Greetings! My name is Steve Satak, and I'm going to show you some new modifications you can make to your Warhammer:40K vehicles that can really add zip to the game! I come from Poulsbo, Washington, which is a little town across the water from Seattle, the land of Microsoft and Wizards of The Coast.
Around here, gaming is big. Very big. We have over twenty-five gaming shops in a twenty-mile radius. One of the most popular games here is Warhammer:40K, and I got into building and painting the tank models back in 1996. It so happens that one of my other hobbies is electronics, and I decided to see if I could install some lights and sound effects in my first Leman Russ. It turned out to be very popular at the local gaming shop (Discordia Games), and I never looked back.
I have equipped over twenty-six vehicles with everything from strobes to firing guns to lasers, and they are talk of the shop wherever they go! But the fact is, even simple headlights will improve your tanks looks, and you don't have to be an expert at electronics to install them.
Why Add Special Effects?
Well, they look cool. It a s fun to add lights and sound to your tank, and should you wish to trade or sell your army, the special effects add to its value. That said, what is available?
The simplest additions are light bulbs and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Next up are flashing or sequencing lights, generally run by a chip and a few support components. These are easy to build and very small.
After that, things get really interesting. Most of the really cool effects are complex and would take a lot of time and money if you had to build them from scratch - if you could do it at all! But you don't have to, because the toy companies have done it for you. Toys and things like disposable cameras are the ideal source for your upgrade. The hard part has already been done, and in most cases, the circuit board is simple, small and uses three to six volts to operate.
For example, a typical space gun toy can yield an interesting “zap!” sound and drive an LED - perfect for a lascannon. Another gun toy with a firing sound is perfect for heavy bolters. A toy monster produces an earthshaking roar - wouldn't it sound better coming from your Chaos Predator?
Still another toy yields an explosion , and that disposable camera has a perfectly good strobe inside - so there is your battlecannon flash with sound!
Now, it's true that the best places to get gun-type electronic toys are mostly in the United States (at least, I saw very few for sale when I visited Hong Kong and Australia). However, popular Star Trek or Star Wars toys will also give you very nice sound effects at a reasonable price.
If you can't find the right sound board, or you want a voice, there are several toy digital voice recorders on the market which are perfect for your tank.
A laser pointer can now be had for under US$10, and when installed in a battlecannon or other gun, is just the thing for putting your target on the hot seat!
The most desirable sound effects are the kind that can be retriggered over and over, as fast as you push the button. That way, you can take a single-shot sound and trigger it over and over with a timer for a machine-gun or heavy cannon effect.
The FX and Where I Got Them
I used a gearhead motor to rotate the sensor array. The gearhead motor is a small motor with a miniature transmission attached to one end. It came from a broken camcorder, where it was used to rotate and focus the lens. It turns about 20 rpm at 3 volts. The gearhead motor was already removed from the camcorder.
The cannon flash came from a disposable camera, which I easily got at a local photo developer a s shop. They throw the camera away after removing the film and the battery, so I just asked a couple of them if they would save these cameras for me. The strobe must be removed from the camera body, so I took an insulated screwdriver and shorted out the camera’s capacitor so I wouldn’t get shocked. Then, I carefully removed the circuit board and flash tube, labelling things like trigger and battery wires.
My cannon flash is accompanied by the sound of an explosion. I got this from a toy revolver whose circuit board gives a loud kaboom! when you pull the trigger. In addition, this circuit board gave a “ka-chick” cocking sound when you pull the hammer back. I used this, along with a 555 timer, to create a rapid-fire sound effect for the storm bolter. I took the screws out of the toy revolver, removed the circuit board and again labelled battery wires and so forth.
Stage One: Preparing the Model
For starters, I glued the hull together, very well, in the stretched-out version. This gave me about another quarter inch of space inside, which is important. Then I proceeded to make some serious modifications, in the following order:
- I drilled and cut out the hull sides for storage space. There’s a lot of it between the inside of the hull and the outside of the track assembly, perfecting for tucking away circuit boards, switches and batteries.
- I marked and drilled the holes in the metal plates and plastic hull for the beacon motor. This was tough. The gearhead motor had to project up into the metal plates so that it cleared the bottom of the hull. I aligned it so the shaft protrudes through the original sensor head mounting hole. After trimming the metal plates, I glued them in place, checked the motor’s position to align the shaft properly, then drilled the holes and enlarged them with a Dremel motor tool until the gearhead motor slipped into place.
- Next, I drilled out the Demolisher cannon barrel so I could mount the strobe inside. I also drilled a hole in the glacis plate behind the gun barrel to allow the strobe’s wiring to pass through to the inside of the hull.
- I drilled out the hole for the charge light. This went in the aft top metal hull plate, just forward of the two ventilator fans.
- I cut and added two plastic strips to the access panel door on the bottom of the hull so screws could be installed. Then I drilled small holes in the centre of the door to make a sort of speaker grill. I used a pin vise to drill holes for screws at the four corners of the door, and installed the door with screws, then removed them and set the door aside.
- I mounted the switches at the back of the right hull track section. Three pushbuttons were mounted to the outside of the hull track section, and the slide switch was mounted on the inside.
