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Your own homemade option: How to build a drone

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For some people, flying a drone is an exciting experience.  Namely, the excitement of zooming in and zooming out of impressive locations wholly engrossed in the pilot's sight is difficult to beat.

It's something which most people are ardent to engage in, but they don't have any idea how to build a drone.

However, the major problem for some is getting their hands on their first-ever drone, with many hobbyists deciding to build their own.

A few years ago, if you wanted the best quadcopter, you had to make it.

But, at present, myriads of companies now manufacturing affordable and easy-to-fly models. 

However, such models are ideal for people who don’t know how to build a drone.

Nevertheless, regardless of that fact, many people have not stopped from opting the do-it-yourself approach.

Additionally, drone building can feel like a daunting task just because there are perhaps 5,000 plus of information that you need to know and things that you need to consider.

Not as difficult as it sounds

Firstly, the idea may seem frightening, but I confidently believe that if you are backed with the right knowledge, you will be able to understand how to build a drone and do it hassle-free.

Either way, in our opinion, there is no better time to learn how to build a homemade drone than today.

Namely, drone parts are becoming incredibly cost-efficient, and there are loads of tutorials (including this one) online about what steps to take.

Thus, if you want to find out how to build a drone, then keep on reading this content.

However, before we proceed to the step-by-step guide on how to build a drone, we have compiled some of the basic terminologies that you need to know when it comes to building a drone.

For some, it looks like a hassle. However, rest assured you will be thanking us, especially when unfamiliar language begins to show up in this guide.

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Terms That You Need to Know

Similar to all hobbies and industries, drones have their language which you much familiarize yourself with.

Thus, knowing this language won't just make you look more experienced. But, it will come in handy when learning how to build a drone.

Nevertheless, here are the terms that you need to know.

  • Drone: This means the same thing as "quadcopter" or "UAV." In the drone community, you will see these three terms are used interchangeably.
  • Prop Guards. These are things which help protect the drone’s propellers. They are also highly suggested for novices who are likely to bang a lot.
  • Flight Controller: This is the “brains” of drones. This controller consists of a range of sensor which tells the drone where it is at in the air.
  • Shell: Most people refer to the drone's body as a shell or outer cover. The drone's outer covering, or shell, can be made from a wide variety of materials.
  • Accelerometer: It measures the liner acceleration.
  • Gyroscope: A sensor which measures angular acceleration on up to 3 axes.
  • Barometer: Lets the drone know how high above the ground it is currently flying.
  • RTF: When you notice the letters "RTF" on the package of drone, it means it comes completely assembled. Moreover, is ready-to-fly straight out of its t box.
  • BNF: This acronym means "Bind-and-Fly." This describes RC drones that come entirely assemble but don't have a transmitter (you will have to provide it separately).
  • Octocopter: A drone that has eight motors and one motor for every arm.
  • Hexacopter: A drone that has six motors and one motor for every arm.
  • Quadcopter: A drone that has four motors and one motor for every arm.
  • Tricopter: A drone that has three motors and one motor for every arm.
  • Power Distribution: Bear in mind that each drone comes with one battery. Thus to share battery power with other motors, a power distribution system is required.
  • ESC: Electronic Speed Controller. This serves as the middleman between the motors and flight controllers.
  • Li-Po or Lithium Power: This is the type of battery that is commonly utilized for RC drones. It is because they can release lots of current being lightweight compared to other types of cells.
  • FPV: This acronym stands for "First Person Viewing." FPV flying is when you are capable of perceiving what the drone's camera is currently seeing in real time. It is highly recommended for any level of experience and much fun.
  • Gimbal: This thing holds the camera on particular drones. It will ill also help you attain more stable footage while in the air.

Although, not all camera drones come equipped with a gimbal.

Knowing this useful language when learning how to build a drone, is essential.

Therefore, memorize the above-mentioned terms, and they will not merely help you look more experienced in front of other flyers, but help you when you're building a drone as well.

What are The Advantages of Building a Drone?

