Saturday, October 20, 2012

Vortex Manipulator, Part 2

When last we saw our intrepid inventor, I had just finished the basic structure of the manipulator itself. But I'm not exactly going to keep it in my wallet, now am I? The Jack Harkness model is built into a leather bracer that buckles on the inside of his wrist, as seen in the screenshots last time. So I had to make one of those.

I started with some faux leather that A and I picked up for costume and an eventual ill-fated vest experiment. It was too dark and a little dodgy, but I cut everything out and tested my snaps in it before I decided to bin that version and start over in actual leather. Years ago, I had purchased Ye Olde Bagge of Leather Scraps at aa hobby store and it has just rode along in my craft stuff, waiting for me to blossom into a found-object-jewelry-making genius. Instead, it went into a sci-fi prop.

Ignore the gift card for right now. That mistake comes later.

I found a few pieces of a matching glossy leather, thin enough to be easily workable and large enough to get all of my pieces out of. There are three pieces here: The bracer is 7" by 3.5" and has two slots cut into it to accept the strap. The other two are 3.5" square and one holds the Manipulator and the other serves as a cover that snaps on over it. A final leather piece is the strap itself which is a $1 fashion belt from a thrift store that kinda sorta matches the leather tone of the rest of the assembly. I cut that one short and punched new holes in it to accept multiple sizes of wrist. I advise punching holes very late in the process as you do not want to punch all the holes and cut it to length to find out there's a problem... Ahem. (Mistake #3)

I lined the bracer with the dark pleather and stitched them on the sewing machine. For a consistent look, I also edge stitched all the leather panels to match. The plan was to take one of the gift card templates, drill a number of holes in it, and use that as a secure backing to which I attach my Manipulator:

With holes spaced outside the base, I'd have a solid object to stitch everything down to that wouldn't stretch or get weird. Using this piece as a guide, I used a thumbtack to poke corresponding holes in my leather and laced everything together. It pulled taut and everything went great! Merry Christmas! Wait, no, it was weird and everything looked strange.

Not cool. So that part didn't work out. So I snipped all the threads and started over with poking holes directly to the bracer part and stitched it on. That worked better on the "no weird rectangle" front, but got a little hinkier on the stitching end. 6 of one, etc...

With the enclosure sorted, it was time to finish the Manipulator (which could have easily been done first, but I wanted to figure out the leather work early rather than have it catch me closer to the due date on the prop). First up was drybrushing copper paint on the "grill", painting the underside of the dummy LED blue so it reads as tinted blue at certain angles, and painting the interior of the "viewscreen" blue as well. I intended to snip a bit of clear acrylic sheet to size and frost the backside, but then I remembered one of the fake credit cards in my gift card collection: A clear blue number from Discover that has little circles printed on one side. I snipped out one of the bubbles with scissors and fit it into the viewfinder frame. This is perhaps the biggest "Oh, really, Mr. Build-It-From-Scratch? A fake Discover card from mail offers from a few years ago?" For that, I apologize. It always drives me nuts when I'm reading someone's progress shots and it turns out the perfect gubbin is a drive gear from a laser printer made in England in 1983. If you really want this piece for your own build, send me a SASE and I'll snip out one and mail it to you, free of charge. It really does work for the little screen.

The buttons themselves are Sculpy formed over styrene cutouts from previous parts of the build. I am led to believe that the main button on the screen prop is actually from a discontinued model of Erickson mobile phone, but I wasn't about to double the cost of the project and snap one up on Ebay. So I baked the buttons, sanded them to shape, and drew on the arrows with puffy paint. Under the primer and silver paint, it works well enough for my purposes. The Version Two will have custom-3D-printed buttons from Shapeways, and everyone will rejoice.

Antique Brass Mini Anorak Snaps were installed in the corners all the way through the bracer both to reinforce the snap sites and also to hold down the corners of the Manipulator enclosure. Probably my largest departure from the screen prop is my cover layer: The screen prop has an extruded bubble to fit snugly over the Manipulator with a smaller bubble over the raised viewfinder. I've thought long and hard as how to make this cover more screen-accurate, but outside of shaping the leather over a mold to set it into a shape (which is way beyond my skills at the moment), I'm at a loss. Anyone with more leather skills is welcome to offer some advice.

Once those buttons were painted seperately and glued in, everything got another Black FutureWash to tie it all together and some glamour shots were taken in costume. I'm afraid the rest of my Jack Harkness outfit will have to wait until the Halloween party next week, but I'll go ahead and wrap up this post with some more pics of the Manipulator. Go ahead and ask any questions you have about my process and let me know if you need more dimensions on the plans I offered back in Part 1. Thanks for making it to the end! If you want to see it in person, you'll just have to crash the party in Chicago next week.

Final Vortex Manipulator


  1. This is fantastic! How much would it cost to buy one from you?

  2. That's an excellent question. I hadn't built the original with intent to sell, but I can have a look and see what it would take to make another. Send me an email at with a date for when you'd like one and I'll see if we can work something out.

  3. Is it possible to use the leather bracer part as a holder for your phone? I'd actually like to have my phone on my wrist and pretend it's something much cooler.