Saturday, 11 September 2021

Blade Runner Deckards Blaster. (hero prop). Full size version


In case you have not read any of my other articles; I am a HUGE Sci-Fi nut and if you want to know what the very best Sci-Fi film ever made was; is; or ever will; ITS BLADE RUNNER. No arguments (its my website). Don't get me wrong; I love the Star Wars universe, Battlestar Galactica universe and the Star Trek universe as well but nothing beats Blade Runner for the immersive realism and feeling it creates as you watch it. I've had lots of fun so far in printing and building one boyhood dream of mine; Han Solo's blaster as well as printing and building Deckards binoculars from Blade Runner 2049 but its time I tackle the ultimate weapon; Deckards pistol. (I have plans for Luke Skywalkers lightsabre as well but that's a future project). 

I had 3D printed a version of this way back in 2019 (when we could walk around freely without masks!). I was mostly happy with the details of the print but there were parts that I was not entirely happy with so I stored it all in a box and placed it on the shelf until I had the time to hit up a friend who could resin print some of the parts for me to give it some of the printed parts the extra detail they deserved. I am so happy that I took that decision as now I have a resin printer of my own and decided to tackle the project myself. I also happened to visit Thingiverse to see if any of the parts had been updated and instead I was presented with an almost 100% screen accurate version of the gun that had been designed with a resin printer in mind to produce some of the best renderings I have seen for this prop!! Below are some pictures of the original printed parts that I had stored and was extremely apprehensive about working on to create the required details: 





As I mentioned above; I have recently been given a resin 3D printer as a present from my daughter (thanks Lauren) so this was an ideal opportunity to really stretch its legs in printing a really involved project. The one issue that I have is that my resin printer is tiny; I mean really tiny! When I had it I had envisioned only using it to print 1/35 scale accessories so a large print area was not a high priority however storage space for another printer was a priority. Now that I have the option to print a high detail prop of Deckard's pistol I am kicking myself for asking for such a small printer!!! (for this project only Lauren; don't worry its actually a perfect size for my normal printing requirements). There are however solutions to any problem. Mine is that 80% of the parts will print on my printer but the remaining 20% will have to printed in sections and then glued together and filled on the seam lines to remove any evidence that this has been done. To make life even more difficult; I am not the best at using 3D rendering software (yet; but I'm working on it) and "cutting" a solid piece in two is a difficult task for me even if I had that choice. The parts available to print are write protected so I don't have that option. To make life even more difficult; the proprietary slicing software that comes with my printer won't allow me to print only a portion of the file. It either fits on the printer plate or it won't allow a print. I was faced with setting up the print on a 3rd party slicer, saving the work, importing the file into my propriety software and printing from there!!!

It didn't take me long to work out how to do this after browsing the internet (my google-fu is strong as a good twitter friend of mine; Frank would say). From that point forward its a simple case of time and patience to print each and every part as methodically as possible and ensuring that they are of the right quality and fit before moving on to the construction and painting/finishing stages.


Post processing of the prints will vary on the printer and the printed outcome of the parts. for me I am lucky in that the printer I have is really good in terms of producing parts that have very little "artefacts" or "ghost-marks" on them when they come out of the printer. I had some additional post-processing work to do as I had to fix together the slide cover that would normally be printed as one from a larger machine:   




With the slide cover glued and filled I then began the marathon task of printing all of the other parts in resin. I am still debating with myself if I would have printed all of the parts in resin had the resin in my cupboard not been fast approaching its expiration date. In 3D printing terms; the cost is quite high for this blaster in resin. I used approximately 1 Litre of grey resin to print this (around £30). If your considering this project and you have access to two different types of printer like me then you could print a number of the parts in PLA at a much reduced cost and the quality of the product I don't think would be too compromised. Back to the marathon printing task: It took around 5 days in total to print everything but this is using a very limited size print bed. Had I used a larger printer I imagine this time would be cut in at least half; maybe less. Here's a few shots of all the parts finally printed and one of the majority of the parts together as a test: 


Post processing 

There is I am sure much debate out there on the need and depth of post-processing 3D prints. My opinion on the matter is simply this: It's a personal choice for everyone. I choose to work very hard on a print to remove any evidence that its a printed part when I am making something like a movie prop; much the same as I work on the realism of any model that I make. When I am 3D printing something to use such as a web cam cover that I recently printed for example, then no; I don't bother with post-processing as its a functional item and perfectly fine to use as it came off the printer bed. Ultimately the choice is of course yours to make. I will however discuss and explain the steps that I have done to process this particular prop in case you are interested in post processing something like this. 

