Based on the IT journey of Michael Rickert

Side project: Making of an Iron Man arc reactor MK-I

While not computer networking related, I still enjoy sharing outside projects with the world:

My Iron Man MK-I arc reactor build

Having wanted to work with LED’s for some time now, I searched around a few weeks before Halloween this year for the perfect costume project to really learn the basics of EE.  Making an Iron Man arc reactor was just the right project for that work as I could flex both my soldering and basic metal working skills.  I also acquired some sheet metal and acrylic basics and learned to really test my focus and patience in the process as well.

I started out by just taking a look at what others had created, and then deciding on what movie version I wanted to create.  The closest (and most accurate) schematics came from Honus at instructables.com (http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-an-Iron-Man-Arc-Reactor/) and his design plans really helped make this project possible.

The Final Result was to create a look similar to the movie design seen here:

Which resulted in this….:

While it could use quite a bit more polish, especially on rounding out the edges, I’m happy with the way it all turned out. Its also important to remember that this was started less than a week from Halloween and only worked on after getting home from the office… Oh, and only Home Depot and Radioshack parts were used.

And now… lets go through how I created my version!

The necessities:

Here we see:

  • Aluminum sheet metal
  • Plexiglass
  • A solid sheet of copper PCB board
  • PVC Piping
  • Copper wire
  • Soldering tools
  • Tin snips
  • Coping saw
  • And a drill with grinder bits

Also used but not included in the photo are the SMD LED lights, hole saw bits, aluminum spraypaint, and various pliers/wires.

I decided to start with the plexiglass and copper ring as that’s the hardest part to modify the diameter of after its created. The aluminum cuts and everything else can be scaled to fit any changes in the clear ring that may occur.

First, cut the outer hole in the plexiglass using a 3.25 in. hole saw… It was important to keep a high speed on the drill and keep flipping the plexiglass so it wouldn’t splinter as the drill bit broke through:

Then, cut out the inside section of that same plexiglass circle that was just created using a 2.5 in. hole saw leaving a clear ring. Repeat this two more times and glue all three together to stack them up to approx. .250 inches by .250 inches.

Once completed and glued together it should appear something like this from the side… :

Next I created the 20 individual spider frame legs. I started this by creating a basic template leg with the right dimensions in inches…

And then cut each out from that original template leg, using it as a guide for each cut with the tin snips:


Finally I super glued the spider legs to a center ring that measured approx. 1.3 in., trying to keep an even spacing between each…:

And next, wrap each of the 10 copper wires around the plexiglass ring between the spider legs to create a magnet look, and give the star pattern for the LEDs later on:

Once that was all done, the hardest part of this build was complete.

Starting on the inner aluminum ring was next, which included mostly cutting, and then more cutting, using the tin snips and careful measurements…

Creating the inner ring first (this was the ring that sits on the spider legs and allows the rest of the center to be screwed into place):

Then the ‘vented’ outer section was created, the open center of which matched the diameter of the outside of the inner ring. The ring was created first, and then I drilled out the three holes for the hex screws… followed by drilling out eight holes between each screw to attempt to match the movie photo.:

Underneath you’ll see some copper wire I wrapped around a drill bit to give some extra depth to the assembly.

The last part of the inner ring was the aluminum piece to hold the inner-most center ring….

To create the complete inner ring section…

Here’s an exploded view of all of the individual parts:

The next step involved making the outer PVC ring and the LED backplate…

For the outer PVC ring, cut an approx. 3.5 in. PVC pipe using a coping saw to an approximate measurement of the depth of the now completed plexiglass ring..

And spray paint it aluminum:

Then the fun part! The LED setup for the lighting effects…

I first cut the copper PCB board into a 3.5 in. circle, and etched out a positive and negative side around the circumference of the circle… (sorry no picture of the etching, you can see some of it in the final result though)

Then soldered each SMD LED to the board similar to this…

To have an end result of…

20 total LED’s soldered around the board with two in the center (messy since this was my first time soldering tiny LEDs)….

The back of the PCB board:

The LED’s required 3 volts each and were all placed in parallel to draw the same amount of voltage each from the battery source.

The power source was an old Xbox 360 battery pack that used two AA batteries to produce exactly 3 volts…

The part you see on top is just some quick wiring and contacts to make it easier to connect the battery to the back of the reactor.:

Lastly lets put it all together and make our reactor…!

Here’s the spider frame, LED PCB board, and PVC pipe ring all layered and attached together:

Then add the inner ring assembly and the entire piece without power should look similar to this:

The hardest part of all of this really was to have it done in time for the Halloween weekend… but I wouldn’t take back a single moment spent learning how to build my own version of an Iron Man arc reactor.

(Note: all pictures were taken after assembly had been completed, the reactor was then broken back down to photo each individual piece, which is why you see so much glue and such in the photos)

– Mike

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