The main advantage to opting the DIY manner when it comes to your drone is that you will learn about how it works.

Apart from that, building your drone is a common choice in the community of drone racing.

Improves Learning 

Building your drone enriches your learning experience since you'll see how things coordinate and work. 

By learning how to build a drone, you'll gain so much knowledge when it comes to assembling its parts, repairing them whenever there is damage, and how to fly it properly.

Upgrading

When you build your drone, every part can be changed or replaced with a better one. However, an obtained one can't be replaced or upgraded with something improved.

Self-Achievement

Learning how to build a drone can also give you a well-regarded sense of achievement. 

How Long Does It to Take to Build Your Drone and How Much Does It Cost?

If you are wondering how much will cost and how long does it take to make your quadcopter, honestly it will depend on various circumstances.

However, on average, you will expect to spend about ten hours for the labor and about $300 in parts.

The more difficult your design is, the more it is going to cost and the longer it is going to take. Keep in mind that these are only estimations of what to expect.

Things You'll Need to Build Your Drone

The tools you'll need greatly depend on the kind of drone you are planning to make. However, there are plenty of components which all drones need. These include:

  • RC receivers
  • SD card
  • Mounting pads
  • Gimbals
  • Connectors
  • Camera (if you are planning to build a camera drone)
  • RC receivers
  • Propellers
  • A drone frame
  • Flight controllers
  • Electronic speed controller (ESC) and 
  • Motors
  • Batteries

Drone building: A Step-by-Step Guide

In this guide, we will walk you over the six steps of building a drone. However, this guide is for battery-powered drones only.

A gasoline-powered drone is much more challenging to build. Thus we will save it for a future article.

Step 1: Choosing the Right Frame

Despite what your drone is going to be, it should have a frame. With that said, the first step for drone building is choosing the right frame.

Technically speaking, there is no right frame, because the right one will depend on your needs.

Here is a list of options where you can choose from:

1. RipaFire® F450 4-Axis Multi-Rotor Quadcopter Flame Airframe FrameWheel Rack Kit Support for DJI KK MK MWC RC Quadcopter

This frame is made using advanced engineering materials, and super smooth yet firm F450 Frame Kit.

It features new design PBC board that perfectly fits for a standard 50mm controller board like MWC, FF, KK, and MK.

Moreover, this high-quality frame has a robust ant-fall ability and meager maintenance cost. It also achieves rolling, cruising, hovering, and other flight elements.

On the other hand, this option is ideal for both senior and beginner players. Plus, it can be applied for FPV, aerial photography, entertainment, as well as other aero modeling activities. 


2. Globalstore® F330 Multicopter Frame Airframe Flame Wheel Kit Support Kk Mk MWC 4-axis Rc Quadcopter with Landing Gear Skid

This frame weighs 156 grams and has a diagonal wheelbase of 330mm. However, the recommended propeller is eight by 4.5 inches which are not included in the box.

There are also two colors for the landing gear skid, one is black, and the other one is black.


3. YoCoo® MWC X-Mode Alien FPV Multicopter Quadcopter Frame Kit RC Airplane Building Airframe Kit Set

This great option is very durable and has an excellent construction. Apart from that, this frame flies nicely, and it is ideal for aerial videos and photo usage.

The YoCoo MWC X-Mode Alien Frame is very spacious. Meaning to say, you can incorporate plenty of add-ons if you want.

Either way, it features a front desk where you can strap on your action camera.
Nevertheless, there are four different types of frames to choose from: the quadcopter frame, tricopter frame, hexacopter frame, and octocopter frame. 



In general, there are four different frame types to choose from:

Quadcopter Frame

Within the industry of RC drone, quadcopter frames are the most common frames that you will see.

As what mentioned a while ago it features four arms and every arm has its motor. When you're still learning how to build a drone, this type is perfect for you.

Apart from being the simplest, it is also one of the most versatile types of frame designs.

