
    Hey how do I get the software
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    Thomas   20/12/2015 at 08:59:53
    How much did it cost altogether
    Reply -------------->

    Nixon   19/12/2015 at 05:20:25
    Can i get the software
    Reply -------------->
     - valtsu   02/01/2016 at 20:17:53
    can i get software

    Zach   11/12/2015 at 19:30:29
    How much for the finished model?
    Reply -------------->
     - Julian   13/12/2015 at 22:35:54
    Hi Ive taken the electronics out now and made it into a bluetooth hifi as im working on the new one. I will upload all the old software soon if you fancy making your own though. Im also busy working on the back end of this site....

    Andy   29/11/2015 at 15:39:24
    Does this require a remote control or does it move itself? Via sensors etc
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     - Zach   07/12/2015 at 17:44:23
    It is autonomous meaning it moves by itself. You could get creative and program it to move a certain way, or you could program a remote for it.
     - Zach   07/12/2015 at 17:45:13
    Very nice. I love it.

    Justin   17/11/2015 at 04:49:35
    HI, I am a youth pastor and next years vacation bible school is based on Star Wars. I am planning on building a R2 with the same bowl you did. Do you have more photos of the dome build?
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     - Julian   17/11/2015 at 20:19:30
    Hi Justin, glad to help if I can. I probably have some more pictures. Was there any in particular you wanted? I have new post it it helps about domes: I still have the original r2d2 so I can get any photos you want.

    Rudy   11/11/2015 at 18:26:10
    Where can I get all the parts and tools necessary?
    Reply -------------->
     - JB   12/11/2015 at 19:28:09
    Hello, you really have to shop about in Home Depot or the best places are garage sales or boot sales in England. Decide what you need then think what might have one in. So motors from car wipers etc

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