In my defense, I made this tutorial a long time ago. If I were to do it again, there are several things I’d do differently. That said, I still have these and they look pretty good in person even if they aren’t perfect. If you decide to have a go at it, please send me pics and I’ll include them with the others down at the bottom.
In the original Star Wars trilogy, there were electrobinoculars and macrobinoculars. The ones I’m gonna show you how to build were referred to as electrobinoculars, but the names are sometimes interchangeable with the fans. These are the white binocs used by Luke on Hoth, by the rebel troops on Hoth, and by the Sandtroopers on Tatooine in the acursed “Special Edition” of A New Hope.
The screen-used prop started out life as a Simrad Laser Rangefinder. The original props person added a few odds and ends, painted it white, weathered it and slapped it into Mark Hamill’s hands. Ours will take a little longer to build, and won’t be perfectly accurate, but, hey, it’ll cost you less than twenty bucks and will end up looking something like this, minus the helmet:
A word to the anal: if you’re gonna write and tell me how inaccurate these are, I’ll save you the time and admit it openly now. My goal in making these was to find a way to approximate the look of the original prop using household items or things readily available at Target. Many in the sandtrooper community have accepted binocs made from old Radica handheld Tank and Sub Assault games. These conversions actually look great, but bear little resemblance to the original props. This project represents a sort of in-between step.
A word to the impatient: don’t be. If you wanna build this prop, take your time and enjoy the process. You’ll get less stressed out, and enjoy it more. I can be somewhat verbose in my descriptions of the steps involved. This is not intended to slow you down, but to help you succeed by telling you about the mistakes I made when building this prop. Skip around if you want, and email me if you have big problems, but please read the descriptive text before hitting “send”. This tutorial is a starting point. I encourage you to think for yourself and use the things you happen to have on hand.
You’ll want to start by gathering as many of the parts as you can find, but read through the entire tutorial first. You might think of something better that I haven’t included on my list.
– 1 Rubbermaid Seal ‘n Saver 2.25 Qt. Pitcher
– 1 Tube of epoxy putty
– 2 travel-size shampoo bottles and their screw tops
– 2 milk jug lids
– 1 Alcon (or similar) contact lens case lid
– 1 screw top from a bottle of Zap-A-Gap CA glue
– 1 PVC connector (1 5/8″ interior diameter, 2 1/8″ exterior diameter)
– 2 PVC couplers (1 1/4″ exterior diameter at larger end)
– ABS plastic scraps or styrene For Sale sign
– value-sized Planters Dry-Roasted Peanuts container (or a For Sale sign)
– 1/8″ wood dowels
– an old brown belt
– dark green face shield material or welding mask material
– sandpaper or sanding block
– Amazing Goop (glue)
– hot glue gun and plenty of hot glue sticks
– rivet gun and a variety of rivets
– power drill
– sharp hobby knife
– assorted wood screws
– masking tape
– Aleene’s Tacky Glue
– Spray Paint: primer for plastic, white enamel (semi-gloss)
– liquid craft or model paint: red, gun metal grey, light grey, black, dark brown, tan
First, you’ll need to prep the base for everything to come – the pitcher. Remove the lid and trim off the rubber that extends beyond the edges. In the pic, you’ll notice that I didn’t trim it all. This was a mistake I corrected later in the build. Go ahead and rough in positions for the eyepieces based on the spacing between your own eyes. You’ll also need to remove the pitcher’s handle. I used a small saw to do this, then sanded the edges down.
Measure a line about 2″ from the bottom of the pitcher, and cut it off. Make sure the cut is clean as this will become the lens end of your binoculars. Sand the cut edges until they are smooth, and sand the surface of the pitcher until it’s slightly rough. this will definitely help with paint and glue adhesion. While you’re at it, sand off as much of the Rubbermaid logos as you can.
I think epoxy putty is the unsung hero of propmaking, but it’s not without a few drawbacks. Foremost is it’s working time…the time between when you mix it up and when it hardens to the point where you can’t mold it anymore. This varies from brand to brand. I found a white marine epoxy putty that had a five minute working time, which is pretty good. Break off about half of the contents of the tube and mix it according to the instructions. Once it’s blended, press it into the inside of the bottom of the pitcher, then slide the original bottom in from the large end as shown. It should be a snug fit. Wait for the epoxy to harden before proceeding, and make sure you wrap up what’s left… you’ll need it later.
Take a little epoxy putty and fill in the edge between the two pieces. You want to make it all look like a single piece and be as smooth as possible. Once it hardens, sand it smooth.
Moving on to the lid, you’ll need to cut off the tabs that held the stopper, and sand down any remnants.
Use more epoxy putty to fill the indentation where the stopper was. After it hardens, sand it smooth so it blends into the surface contour of the lid.
