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  1. #1
    Posted a thousand or more times jhitesma's Avatar
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    Ultra budget quad build.

    I'm cheap. Really really cheap. I kind of chuckle when I hear Josh or Chad say they're cheap because compared to me they're almost spendthrifts. But I'm also stupid cheap to the point I'll do things that cost more because I did them so cheap. I try to learn from my mistakes though and like to help others keep from repeating my mistakes. So I try to share a lot as a way to help others be cheap without making the mistakes I make.

    Just as a taste of my cheapness...my first article on FT was about making a replacement button to fix my $20 battery charger: http://flitetest.com/articles/charger-button-repair

    What I left out of that article is I also fixed a missing rubber foot on it with just a drop of hot glue


    Growing up I always dreamed of flying RC planes. I built a number of balsa and tissue planes but couldn't afford RC gear so I was stuck with rubber power...and none of them got more than a half dozen or so flights because I got tired of spending more time repairing them than "flying" them. Then a few years ago I found out just how affordable the hobby had gotten and picked myself up a micro heli. I had fun with it but quickly learned that my house was too small to have much fun flying in and it was rare for me to find a day with light enough winds I could fly it outside. Thankfully just as I started to loose interest due to that I found Flite Test about the same time they first released their swappable nutball plan. Since then I've been having a blast building and flying cheap foam planes.

    But I've really wanted a quad. Before I built my first foamie, before I bought that first heli...I wanted a quad. I did pick up a Syma X1 last year for about $50 and had a lot of fun with it - but it's just too small and too limited. I really want a "real" quad with a controller I can hack and parts I can easily and cheaply replace when they break. I just couldn't justify more than $100 in my budget and couldn't find a way to make one happen for that little. Now a few years later I have more parts on hand, more experience, and I think I can finally pull it off.

    I should be working on it right now...but I feel like sharing more than building at this moment and I feel bad about hijacking a number of other threads talking about my in-progress project.

    If I'm done I plan on writing up an article for the main site whether I'm successful or not. But for now I figured I should start this thread to share my progress and give others a chance to give me any advice (not that I'm likely to follow it even if I do appreciate it!)


    I started the week before Halloween. After a stressful Saturday I did some browsing on Hobby King and started building an order. I had missed out on my second chance at grabbing a KK2.0 board that week when they were already back ordered again by the time I saw the e-mail announcing they were available. So I started reading up on the MultiWii. I had never had much interest in the MW since I hadn't heard much about it and the idea of taking parts from Wii controllers just seemed like it would cost more and give worse results than just buying a KK board. But as I read up on the MW I quickly learned that most of the MW boards have advanced to better sensors and don't actually use Wii parts anymore. But I also learned that the whole thing is based off Arduino and I just happened to have an unused Arduino Mega sitting within reach on my desk and a couple of wii controllers that haven't been used in months and I started thinking.

    So I wired up the arduino and my Wii Motion Plus, loaded the MultiWii firmware...and within an hour had what seemed to be a functional (though not flight ready) flight controller sitting on my desk.

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    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4I_DGs7rSk

    Cutting the cost of a flight controller out of my order suddenly made it very viable to pull off a <$100 quad based on the FT RotorBones Knuckles with Blue Wonders......