 

Pros
  • Sports a simple design that comes in handy if you’re building a drone for the very first time
Cons
  • When one propeller or motor fails, the remaining propellers and engines will not be able to recompense which may lead to a crash.

Tricopter Frame

Even though they are not as common as the first frame, a tricopter frame is another great option for those who are learning how to build a homemade drone.

As the name implies, a tricopter frame is equipped with three arms, and each of them has its motor.

While tricopter is less versatile, they’re more affordable to build compared to other types of frames.

Pros
  • Cheaper
  • Flies like an airplane
  • It only needs a few brushless motors
Cons
  • The process of building a drone with this frame is a bit complicated.

Hexacotper Frame

Hexacopter frame types have six arms, and every division is connected to a distinct motor.

In general, this type is best suited for flyers who are planning or interested in conducting more serious above ground photography.

This frame has a more dangerous compared to quadcopter and tricopter frame. However, always keep in your mind that more power means more significant investments.

How to Fly a Drone

Pros
  • It can offer more drive.
  • Perfect for lifting heavier loads.
  • Almost all flight controllers support this frame type.
  • If one motor fails, the drone will still land safely.
Cons
  • A bigger battery is needed for this frame
  • Costly

Octocoper Frame

This frame has eight arms, and just like the other frame types, each of the arms has its motor.

With this frame setup, the more significant amount of drive is expected.

Similar to the hexactoper, these UAVs offer a lot of power, which is great if you're building a surveillance drone (which requires a lot of stability and flight time).

If you opt for this frame which is not suitable for people who are still learning how to build a drone, you may have a challenging and long road ahead of you.

Pros
  • It can lift heavier loads than hexacopter frames.
  • Similar to hexacopters when one motor miscarries your drone will still land safely.
Cons
  • Requires more motors and larger battery packs
  • Drone building is expensive with this frame type

In this guide, we are going to assume that you have chosen the first frame type which is the quadcopter frame.

The quadcopter frame is the most natural type to build making it ideal for those who are entirely new to drones.

Nevertheless, if you are in the market for a right frame, we highly recommend the RipaFire F450 4-Axis Multi-Rotor.


Types of Materials That Are Commonly Utilized For Drone Frames

Aluminum 

When you are studying how to build a drone, it is essential to keep in mind that you can use aluminum when constructing your frame. Aluminum is flexible, easy to use, and light in weight.

You can use this to supply particular components of the frame such as landing gear and arms. Alternatively, utilize it to create your drone's whole structure.

Wood 

If you want to build a cheap drone, considering a frame that is made of wood is a good idea.

Though it is the most beautiful material, it is one of the most budget-friendly options.

The good thing about wooden frames is that if you break them, you can replace them easily and quickly.

PCB 

PCB or printed circuit board is quite similar to fiberglass but, it's always even. Drone frames that aren't more than 600mm usually use this kind of material.

Carbon Fiber 

If you have enough budget for your DIY drone, then investing in carbon fibers is a good idea, Carbon fibers are incredibly light in weight as well as sturdy.

This material will make your quadcopter consume lesser energy and fly better.

Plastic

The majority of ready-to-fly drones today are equipped with a plastic frame. On the other hand, three-dimensional plastic drone frames become more and more popular among DIY enthusiasts.
Either way, you can also use plastic materials in making cover or landing gears.

G10

This type of material is a variant of fiberglass which is often utilized as a more affordable substitute to carbon fibers.

Carbon fiber, as well as G10, look the same from an outer view. But, they have slight differences when it comes to basic properties.

When it comes to the price, this material is more affordable as compared to carbon fibers. Once you have chosen the right frame, it is time to proceed on the second step.

Step 2: Installing The Motors

The second step in learning how to build a drone is to install the motors. Arguably, the engine is the most crucial part of quadcopters.

The motor is arguably the most critical component of a quadcopter. It is the soul as well as the heart of drones.

Motors, on the other hand, lets you lift the frame from the ground, fly, and hover you preferred directions.

As the general rule, the motor must deliver a similar amount of thrust. Alternatively, else, you will face problems with regards to stability.

