steampunk airship

02.24.2016

For Mardi Gras this year (2016), we built a steampunk pirate airship that doubled as our liquor cart for the Chewbacchus parade.  The internet was pretty sparse on steampunk airship how-to’s, so we figured we’d document our travails and post them here in pictorial format.  Enjoy.

We started with the dirigible frame.  The long ribs are 1/2″ white PVC, the connectors are 1/2″ 3- and 4-way joints, and the radial rings are 1/2″ clear plastic tubing.  We eventually replaced four of the joints with 5-way connectors to attach to the boat’s vertical supports (shown later).

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Then we moved on to the boat.  The base is a 4′ x 6′ piece of plywood.  The vertical supports are 2×4’s and 2×2’s, attached to the base with wood screws.  The siding is just some cheap wood paneling, attached to the vertical supports with long staples (via a staple gun).  We bolted four 8″ pneumatic wheels with casters (2 swivels at the front, 2 fixed at the rear) to the base, which you’ll see later.

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Attaching the planks…

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We chose thin panels for the siding, bent them to shape and stapled them into place.

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The vertical posts are more 1/2″ PVC, which will eventually be lashed to the boat’s wood supports.

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For the nose, we used a few pieces of prefabbed styrofoam, attached together with Gorilla Glue and (later) spray-painted brass.  We poked 6 holes in the outer ring, and lashed the whole thing to the front of the dirigible with zip-ties.

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After further consideration, we decided to add a fifth radial ring at the center to give the dirigible some extra width.  Here’s the result.

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We then taped all the joints of the dirigible with transparent duct tape, which proved very sturdy (and more forgiving/reusable than glue).

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We cut the fins and rear propeller from 1/8″ balsa wood.

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For the dirigible canvas we used a lightweight waterproof drop cloth.  It has a waterproof interior (in case of rain), a canvas exterior (for appearance), and was light enough to keep the weight to a minimum.  It was also pretty cheap.  After cutting the shape, we sewed the edges to prevent fraying…

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…and affixed velcro strips to pull it together around the dirigible frame.

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Now for some stenciling.  We printed out the logo, cut it out, and spray-painted it black.  We tried to keep it a little imprecise for effect.

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With the dirigible frame in place, we built a simple platform for our internal accessories (lights, and perhaps later, a fog machine).

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The rear vent-piece is just cardboard with holes cut into it, spray-painted black.  We used zip-ties to affix it to the frame, just like the nose.

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Then we attached the propeller to the vent-piece with a nail and some tape, to allow the propeller to spin.

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Lights!  We used some battery-powered bright white Christmas lights (6′ strands), as well as some under-cabinet battery-powered kitchen lights.

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We attached more strands of Christmas lights around the base (which as you can see we spray-painted black).  The figurehead is an octopus, of course – nailed to the bow and adorned with steampunk trinkets.  The handle, which we used to drag the contraption, is made of two pieces of 1/2″ PVC connected at a T-joint, wrapped in black electrical tape, and attached to the base with hemp.

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The netting was the finishing touch, tied to the boat with twine, with beads for ballast.

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A different view.

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We cheated with the name – we wanted to get a cool pirate font, but didn’t want to cut out such a complex stencil.  So we just printed it on some clear labels we had lying around.  The clouds are cotton balls, glued to the base.

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Ready to rumble…after a few last-minute staples.  The payload: emergency supplies, throws for the parade, and a few gallons of sangria.  We mounted an electric lantern on the inside of the bow for internal lighting, and a bluetooth speaker for music.

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Lit up.

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Happy Mardi Gras!



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