    I bit the bullet and ordered:
    4 - 1300kv 24g motors $32.38
    4 - 10A multistar ESC's $24.96 (These may have been a mistake...we'll see...10A is cutting it kind of close and it turns out that while they are supposedly flashable with SimonK they don't have pads to make it easy. I've read mixed reviews about their suitability for quads but the price was hard to pass up and if it comes down to it I'll break out my SMT iron and a magnifier and reflash them or use them for something else at some point.)
    1 - XT60 to 4x3.5mm bullet breakout cable $2.94 (this WAS a mistake, the HK website listed the 10A multistars as having 3.5mm bullet connectors but they actually have 2mm. But the breakout cables with 2mm bullets only have JST connectors and since I plan on using my 1500 or 2200mah packs which have XT60's on them those don't help me much...so I'm going to end up doing my own thing instead, will save this for a bigger quad project in the future.)
    2 - Sets of 8045 quad props $5.18 (I know I'll break props...probably should have ordered more than 2 sets...and really kicking myself for ordered both sets the same color...guess what I'm going to order this weekend )
    1 - 8ch 9x RX $8.99 (I had planned on using one of my existing RX's...but my order came in low enough I was able to splurge..good thing too because the next day I lost one of my RX's and no longer had a spare!)
    1 - MultiWii Bluetooth module $7.49 (this was a bit of a risk since I wasn't sure if it would work with my homebrewed controller...but I didn't see any reason it shouldn't and it was cheap enough to risk. Not to mention the idea of being able to program the controller from my phone was one of the things that REALLY impressed me about the MultiWii. Turns out it was worth the risk as it took me all of 5 minutes to set it up and it seems to work great!)

    Even with shipping my order was under budget enough I was able to toss in a few spare props for some of my other planes and still keep the total under $95. Woo Hoo!

    Of course then I realized I forgot wires to connect my RX to the controller. And I forgot prop adapters. And I started reading more about the MultiWii.....

    So before my parts even arrived I had ordered off ebay:
    1 - BMP085 baro sensor breakout board - $2.95 shipped (Still waiting on delivery, by mail from Hong Kong...I'm not holding my breath.)
    1 - HMC5883L 3 axis magnetometer compass - $2.31 shipped (Still waiting as well...but like the baro I'm not in a hurry since it's not needed and is just for me to experiment with after I have this thing flying.)
    1 - Arduino Pro Mini - $4.98 shipped (Figured for <$5 it would be nice to have on hand because I don't really want to devote my mega to this...though the more I read about MultiWii the more I start to think about picking up another Mega and sticking with the Mega since it can also run MegaPirateNG and ArduPilot giving me even more options down the road. But the Pro Mini will be nice to keep the weight as low as possible on the knuckle quad I figure and the price is right.)

    I also ordered some male/male 10cm servo extensions. Though I messed up and misread the first listing I bought and didn't realized that unlike most sellers their price was per cable and not per pack of 10 So I ended up odering another pack of 10 from a second seller. ($5.80 for the 2 cables...$4.15 for the pack of 10 - still smacking myself over that especially since the seller I bought the 2 cables from signed me up on their spam list )

    And I ended up placing one more HK order from their US warehouse for:
    4 - 3mm prop adapter $4.72
    2 - 10pc 2mm bullet connectors $4.86

    As of this morning USPS was saying that order wouldn't be here until Tuesday so I wrote off my chances of building a quad this weekend....but while working on building a play house for my daughter this morning the mailman showed up and had 2 packages for me! My 10 pack of servo extensions came in and so did my HK order! Woo Hoo! I've got all the parts I need to build this thing!

    So next trip to the hardware store for bits for the playhouse I also picked up a 100 pack of 6-32 bolts and nuts (none of the hardware stores in town had nylocs in any size small enough so I'm going to have to bust out the loctite for now ) I alrady picked up a few 1/2" square dowels on an earlier trip to the store. (Nuts, bolts and washers were about $10 for 100 which should be enough for a few quads...the dowels were about $1.20 each and I used 1 and a half to cut my frame.)

    I'd love to take advantage of the ongoing 15% off FT sale...but well...this playhouse project is seriously depleting my hobby fund (but it's worth it because she's already having a blast with it even though it's just a frame at this point) and with all the other parts on hand I don't want to wait for shipping.

    So last night I cut up some dowels and printed out the knuckle parts plans and this evening I started cutting them out...more on that in a moment.

    When my first HK order came in earlier this week I promptly hooked up the BT module and as I already mentioned within 5 minutes I had it working wonderfully! So I went ahead and gutted my motion plus with the 2 servo connectors that had come in hooked up two more channels on my breadboarded controller:

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    Seems to be working great! I still don't have yaw hooked up so I can't actually arm it yet...but on both my phone and the PC based config app things seem to be responding correctly!