The work required from a resin printer is far less in terms of filling/sanding than an FDM printer purely because the resolution is that much finer and the printing layers are far less defined. There are however some things that will need work depending on the design of the parts. In my case it was the over-accuracy of the parts printed. Put simply there is no clearance between mating parts making everything an interference fit rather than a good fit. In the case of a printed blaster; I imagine as a working "thing" in "real-life" it would require some movement between parts so I carefully reduced the fit between the parts to ensure that with a little lubrication they will move freely between each other. In addition there was a miss-print with some of the parts that came off the printer bed. This isn't a major issue as some plastic putty/filler will soon correct these issues. Each part was rubbed down, inspected and then filled as required before rubbing down and inspecting again. This particular design (which is one of the best that I have ever printed to date) calls for some parts to be permanently fixed together and others to be fixed semi-permanently with fasteners. For the permanent fixing I prefer to use 5 minute epoxy resin as it provides a really strong bond and allows sanding/finishing work to provide a really close fit. Once satisfied I then moved on to each of the other parts before giving them a light coat of grey acrylic automotive primer. 





Before painting in the final colours I re-assemble and test fit each part against each other once more to ensure that once the finished colour and top-coat are applied they will still all go together smoothly.  I did however run into some issues when I initially coated the parts. The "cocking" mechanism for the pistol still refused to work as smoothly as I had hoped. While this isn't a major issue for a static display piece. I know that anyone who picks up this pistol will instinctively grasp the handle and attempt to move it. If it remains an interference fit this will either result in almost immediate wear of the paint finish at best and at worst result in the part snapping. I've highlighted in red the affected areas in the below photograph:

I'm also really not happy with the colour finish from the Vallejo paints for some of the parts. I also made the mistake when cleaning up some of the parts. I inadvertently used Isopropyl alcohol, forgetting how quickly it eats into acrylic paints! Fortunately I wasn't happy with the paint finish on the affected parts. I've ordered a Chrome finish rattle can paint from amazon that comes highly recommended, so here's hoping!


I have also had a bit of an issue tracking down some of the bolts required for the build of this pistol. I managed to find them all using a combination of my spares box, scrounging from friends, e-bay and amazon. Even after that I had to use some over-length bolts and cut-down to the correct length.

I have also made a decision on the bullets that are provided with the STL files. The designer specified that separate lengths of steel bar should be inserted into each bullet before closing to represent an approximate weight of the real thing. I have decided against doing this (as well as the bar specified for the barrel) because this will ultimately become a display piece rather than a cosplay prop where a realistic weight would be desirable. The bullets themselves also suffer with the same problem of sharing exactly the same diameter as the holes they are intended to fit on the weapon! I opted to "bore out" the cylinders on the blaster rather than reduce to diameter of the bullets as they are already thin walled and I wanted them to retain their shape.

The LED specifications are spot on for this prop and for once locating the correct size and colours was not an issue. A few days after ordering from Amazon I was presented with a boat load (not as much as a crap load but more than a few) of LED's to choose from. I also salvaged a small switch from a knackered garden 
solar light along with some thin cable. A few pleasant hours were spent with the soldering iron to create the correct length of wires and the "laser sight" and the "magazine" were done. The instructions with this prop call for the wires to be soldered directly to the button cell battery however I chose to include a button cell battery holder for around £2 off Ebay. Including this did mean using my grinder to remove some of the resin from the upper portion of the magazine holder but I think its worth it as I can now easily change the batteries over whenever I need to.  I won't write about the actual wiring and soldering of the LED's and the battery holder as I am going to assume that if your reading this, you have an interest in prop making and therefore basic electronic's knowledge. If you don't and you would like to know how I did it then please get in touch and I will be happy to help. For the keen eyes among you; you will probably notice that I used clear tape on the LED connections instead of heat shrink or insulating tape. This was a deliberate decision as I intend on fixing the LED's in place permanently with 5 minute epoxy so wanted to keep the wires as "thin" or bulk free as possible. Heat shrink or insulation tape actually does add bulk in small areas like I have to work with. The inclusion of some magnets to hold the lower part of the magazine completes to overall effect: 