- Next, I assembled the storm bolter, minus the handles. Using a pin vise and a very small bit, I bored three holes into the body, then threaded three tiny wires through from front to back. I then glued two micro LEDs to the ends of the barrels, and soldered them to the wiring. Then I glued the bolter handles onto the wiring coming out of the back of the gun.
- I put epoxy in one of the tank’s storage boxes and let it harden. After drilling it out, the box covers the protruding sensor head on/off switch. This way, I can slide the box up and down when I want to activate the sensor head. I then glued the left track piece to the hull.
Stage Two: Preparing the Electronics
The circuit boards I used all run from 3 volts. I soldered the power wires directly to the batteries to save space and increase reliability. I took care to use the minimum heat necessary to ensure a good solder connection, to avoid frying the IC chips and batteries. Modifying the electronics went as follows:
I began by putting new wiring in the strobe. Making sure the capacitor was discharged, I removed the existing wires and replaced them with coloured wires of my own. I wrote down what colour wire was the battery supply, the strobe trigger, the charge light leads, etc.
I test-fitted the strobe board in the hull, and then soldered the wires to the flash tube, stripping and wrapping one of the wires around the tube in a spiral.
Next, I built the 555 timer circuit with socket and transistor and tested it with the sound board for the best sound quality - a rapid fire effect. I soldered the base lead of a 2N2222 NPN transistor to pin 3 of the timer chip to drive the LEDs in the storm bolter.
I then turned my attention to the sound board. It was relatively simple - make sure the power and speaker leads were long and the storm bolter sound trigger wire was connected to Pin 3 of the timer chip. The cannon sound trigger wire went to one of two ganged pushbuttons, so the sound and flash go off simultaneously. I linked the sound board and 555 so they share the same power supply.
Last, I cut the motor shaft and modified it for attachment to the sensor head. I drilled a hole in the bottom of the sensor head for the shaft. After test-fitting the motor in the metal hull plates, I soldered long wires to the motor.
This is the point when I decided which components and batteries went where in the tank hull. I carefully test-fit each one until they were all inside the hull. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of insulating the strobe board and its related components from accidental contact with batteries and other parts, including fingers and wiring. I used shrink tubing to cover all the bare wiring joints, as well as the ends of the flash tube and the charge indicator lamp.
Stage Three: Final Assembly
Final assembly required a moderate amount of patience and attention to detail. I took particular care to make sure the wiring was as short as possible in order to reduce the amount of clutter inside the hull once everything was installed. Step by step, I assembled this mess into a model!
- I installed the Storm Bolter and ran the wires down through a hole in the metal plate into the hull.
- I installed the gearhead motor and attached the sensor head. This unit is powered by the same 3 volt lithium battery that supplies the strobe.
- Next, I fit the strobe board in the back of the hull and the flash tube in the cannon barrel. Using a plastic strip as a stand-off, I glued the flash tube to the inside of the cannon barrel, making sure the flash tube did NOT touch the side of the barrel or protrude from the outer end! Then I glued the charge light in its mounting hole.
- After soldering the flash tube wires to the strobe board, I tacked these wires to the inside of the hull to keep them out of the way. I then soldered the remaining wires to the battery, switches, charge light, etc., and ran a test on it. This is where I would find out if anything has been shorted or hooked up wrong. Once the system test was a success, I discharged the capacitor again with an insulated screwdriver and glued the strobe circuit board in place.
- I installed the sound board and timer. These fit in the left side of the hull, just forward of the strobe capacitor. Connecting the wires to the switches and storm bolter wiring, I also tested this unit, then tacked the boards in place with a drop of glue. The sound board and timer are powered by two AAA batteries connected in series to give me 3 volts.
- After shortening each switch wire as much as possible and soldering it to the respective switch, I glued the right hand outer track piece to the hull. I checked the inside of the model for interference and tucked any offending wires out of the way as best I could. I had to tack a couple of wires to the inside of the hull with a drop of glue.
- Double-checking the inside of the tank for sufficient battery clearance, I test-fit the batteries one more time, this time adding the speaker, which sits right in the centre of the access opening, flush with the opening. The speaker has leads long enough to allow me to move it out of the way to get at the batteries.
- Last, I soldered the batteries to the appropriate power wires and tucked them into the hull. I soldered the speaker to its wires, put it in the hull, and screwed the access door shut. Then I ran a final test of all the systems to make sure everything still worked!
Stage Four: Wrapping It Up
Next, I attached the plastic bits. I replaced the antennae with wire (so they wouldn’t break), and put the exhaust stacks on top of the tracks.
I then modified the remaining optional parts for “Plug a n a Play” and checked for interference. “Plug ‘n’ Play” is my name for the simple process of putting a small metal pin or two in the bottom of the rocket launcher, spotlight, etc, which then plugs into a corresponding hole I drill in the tank. This allows me to mount or remove the part as I need it.
Last, I masked the tank’s LEDs, charge light and flash tube and primered the whole thing black.
Stage Five: Operational Notes
So I removed the sound board “BOOM” trigger.
The timer which triggers the storm bolter firing sound requires some careful adjustment to fire rapidly without swamping the sound board input and causing asynchronous bursts. Use either a tantalum or electrolytic capacitor to avoid temperature variations.
Otherwise, this tank was very satisfying and operates well over a long period of time