    With all of my parts on hand I laid everything out to get a feel for it all:

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    Like I said I'm kicking myself for only ordering one color of prop...I do have some CW rotation 8045 props on hand of the same design so I may put one of those on for now and fly it plus style until I can get some other props...


    Now the real reason I'm writing this up instead of building right now...I needed to take a break from making my knuckles.

    I started by using some spray tack adhesive (the same Krylon spray I use to stick plans to redi-boad when building FT foamies) to attach the printed plans to a piece of ply I had laying around from when I made my own firewalls before getting hooked on the FT Firewalls. I hate this ply...it's the standard Monogram Revel ply from Michaels and it's horrible. Impossible to get clean cuts because it flakes so bad. Even when I cut it while sandwiched between other bits of wood or drill it on top of some scrap wood it splinters like crazy. But it's what I have on hand and it should be ok for now.

    With the plans glued on I grabbed my center punch and started marking the holes:
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    Then got out my 9/16" brad point drill (I LOVE brad point drills - so nice for drilling accurately!):
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    And drilling on top of some scrap to minimize (but due to the lousy ply not eliminate) tear out I proceeded to make all the holes in my knuckles:
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    With all the holes cut it was time to separate the knuckles...but how? I have a nice old 1940's Delta bandsaw that a friend gave me for free because it was a rusty mess on the of his house. I disassembled it, cleaned it, rebuilt it and it works...but I haven't found a new tension spring for it and as a result it tends to break blades and I'm out of silver solder to repair the blades right now. Plus it's not the best for straight accurate cuts. My table saw is overkill and has way too big of a kerf. My xacto razor saw has a nice thin (.015") kerf and would do it...but it's time to replace that blade as it has almost no teeth left so it would take forever to use it.

    I decided to do it the hard way. And this is one of those points where I effectively spend more to do something the cheap way. $12 to order a set of knuckles from FT would be a lot cheaper than the time I'm spending cutting these by hand with this method (WAY cheaper if I was to charge myself the hourly rate I charge clients when doing my day job!) I got out a steel straight edge, some clamps, and one of my utility knives along with some new blades:
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    A half hour later I had them cut out enough to test how accurate they are:
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    Looks pretty good! All of the bolts went it with almost no resistance except for the last two which needed just a bit of twisting from my fingers to get them through one or two tight spots.

    And now is when I really wish my bandsaw had a blade in it (And no I can't just buy one locally...can't even get one on-line easily as not many people stock the length of blade needed for a 70 year old 10" bandsaw. Buying slightly oversized blades, cutting them and re-welding them is the only way I've found. Did I mention I'm "stupid cheap"? ) The bandsaw would let me quickly and easily finish these last four cuts in a few seconds.

    Instead I just spent about 40 minutes typing this up while giving myself a break before making the last four cuts by tediously going over the line over and over again with my utility knife.

    Oh well...here goes. Doubt I'll have any more updates tonight. Once these are cut I'll be drilling my frame and assembling it but my wife is due home from work in half an hour and I'll have to cook dinner so I doubt I'll have time to get any photos before we crash out for the night!

    Tomorrow priority #1 is getting the floor and walls finished on my daughters playhouse...but my wife has the day off so I should have time for both that and getting more done on this quad!

    Would love to get it in the air tomorrow but I don't think that's realistic at this point. Once the frame is built I still have to figure out what I'm going to do for the center (I'm out of ply and the knuckles center is nice but overkill for what I'm doing), get the motors mounted, solder bullets onto the motors, wire up the ESC's, finish cleaning up the connection between the WMP and the Arduino, make a power loom, mount it all.....

    To be honest I'll be happy if I can power it up without props by mid-week so stay tuned!
    Last edited by jhitesma; 02-12-2014 at 04:36 PM.

