Often concept art doesn't make it into the games or films they are designed for. Borderlands, while proudly baring its loose and comic book-esque style, still has to dumb-down certain parts of their designs for them to fit into a restrictive game engine. For this reason, I decided to base my prop directly from the concept art which the standard in-game Dahl assault rifle was from. Doing this gave me some artistic freedom too, since the reference pictures I could scavenge were far from all-encompassing and I prefer to tweak my creations according to the things I can recycle.
This project turned out really well and was a thoroughly enjoyable build. In total I spent somewhere in the region of 300 hours on the build, although if I had made fewer mistakes and done certain parts more efficiently, this time could be reduced to under 100 hours. The cost for me was around f120, the main expense being the paint followed by the sight. Bearing in mind I work in such a way so as to favour using things I already have rather than buying new things, someone who has less materials or tools than me could spend well over f250.
I don't expect anyone to read this instructable from beginning to end, but I hope that people interested in prop-making or similar will find some of my methods resourceful.
Step 1: Shopping List
Most of this stuff I already had, and assuming you've done similar projects before (Or just have a well-stocked shed) you are likely to have it lying around too. In total I didn't spend a great deal on this project, but buying all the materials could set you back around f250 or more. I also used very few electric tools for this build. Also, not working with a mask on when sanding, spraying or using MDF does not make you tough, it makes you get ill and have black earwax (Speaking from experience). Also, its important to wear eye protection particularly if you using a Dremel, because if you use a cheap one like me the attachments have a habit of exploding in your face.
• MDF/Plywood relatively thin, around 3cm thick, and an even thinner one at about 1cm
• Flexible plastic sheeting - I'm not sure of the exact material I used but it cut well with a knife and was slightly flexible, you could just use even thinner MDF though
• Acrylic sheet
• Plenty of filler
• Whatever nuts, bolts and fittings you can salvage
• Super Glue
• Panel pins
• Sculpting putty
• Various bits and bobs for detail
• Something for the barrel - I used handlebars from a micro-scooter but you could use PVC tubing or anything else that will do the job
• PVA glue
• Jig-saw and/or Scroll-saw
• Various Files - Flat and rounded
• Lots of sandpaper in various grades
• Stanley knife - With spare blades, because its going to get blunt
• Surform - Not essential, but useful
• Small hammer
• Dremel - Not totally essential but you should probably have one anyway, they are incredibly useful
ANY tool that makes sanding less painful - I had an old orbital sander, but I would really have liked to use a belt sander
• Breathing mask
• Eye protection
• Old clothes - No matter how careful you think you are, filler will ruin anything within a 2-metre radius of itself
Step 2: Blueprint and Wooden Base
The first thing you must do is to make an accurate blueprint of what you want to replicate. Don't think you can skip this step - I was lazy and rushed my blueprint so I could get on with the project, which made the build much harder. Be sure to draw a full scale picture from various angles. Take plenty of time doing this as your blueprint will ultimately decide the quality of your creation. Nonetheless, if you are as impatient as me, feel free to use my blueprint. Once you are done, cut it out and draw the outline on the thickest sheet of wood you have (around 3cm). I used the plywood because this particular piece was really strong, but you could use thick MDF instead.
Cut it out with the jigsaw and be sure to wear a breathing mask because MDF in particular is pretty nasty stuff. If using a table mounted jig-saw/scroll-saw you'll probably have to cut into the edges to make the handle and stock holes, but if you are using a handheld jig-saw then use a drill and put the blade into the hole the drill made in order to get into tight spots. You will need to drill out all of the vertices to get the jigsaw in. Cutting out the curved bits is tricky, unless your jig-saw has a scrolling feature like mine did, or you actually have a scroll saw. Its best to try and cut the shape out in rough triangles then use a half round file to neaten it up.
You'll then need to thicken it up in certain areas according to your blueprints - that is everywhere not including the handle and trigger, then the stock needs to be even thicker. Again, MDF is easy to work with as is the plastic poster backing stuff I had (If someone could Identify this in the comments that would be really useful). Notice on the fifth picture just past the trigger that I left a socket for the front handle to slot into, more on this later.
PVA is very good for glueing wood together, super-glue is okay as a quick-fix but epoxy (like Araldite) is far superior and filler can be a decent adhesive if you need to close a gap at the same time (perfect at certain points when you know you will be altering the surface drastically once adhered).
