steampunk airship


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).


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.


Attaching the planks…


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


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


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.


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.


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


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


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…


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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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


A different view.


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.


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.


Lit up.


Happy Mardi Gras!

Comments are closed.