Custom plastic parts for Multirotor scratch builds

by onemoreflite (John Michaels) | October 28, 2013 | (19) Posted in Tips

I get asked a lot where I get the plastic parts I use in my multicopters; so here is a little snapshot of some of my builds using these parts.

The problem with fabricating anything from plastic is that when you bend it, it fatigues as well as springs back to a certain degree. 

A cheap way to make very lightweight, strong, and customized plastic parts for multirotors is to use a plastic crate which has pre-formed angles all over it, you just need to visualize the parts that can be cut out of it. I got one from Staples that had various angles and dimensions that would work well for my applications.

 I cut legs for my multicopters because the standard plywood legs are wide and don't fit truly snug against the arm (these have a narrow profile instead, have a 90 degree angle built in and do not wobble when taking off or landing). Also, in a crash, or way too hard of a landing, they break at the perfect place thereby leaving the zip tied head intact (one issue with a simple plywood leg is that when it rips the zip ties off, it displaces adjacent wires, etc. as well)



I even put one under the frame by cutting the vertical leg off and mounting it flat to the bottom so that if I land to hard (or crash) it will hit first and keep the battery safe (as you can see from the dirt on it, it definitely has helped on hard landings). This extra leg also allows the Tricopter to sit when folded.

You can create really any kind of item needed quickly. Here is a protector I made for the Naza using the pre-molded 90 degree angles, it is super strong.

I use the plastic crate parts for protecting all of my flight control boards. Sometimes a template makes it easier to evaluate what part of the crate will work best.

Notice on the Tricopter, the pieces work great in order to still let you reach the KK2 board buttons, as well as on the mini quad.


Also on the quad you can see several other parts used for LED placement as well as for propeller protection.

The prop guard (or body) is simlpy 2 sheets of Elmers posterboard laminated together with spray adhesive. It's held on with rubber bands so it can be removed if i need to put 8" slowfly props on to carry heavier things (GoPro, water balloons, etc.). The typical props I use with the guard on are HD 7x3.5 which make this quad crazy fast (these are 20 gram 2000kv motors).

I've learned when using a body to protect the props, that you have to put the front green lights above the body so that when your pitching forward the light is seen from above, similar on the rear LEDs, that they be under the body so that when flying away from yourself (pitching forward) they can be seen and not covered up by the angle of the body.

I've snapped multicopter booms before (even on a 650mm) and used two small plastics angles and a couple of zip ties to splint it back together again, and allowed me to fly the rest of the day without having to go home and do an hour long boom replacement (which i eventually did the next day for the long term of course)

Zip ties are your best friend. Always keep a bag of various sized zip ties, a pair of needle nose pliers and a pair of cutters in your flying bag that goes with you when you fly.


Other uses for these plastic items include my FPV pod. My fpv pod looks overly complicated, but the reason i have every component on different brackets is so they can be swapped out with different components easily without affecting the overall structure of the pod. For example, I can swap out the CCD camera for the GoPro, or swap out a different transmitter for a more powerful one by just cutting the two zip ties that hold it's bracket to the pod, or even just snip the zip ties that hold it to the bracket and leave the bracket to mount the new one. Or swapping out antennas, same idea, i even have a pan/tilt bracket that uses the same holes that the camera bracket currently uses that can be swapped with just 2 zip ties. Notice the larger , removable, zip tie (along with velcro ) that holds the pod securely to the camera/battery tray.  This also allows me to instantly remove the FPV pod and stick it on another copter/plane in seconds.


Zip ties really are your best friend! If you hadn't noticed, I zip tie everything in place, or at least so no items are dangling or wobbling at all. I've learned my lessons over the years that when something goes wrong, it usually snowballs because other items get torn off. case in point, I had a tricopter arm slightly fold back a few inches, while in flight, which by itself was fine and the copter was able to be flown back, until it folded a little bit more and pulled on one of the esc wires (which had excess that was hanging loose and flopping around) going to the board, which cut communication to the motor. you know what happened from there...


Nylon screws and nuts are great as well because they are much much lighter than metal and still very strong. They do not vibrate loose like metal. And heaven forbid you have a very bad crash, they may separate  and take some of that energy, although i have had many crashes and have yet to break or strip one.
Also they are cheap at your local hardware store (i get mine at Busy Beaver) and the variety is huge, as well as the variety of standoffs, gaskets, tubes, wing nuts, washers, etc.

Here is my Naza H-quad (based on ycopter's YQ2 design, with various plastic parts used in many places; FC protector, legs, LED unit bracket, CCD camera bracket, receiver/antenna bracket, etc.

Other building tips to note;
When building DIY wood frames, the most important joint is the intersection of the booms at the center. Make sure you do a full lap joint and epoxy the joint fully ( i always mechanically fasten it as well), this will assure that the booms won't twist, causing you to lose yaw authority)

Bomb drop anyone...

Another couple issues I have in my RC life are; one, models getting damaged and destroyed during transport as well as being stored in the garage , and two, having minimal time to fly (usually only 15-25 minutes at a time, on the way to/from work/lunchtime) means setup and breakdown time must be minimized.  My solution to all this is custom carriers that protect while storing all necessary items for quick setup.