Use whichever glues suit the materials you've decided to use, secure them in place with small panel pins and hold tight with clamps (overnight with PVA, super-glue/filler are generally set within 20 mins). Once dry you will likely need to clean up the edges with a file, sandpaper and a surform.
Step 3: Layering shapes
The most important part of this step is that you don't do what I did. Filler was a really bad option to use in this instance, as you can probably see from the picture of the first pass. It would be much more sensible to make the same supports then glue a thin sheet of wood or plastic over it, which would save you a good few hours of sanding and filling.
The first thing you need to do is make your supports, they don't need to be perfect but they should come out approximately 1cm high. Also note that I got the angle a bit wrong on the lower part and I later had to stick a sheet of plastic over to correct this - essentially 2 hours wasted. Once constructed stick them to the base with superglue (I used evo-stik because I ran out of superglue) I foolishly used filler in this step to fill in the supports, but you will definitely want to use a sheet of wood/plastic instead, as mentioned earlier.
From this point on it's just a case of cutting out various layers of plastic, MDF or wood to build your shapes. This step is one in which your blueprint is your best friend, using it and reference images too, figure out what parts you'll need to cut out. Use my images too in order to figure out the shapes. However, since the gun I'm replicating is just a concept, it isn't totally clear in parts, this gave me a lot of artistic freedom. Therefore I would encourage you too to tweak this gun to your liking - the beauty of Borderlands 2 being that no two guns look the same. Note that the massive black stains on the later pictures are because I took them after sculpting the handle, which was quite a messy process.
Step 4: Handle
This step was really simple, I cut out the raised slice from plastic and then used sculpting putty to make the handle. I stuck to the general shape of the handle but deviated slightly in that I made mine less square around the edges and didn't use the same pattern on the front, making it much more comfortable to hold given that I didn't have a way to make it out of actual rubber. I actually prefer the look of it though, as I was able to mould it to my exact grip by squeezing it then smoothing it out. The result was great after a bit of sanding. This is another part I would encourage you to customise since obviously there are a loads of variations of handles on Borderlands guns. A quick Google search of "Dahl assault rifle" should confirm this for you.
The sculpting putty I used is called milliput (black) which I found to be incredibly easy to work with and effective, not to mention that it's really reasonably priced.
Step 5: Stock
Now my stock is hugely oversized, in fact I can't imagine you would ever find anything of that sort of size on any real gun, but I wanted a very definite chunky feel to this gun, and I know for certain that Borderlands sacrifices authenticity for its artistic style at times. With that said I still think its slightly too oversized, but it definitely adds some character to the gun. The way I did it was to cut out 4 pieces of plastic and secure them with a cable tie at one end, tape along the edge and prop them up at the end with some small pieces of plastic. This is difficult to explain but very well illustrated by the pictures. I then cracked open a new, full tub of filler (If opening a new tub of filler doesn't get you excited, I'm afraid this isn't the project for you) and filled in all of the gaps and uneven surfaces. I also used some sculpting putty to make the edges more sharp and sanded everything down.
If you've never used filler before, it's quite simple to figure out but takes a lifetime to master. Simply mix hardener and filler in a 1:20 ratio respectively or until the mixture is salmon coloured, being sure not to leave any streaks. Use an old credit card or something similar to spread it, then as it dries you can use a knife to shave bits off until it becomes too hard and you have to use sandpaper.
To make the guards on top I dug out an old chunk of carving softwood I had, I believe it was balsa, and cut out the general shape of the guards with a saw. As you can see by the pictures, this went terribly. Believe it or not there is a real art to sawing, my Grandad is in his 80s and when he saws wood he cuts it like butter. I'm not at that level yet but I can point out that a common thing people do wrong with a saw is to apply too much pressure, which makes the cut look as terrible as mine and often makes it snap off at the end. Be gentle and patient and your cuts will be clean.
There were lots of unsightly gouges in my wood so I neatened it up with filler after making a couple of details with a Stanley knife. Perhaps a carving knife would have been ideal, but the good old Stanley knife did fine. I used panel pins to secure it on to the rest of the stock and filled over them, but unfortunately some are still visible. Note that even if the nails appear flush with the surface, they may still be visible through the paintwork.
