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Dewi Morgan

Modding the Pip-Boy

Modding the Pip-Boy

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[This post is a work in progress, will be edited whenever I make progress... I expect this project to never be fully "finished".]

So I've been promising for some time that I'd mod my Fallout 4 Pip-Boy and post pics of it. So with my wife away for a while, last weekend was the time to get started...

Step 0: The prep

Pipboy manual page: Whats Inside

Here's a pic of the Pip-Boy from the manual, naming the parts. I'll be using the names from here, where given, or otherwise naming them based on their in-game purpose (computer plug, etc). My goal in this project is to make as many of these parts become functional, if not as they were ingame, then at least doing *something*. Preferably something useful.

I've been buying parts over Ebay and Amazon for some time. Most of the ones I've orderred have arrived now, though I still have a lengthy wishlist. But it's tome to get started, because I have enough for at least the first couple of steps.

An assemblage of bits
All the parts I've collected so far, laid out.

Top row: some bubblewrap for scale, the Pip-Boy, the various shims that come with it, and the stand.

Middle row row: a plastic tube; a microUSB socket, some paint colormatched to the Pip-Boy, the phone, with a cracked and taped-over screen (very post apoc already!), and a packet of teensy stepper motors.

Bottom row: pack of microUSB plugs; an altoids tin; ZeroLemon extended battery; a bunch of rotary encoders; and a bunch of knobs for the encoders.

Colormatched paint babelThis is the label on the colormatched paint, from Home Depot. Seems a shade dark to me, but that's actually good for my purposes, I think.

Step 1: The teardown

I'll start the teardown with the simplest piece, the stand.
The base stand with the feet off
Here I've popped off the rubber feet on the bottom of the stand, which as I suspected concealed some screws. As with all of the real screws and none of the fake screws, these were Phillips-head. They were small, and deeply embedded - I was grateful for my smaller screwdriver set, though the screws really didn't want to fall out - a magnetic bit might've been nice.

Inside the rebel base
Here you see I've taken it apart. Seems simple enough inside, and my plan for making this all work, should be fine here. At the moment I'm unsure whether I want to put the voltage transformer inside the base, which would also give it some comfortable heft, or have it at the plug and leave everything else 5V throughout. I have cats, so the latter makes sense, but I do hate wall-warts, and there's a ton of unused space in that base. Hmm...

The base

There are 8 screws holding the transparent supports to the base. I find this surprising, given they skimped on screws elsewhere. So, the base is really solidly built, and I'd love some ideas on what I could stick in it... at the very least, I'm thinking a slab or two of lead, just for weighting it.

Now for the Pip-Boy itself...

Pip-Boy arm guards
Here I'm removing the rubber armguards.

They're kinda flimsy, already tearing. Might be nice to cover these in leather at some point. Or make my own, depending how much space I'm left with.

12 main body screws removed
Time to take all the screws out. There are 12 of them, holding the lock and the front/top panel onto the main body.
One was too deeply embedded for even my small screwdriver set, so I was glad I have *real* screwdrivers, too.

You can see there's already a cut where I've made a test pass with my Dremel, before thinking "oh, I really oughtta take this off the back, so I don't cut all the way through".

The annoying wrist strap comes off easily enough: it and the top LED are both just hot-glued in place. Hrm. I should get me some of that.

Screw paranoia
I've taped the screws down with painter's tape, and labelled them so they don't get lost or disordered.

Main hinge assembly
The hinge turned out to be held together by a rod, with one burred end (at the narrow end of the Pip-Boy). I got lucky in that I pushed it through with my screwdriver in the right direction first time, and once again was glad of the long thin screwdriver.

Main body teardown complete
That left just three more screws for the main body, and I've finished the teardown of that part at least. One long one holds the computer interface plug holder to the body; two hold the... I don't even know what it is. The "snail shaped cover plate", which in turn holds the plastic clips that hold the metal clasp. This feels a good place to hold a retracting reel for the cable. Hmmm...

The computer interface plug comes off its holder, and separates into a white plastic tube and two grey rings.

Plug holder halves
The two halves of the plug holder are held together by one more screw (well, there are holes for two, but I only got one). The "wire" to the plug is a plastic tube, hot-glued at both ends.

It seemed to be a theme that the plastic was formed to allow more screws than were used. I'm guessing as a cost-cutting thing, they only used as many screws as they needed, but designed it so that areas that turned out in testing to need more screws, could get them.

The exception was the computer interface holder, held to the case by one single screw through a thin piece of plastic... *end on*. This screw tore out just about the first time I handed it to someone, which was sad, but it could be screwed back on.

Phone compartment and top panel separate
Back to the front/top panel and the phone compartment.

