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DIY Quadcopter Guide: The Thrill of Building Your First Homemade Drone Model

DIY Quadcopter
Jack Brown
Written by Jack Brown

The thrill of flying a quadcopter is certainly exciting. However, it will be even more fun to fly a quadcopter that you’ve made on your own. By making your own DIY quadcopter, you will not only have something to fly in the air but also a model that is truly unique (since the model is totally your own).

The best part is that you can customize your quadcopter in any way you want. You can do your own paint job, add a mount in the middle to fit a small camera (like a fancy GoPro), or improve the power by adding professional motors. You are not depending on a kit and even better you are not forced to be happy with what you get in the box. The sky is the limit in this case (pun intended).

Simply put, making your own DIY quadcopter can be one of the most fun experiences you’ll have. With that in mind, let’s look at how you can build your own quadcopter. The process will certainly be easy to follow when you get the right parts and have the necessary skills

What skills do you need?

You must have basic soldering skills in order to build your own quadcopter. That is, you will have to melt items and add filler materials called solders into some parts. This is due to how you’ll need to get some electric parts secured to each other in order to make the quadcopter work right.

Skills for buidling a quadcopter

You should also have a basic knowledge of how electric systems work. The electrical arrangement on the DIY quadcopter should not be too complicated but you need to ensure you understand how it will work. Besides soldering and electrical mechanisms, you will need to have skills and knowledge about flying a vehicle in order to pull this through.

What parts are needed?

There are plenty of important parts that you will require when getting your DIY quadcopter ready. These are parts that should be ordered together (if possible) although you can always order most of them separately. However, compatibility is very important so make sure you buy pieces that work well with each other.

The frame

The frame is the most prominent feature to see when learning how to make a quadcopter. A frame is a large body that will house the electrical components and other features.

Making a frame for quadcopter

This should come with a base in the middle with four protruding limbs coming out to create a square-shaped design. This is to see that the propeller blades will be the same distance away from the base.

The motors

You will need to get 4 motors for your quadcopter. The motors are designed to spin the propellers and they are typically measured in terms of how many kilovolts they feature – a motor will spin faster if it has a higher kilovolt rating.

Check that your quadcopter’s motors can handle whatever propellers you want to use. The more powerful motors tend to support larger propellers since they require more energy to move.

Motor for quad

Specialists recommend using brushless motors. These are like DC motors in that coils and magnets will drive the shaft. However, there are no brushes on the shaft to switch the power in the coils. This makes it easier for each motor to run with less total fatigue which will increase the performance on your drone.

Electronic speed controls (ESCs)

Electronic speed controls, or ESCs, are designed to tell the motors how fast they are supposed to spin. You will need 4 of these ESCs, and each individual one must be linked to a motor. The ESCs can link up to a power board but they must be installed properly to ensure that the quadcopter will be easier to control.

Electronic speed controls

It is best to find ESCs that operate at 25 Amps or greater. This is so you’ll have ESCs that can take in the energy currents being generated by the battery.

The power board

The power board is a material that you will use to get power to move between the parts. This will contain a series of plugs that may be used to get a battery attached to the quadcopter. When used right, it will keep your quadcopter running quickly.

Drone power motherboard

The ESCs can connect to the power board alongside the battery. This should give you the energy source needed to get power ready and up for your quadcopter.

The battery

A Li-Po battery is needed to power up your DIY quadcopter. A typical battery can feature 3 or 4 cells and you should not get anything that uses more than 4 cells. A cell in particular is a component that converts stored chemical energy into the electrical energy needed for it to run right.

Battery

The mAh listing refers to the milliamps per hour that a fully-charged battery can generate. As you will definitely notice, a battery with a higher mAh total will be more powerful. The C rating should also be checked – this refers to how much power can be taken from a battery.

For instance, a battery with a higher C rating can generate more energy but it will use more battery power. Also, a larger battery can weigh more, thus making it harder for a quadcopter to get off of the ground in some cases.

You’ll need to get a battery charger that is compatible with your battery as well. A charger must hook up to your battery and have access to all its cells. It can take a few hours to get the battery charged up depending on the specific battery you want to use.

The flight controller

The flight controller is a critical part of your DIY quadcopter as it holds the sensors that will determine how fast the motors will spin. This way it administers the power needed for the quadcopter to work properly without receiving too much energy when not needed.

