When building a laser tag gun, selecting a suitable case or shell is critical. The choice of case will go a long way in controlling how easy or difficult the build is, and how it works in game. This article is intended to help you think about what case to get and find one that you are happy with.
- Space - will there be enough space for the internal components?
- Battery access - does the shell come with a built-in battery pack or will one need to be added?
- Durability- is it going to hold up to being dropped and knocked about in game?
- Size and weight - is it going to be comfortable/easy to carry for long periods, will you be able to run with it?
- Cost - how expensive is the shell?
- Transport and storage - are you going to be able to transport it easily between games?
- Aesthetics - do you like the style?
There are three main options for shells currently:
- Airsoft guns
- Toy (Nerf/SuperSoaker/etc.) guns
- Custom made
Airsoft guns are the most realistics looking, and are usually pretty sturdy. If you want a 'real' gun design such as G36 or P90, this will likely be your only option. They can be quite expensive to buy though, and if you want one that's not painted in bright garish colours as required by UK law, you will need a UKARA license in order to legally purchase one.
IMPORTANT: Buying a two-tone airsoft gun and repainting it yourself is illegal. Do not repaint an airsoft gun yourself.
Toy guns come in a very wide range of shapes and sizes. Some of the best example are Nerf and supersoaker type guns, which are generally reasonably sturdy and relatively cheap. They usually have a pretty good amount of space inside them to fit the various parts needed for the circuit. Repainting toy guns is something of a grey area - do so at your own risk.
Custom made shells can be very difficult to come by, but if you do manage to find one, or you know how to do it yourself, then you can do pretty much whatever you want. The factors for these will entirely depend on the specific shell in question.
Points to Consider
#1 - Space
Availability of space inside the shell is probably the most important point to consider when building a toy, but is very hard to actually determine without buying one and taking it apart.
The largest component within a toy will be the battery pack, which needs to be large enough to supply at least 5V to the circuit. This means that you will need either space for 4 non-rechargeables (1.5V) or 6 rechargeable batteries (1.2V). If the shell you are using was originally electrical itself (i.e. powered nerf gun, or electric airsoft) then you will likely have a suitable area for this already built into the shell, which can really help.
My current circuit design is still unfortunately somewhat larger than I would hope, which makes it impossible to fit inside some shells. At present, it is only possible to fit it inside rifle size shells - a suitable design for pistols is still being worked on.
The final 'large' component in the gun is the speaker - larger speakers generally provide better sound quality and are louder. if your shell restricts you to a very small speaker you may find that you can't fit in a large enough speaker to make your gun sound good.
#2 - Battery Access
If you are using non-rechargeable batteries, then you need to consider how you are going to access the battery compartment to replace them.
If you are using rechargeable batteries, you will need to put a recharging port somewhere accessible.
#3 - Durability
Our laser tag guns do take a fair bit of punishment in game. Having a shell made of strong plastic will help it withstand the various bumps, scrapes and drops that it will most likely suffer both on and off the field. If the plastic is thin or weak, then you might find that parts snap off or bend, potentially leading to you having to buy a new shell and start all over again. You may also need to reinforce areas of the toy to stop it bending or twisting - the lens unit and scope must be precisely aligned in order for you to be able to actually hit your target.
#4 - Size and weight
This will depend on what you are comfortable with - some airsoft shells can be very large and heavy, and carrying it around for a full day of running through the woods can be tiring.
#5 - Cost
How much you are willing to spend on a shell will be a matter of personal preference. It is possible to spend from about £20 for a cheap Nerf toy, all the way up to hundreds if you want a specific realistic airsoft body.
If you do want an airsoft shell without the expense, most airsoft retailers have a 'broken guns' section on their website (for example I have a 'broken G36' from here) where they sell stock which is damaged for much cheaper than the usual price. These can give you the opportunity to find a bargain - if the damage is with the airsoft mechanism the it doesn't really matter since it is all going to get stripped out anyway. However, they generally do not explain exactly what the damage is, and will not accept refund requests if the damage is in an area that you want to keep (for example, if it is a crack in the case or obvious cosmetic damage). Airsoft dealers also attend events such as the War and Peace show, where you might be able to pick up a deal from their stands.
#6 - Transport and Storage
A massive sniper rifle might be an awesome weapon in game, but if you have to travel via public transport to the site, it could be difficult to avoid attracting unwanted attention. Make sure that you have thought about how you are going to transport it around.
#7 - Aesthetics
Again, this is purely a matter of personal preference but will likely have a large impact on the case you choose. Some people might want a more realistic airsoft shell, based on a specific real-world model (for example, a number of our Stargate fans are interested in the P90s used in the show), while others might want a more futuristic looking Nerf body.
Example Case: Nerf Rapidstrike
The Nerf Rapidstrike is the first shell we used when starting the LOTNA laser tag club. We found this to be a very good shell for the price - at the time, we found a number of these on offer for about £30 at various places including Amazon and Argos.
This model is one of Nerf's electric dart guns, which makes the conversion process significantly easier as a large amount of the existing wiring inside can be reused. The battery pack, trigger switch and the magazone safety switch all came in very handy as the positions and wiring arrangements for them had been designed into the original shell. The motors which the original toy uses to propel the darts also freed up a large amount of internal space once removed, providing a very good area for the speaker and the circuit boards.
Example Case: P90
The D90 electric airsoft gun is a very good realistic shell for converting into a laser tag gun. There is a lot of space inside the body for speakers, circuits, switches, etc. making it very easy to fit everything inside. As an electric gun, it also has a convenient battery compartment (opening at the back of the stock) and should come with a battery and the appropriate connectors to wire it in. The trigger is also designed around firing electronically so has a built in momentary switch which can be repurposed for firing the tag circuit instead.