Two tiny screws hold the top panel, hinge, and front panel/fascia door, to the phone compartment and LED circuitry. I free the hot-glued LED from the top panel, to separate the halves completely.

Good thing I decided to take it apart before cutting more: I'd have sliced right through the wire, among other things.

Vertical scroll dial
From here, the vertical scroll dial just slides right off, and the unlabelled black plastic bit behind it is held in by plastic clips that pry off with a screwdriver. This exposes the clever "make the button click" plastic shaping built into the frame.

The one puzzlement is the mode dial. No screws, no clips... I'm guessing it was a push-on job. I can't pop it back off by pulling on it with a reasonable amount of force, so I'm going to have to get unreasonable.

Eek, it snapped!
Finally, with force, I snap off the cap - the center spindle has sheared. My first real destructive act.

The spindle was designed to go into a stub of black plastic, which seems to be glued in place. Real glue, too, probably superglue, not just hot glue. The top of this stub has some lumps on, which fit into dents in the cap, causing the click. There is a tab on the black thing which hits against stops on the black cap.

Mangled breakage
Grabbing that black plastic stub with vise grips and twisting chews it up pretty badly, but cracks the glue, and it comes out, releasing a spring, and the end of a spindle, still holding its screw.

The replacement caps I bought will fit comfortably inside the cap here, so that looks like a good approach to converting this into a working rotary switch.

It's repairable back to how it was, I feel... but that was never part of the plan. There will be far more destructive things done to this before I'm done.

There remain two screws holding the power button circuitboard to the phone compartment, and a daunting 19 other screws on the top panel, mostly holding the hinge and bezel. The hinge is also held by another pin, but this one seems a whole lot less amenable to pushing it through.

But I'm committed to a full teardown, so I shall try at least. [The remainder of this teardown was performed during Step 2, so is chronologically out of order and some of the parts have been trimmed away.]

Button battery compartment

The button battery is marked:
CR 2032

The cryptic characters are Japanese Katakana, saying "RiChiUMu BaTTeRi" Which is "Lithium Battery" phonetically.

It's held in with a rather nice battery holder, spring-loaded with a clip that you push to make the battery just pop out, making battery replacement really easy - it pushes back in with a nice positive snap, too. Given that it comes with the battery already inserted, and the first time anyone will have to worry about replacing it will be ages down the line, and they've skimped on screws... I really appreciate this touch. It'll have cost a couple extra cents, but like the other nice touches, really makes it a lot nicer to own. I don't think I'll be replacing this part :)

Power switch circuitboard

The board holding the power switch and the power indicator light is held in place with two switches. The black outer part of the power button is glued on, so I won't try to remove that unless I've a need to. You can see two TINY resistors, one for each LED, above and below the power switch. for a small circuitboard, it's well labelled, with markings "BATT" for the battery conections, "SW1" for the switch," "LED1" and "LED2" for the LEDs, and R1 and R2 for the resistors. All hidden from view until you strip it down and unscrew the board. This suggests that it was manually assembled, which makes sense: sure, you could mount the switch and resistors on a bulk circuitboard then cut it up, but it's almost not worth it, given you have to connect four wires, too, and the whole rest of the device needs to be hand-assembled, too.

It looks like the switch is a 6-connection switch - basically three push-to-make, push-to-break switches in one. Two are used, one is available for my use if I want it. Nice :)

The two lights are orange LEDs, which I didn't even know were a thing, but apparently I can get. Gooood, I've a plan involving something like that, and the plastic candy tube...

The wires are all soldered, so seem pointless to detach. I think this is as far as the teardown of the phone-compartment can go.

Which means we're back at the front/top panel once again.

On the front panel, the Radio Frequency indicator is held in place by two screws, separating into a plastic window and a dial.

The Radio Tuner knob is held in by one screw, separating into knob and swipe hand.

The Radio Gain knob is held in by one screw, separating into the knob, a spring, and the black piece of plastic it screwed into - a separate piece rather than being part of the case, for some reason. Probably because, like the Mode Selector, this plastic is a clicker: it has little bumps that fit into the rotary knob.

The Rad Meter is held in by two screws, separating into window and dial. Testing one of my tiny stepper motors (can you find it in the picture?) against the size of this, the motors will fit, but will need their spindles cut down in length. There will likely be space in there for a greeny-yellow backlighting LED, too, if I can get one.

The hinge is held in quite solidly, by four screws, two small and two tiny. These are kinda hard to get at because they are right against the top panel.

The screen bezel is held in by an impressive seven screws. It's stamped with the large number '2' on the other side from the pip-boy logo. I briefly pondered cutting the screen bezel to get a larger visible screen size, but the app doesn't support a wider view on the phone, so I don't need to, unless I end up writing my own version of the app, and that'd be a really really long time away.