I use computer boxes, zip ties, hot glue, pool noodles, and practical imagination!

Notice the props, prop savers, and install tool are instantly accessible and stored. I can pull into a parking lot/park/field and be flying in less than 2 minutes...

For the Large Quad/Tricopter box; I have different pool noodles setup to accept different multirotors and equipment. I simply choose what i will be flying that day, and swap -out equipment in the box. Now i only have one box to quickly put in the car in the morning and take out when i get home (believe me, when you have four kids under 8 yrs old, every extra minute you can save counts!)


The EPP planes take the most beating from the kids (but my 7 year old loves to fly them!)


Shout out to Robert Viskil (aka tallguysd, tallflyer) for plans for this awesome 3D plane, it's the most fun to fly of all my models!

I hope you've learned something new or at least taken away a few ideas to try yourself!


hobosbazzoka on November 3, 2013
What thickness Plywood would you recommend for a scratch built tricopter (or the thickness you are using)?
Very detailed article thanks for spending the time to put this up here
- Ryan
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onemoreflite (John Michaels) on November 3, 2013
For the tricopter I use 1/4" underlayment plywood (which actually measures 3/16” thick) from Lowes for the main body plates and 1/8” hobby plywood (actually measures 3/32”) from Michaels’ Craft store for the camera/battery tray. I would suggest that anything less than 3/16” thick for the body plates would flex too much, but the 3/16” is totally rigid given that the plates are so small (some may say this is too heavy, but I make up for the extra weight by using all lightweight nylon hardware) this thickness has worked great for me. Whatever you use, just make sure that when the arms are fully extended that the body doesn’t flex when you put vertical pressure on the ends of the arms.
I’ve even used 1/16” hobby plywood for the battery tray without a problem because the piece is not that wide.

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johanjonker on November 3, 2013
Packing a tricopter or any thing like you really shows how much you care about your models.. I honestly just dont have the space to box them.

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onemoreflite (John Michaels) on November 3, 2013
It was born out of necessity after the kids kept throwing their backpacks in the car right on top of the models, but now I don’t have to worry…
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tallflyer on November 4, 2013

I just saw your post with the Superslo28 Carry Box :) amazing idea. you think more mfr's would make a lightweight carry bag for Park flyers or foamies, again thanks for sharing

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onemoreflite (John Michaels) on November 4, 2013
Thanks Robert,
You're right. I would easily pay for a reasonably priced pre-molded polystyrene case that would fit my epp planes.
By the way, I'm a huge fan of yours! You have great plane and graphic designs!
I'm thinking about investing in an airbrush system... what are your thoughts?
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tallflyer on November 6, 2013
I bought the my compressor from Harbor freight and the airbrush is from or friends at Hobby King the whole bundle can be bought for under $100.

Now if you want to step up your design making and create some cool airbush stencils
The Silhouette Cameo Electronic Cutting Tool will make you look like a pro

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onemoreflite (John Michaels) on November 6, 2013
Thanks for the info. I was thinking of Harbor Freight...
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RoyBro on November 4, 2013
Wow, imagination goes a long way. I never thought of using a plastic milk crate to cut out parts. I'll have to see if I have one laying around. I don't think I've used one since storing my record albums. ;)
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onemoreflite (John Michaels) on November 4, 2013
I enjoy making things out of household items (for example, those skinny black coffee stirrers work great for very lightweight push rod sleeves, or for pull/pull control surface string guides). I saw that crate sitting there one day and a light bulb went off, pre-formed angle brackets of some kind...
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onemoreflite (John Michaels) on November 4, 2013
I've always had a knack for looking at something and imagining what could be and visualizing the end results...
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sailorJohn on November 4, 2013
Pure pleasure to see someone using his imagination in stead of running out to buy something.

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earthsciteach on November 4, 2013
I love your creativeness when it comes to cheap! Thanks for posting.
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tsbanking on November 4, 2013
Now this is scratch building!
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DigitalRambler on November 5, 2013
This article is FULL OF WIN!!
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Navet97 on January 6, 2014
Awesome! I'm really having a block in my creativity right now. I'd like to create a pod for FPV just like the one above and with the same functionality. The pictures for the pod here are pretty detailed, but is there away I can get individual pictures of the setup or each module?

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onemoreflite (John Michaels) on January 7, 2014
sure, let me look through my pictures or worse case scenario i can write it out for you...
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Navet97 on January 7, 2014
Thanks I'll be looking forward to it!
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dharkless on March 25, 2015
Great ingenuity. So many complicated applications from simple resources. The possibilities are endless and you have really started the wheels rolling. Thanks for sharing.
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onemoreflite (John Michaels) on March 25, 2015
Thanks. I'm glad that others can take away something from this article. I just love when i can (or see others) think outside the box and re-purpose something for a different application. My wife always asks me, when I randomly concentrate on some object or product, "what are you staring at?", i just tell her that i'm not concentrating on the thing i see, i'm concentrating on what else this thing could be, lol.
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Custom plastic parts for Multirotor scratch builds