Sci-Fi Handgun Modification Step-By Step

So what is it?

I used to play Airsoft a lot many years ago, and the second thing I bought for that was a TM SOCOM Mk23 pistol. Why? Because ever since I saw them used on a TV show about vampire hunters called Ultraviolet where they used a SOCOM loaded with carbon bullets and a special vampire detector (camera) underneath, I thought they were very cool guns. The main feature (other than being large and good to hold) is that they are built as a tactical weapon with a rail on the bottom which at the time was pretty rare for a handgun, nowadays there’s a lot that have rails, but back then is was awesome to see this fairly sci-fi looking gun “in real life”.

For this year’s Frontier Apocalypse I’m playing the town Doctor, but having a gun is pretty essential as the town tends to get burglarised at least once an event, plus it’s the apocalypse, so anything goes! Who knows, I may have to put down a patient. In the story there’s a material called Centite that fell to earth in a massive meteor shower sometime after the apocalypse and as people started to rebuild civilisation they discovered that Centite is a powerful mineral with all sorts of propeties. So I decided to use my SOCOM and build a new module that slotted on the bottom rail that would be like a Centite powered super cannon of some sort.

Design & Concept ideas

I decided I wanted it to look fairly well made. In the story civilisation hasn’t gone totally mad max, it’s supposed to be more like Fallout where there’s a mix of mad max type stuff and also some new and funky technology. I also like to think of it like Borderlands too since that’s got a similar tech vibe. I also wanted it to have a light-up bit (because, sci-fi!) and I wanted it to slot onto the bottom rail and look like it was supposed to be there – also it needed to not get in the way of actually using the gun if I should need to – so nothing too pointy or stupid (I’m looking at you Destiny guns).

I did a bit of playing with the design, just sketching out some different ideas. I pretty quickly hit on the look I wanted, something with a big exposed barrel and a heat-sink type thing and maybe some exposed wiring. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do for the light-up bits yet, in this design I had in mind the idea of doing several small lights along the bottom like a charge indicator or something. I liked the idea of it tapering to something thinner under the barrel, and adding the hole there seemed right, though I’ve really no idea what it’s “for”! maybe just weight reduction?

3D design and prototyping

Next I sat with the SOCOM and LAM (the module that comes with the TM SOCOM, Laser Aiming Module), and calipers and did a lot of measuring as I made the model for the top rail mount. My idea here is that this section will be basically completely identical to the LAM module that came with the SOCOM, then I’d build downwards from there with my new stuff.

I use Sketchup for my models. It’s not the most sophisticated CAD software, it really struggles with curves and more organic shapes (despite excellent plugins that do help) , but it’s very easy to use and intuitive, it’s fast, free and 90% of the time does exactly what I need. I do always have in the back of my head to learn something a bit more comprehensive but that smacks of effort, man. So anyway, I highly recommend Sketchup. I did use Blender, but since it’s aimed more at people making assets for games or animations it (is or was at the time I was using it) not quite so directly intuitive for making models for printing, it lacks real-world scale units for example.

After the rail was modelled, next I started blocking out the back part where it meets with the trigger guard. On the LAM module there’s a wheel and a screw thread there to lock the modukle securely to the SOCOM and I had the idea of basically copying that section almost entirely. This basically involved a lot of measuring, modelling and re-measuring.

I used a plugin to generate the screw thread and (miraculously) when I printed it it actually worked brilliantly. I did need to do some adjustment of the exact fit of the trigger guard-locking bit but it was fairly minor.

Once these two “functional” bits were done I went to town doing the rest. I followed my design as a guide but rather than bash my head against the screen trying to do bits that were tricky in Sketchup i just altered them. The main bit was the heat-sinks, on my designs I imagined them being rounder, like tubes coiled around the barrel, but having done that sort of stuff before I know that in Sketchup it can be really tricky to do, so I just altered them to flat planes and I was really happy with the more angular look.

I also altered the bottom section, I moved the “light-up-bit” from the very bottom back to the larger square pod at the back under the trigger guard, by this time I was thinking of using a button cell battery and a couple of LEDs and there as more room there. I added some greebly bits and some more detail into some bits, but generally it’s pretty much what I had in mind.

3D printing

I designed this with printing in mind, so it’s got quite a few parts and they’e all designed to be printed in the best orientation. I printed them in ABS because it’s a nicer materiel (though can be more annoying to print), and I was intending to use plastic welding to stick it all together for maximum strength.

Plastic Welding with ABS: You can drop some in a jar of acetone and wait for it to melt and you end up with a kind of ABS glue, when you spread it on your print the Acetone melts the surface a bit and you can “weld” two bits together, the added melted ABS makes it more glue-like and less watery, it makes very strong joins that are basically as strong as the rest of the piece.

Assembly and Painting

Some sanding and assembly followed. Once it was put together I sanded it a bit more and moved on to painting. For this I wanted the barrel in silver metal, the heat-sink in gold and the rest in black. I printed it in black and ‘gold’ ABS. The barrel I sprayed silver as soon as I’d sanded it down a bit, and the rest I painted after assembly. I used acrylics to paint the base colours then gave it a complete coat of matt clearcoat.

I really wanted to do heat-colouration on the barrel, since in my original plan it’s firing something like a plasma charge and I thought it would really add some visual texture to the thing.

I got a good reference image that looked how I wanted and used an airbrush to lay down a band of blue, then added some red as that ran out and did the red band, then did the same with a sandy-brown band lower down. Then I switched to black and did the inner part of the barrel that I wanted to look more carbon-scored and a little bit around the very end. It was actually really simple and without using irridescent paints I think it came out really well, it certainly conveys the effect. While I was at it I wanted the heat-sink to look like it’s been slightly heat-discoloured too, so I used a burnt umber and airbrushed darker shadowing along the top and bottom edges.

To finish that off I used a gloss varnish on the barrel to make it look a bit more like metal – again, not perfect, but it’s good enough for this project.

Adding the Lights and Finishing

Next I used two small watch-batteries (button cells ) which gives me 3v to light two blue 5mm LED’s, the trick here was getting the whole package small enough to jam inside that little tiny bit under the trigger guard. I filed off the tops of the LED’s to make them shorter – this is fine to do as long as you don’t expose the metal bit inside them or they’ll stop working.

I also added a little rocker switch, I wasn’t really planning on doing that but it turned out that it fitted really nicely in the back of the build and looked sort of like I’d planned it.

It took quite a bit of careful work with long-nosed pliers and some swearing to get it all in place. In hindsight I should have done this bit before I glued the whole thing together, but apparently my fore-planning ability had run out by this point.

To finish the illumination bit off I cut two circles from transparent plastic and sanded them on one side to make them cloudy then used a bit of blue acrylic to make them blue. Put in place into the recesses they help to diffuse the light from the LEDs and they also help to make the thing look more finished when it’s not being illuminated too.

Finally I added wires into the little holes and glued them in place. I had also made some tiny little U shaped brackets I was going to glue over the wires, but I accidentally cleaned them away into the ABS glue pot because they were so small they looked like scrap! But it’s ok, they weren’t necessary apparently.

Final thoughts

Although I used 3D modelling and printing to make this, if I hadn’t had access to those tools I’d have done a very similar build using found parts, plasticard and stuff lying around. To be honest I think it’s probable that I’d have been able to put in more detail and end up with something better looking if I had. I did this as a printer project to practice doing something new – making the rail mount fitting and screw thread – because those bits took some careful measurement and engineering.

Have fun making things for the end of the world

Tom

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