Take your 2″ PVC coupler, shown above, and cut off the first 3/4″ of it. I used a small hacksaw.
These are the parts we’ll use on the lens side of the binoculars. You’re looking at a travel-sized suave shampoo bottle lid, the PVC ring you just cut, the contact lens case lid, and the top to the zap-a-gap that has been slit up the sides and splayed open. I also added a milk jug screw top (which isn’t pictured here) under the contact case top.
Check your layout. It should look something like the pic above. I put the milk top under the white contact case (you’ll see it in following pics).
Screw a short wood screw underneath the position where you want the shampoo bottle lid. This will give your glue something to grab onto later. Take another wood screw and use it to mount the contact lid and the milk top right onto the pitcher as shown.
Use hot glue to attach the shampoo bottle lid and zap-a-gap lid. Use Amazing Goop to mount the PVC ring. Let the Goop dry overnight.
You’ll also notice the top detail added in the pic above. This was hand-sculpted using the remaining epoxy putty. Once it’s attached and has hardened, it can be sanded smooth. It may let go when being handled a lot, but you can easily reattach it using a little Amazing Goop or Zap-A-Gap CA glue.
Your two 1″ PVC couplers will be the eyepieces. Saw off the threaded sections.
Glue the eyepieces in place with Amazing Goop. Cut out a 1 3/4″ diameter circle from whatever thick plastic material you can scrounge up. I used some of the leftover ABS material from my stormtrooper armor kit, but anything thick will do. You don’t want it to be thin since we’ll be hot gluing and drilling it later. Glue the circle into place as shown above, also using Goop, and let the whole thing sit overnight.
You’ll need seven long rivets. I used aluminum rivets that are 3/4″ long. Cut the shaft off the rivets, as you’ll only need the heads.
After the Goop has dried, drill seven holes through the circle and the lid for the rivets. Push the rivet heads through from the back side. Add a single wood screw at the center as a grip surface for the shampoo lid you’ll be hot gluing there.
Heat up your glue gun, and glue the rivets down from inside. While you’re at it, reinforce the glue on the circle by hot gluing it as well.
Take your Planters peanuts container, and cut off the entire mouth of the bottle. Mark off a section that is the approximate size you want your viewer hood to be. I used one side of the container intact, with portions of the adjoining sides flattened out and cut off at an angle. One of the great things about the peanut container is it’s shape, as it adds a molded bulge along the top edge of the hood. Later, you’ll notice that I ended up trimming the hood down even further than what is shown in the pic. The final measurements were as follows: the center section was 3 1/8″ wide and 1 1/4″ deep, and the sides were 1 1/2″ wide and 1 1/4″ deep tapering down to 3/8″ deep. These measurements don’t include the lip I left on from the top portion of the container. This lip was about 1/4″ all the way around, and was the surface I used to attach the hood to the pitcher lid with rivets. Please note that you could make the viewer hood out of a thick plastic For Sale sign and it would be sturdier. The peanut container has lasted but it’s a little flimsy.
You will need to notch out the hood around the circle of plastic on the left. Just cut it out and drill your holes in the pitcher lid, then rivet the hood in place. This is also a good time to hot glue your travel-size shampoo bottle lid in place on the circle. You also need three small squares to place between the eyepieces, as shown above. I believe the original propmakers used those black stick-on feet for electronics, but you can use whatever material you used for the disc shape on the left. All three should be about 1/2″ square. Glue them in place using Amazing Goop, and let it sit overnight.
Just a reminder – these pics show the blue tabs I left on the ends of the pitcher lid. I later cut these off because they weren’t wide enough for me to feed my strap through them, but feel free to leave them as shown if you like how they look.
Once the glue is dry, go ahead and put the pitcher lid back on the pitcher. It should be looking a little like the electrobinoculars by now. Take a pencil and rough in the positions for the ribs that you’ll be adding to the surface. It may be difficult to see in the pic but there are 16 ribs that need to be positioned. Look at the pics further down for better placement.
You’ll need to cut the 1/8″ dowels into 16 pieces:
TOP: 3 @ 5 3/8″, 2 @ 4 3/4″, 1 @ 2 3/4″, and 1 @ 2 1/4″
SIDES: 4 @ 5 3/8″
BOTTOM: 2 @ 4 1/4″, 2 @ 2″, and 1 @ 3 1/4″
After they’re cut out, you’ll need to sand one end of each dowel piece down to taper off.
Cut off the top of one of the travel-sized shampoo bottles, and cut the bottle neck off of it. Cut what’s left into two pieces, as shown above.
Trim the pieces until they sit flush in the position shown above, one on each side. Note that these will sit at the end of two of the dowels. I used hot glue to attach them.
Turn the binocs over, and mark a position 2 3/8″ from the upper edge as seen below. Drill a small pilot hole there, then mount one of the shampoo tops and milk tops there using a wood screw.