The controller will take in the signals that come from your receiver and determine how the quadcopter is to move. This can work well if installed carefully but you should choose a flight controller that has plugs for your ESCs.

Flight controller for DIY quadcopter

Look to see if the controller can handle a variety of added controls while in the air as well. These include self-leveling sensors to help the quadcopter stay level or an altitude hold feature that will maintain a consistent distance away from the ground.

The most elaborate and detailed flight controllers will give you more control features but will cost more money and might be more difficult to install.

The transmitter and receiver

A transmitter and receiver are needed for you to control the quadcopter. The transmitter must work with more channels for your receiver to easily take in signals and control the quadcopter. These channels refer to how well the quadcopter is able to take in different electric signals.

The RC Transmitter

The transmitter can come in many forms but it should have a general six-axis control pattern. This should be enough to help you move the quadcopter back and forth in a seamless manner.

The propellers

All 4 ends of the quadcopter need propellers. You will need 2 propellers that will move counter-clockwise and 2 that will go the other way.

Propellers for your quad

The clockwise propellers are also known as pushers and typically feature R labels on their bodies to help guide you. These must be installed diagonally from each other.

How to put the quad together

Now that you know the main components needed, let’s see how to actually put everything together into a machine that flies and follows our commands.

Start with the frame

The frame must be designed with a series of metal or carbon fiber materials (carbon fiber is typically best as it is lighter in weight). You should use 3 pieces for the main setup:

  • One piece will include the central base and two of the limbs
  • The other two pieces will include the other limbs.

These should create a proper plus sign shape when installed right. You will have to secure the limbs in place and the process for doing this will vary by each quadcopter model you use. It will typically require plenty of bolts to get it all ready but depending on the kit you order, you might already get the bolts needed to make it work. Even more interesting, if you fashion the frame by yourself, then you will have to find the best way to put the limbs together.

You can then add the feet onto the frame. These feet are to be used on the ends of each limb to create a barrier for the quadcopter to land onto. The feet should be added evenly and measured to see that the quadcopter will lie perfectly parallel to a flat surface when on the ground.

All parts of the frame should be tightened after you get the main shape up. This is to keep the parts together and keep them from falling apart in the event of a wreck. You need to keep your particular frame as strong and sturdy as possible.

Frame for your quad

Try to leave enough space on the bottom to give the quadcopter some space between its body and the ground. Specifically, the space is needed to make it easier for you to fit a camera underneath the quadcopter’s base if you are able to do this.

Getting the power supply up

Next, you must get the power supply prepared. You will have to get the individual motors set up for use on the ends of the limbs. You will need to place the motors on top of the limbs as evenly as possible. Next, you must take the connectors on your ESCs and link them up to each individual motor. Here, you will need to use a soldering iron to connect each one to a motor.

Build your own drone kit

Each ESC should be properly connected to each individual motor after a few minutes of work. At this point, each ESC should be placed right in the middle of the frame. It is typically best to keep the ESC on the bottom part of the base although you can always put it on top and add a cover to it so long as you don’t add more weight than needed.

One key aspect of getting the motors and ESCs ready is to make sure you prepare them with propellers that are different on each end. The types of propellers should be identical to each diagonal-facing motor.

Preparing the power board

The power board is critical in that you need it to distribute power to and from different parts of the quadcopter. The power board needs to have enough plugs to where it can link to each ESC while supporting a battery. Depending on what you order, you might have to solder the ESCs onto the power board.

Preparing the power board

The same goes with the battery’s wires. The physical battery itself does not have to actually be directly sealed onto the power board – it just needs a proper connection.

The power board needs enough space for these connections to work. This should also be secured to the bottom of the base of the frame to make it work. Some bolts might be required to get it all secured and set up properly. This is to create a stronger tone when it is used the right way.

Getting the flight controller ready

The flight controller on your model is an important thing to see when you build your own quadcopter. You’ll have to see that your flight controller board is designed to support the particular motors you have.

The flight controller must be linked up to the bottom of the base and it has to be secured with a series of grommets to keep its body intact and on the quadcopter. Added bolts and screws are needed to keep the controller secured through its grommets.

The ESCs must particularly be linked up to the controller and in many cases the ESCs will come with a series of plugs that may be used. These ESCs can connect to the controller through a series of ports which is why you should find a controller that will contain enough of these ports to link to your ESCs. Make sure it is checked carefully to ensure that the controller will work properly and operate as needed.