Step 6: Front Handle
I could only actually find this part in one piece of concept art, it wasn't included in the game or any other artworks but I thought it was really cool, so I kept it in. unfortunately though the lack of artwork meant I had very little reference, so I largely had to make it up. I changed a couple of things straight away however, such as I made the grip more comfortable to match my version of the back grip, and got rid of the grip on the back section of this part because I thought it was unnecessary and keeping that section sharp and angular makes it look better in my opinion, and contrasts the grip well.
I started by cutting out the base from the same board the base of the gun was made from, allowing it to slot snugly in between the mdf socket I made earlier (This is easy to grasp if you look at the pictures). I used a thin strip of wood to create a ridge which I then filled in with sculpting putty, as well as making some other finer details. These materials were not ideal, the strip of wood was pine which has a fairly wide grain, resulting in a lot of little gaps and this made it quite awkward to get sharp and smooth. I had to use a thin layer of filler to coat everything, because filler can be sanded to very sharp edges. I then sculpted the handle, which didn't need to be ultra well sanded because of how I intend to texture and paint it later on.
Step 7: Big Black Barrel Guards
This step presented quite a unique challenge because I needed a complicated geometric shape which also needed an even thickness and to look decent from a variety of angles. My solution was to heat-form two chunks of thick Plexiglass to shape. The stuff I used supposedly is bullet-proof and what riot shields are made of, which is cool, but regardless it did the job well. I used a clamp and two pieces of wood to secure it from behind and in front to get an even bend, then heated it with a heat gun and bent it over slightly. It didn't go quite to plan however and left me with a lot of clean-up to do because it made the surface really rough around where it bent and it was by no means a clean bend. Nonetheless it bent into shape and is extremely sturdy, even on the thinnest bits it feels as though it could take my entire bodyweight.
I used Allen bolts to secure them on (with some filler underneath them), I had planned to keep them on the final piece but they just didn't quite look right. I started filling and sanding nonetheless but eventually it became too much to bear and I had to remove the bolts, not realising that they were in fact holding it in place and by removing them the gun would fall apart and nullify about 2 days worth of work. The moral of the story is that filler, while a mighty and glorious substance, is no replacement for heavy duty glue such as Araldite. Also, never settle for materials you'll later regret using (the mismatched Allen bolts) especially on a big project like this, because every time you look at it once its finished all you'll be able to notice is that imperfection.
I also had a chance to rework the sides once they came off, because it became apparent while I was putting them on that the symmetry a bit shoddy. In many ways I'm glad it fell apart because it meant I was able to do a better job the second time around.
I used plenty of Araldite to secure it on the second time around and kept it in the bizarre rig pictured above, with lots of clamps and gaffer tape. While waiting for it to dry, I had time to start making the magazine.
Now for the fun part. Fill and sand until perfect. There's a technique to sanding that can't really be explained, but you'll very quickly figure it out since its such a boring task. The same goes for filler but that's a little harder to master. Here are my top tips:
• Mix in the ratio 1:50, more hardener often doesn't mean it will dry faster.
• When filler is nearly dry, it can be carved extremely easily and cleanly, experiment with its various stages of drying if you've never filled before.
• Don't go overboard filling small holes, its better to do it in two small stages than to put loads on and have to sand it all back.
The use of an orbital/belt sander is strongly advised for the initial sanding, but later you will want to be more gentle. When you are close to a shape, strap some sandpaper to a flat object like some leftover MDF and use it as a block sander. When the shape is good and the angles are solid, you can at last move on. Until then, don't lose motivation, this is one of the most tedious parts of the build but it will be very rewarding. Also, don't worry about pinholes yet, they will be fixed when you come to use the high-build primer later on.
There is still more detailing to do but that will come later.
Step 8: Magazine
This was a very simple part to make in comparison to some of the others, it was simply a case of cutting out the basic shape from a block of wood, filling it to remove the grain and then some simple detailing. I used my orbital sander which greatly reduced my time spent sanding, and it also enabled me to quickly cut out the corners on the front to create that nice, angular shape you can see in the fourth photo. I planned on using cardboard to make the outer layers, but it didn't cut so well and wouldn't have looked right. I kept it anyway as a stencil. I needed a material that was fairly thin yet had some thickness, and was also flexible enough to wrap around the magazine comfortably in 90° angles. A thin sheet of plastic I got from a tub did the job wonderfully.