Now you’re ready to mount your dowels. I used Amazing Goop, but you’re welcome to experiment. The Goop held well, but left a somewhat rough edge that I had to deal with in a subsequent step. You may need to bend the dowels slightly to get them to conform to the shape of the pitcher. Be careful, take your time, and tape them down if necessary and they should turn out fine. Do one side at a time and wait for it to set up before proceeding to the other side or the ends.
Take another piece of the plastic you used for the disc by the eyepieces, and cut two pieces shaped like what you see above. These are roughly 1 1/2″ wide by 1/4″ tall, but you’ll need to cut them to fit your own binoculars.
Glue the two pieces on either side of the milk top, as shown above. They should fit between the dowels, and you may need to sand them down on the bottom to match the contour of the surface you’re gluing to. Amazing Goop swings into action again here.
I opted to add a few more “greeblies” to the eyepiece side. I screwed a few wood screws into place and added a small metal dome I had lying around. Add whatever you’d like, or leave it as is.
You’ll notice I’ve already primed the body. This is because the Amazing Goop dried clear, and I couldn’t see that it had left bumps along the edges of the dowels. The Goop shrunk as it dried and didn’t fill the gap between the pitcher body and the edge of the dowels. This became obvious once it was painted, so I decided to fill the gaps using Aleene’s Tacky Glue. This shrinks as well, but a couple of layers of glue smoothed with a finger worked wonders. You can see the reflection from the freshly applied glue in the pic above.
Open up the binocs, and hot glue the tips of any of the screws that peeked through. This will make them even more secure AND make it possible to use this as a storage place for those sandtrooper essentials when trooping. I plan to add foam and pockets inside mine so my keys won’t rattle around.
Prime the whole thing with Rustoleum Plastic Primer, then top coat it with your garden variety semi-gloss white. After that’s dry, paint the three squares as shown below.
Next, cut some dark shiny material and glue it into the lens and the eyepieces. I used leftover pieces from a welder’s face shield, and just cut them with a pair of scissors and glued them in place with Zap-A-Gap. You could also use pieces from the peanut jar with some dark paint on the back side.
After the lenses were in place, I also added some rubber from a couple of o-rings cut to fit around each lens, giving the whole thing a more finished look, especially where I didn’t cut the lenses out perfectly round.
There are about as many ways to weather a prop as there are people weathering things. One of the best methods is the mustard method, wherein you paint the whole thing silver, then brush on mustard where you want the silver to show through, let it dry, then paint white on top and brush the mustard off when the paint’s dry. This is utterly convincing, but being an experienced scene painter, I decided to give the following paint method a try. To be honest, I may go back and try the mustard method, but what follows is what I did on my first attempt.
Take some gun-metal grey craft paint, or mix up a reasonable facsimile from testors model paint. Roughly hit all the edges that would normally receive the brunt of daily wear and tear, especially any raised edges. Make sure it’s uneven and try to avoid visible brush strokes. I overdid it a little bit. 🙂
After the first layer’s dry, go back with a shade of the original color (the same color with a little black added will do) and paint it along the edges of the areas you’ve already painted. This creates the illusion of depth (from a couple of feet away anyway) and gives the impression of varying layers of wear.
The whole thing then gets a dusting of flat grey spray paint, and when I say dusting, that’s exactly what I mean. Spray just a tiny bit of paint at a time, and be careful not to overdo it. You can also flick liquid paint with a stiff bristle brush.
If you’re building these for some rebel scum on Hoth, you’re pretty much done with the paint at this point, but if you’re the pride and joy of the Imperial Desert Patrol, you’ll need to do some desert weathering as well.
Apply burnt umber to the recessed areas, then wipe most of it off leaving paint in all of the nooks and crannies. After that dries, put some tan paint onto a scrunched up paper towel, and lightly pat it onto the surface of the binocs…the more uneven the better. You should end up with something like what you see above.
Finally, you’ll need to add a strap. Cut a 1/2″ wide strip off of an old brown belt. Drill 1/8″ holes on either side of the binocs, about 1 1/2″ down from the top (eyepiece) side, and drill matching holes about 1/2″ in from each end of the belt. Rivet the belt in place, and you’re ready to hunt down the stolen plans and rid the galaxy of that pesky princess once and for all.
Like I said at the beginning of this tutorial, these aren’t exactly screen-accurate since the overall shape of the pitcher I started with tapers a good bit. If you have a wood shop at your disposal you could make a much more accurate base shape fairly easily.
This tutorial started out as a way of saying thank you to the fine folks whose tutorials have helped me on my quest to be a better sandtrooper, especially those at the Mos Eisley Police Department
. In my opinion, there’s not a better group of people in all of Star Wars fandom.