More problems AGAIN! This time with the rattle can chrome paint that I ordered. Initially I was really happy with the chrome effect that it gave. It is simply perfect; however I soon realised that the drawback of this perfect chrome finish was that if its handled it wears off very quickly in your hands! This is of course not ideal for a HAND GUN PROP!!! Not to worry I thought to myself; its an acrylic paint; some clear gloss acrylic primer will solve this problem. While it stopped the finish from coming off in your hands; it also removed the rather lovely chrome finish to something that resembles dulled aluminium! Faced with the thought of rubbing down each of the parts and then trying to find a suitable hard wearing chrome finish I have decided to leave the dulled coating and weather accordingly to make it look a little worn and faded from use. In addition I will also be "over-coating" some of the aluminium in black to replicate the "blueing" that's used on real handguns (and the blade-runner blaster) and then rubbing back certain areas to show similar wear patterns to the real thing. The Black was sprayed using my airbrush and then using a process of rubbing back with fine sand paper and scratching with a dulled blade, the desired effect was achieved. Happy with the finish on each of the parts I then re-coated with some more lacquer to seal and protect the surfaces. The photos below show the various stages in the process (not in any order, sorry) : 









The Handles

This requires its own special section for this write up as there are many considerations and options. When I made the Han Solo blaster I had two distinct choices; use a printed version and paint to resemble wood or simply use wood and cut/carve/shape to size. I chose the latter and was all the more happy to have chosen that option. For the Blade Runner blaster I was faced with a number of choices; The purist option would be to print an accurate set of handles in standard resin and then use them to make a mould and cast in amber resin to achieve the correct look as per the movie prop. This has some major cost implications as far as equipment and materials. I don't own or have access to a pressure pot to ensure a clear inclusion free result, neither do I own any of the other required equipment to gain an acceptable result. As this will probably be the only time that I would require the use of such equipment I dismissed this option. 

There is another option of purchasing a set of handles online for this blaster. There are some inherent problems with as well. There are no guarantees that the handles purchased will be a correct fit for the blaster that I have made. These are "garage" kits so there could be inconsistencies with quality/finish/colour compared to the original. They are also very expensive considering the amount of resin used to cast them. For these reasons I discounted that option as well.

A third option is to use standard resin printed handles and paint them to resemble wood or metal instead of the amber grips. The idea here is that you present the weapon as the same type of Blaster but the version that you own has a different set of optional handles to the one John Deckard owns. I have looked at a few blasters that other makers have produced and I will admit that these look very effective and professional. For me however; I did not want to consider this as an option as I wanted the screen version of the blaster. 

The fourth option that I considered is ultimately the one I decided to go for. I was able to buy an amber coloured clear resin from Amazon for my 3D printer. At £40 it may be expensive at first but that cost is for 1 litre of the resin and its water washable rather than requiring being washed in IPA post printing. The added bonus is that printing the handles does not use a great deal of the resin so I can print any other projects in this resin and simply paint it in the same way that I print any other project. An example of this is deciding to print some more ammo for the blaster only I opted to keep the tips of the bullets in the same amber colour. Hopefully giving the impression that this is a specialist ammo for taking down replicants? Here's some images of the part being printed; sanded and then lacquer coated. The result is better than I imagined it would be. I hope you agree:






Assembly of the blaster is a lot more complicated than it first appears. This is mainly down to the original problem of "fit" that I discussed earlier on and also from cutting the threads required for the various sizes of bolts. I had a few issues where a small part simply cracked from the pressure created of thread cutting into it and a few other issues where the plastic simply stripped and would not thread. Both issues were resolved with 5 minute epoxy that filled the holes/cracks and was then re-drilled. I also had an issue with a part becoming separated from another. This had to be re-glued and then re-painted however this was my mistake I had originally glued the joint with CA glue instead of epoxy. Normally CA would be enough to keep the joint however this particular joint will always be under shear loads and this is something CA glue is not always the best at holding. The best advice that I can give anyone who attempts this amazing prop build is to take things methodically, don't try to rush anything and to be really patient. Above all else; maintain your sense of humour as it will be tested!! One of the other issues that I faced was getting the required bolts for this build. Where I could find them quite readily, I was surprised at the ridiculous cost of some of them. If I had bought the first bolt of every type that I found then the total cost would have run at around £30!! I of course didn't do this (regular readers of my website know that I am tighter than a ducks arse when it comes to making models). I opted to buy the cheapest bolts that I could find which included buying bolts that were over the length that I required and cutting down to size which saved quite a lot; to buying different head grub screws for assembly and then planning on manufacturing the correct grub screws (slotted) from standard bolts when I return to work and have access to a good quality vice to hold them while I cut to size and cut the slot. By taking this approach I cut down the total cost of the required hardware to around £15 in total including the LED's and battery holder. As per every other stage of this marathon build I ran into some assembly problems; the worse being the main section of the gun snapping as I inserted the pin to mount one of the triggers! After much swearing, ranting and gnashing of teeth I used some 2 part epoxy resin to re-make the area; rub down and re-spray before assembly again. If you are making this then the only advice I can give at this stage is to keep your temper, be patient and accept that things can and will go wrong. 