Nevertheless, in this section, you will be able to find out how RC motors work and the two types of engines which you can utilize when learning how to build a drone.

However, before that, we will list down some of the best drone motors where you can choose from.

1. HOBBYMATE FPV Racing Quadcopter Motor ESC Combo - 2 Pairs CW CCW 2204 2300KV Plus 4 PCS BLHeli 15A ESC, Support 2-4S

This brushless motor is ideal for FPV QAV drones, 250, 210, and 180 in size and other small drones.

The HOBBYMATE Racing Quadcopter motor has higher efficiency, cools rapidly, and has a longer life.


2. GoolRC 4Pcs A2212 13T 1000KV Outrunner Brushless Motor for RC Multicopter Xcopter

Another efficient and robust motor for the money. The GoolRC Outrunner Brushless motor works amazingly, and in fact, it offers lots of power.

Nevertheless, this motor works fine in both tricopter as well as quadcopter frames. 


3. Hobbypower Emax Mt2213 935kv 2212 Brushless Motor for DJI F450 X525 Quadcopter Hexcopter(Pack of 4pcs)

This solid motor from Hobbypower can be utilized for multiple rotors like octo, hex, quad, and even tri. Apart from that, this brushless motor has the ability to transient response as well as stability. 


Brushless Motor and Brushed Motor: What is The Difference? 

Brushed Motors

Just like any other RC motors, brushed motors also contains coil (windings) and magnets. However, with brushed motors, the magnet will remain STILL whereas the windling spin.


Brushed Motor

In general, this type of motor is quite accessible and more affordable. Either way, models such as Syma X5C or the Cheerson CX-10 come equipped with a brushed motor. 

While they are more affordable, brushed motors wear out more rapidly compared to a brushless motor. As a result, the lifespan of these motors tends to be shorter than brushless motors.

Also, that is the main reason why we continuously tell others learning how to build a drone to go for a brushless model.

Even if brushless motors are more expensive, you will obtain a better experience in return. 

Brushless Motors

When you're learning how to build a homemade drone, understanding how brushless motors works is very important.


Brushless Motor

This type of motor is somewhat different to brushed motors. A brushless motor works in the particular opposite approach.

The coils will remain in a FIXED position whereas the magnets SPIN.

A brushless motor doesn't have any brushes. Whether you believe it or not, this kind of setup lets the engine to stay longer.

Moreover, as what we said a while ago when you’re building a drone for the first time, a brushless motor is always on the go.

Namely, thanks to its versatility, durability, and capability to generate more power.

Here’s the video:

Also, do not go with a brushed one to save some dollars. Just because you will run into some problems in the long run and wish you had never purchased them.

How Do RC Motors Work?

Here’s a handy video that will show you, in pretty good detail, how RC motors work:

3: Connecting the Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)

Similar to motors, ESC or electronic speed controller is also an essential part of a drone. It offers the flight controller with the capability to control the speed as well as the direction of the motor.

Aforementioned, ESC acts as a middleman between a flight controller and motor.

Thus, either way, every engine needs one ESC. In the industry of RC drone, the majority of ESC only let the propellers spin in one direction.

With the correct firmware, you will be able to configure them to fly in two directions.

However, if you are still confused about what exactly is an electronic speed controller, how it works, and what it looks like, you can watch the video below.

However, when choosing an electronic speed controller make sure to opt for a model that not only offer the right voltage but a model that can hold the maximum current which the motors are going to put away.
Either way, here are some of the options to choose from.

1. Hobbywing 2-6S Platinum-30A-Pro OPTO brushless motor ESC Electronic Speed Controller for RC Multirotor, Aircraft and Helis,especially for Multi-rotor aircraft


This high-performance electronic speed controller is compatible with all types of motors. Apart from that, it is also optimized for multiple rotor aircraft.
On the other hand, it’s user programmable and has a precise, quick, linear, as well as smooth protection.

