Building a functioning R2-D2 as a Wedding Gift

By Ryan Ducki

I have always been fascinated with fictional lore as well as the art of building, and every so often life conjures up an opportunity for the two to become one.  The opportunity came up recently to create something for my wife that I would give to her at our wedding.  Something she would never forget.  I built her a functioning astromech droid, more specifically, R2-D2.  I won’t get into the symbolic reasons, but I will describe the journey.

It of course began with a great deal of planning, but I was fortunate that many have built R2-D2 droids in the past.  Many have asked if it was a kit.  There is no kit for a life size R2-D2 because there are many ways to go about building one, but what there is, is guidance.  The world is filled with R2-D2 builders that have succeeded in constructing the droid and have posted what worked and what didn’t. I spent a great deal of time studying the droid on the big screen and compiled my research with ideas and specifications from forums on the internet essentially piecing together my own modified kit that fit my skill level.  I proceeded with what I knew.

The frame, legs, and shoulders are mostly plywood that I had left over from the kitchen cabinets I built a couple summers ago.   I free cut the pieces of the frame with a jigsaw.  I used the same method for the legs and shoulders and thru-bolted them to the frame for extra stability.

I built as much out of wood as possible because it is what I am most comfortable working with but if this droid was going to look the part, it needed some metal.  Metal work is something I am slowly getting into thanks to one of my friends who is actually building a street legal car, but that is a little more advanced than the metal of R2.  Aside from a few pieces, most of the metal in this project I was able to have laser cut, 3D printed, or find.  For example the neck is actually the base of a lazy susan which is how the head can rotate and the skins are sheets of aluminum laser etched and wrapped around the wooden frame.

It wasn’t long into the process when R2 started to take form.  Once it was painted, it was almost shocking, I mean “R2-D2 was in my garage!”  The second major challenge came in figuring out how I was going to bring it to life.  I had visions but I have to give credit to my friend for the programming of R2.  Together we got the scooter motors power and with a little trial and error I was able to surprise my wife with her very own astromech droid, complete with sounds, motion, and a CPU with the ability to upgrade.  The sky’s the limit, unless of course it co-pilots an x-wing someday.

May the force be with you… always.