  2. #2
    Posted a thousand or more times jhitesma's Avatar
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    Halfway done with these last four cuts on my knuckles...and just realized I should have cut them with the grain of the wood going the other way.

    Might be something nice to note on the plans. I know in the video they mention putting the grain one way on purpose for the center pieces to keep the battery mounts from ripping out. I totally spaced thinking about the grain when I glued the pattern to my ply for the knuckles though.

    The way I did it (Grain running with the "short" side of the knuckle that only has 2 holes in it) is probably going to be prone to breaking right where the booms meet since the grain runs parallel to the joint between the center booms and the motor booms. Having the grain run across that joint would probably be stronger.

    Of course part of the point of ply is that you shouldn't have to worry about grain since each ply should have the grain going in oposite directions. But this ply I have sure seems to have an "overall grain" to it and to break easier along the direction of the grain that matches the outer ply's.

    How long does that 15% sale run again.....

  3. #3
    Posted a thousand or more times jhitesma's Avatar
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    Ok, I did manage to finally get all of my knuckles cut out last night before crashing. For those who want to repeat this method (and I really don't advise it!) plan on using about 6 utility blades getting them all cut out. Using more would have made it go even quicker as the ply dulled my blades fast and fresh blades cut MUCH better. But my quick change knife was in another room (did I mention I'm also "stupid lazy" and do things the hard way to avoid what would actually be less work sometimes?) and these cheap blades I have right now don't hold an edge very long at all (Not buying the 100 pack of "Husky" brand blades again, will spend a few bucks more instead of buying the absolute cheapest I can find next time, 100 has lasted me over a year and I'm only half through but if these held their edge just a little longer I wouldn't have gone through this many already.)

    First priority this morning is supposed to be working on the playhouse. But with my knuckles all cut I just had to put the frame together first.

    I roughly used the method outlined in the official build video but since I don't have center plates yet let alone the little double pieces I made a few modifications to my methods.

    I put my motor booms right on the printout of the center plates and marked the outer holes. I then drilled those holes and fearing that my knuckles aren't all quite the same used a bolt to hold a knuckle to that hole and then used the knuckle as a jig to drill the second hole:
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    I then put a bolt through that hole and proceeded to do the same thing on the other side of the boom:
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    With two knuckles loosely in place on one end boom I then held a center boom in place using a square to make sure it was straight - and used the holes in the knuckle as a jig again. Then repeated this for the second center boom:
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    At this point I checked with my square and while there was a tiny bit of play (less than what it looks like in the official video despite my sloppy knuckles) everything was nice and square. So I added bottom plates and put some washers and nuts on finger tight. Without even aligning anything it was all square!
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    So I repeated the same thing on the second side. I did run into one little issue with the 8th bolt on both sides not lining up with it's hole on the bottom plate. But a quick "adjustment" with the drill took care of that. With all four booms together I gave it a quick check with the square and it's good at all four corners! Wow, even with sloppy homemade knuckles cut with a utility knife this thing self-squared like a champ! I'm guessing accurate drilling of the holes is far more important than the shape/size of the actual knuckles for this part. I put it on the scale and came out at 150g for the basic frame. Note - I made my motor booms 2" longer than stock (12" overall) since I'm planning on mounting my motors directly to the boom since I don't have the rotor bones mounts/landing gear. I'm just going to use some scrap plastic and zip ties as landing gear, and drilled some divots into the tops of the booms to clear the shaft on my 24g motors. ( I figure I could just raise them up in their mounts a bit but the relief holes seemed like a good bit of insurance against the shaft rubbing.)
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    I haven't decided just how I'm going to mount the motors yet. I'm not sure if I trust two servo screws per motor...and I'm not at all sure I just trust zip-ties. Going to do a few experiments later today to determine how I'll handle it.

    It's not the prettiest thing...but it's looking pretty good to me and up in the air the sloppy knuckles won't be noticeable! Going to disassemble it and paint it a little later, then put it all back together with loctite.