It also has multi-protection levels such as throttle signal loss protection, low-voltage protection, and even over-heat protection. In addition to that, the firmware of this item can be updated over the inbuilt USB. 


2. Rc Car Rc Truck Brushed Speed Controller Max 320A with Reverse, Brake

The speed control voltage of this item is quite linear both reverse and forward. This small yet powerful controller can be utilized in various types of vehicles.

Furthermore, it has an auto center calibration and a cut electricity and voltage protection function.

On the other hand, its BEC or battery eliminator circuit will power the receiver from the engine battery using the auto cutoff of the engine power to preserve the power as its battery becomes worn-out.


Step 4: Setting Up the Power Distribution System

After connecting the electronic speed controller, you need to set up your drone’s power distribution system.

Namely, the purpose of this system is to distribute power to every motor of your drone.

However, keep in mind that every drone only comes with one battery, not four.
That said, you will need a technique on how to allocate power to all the motors of your drone, and that is precisely what power distribution boards are for.

Additionally, as you will see in the assembly part (this will be tackled later on), the electronic speed controller is powered by the drone's primary battery.

On the other hand, when you are building a drone, the single connector of the battery should be divided among four various ESCs. This is where a power distribution board come into play.

This component can be a great help when it comes splitting the battery’s positive and negative terminals into four.

Either way, listed below are two of the best power distribution boards that are currently available on the market. 

1. HobbyKing Matek PDB-XT60 w/BEC (5V and 12V)

The PDB-XT60 from Matek Systems has been created to offer reliability as well as high performance in four layers and 36mm by 50mm PCB.

Moreover, it allocates power from a Li-Po battery pack to six electronic speed controllers.

Furthermore, it offers regulated and synchronized DC five volts outputs and linear regulated DC 12 volts for powering LEDs, video transmitters, flight controllers, RC receivers, servos, and cameras.


2. Matek Systems PDB Supports 3S Battery for FPV Racing Drone HUB5V12V

Similar to the first option, this power distribution board provides regulated DC outputs for volts for powering LEDs, video transmitters, flight controllers, RC receivers, servos, and cameras.

Regarding the batteries, it may range from 3 to 6S Li-Po. Furthermore, it is compatible with flight controllers like CC3D Naze32 F3.
Either way, this product weighs six grams and has a total dimension of 36mm by 36mm.


Remember that each drone comes with only one battery (not four). As a result, you’ll need a way to distribute the battery’s power to all four motors- and that’s exactly what a power distribution board is for.

Step 5: Flight Controller

As mentioned above, the flight controller is considered the “brain” of the drone as it tells the quadcopter what to do. With that said, it is an essential component of any drone.

Flight controllers, on the other hand, comes equipped with a variety of sensors. Either way, these sensors are specifically designed to collect information about the height, direction, speed, and other important things of your drone.

Moreover, these sensors work together to provide the best flying experience. At a total minimum, a particular flight controller may have 3-axis gyroscope which keeps the drone stable in mid-air.

Nevertheless, here are some of the conventional sensors that can be found on a flight controller:

  • GPS: This sensor determines the drone’s particular geographic coordinates
  • Barometer: It measures the atmospheric pressure as well as identifies how high the drone is. That said, a barometer can notice changes in height.
  • IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit): It is a small board that consists of accelerometer & gyroscope.
  • Accelerometer: This distinguishes measure liner acceleration on three axes (X, Y, & Z). Moreover, accelerometer plays a vital role in letting RC drones remain steady when in the air. 
  • Gyroscope: This sensor is responsible for identifying angular changes on 3 intersecting axes (gamma, alpha, and beta). 
  • Compass: This reads and provides information about the direction your quadcopter is traveling. 

Remember, when you are studying how to build a drone, memorizing the names, as well as the functions of the sensors, is highly recommended.

Take note; these are only a few of the many sensors found in flight controllers. Meaning to say, you will see more especially if you are pressing on drone building. Alternatively, if you are planning to join drone racings.