Getting the flight controller ready

Depending on the controller, you might have to solder enough wires to go between the board and the ESCs. You might even have to solder these to create new connections.

The receiver can be attached to the flight controller as well. The receiver has to be designed well enough to where the connection will be strong so it can work properly. This is an important aspect of using the device that needs to be explored if you are to actually get the transmitter working.

Installing the battery

The battery should be attached properly to the quadcopter to give it the power that it requires. The battery will need to be attached to the receiver. The battery needs to be hooked to the flight controller. You must compare the battery plug with the plug that the controller uses. This is to give you a proper connection to the controller.

Hubsan X4 battery

A good tip here for how to build a quadcopter should be to check on how you’re going to fasten the battery to the bottom of the quadcopter’s base. You might need to add some gussets around the corners of the battery and then a few bolts or ties to keep it together so it will not fall off.

As you get the battery ready you should be able to get the quadcopter to start up. This is provided that the motors and all devices are ready.

Setting up the propellers

The propellers might seem simple, but the truth is that you’ve got to get them installed properly. You will have two clockwise propellers and two counterclockwise ones. These are to be installed diagonally from one another. For instance, one clockwise propeller will be installed diagonally from the other clockwise one.

Putting the propellers on

The propellers should be fastened as carefully as possible and you will have to get the propellers affixed right on top of each motor. The motors will be designed with good ports that will allow you to secure the propellers. These will get the propellers going fast enough to where they will get your quadcopter up in the air.

Make sure the propellers are all of the same size as well and don’t forget to see that the motors can actually handle them.

Testing the quadcopter

After everything is added, you should test your quadcopter to see if it will work right. You should make sure the controller that will link up to the quadcopter is organized properly. That is, the controller must match up with the receiver.

A good idea for testing it is to tie the landing pieces at the end of each limb down. You can then test how the motors work by using the transmitter. The motors should be checked based on how fast the propellers are going and if they are responding well enough. After this, you can let the quadcopter loose. You should be careful when flying it around at first.

Testing the quadcopter

When you are ready, you can get the quadcopter to really fly around and have some fun. This can be great to consider but you need to make sure the quadcopter is organized evenly so it will not crash or be at risk of harm.

These are some easy-to-follow steps for building your own, unique quad. The overall process will clearly vary based on the specific parts you want to use and their build but, when done properly, you will have a great quadcopter that will be fun to control and play around with. Best of all, your DIY quadcopter will stand out from everyone else’s because it is truly unique.

About the author
Jack Brown
Jack Brown

Jack is the Chief Pilot at MyDroneLab.com bringing experience, expertise and knowledge in this quite new industry. He is a graduate of the Drone/UAV Pilot Training Certificate program and member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Besides having all the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to drones, Jack and his team love to spend the time outside by the ocean, working on new features and teaching others how to pilot these amazing and exciting new robots.

  • Dennis Hughes

    Nice guide, I would definitely do it with my son. It’s interesting if we could build such drone. It looks a little bit harder than solving a puzzle together 🙂

  • Justin Banks

    This sounds exciting but I think I’ll stick with the regular drones – the wiring and all those frames and props look a bit scary to me. It seems like a lot of work.

  • Yes, you would need to have your concepts clear for this. Rest assured, it is going to be fun.

  • Mike Walker

    To be honest I would chose anytime building my own drone, than buying a regular one. It’s more challenging and you can do it however you want.

    • Jack Brown

      I have to agree with you Mike, but, some don’t have enough time to build one on their own, and they choose the easier way. There is nothing wrong with that as well, but they are actually missing out on the best part of this hobby.

  • Howie McTrevor

    Such a thrill but I’ll probably be too lazy. But I’m curious if DIY quads can be stable enough for aerial photography. Will it hold? How long does it take to build one? Is it cheaper than just buying a drone?

  • Jack Brown

    Well, it depends on the parts you use. For example, for aerial photography, you will need a flight controller that has the features like GPS positioning, compass, barometer, and other sensors, and you will need a gimbal for your camera. As for the building time part, well, it mostly depends on how skilled you are how eager you are to take it out for a flight 🙂 If you know what you are doing, you might build one in one day. When it comes to if it is cheaper, in my opinion, yes, when building your own drone you can save up plenty by ordering cheaper parts and the results can be pretty much the same as with an RTF model.

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