    For the next few hours though I'm on playhouse duty. Then soldering bullet connectors to my motors. Hopefully by this evening this thing will be looking quite a bit like a full quad and I can focus on cleaning up the wiring on my homebrewed control board. Starting to think there's a chance I might just possibly get a chance to try spinning up some motors late this evening!

  4. #4
    Posted a thousand or more times jhitesma's Avatar
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    Off topic...other than it's why I didn't get to make any progress today. And it does explain where the scrap wood I'm cutting and drilling on came from

    As I mentioned I'm building my daughter a play house. We had a HUGE ficus in our backyard. We loved the shade it gave us (a valuable commodity here in the desert) but it was getting into the sewer (It was planted right over the main sewer line, I had to dig up 20 feet of it two years ago when the roots crushed it) and the tree just made a horrible mess - so it had to go. February 2011 I had my tree guy come out and take it down to the roof line figuring I'd do the rest myself. [Side note - the weekend the tree came down was also the weekend I decided to start eating healthier I was 210 at the time it came down. I got down 155 about 6 months later and held it for almost a year...but have drifted back up to 165 the last few months...been falling back into old habits and working to stop that again.] Here the tree was a year after we had it taken to the roof line the morning of the day I had the tree guy come out to finish the job because the chainsaw I was going to use to finish it myself turned out to be a basket case:

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    See that deck under it?

    Turned out it was all redwood or cedar. So I saved the wood. Wasn't sure what to do with it but knew I'd find something to do with it.

    Then a few weeks ago we went to a party at a friends house and they had a playhouse made out of cardboard boxes and my daughter LOVED it. So I figured it was time to do something with the wood. It was all 2x6 boards so I ripped it into 2x3's with my table saw to make it go further. Then framed out a playhouse:

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    I went kind of overboard...but the plan is to add a flat deck on top with a railing and a slide into our yard. So I wanted it to be able to support a full grown adult up there. The floor was old wood floor pieces the previous owner of our house left behind that had been sitting outside (and have continued to sit outside for another 6 years) so they were in kind of rough shape...but plenty nice for a kids playhouse.

    She picked pink for the outside and she and my wife painted it this evening while I finished the "roof":
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    I still have to cut out a few more windows, add a door, finish the "second level" add trim around the windows, door and corners...and I may build a little deck between it and the sandbox I made her a few years ago. But she's already having a blast with it and it's now "done" enough that I can take a few weeks off from working on it and diverting my hobby budget into it. Despite 90% of the wood being recycled from that old deck I still spent way too much on this thing. The smile on her face is worth it though. And now she'll have somewhere safe to hide while I test fly my quads in the backyard. And I'll have an ultimate challenge for the smaller quads to try and fly through the windows

    Sounds like she just finished her bath so I can take my shower and then it's daddy's quality time with his quad

  5. #5
    Posted a thousand or more times jhitesma's Avatar
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    Didn't get much more done. Spent way too long looking for my zip ties which have suddenly mysteriously disappeared. Have a BUNCH of them and take them with me every time I go flying even though I've yet to use even one when I'm out in the field....but suddenly tonight the entire container is missing Not in my truck, not with my build supplies, not in my RV, not in my office, not in my shed....Grrr. And I almost bought a new pack yesterday because I was worried mine may be too old for mounting motors...but then put them back on the shelf because I knew I had so many.

    Oh well. I did get bullets on all of my motors and I did get my frame painted. Still have to take each nut off one more time so I can put loctite on them. But it should be nice and visible now:

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    I actually labeled each knuckle so I would put it back together the same way...but even so the last two screws needed to have a drill bit run through their holes before they'd go in. Oh well, on the upside once again it squared itself up perfectly without me having to do anything. I forgot to paint the ends of the motor booms too...will just touch those up with a brush since it's not worth it to drag the airbrush back out. (Side note - painting these booms with the airbrush was a pain, they're so light they kept getting blown around!) Paint was applied really light (you can still see my pencil marks through it) but still added 3g - new weight on the bare frame is 153g.