The Case 

I also made the decision about half way through the build that I wanted a gun case to keep the blaster in. Again I had a number of choices which include some excellent specific cases suited to the Blaster for sale on Etsy. After looking round various websites I settled on taking a chance and ordering a generic wooden case from Ali Express for £6 delivered. Sure enough, ten days later the case arrived and I was pleasantly surprised at what I had bought. Don't get me wrong this is a very lightweight wood box that has a cheap pair of hinges and clasp. If this were to be subjected to any kind of moderate use I don't think it would last very long until you were faced with changing the hardware over. For me though its perfect; because of the relatively little cost (an Etsy case alone is around £50+) I felt confident enough to play around with it a bit. One of the first things that I did was to cut two small sections from either side of the case. This had to be done to accommodate the Blaster in a horizontal setting for the case (yes I did measure it but the interior dimensions were less than advertised). Once that was complete I then cut some blue foam (I get this from the skip in work and its great for model making. Its very similar to the black XP foam that's used in the model making community) to the interior section of the lower section of the case. I then traced the outline of the baster on the foam and cut it to size. Happy with this I then moved on to the upper part of the inside of the case. For this some card was cut to size ready to mount some material on. I then added a box stabilising mount (sorry I don't know the correct name for it) on the right hand side. This gives the box lid a little more strength other than the hinges and also gives the impression that its a little more of a special case. I also 3D  printed off a Steyr Arms logo that again was found online. This was then sprayed in aluminium and I cut a recessed circle out of the lid of the box to accommodate it. Once glued into the recess I then poured some Vallejo still water on top of it to create an "enamelled" look for the badge. Unfortunately it shrank so much I abandoned the idea and used some clear UV gel instead to create that look. 

To give the box a little more authenticity I again turned to the internet for ideas to see what other people have done with their home made cases and then used the excuse (sorry once again to my long suffering wife) to watch Blade Runner for the millionth time to get some inspiration. What I ended up with is an amalgamation of inspiration of other makers, the movie and actual gun cases to come up with a supply label that includes serial number, manufacturer details, bar codes etc. (I think this idea came from a similar idea from another maker and my Samsung fridge label for its layout). I also created a taxation code stamp which is similar to another case I had found online and loved the idea of it; and finally I added a factory tear seal. This is written in Japanese which says "if torn please return". Anyone reading this who actually speaks Japanese; please don't tell me if google translate got it wrong!! To add to that "luxury feel" I have also ordered some box corners in the same aged brass effect as well as a length of velvet to cover the interior of the case (when it arrives). Finally to add to the "story" of the case I have printed out a user manual that was supplied by a maker from the Replica Props Forum. (as soon as I find his username I will give him full credit of course). Many prop makers have also included a box of ammo in their case and I must admit that I loved this idea. I had printed out far too many bullets to fit in the blaster anyway so after stealing some cardboard backed envelopes from my daughter, I quickly knocked up a small box of ammo to fit the bullets that I had printed and after a short visit to the printer for a label, the ammo box was also complete. For a final flourish I also made a Blaster specification plate (again inspired from the plethora of plates made by other makers) from some chrome sprayed plastic card and a home made decal. This will eventually be glued into the box once the interior is complete. Here's some pictures of what I have done so far:












The final stages of this build will be the fabric covering. I've decided not to weather the labels as they are printed out on plain paper and will get dirty very quickly anyway and provide a far better result in a short space of time. The fabric eventually arrived after the package it was shipped in was damaged (thanks Royal Mail!). Using a combination of spray adhesive, double side tape and hot glue; everything seemed to come together very well and I'm really happy with the result. This has been a very log project in terms of planning, printing, painting etc,. It still isn't 100% complete as its missing some of the correct grub screws etc but this is something that I'll correct as and when I come across them. Here's some shots of the final assembly: 






Final Thoughts 

Deckard's Blaster has been replicated thousands of times over the years by people with far more talent than I have. The availability and ease of use of 3D printers combined with talented designers uploading their files for anyone to use has given me the opportunity to print and make a prop that I have wanted from the first day that I watched the film.  Normally I mention at the end of these write-ups that if I were to do this again; I would not, especially when they have been as challenging and long winded as this project but I have enjoyed almost every aspect of this project. The end result is amazing and will take pride of place in my office when I return back to work. Here's some final photos and as always if you have any comments/questions please feel free to let me know:

















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