I nailed the wrap to the base of the magazine and used Araldite to secure it down. This failed because the surface was too shiny. The lesson is to always rough up a smooth surface you want to glue. Eventually I got this to work and nailed the other end of the wrap to the back, disguising all of the nails with another sheet of plastic.
You will want to wait until perfectly happy with the surrounding parts before attaching the magazine to the rest of the gun, but when you do it's good practice to drill holes and use wooden dowel for extra stability and strength. Make sure you drill the hole large enough, I ended up cracking my wood because I tried to hammer the dowel into a hole which was too small.
Step 9: Sight Mount
This section was fun to make since it was largely filler-free, making a nice change. I used a different kind of acrylic which was much easier to work with, not being bulletproof and all, and made the base by cutting a strip and bending it in the vice using a heat gun. I also cut out the seat for the back up sight with the same acrylic and glued the supports using superglue, but I would strongly advise using epoxy instead. I shaped it more finely using a bench grinder, and interestingly this seemed to strengthen the bond between pieces of acrylic. I then made the kind of support rail that goes underneath using the same bending technique and building the ends up with a few acrylic pieces and filler (see second to last picture). I also used a thin piece of plastic between the two pieces to give the effect of there being a groove in the middle.
Note that later on in the detailing section I changed this part slightly. This is largely because I got lucky and found some plastic picatinny rail, so unless you have access to that kind of thing then the method described above would be best.
Step 10: Initial Details
While I doubt anyone will follow this instructable step by step, people will certainly be interested in how I did specific things. For this reason I have labeled all the additions so that you can easily see how I did things. I also put up the first picture again since the captions make the image difficult to see.
Much of the detail comes from bolts and other sorts of intricate mechanisms, which were largely comprised of stuff I had lying around the garage. For this reason I left a lot of the details until after I used the high build primer, so that no detail would be lost and, if necessary, I could keep the original colour of the part I was attaching.
Things I bought:
Though normally I prefer to make things rather than buy them, I couldn't resist buying a sight which the actual concept art used as reference for the drawing. In reality, the EOTech holographic sight used for the artwork would set you back about f400, so to find a well-made one in the same style for under f30 was irresistible. I also bought a set of back up sights, since their shape is fairly standard and trying to replicate them would probably not look as good as the real thing. For the same reason, I also bought 2 picatinny rails.
These were very straightforward to implement yet added a great deal of depth. I simply scored along the line I was to make into a groove using a knife (although later I found it easier to use the end of a jeweller's file), then deepened the crevice using a jeweller's file and neatened it using a single piece of sandpaper folded over. Its also possible to effectively scratch the grooves in, which is what I ended up doing, but this was more of a stroke of good luck since my file was damaged in such a way it enabled me to make clean scratches (it was chipped and bent at the end).
2: L Shape
I simply cut out an L shaped piece of white plastic and glued a part of a cable tie to the underside of it. I then glued the two things on to a diagonal plane of the gun, and built the edges up using good old filler.
3: Minor Plastic Details
Clearly this was a simple case of cutting out a section of plastic and glueing it on.
4: Protruding Wedges
I sawed these out of some carving wood, and used a knife to add flattened edges. I then did something dirty and wrong which was using a bench grinder to perfect the wood. It did a great job, but bench grinders aren't designed for wood so often they will burn the wood and stink out your workshop. If you work very quickly, you should be okay.
5. Magazine Bottom
I cut the general shape out using a saw, and in order to cut out the inner section I used a chisel (Although it would be just as easy to use a scroll saw). I tried to attach it using dowel like earlier. I drilled the hole too small and cracked the wood in three directions. Always drill your holes big enough. In any case, it glued back together and is perfectly secure with wood glue only.
6. Mini Picatinny/Vent
Using sections of zip ties I was able to quickly make what looked like miniature picatinny rails or vents (It was not clear what this was supposed to be on the reference pictures so I went with what I thought would look best)
I made all of the holes using a drill and/or a Dremel tool. I found the bolts I would later attach and made countersunk holes for them to fit into. Some of them I drilled out so that the bolts could actually screw in, but for others I intended to cut the heads off the bolts and glue them on. Notice the holes along the top. These were made to fit the rails on to and they have wall-plugs in them so that the screws will fit very tightly and securely (the sight was expensive!). Interestingly, a f5 Dremel which isn't even branded outlived a f35 Dremel whose brand I shan't name.
