What is a DIY quadcopter?

| September 15, 2017
What is a DIY quadcopter?

A DIY quadcopter is a quad you build at home, using readily available and/or home-made components. The upside of building a DIY quad is that you will feel it’s really yours, you get all the recognition for it. The downside is that it takes time, effort, and has a chance of failure too. Building a quadcopter is something you have to learn, start small, and work your way up to larger and more complex projects.

To build a DIY quadcopter you will need basic electronic and soldering skills. If you do not have these you can either take your time and develop these skills, or just buy a ready made quadcopter – in this case we have quite a few reviews you may want to check 🙂

If you think you have all the required skill you may want to read our “How to build a quadcopter?” article. There’s more than one way to skin a cat – read on to learn a few more.

There are differences between DIY and DIY quadcopters

,depending on how much you want to do yourself.

QAV 250 ARF kit parts laid out.
The “easiest” is to get an ARF kit

and put it together yourself. Putting together an almost-ready-to-fly kit still requires considerable skills,as you will have solder, screw and possibly glue it together yourself. Usingan ARF kit is a great idea to get started, as this requires the least amount of work, and you’ll get well balanced components for your quadcopter. Skip FPV or camera if you are just starting out.

ARF kits are available from quite a few vendors, for example Amazon sells a lot of different ARF kits. Make sure you double check the ratings, as some kits can contain low quality parts.

The next step could be to choose the parts yourself.

Only choose the parts yourself if you are already familiar with sizing the quadrotor’s parts. Even though there is some wiggle room, in the end the parts have to be in balance. For example choosing a too large battery could result in a lower flight time, as the larger battery’s added weight counteracts the added capacity.

If you choose the parts yourself the safest is to start from a prove design, and exchange the motors, propellers, ESC and flight controller to a higher quality version. Building a small (size 250) quad is probably better than building a larger one, as the smaller quads are more fun to fly. Choose a large quad if you’d like to lift something heavy.

To validate you parts, check the quadcopter Calculator over at ecalc.ch.

Next you could build a DIY FPV quadcopter, or one with a camera

if that’s what interests you. Do this only if you already have some flying skills – crashing with a camera on will probably cost you more than crashing a simple quadcopter. You can add the FPV gear later to your existing quad too, as you can easily get the goggles and receiver and the camera set online.Adding FPV to an existing quad will reduce the flight time, so you might need more batteries too.

John Leach’s aluminum framed quadcopter.
Building even more parts at home – the frame

The frame is probably the part you have the best chance to build at home.First you should choose your building material.

To build your own frame you should choose to make it out of a material you are already familiar with. The most common materials for building a quadframe are carbon fiber, aluminum, wood, and plastic. You could even choose to build a frame out of Lego pieces. Just please do not choose a dead cat, that’s gross. The frame has to be both light and strong.My favorite designs:

A repurposed CD-ROM motor.
Wind your own motor

Winding your own quadcopter motor is something that’s possible to doat home – even there is not much point. Still, if you wind your own you have complete control over your motor’s behavior: you can wind it to make a fast or slow motor, you can use high quality ball bearing to improve it’s lifetime or thicker wires to make it work with higher current. Wattflyer.com has a detailed PDF on building your own motor out of a CD-ROM drive motor. Larger motor shave the same structure, so you can learn a lot from this PDF. Fly Electric has even more DIY motor information.

The BlueESC.
Build your own ESC

Designing and building an ESC at home is again something that’s doable, though it’sa lot harder than just winding your own motor. You will need deep electronics knowledge, control theory,PCB manufacturing, soldering and programming skills to build your own.Fortunately there are quite a few designs and articles circulating on building an ESC, for example the VESC project, the BlueESC, or theOpen-BLDC. To design and build your own ESC, the best idea would be to check out the existing designs and get involved in the community to learn more about the subject. In the end it’s probably a lot easier just to buy a SimonK ESC – you’ll get up in the air faster, and getting are placement will be easier too would something go wrong.

The CC3D flight controller – schematics are available online.
Make your own flight controller

Designing and building your own flight controller is even harder than building your own ESC – the complexity of the algorithms used, the number of inputs and outputs are a lot higher. Still, for hobbyists with the appropriate education it’s not out of reach, as the most successful flight controllers all started as an open source project. Flight controllers consist of two loosely coupled parts, the software and the hardware. For example both LibrePilotand Cleanflight can run on the commercially available CC3D flight controllers. The CC3D’s schematics are open source too, and are available for download.

Conclusion

Making a DIY quadcopter can be a lot of fun, it’s great to see a project coming along, and getting up in the air. Depending on your interests and skill level you can choose to put an ARF kit together, or go hardcore and build your own frame and wind your own motors too. Choose wisely and start small, take your time to build up the skills necessary for larger projects.

Have fun building!
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