    Oh and the color choice was not influenced by my daughter. I just happened to see her little $.79 bottle of hot pink acrylic and figured she'd get a kick out of me painting the "new bee" as she's taken to calling it her favorite color. Besides, it's nice and visible (I've been using hot pink duct tape on my Versa in place of extreme tape for a bit of color) and to be honest when I was her age it was my favorite color too. Will have to get some better photos in the daylight though - light in my spare room doesn't do it justice.

    Was really hoping to have the motors and esc's hooked up tonight but without those zip ties.....

    Really wish I had tomorrow (well, today at this point I guess) off. Ah well, I'll try and pick some new zip ties up tomorrow I guess.

  6. #6
    Moderator Craftydan's Avatar
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    um wow. That's pink all right! You shouldn't have any trouble picking it out from all the other quads parked on the street

    It should show up well against a blue or grey sky, but you might want to re-color one set of booms to be the "front". Symmetry is nice, right up to the point you loose orientation . . .

    Either way, looking nice!
    Crafty Dan
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  7. #7
    Senior Member RoyBro's Avatar
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    Keep us posted. I'm really enjoying the read. Even the off topic parts.
    "Ah gravity - thou art a heartless bitch." - Sheldon Cooper

  8. #8
    Posted a thousand or more times jhitesma's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Craftydan View Post
    um wow. That's pink all right! You shouldn't have any trouble picking it out from all the other quads parked on the street
    Yeah, when I first started building I was trying the Experimental airlines method and figured I'd try colored duct tape instead of extreme packaging tape since Ed said it was an acceptable alternative and I figured it would give some color to my planes. So I looked for a color that would stand out against the blue sky we normally have here...and something that my daughter would appreciate in hopes it would keep her interested in the planes. So hot pink won out and my default color scheme is now pink and black:

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    I figured if nothing else it will help keep people from wanting to steal my planes


    It should show up well against a blue or grey sky, but you might want to re-color one set of booms to be the "front". Symmetry is nice, right up to the point you loose orientation . . .
    Yeah, I thought about that when I was painting it. But I'm not sure if I want to set it up H or I style yet and I'm planning on running two colors of props to help with orientation. To be honest though I've found that for me color doesn't really help much. Once they're a few hundred feet up/away I can't really tell top/bottom forward/back by color on much of anything. I fly my X1 without the bee body sometimes and just use the two colors of props for orientation - but even then I routinely fly high/far enough that it's just a dot and I can't see the prop colors. As long as I keep moving I don't have a problem loosing orientation - but if I stop to hover....I'm sunk.

    I'm hoping to invest in some FPV gear in the next month or so and that's what I'm really hoping to use this quad for.

    But I may add some tape on the booms to help once I decide if I'm going to fly it H or I. First few flights I may actually fly it + style since I do have black CW props that match the red props I have for it, so I could make the leading prop black flying that way.

    Either way, looking nice!
    Thanks. I'm blown away at how well it came out given how crude my methods were cutting the knuckles. I was really planning on doing an X configuration but when the knuckle stuff came out I started thinking H may be quicker and easier to build for a first scratch build - glad I went with it so far.

    Wonder if I can find some hot pink props to match somewhere......

  9. #9
    Posted a thousand or more times jhitesma's Avatar
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    Yuma, AZ
    Posts
    4,341
    Ha! Knew they had to exist:
    http://www.rctimer.com/product_606.html

    Haven't ordered anything from rctimer yet...might finally have an excuse to give them a try

  10. #10
    Kite Eating Tree Trimmer cranialrectosis's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Location
    Colorado Springs
    Posts
    4,903
    Great thread.

    Love the pink!

    I hope to see video when this flies.
    Freiheit schöner götterfunken tochter aus elysium!

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