8. Giant picatinny
This impressive feature was very easy to implement, I simply glued several chunks of rectangular wood. I had to ensure that they were perfectly straight, so with these kinds of task its important to measure beyond the millimetre when you mark on exactly how they will fit.
9. Metal Cylinder Features
These were simply small metal nuts I found in my "Bolts, etc" drawer. I didn't need to wait until later to attach them because they will be painted black like the things they rest on.
10. Adjustments to Rail Mount
Due to a huge stroke of good luck, my Grandad was throwing out part of an old BB gun, which happened to have a picatinny rail of exactly 2cm built into it. This meant that I could change the construction of the rail mount to much more securely hold the back up sight. It also meant I could use the rail to better support the badly glued rail, so I bolted it in two places so It was extremely solid. I also bolted the main rail together because it repeatedly fell apart and the sight relied on this section holding together.
11. Neatening the Inside (which I couldn't physically get to)
If you were to look down the barrel you would see an unsightly load of filler and protruding screws which held the gun together. My solution was to mix epoxy resin and filler (simply because filler is cheap and I have loads of it, unlike resin) and pour it in. This made a surface I didn't have to smooth, so it was ideal.
Step 11: Paint Preparation
This is the hardest part of the project. Your motivation is a major concern when it comes to tasks as repetitive and dull as this one, because it would be very easy for all your hard work to be rendered useless if you were to rush this step. I believe that this is by far the most important part because it will make or break your project (This step is the reason my dragon priest mask is so shiny!).
Begin by sanding. Using a low grit, get rid of all major imperfections, specifically ones that are to do with the shape of a part, and do not worry about pinholes in the surface yet. Using a small, flat piece of wood or plastic (I used leftover acrylic) to make a sanding block will be very useful for this step. It is not necessary to work through the grits yet, but if the grit you are using is making a lot of scratches then it would be wise to use a higher grit. There may be sections you need to fill too.
Once you are absolutely satisfied with the surface then its time to use a high build primer to eliminate all the tiny grains, scratches and pinholes you couldn't get out with sandpaper. Notice that the first picture looks good from afar but close-up it looks hairy and very incomplete. It's also perfectly acceptable to apply a coat of primer before you actually finish the initial sanding, because it can be very difficult to see edges and shapes when the entire model is either flat white or different intersecting shades of salmon and peach.
If you are still not satisfied with the shape of your model, use spot putty or just filler to clean up the model, and sand again. You may also want to apply further coats of high build primer.
There are alternatives to using primer to get out the pinholes, such as glazing putty, but this is the technique I'm most comfortable with. You will also need to prime the acrylic rails with plastic adhesion promoter for the best finish and durability of the paint. Once the surfaces are as perfect as you can get them, its time for a final coat of primer, which I actually used as the final finish.
Step 12: Paint
I was originally going to paint the gun green like in the concept art, but after the last coat of high build primer I realised how ace the yellow looked. Thinking about weathering all the creases of this magnificent yellow gun was keeping me up at night. I thought that since I'd already changed a lot about this gun I might as well go ahead and use this wonderful colour.
Matt Black Accessories:
These were almost entirely plastic so I began by using a Plasti-grip primer so the paint could better adhere to the surface. I then moved to a regular grey primer and finally to a matt black. This didn't work at first as the black set more glossy than I'd have liked, and this was due to the fact that the grey primer hadn't been sanded and it was quite glossy. To remedy this I simply sanded back to the grey primer and re-sprayed matt black, this time applying lighter coats so as to make sure I didn't end up with too glossy a finish.
Conveniently, the colour I really liked was my primer so I didn't have to paint anything else over this. I did, however, apply one final coat of the high-build to mask the areas where I'd sanded back to the white primer underneath (I went through a lot trying to get the wood grains out). I chose an off-black colour for the barrel-guards, magazine and stock things, since in reality few things are truly matt black, and I wanted a few darker shades to be able to play with when it came to weathering. Halfords conveniently had an ultra-matt "camouflage" colour which was the exact warm-shade of off-black I was looking for. It went on extremely well and gave a flawless matt finish, even a small run I had disappeared miraculously as it dried.