Nevertheless, if your drone has lots of sensors, there is no doubt you will have the best flying experience. However, more sensors means more expensive flight controllers.

The Final Step: Putting It All Together

Especially relevant, when it comes to drone building, investing in a high-quality cordless screwdriver is highly recommended as it makes the job more comfortable and hassle-free. 

However, to help you get started, I looked for some good and reliable videos that will walk you over the steps we have mentioned above.

How to Build A Drone Video Tutorial: Part One


Part 2

Is Your Drone Ready for Takeoff? Here’s What You Need to Do

Firstly, position your drone on the ground and prepare it for operation. Grab your flight controller and then start your first flight carefully and safely.

However, it is highly recommended to throttle up the drone slowly. Moreover, for the first time, make sure to fly it at a lower altitude.

So, if your drone begins coming down all of a sudden, the damage will not be that substantial.

On the other hand, if it starts drifting in only one direction make sure to utilize the times so that you will be able to make a necessary flight correction.

In addition to that, you can also try various PID values so that you'll see how the drone functions in different inputs ‘til you get what exactly you want.

Propellers: What You Need to Know 

We will end this comprehensive guide on how to build a drone by tackling about propellers.

Therefore, In this section, you will find out what exactly propellers are as well as the different types you will encounter.

What Are Propellers

Propellers aren't helicopter blades. Either way, all multiple rotor RC aircraft utilize propellers to lift.

However, propellers, on the other hand, are attached to the motors of drones. Meaning to say, when the motors spin, the propellers will spin as well.

Additionally, Just like the drone’s frame, propellers are also made from different materials which I will be discussing later on and available in a wide variety of sizes.

However, the majority of RC drones come with either two-bladed or three-bladed propellers. Though, two-bladed propellers are more common.

Even so, smaller blades are more accessible to speed and slow down, making it ideal for those who are interested in conducting acrobatic flights.

Whereas blades with bigger diameters best suited for a flight that is more stable. Why?

Namely, because the blades are more difficult to slow down or speed up.
Nevertheless, all propellers which you utilize to build your drone can be rotated in one of two means:

  • Counterclockwise and
  • Clockwise

Identifying which side of the propeller is supposed to face down or upwards is very important.

Materials Used In Making Propellers

Plastic 


Plastic Props

The majority of RTF or ready-to-buy drones come equipped with plastic propellers. That is because plastic materials are cheaper.

Usually, most people who are building drones in a do-it-yourself manner, they prefer to use carbon fibers when making propellers merely because they are more durable.

However, the main benefit of using plastic propellers is that even though you break them accidentally, you don't have to worry about losing a significant investment.

Nevertheless, if you are planning to build your drone but don't have 5,000 plus dollars, then plastic propellers are great options.

Wood

Wood

Unfortunately, people who are taking the do-it-yourself method are not aware that they can use wooden material when making propellers.

However, even though utilizing wooden propellers is not common, there are a few individuals who are using them.

Wooden propellers, on the other hand, are more expensive compared to wooden propellers.

These propellers are also not that popular in the drone industry. However, they are common RC planes.

Carbon Fiber

CF

If you have extra cash, investing in carbon fiber props is worth considering. These materials are the best when it comes to durability.

Carbon fibers are very tough and do a great job. Moreover, upon impact, they are less likely to break, and they are light in weight.

Additionally, the majority of our DIY drones that we have built in the past are equipped with carbon props.

However, as we said earlier, if you don't have enough money to buy carbon fibers, propellers that are made of plastic should be adequate.

Although you need to buy extra because they are so fragile.

Bottom Line

Thus, there you have it, a guide on how to build a drone. We wanted to offer a rough outline of how to build a homemade drone.

Nevertheles, make sure to bookmark this page. Thus every time you want to learn how to build a drone, you will be able to find it with ease.

Moreover, if you have questions feel free to leave your questions in the comment section below. So that, other users or we might be able to provide right answers.

As always, thank you for reading this content. Be sure to make the most of your DIY drone and most importantly fly safely.

About the Author David

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