Steampunk radio

27 Oct

For the past couple of days I’ve been working non stop on a steampunk radio. While unpacking some boxes I came across this old handheld radio:

I don’t know how old it is, but it was really beat up. The battery cover was missing and the soldering was really weak. It would cut on and off depending on how you held it. Despite it’s problems I really loved this handheld radio because it let me listen to NPR when I was away from my car radio or my computer. Instead of getting a new one, I decided to fix this one up and steampunkify it.

I opened it up and saw that I needed to change the tuning dial, it just was too modern looking:

So I spent a couple hours designing a new one and trying to scale it right:

My plan was to glue the original radio case back together and then cover it in thin sheets of copper. The problem was that there is no speaker on the handheld radio; the only way to hear sound is via headphones. This left me with a big flat opens space in the center of the device. For a while I thought I would find some fancy symbol and emboss it onto the copper, but then I hit on the not so brilliant idea of rigging up a working steam pressure gauge. (It obviously wasn’t going to be real steam, but I wanted some mechanical needle that actually moved when you turned the device on)

I hit upon the idea of using a battery checker. It had a moving needle that was affected by the current flowing through it. I thought it’d be great to rig one up to the power supply of a radio, that way it would move and tell me how much energy was left in the batteries. Not wanting to destroy my parent’s only battery checker, I drove around town for a few hours trying to find a place that sold the simple mechanical ones for cheap. I finally found one (at radio shack…surprise…) and took it apart.

I then carefully removed the label behind the needle, scanned it, and went about creating a new one much the same way I did the face of the dial.

It was only after I spent hours finding and then altering the battery checker did the inherent problems start showing up. For one, there was no room for it inside the case. I would have to glue it on outside and then extend the case, making the whole thing look like a bloated lowercase “b” from the side. Then, after drilling holes into the case to try and run wires connecting the battery checker to the power supply, I discovered that the needle drew so much power in checking the batteries that the radio would not play. It was either run the needle, or run the radio. To fix this I decided to install a third battery that would power just the needle. But this then brought up the problem of how I would get to the battery to change it once it died, (I’d need a separate door, separate hinge, and a separate lock) and I would need to somehow build a switch to turn it on and off. The whole thing was just way to complicated and bulky for this radio. I might use it for another project, but not this one.

Another idea that ultimately didn’t make the cut was to use some spent 9mm bullet casings as decorate piston covers.

In the meanwhile, when I pulled off a metallic label on the back of the case, it revealed a small window. I decided it would look cool to put some gears in this window behind a bit of clear plastic, like you’re looking into the mechanical workings of the radio.

What to put on the front of the radio kept bugging me, and I finally hit upon the idea of keeping with the needle and pressure gauge, but making it static. A while back I figured out how to use the bottom of a soda can to form a metal ring needed for a steampunk monocle. I figured I’d just do the same thing, cut out a bit of plastic to cover it, and make a new steam pressure gauge and needle to go inside it.

I spent a couple of hours making that gauge. The hardest part was getting the aluminium ground down just right with my rotary tool and the plastic cut perfectly to fit inside without falling out. Another huge problem was designing the gauge. I searched for a long time looking for a straight on picture of an antique steam gauge that I could then transfer to paper. I finally found one, but needed to rename it and redo the numbers.

The next challenge was putting in small strips of copper around the sliders that controlled volume, AM/FM, and power. I couldn’t get the copper perfectly exact, so any little black plastic spots that showed through I painted over with copper paint.

When this was done, I really didn’t like how there were so many breaking lines around the sliders where the individual strips of copper met. I wanted to cover over this with some brass accents. I got some foil, found come corner border clipart on google images, and embossed them into the brass.

My next problem was to cover up the tacky plastic sliders. I spent a couple more hours fiddling around with what to put on top of them. I eventually settled on gluing together some brass eyelets and brass fastener heads.

After that it was pretty much finished!

(The bottom flap there with the hinge opens up to the batteries. I also debated putting some oxidizing solution running down from the exhaust holes up there on the top to add some streaks of green from the steam, but I’m not sure if that will look good.)

Anyways, now I can walk around and listen to NPR with my awesome steampunk radio!

For my next project, clean up the mess that 4 days straight of work created:

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