A little trick I learned from reading Harrison Krix's blog is to use a textured paint to create a rubberised look for handles, which also adds a lot of extra durability. I masked the surrounding areas and painted a coat of Plasti-kote textured paint before adding a light coat of matt black. The textured paint can take a while to dry but eventually it will become very tough, the best approach is to apply the minimum possible amount because too much and the drying time will be doubled.
Details and weathering:
A few areas needed to be black but weren't worth masking off to spray paint, so I painted them by hand. Again I went for slightly off-black so that I could darken bits. Now for the fun part - weathering. This time I went for a different approach than normal, since my top coat was actually primer it was super absorbent, so I used an airbrush rather than my normal technique of painting in the seams and using a cloth to rough it up. It was really enjoyable, and I would thoroughly recommend trying out a proper dual-action airbrush as it feels great to use. I used it to make all the areas which would be difficult to clean quickly appear dirty. Its important to think this way about your weathering, rather than weathering every last edge you need to consider how it would be treated by its owner in a real-life situation (or you just copy the reference images). I also used the airbrush to make some sort of drips in certain places such as under bolts or beneath the giant picatinny.
Now for the silvery bits around the edges that everyone loves. I simply used a silver Sharpie to do this, but what you'll notice is that I haven't done every single edge and I haven't gone too overboard. Because it's so fun and it so quickly puts a load of extra cool points on whatever object it is you're weathering, people often get carried away and seriously overdo this step. This effect simulates an area where paint has been knocked off, so if an area is partially covered by another part or is not sticking out in some way, don't feel the need to weather it. Consider what will be used the most, I put the most weathering on the magazine and barrel guards because the magazine will be constantly taken out and put back in, and the barrel guards are right at the front to take the brunt all of the various projectiles heading towards you.
Finally I lightened parts of the handle where it would naturally be gripped using some bone white acrylic and mixing it with various amounts of brown, then dabbing it on with a rag from the darkest colour to the lightest. Its necessary to weather some parts prior to assembly, such as under where your picatinny rails will be so the dirt appears to be collecting right in the seams. I would say though that final weathering should be done once the gun is mostly assembled so you can see exactly which bits should be weathered.
Step 13: Final Details
Most of this step was simply screwing in bolts, using a small amount of glue to fully secure them. Some had to be shortened with a hacksaw, others had to be entirely decapitated and glued into place. A good way to secure the bolts if they're slightly too loose is to wrap the thread in masking tape, of course this only applies to superficial bolts and would be a terrible idea if the bolts are holding something together.
Then there was the issue of the barrel and trigger which I had forgotten about. Since the trigger was almost impossible to see clearly in any of the reference pictures, I had no problem making it up entirely. As for the barrel, The plan was to just use some metal tubing I had lying around the garage and weather it to look greasy and darker towards the end, which I did using a can of black spray paint and a rag to rub it around the metal, giving a more organic pattern.
Step 14: Lessons
1. Superglue is a bad idea for anything which could come off. Always go for mechanical methods of holding something together. At the very least, use a proper glue such as Araldite.
2. Mechanically attach your components but make sure your holes are big enough. Although it might seem like a good idea at the time to make your holes for screws or dowel extra tight, if you force the screw or dowel in it could destroy the component from the inside out.
3. Always drill pilot holes.
4. Filler can be carved easily at a certain point as it is drying, and it's important to take advantage of this because it will save you lots of time.
5. Spend a long time getting your blueprints right because this will make the project significantly easier.
6. Filler has its purposes, and its important to avoid modelling with it or building large or straight sections out of filler. You can never sand something to be perfectly straight, so it's much wiser to use something which is already straight.
7. Fully mix modelling putty otherwise it won't dry. This is tricky when the hardener and base are the same colour, so go the extra mile to ensure its properly mixed.
8. Bulletproof plexiglass was cool and free to me, but its no easier to work with than steel. Regular acrylic is fine.
9. Sand with purpose. Its easy to get lost in thought and sand random places which will make it seem like the task will never end. The best course of action is to choose small areas at a time to focus your efforts on and only move once your chosen area is perfect.
10. If you aren't in the mood to do a project, leave it until another day. Working when you don't want to can lead to costly mistakes in my experience.