The top panel

Back on the top panel, the inoperative "Selector" button got pushed all the way in in the first couple of days of use, and because of the way it's attached, couldn't get pulled back out again. That's easy enough to fix now it's stripped down - it's attached my two screws, then comes out easily. But like the single screw holding on the computer interface plug holder, it's a good example of the ways that, despite being rugged to the point of overengineering in most places, there are areas that they'll most likely be improving if they make another production run.

The cap of the CRT Overbrite Mode indicator (aka the lens for the second LED powered by the power switch) is hotglued on, and its black bezel seems superglued on, so I won't be removing it.

The hinge is going to have to stay in place, also. The two pieces of plastic that connected it to the front panel appear to be glued onto the metal, and I have no need to break them, so won't mess with that. The hinge pin seems resistant to poking, and I don't feel confident applying any more force than I already have without destroying the hinge - which is not part of my plan.

Speaking of destroying things, the display focus dial once again has no screw holding it on, and this SI something that I want to get functional, so it's going to be a rip-off-and-break task again :( Oh my! Apparently not. I just pulled on it and it came right out. I've a feeling this was meanta be glued in, but was thankfully missed. It's built the same way as the Mode Dial, but on a smaller scale: one screw and a spring, holding it to a black plastic clicker. Its small size will make it very difficult to attach a rotary switch to. The switches I have (I included one in the picture) won't fit inside it, so let's hope there's enough space inside the case to put a switch that I can bring a spindle out from.

Bottom clip

That just leaves the bottom clip that holds the front panel on. This has a spring to keep the clip shut, and three screws (though there are holes for five), which, when removed, let the clip fall into three pieces.

Well, that's the tear-down complete. I've separated every possible piece I can, from every other piece, and taken pictures of it. Now I can do the fun bit.

Part sum-up:
The base unit has four plastic pieces (2 black, 2 transparent); four rubber feet; twelve screws.

The pip-boy itself has a *crazy* number of parts:
2 rubberish arm-pads
1 velcro strap with black plastic loop.
1 Battery
1 circuitboard
1 switch
2 LEDs
2 SMT resistors
2 pieces of sprung metal for battery clip
4 wires (2 to battery, 2 to overbrite indicator LED)
4 pieces of die-cast metal (three on the main metal clasp, one in the front panel hinge).
5 metal rods (3 in the main metal clasp, one in the main hinge, one in the front panel hinge). Possibly 2 more welded onto one of the pieces of cast metal, not sure if they count as separate pieces or not.
15 pieces of brown plastic (2 glued onto the front panel hinge)
3 springs (in bottom clip, and two rotary switches)
15 pieces of black plastic (2 glued as LED bezels, 1 glued as tube grommett, 1 part of battery clip)
4 pieces of transparent plastic (2 on LEDs, 2 on indicator dials)
3 pieces of grey plastic
1 piece white plastic
1 plastic tube
44 screws
18 solder connections (4 to switch, 4 to resistors, 8 to wires, 2 to power LED).
3 hot-glue connections
5 superglue(?) glue joints
1 piece of tape (was holding the LED wire)

That's about 111 parts, and 26 additional connections, assuming I'm counting right. That's pretty awesome for the price, to be honest.

Step 2: Add Extended battery.

For now, then, I'm done tearing down. It's time to start cutting into things. Where "things" are the phone compartment.

To begin with, I'm going to be making space for the expanded battery, and adding a couple of permanent charging sockets, so I don't have to take the phone out ever again.

I'm doing this as the first step partly because it's the simplest step; and because it will determine how much space I have to play with elsewhere.

ZeroLemon extended battery
The extended battery ready to go in the phone

Samsung Galaxy S3 with ZeroLemon extended battery
And in the phone.

This phone will not fit!
You can see that the phone with extended battery doesn't fit. I score with a sharp point roughly around the battery.

Dremel porn
Here I'm going to be using my Dremel, with an unbranded circular saw blade I got on Amazon. I've taped the LED wire out the way so I don't cut through it by accident.

A roughly-hacked hole
The rough cuts. I cut a notch into the scrap wood underneath it so it would lie flat. I push that rectangle of plastic out and keep it in case I need it for something later. Sure, I have the paint, but being the right color in the first place is better.

While throughout my life, every mentor has espoused the "measure twice, cut once" adage, I somehow seem to have graduated from the "measure once, leave lots of leeway, then cut lots of times, shaving away less and less until it's the right size" school of cutting.

So I enlarge the hole a little and discover that I'll be chopping away one of the screw supports. Hrm. Is this going to be a problem? I compare - it matches up to a post on the main body, one of the screws that was needed long screwdriver to get to. It might be an issue for solidity... not much I can do though, I need that space.

I continue to shave the edges away, this time with a box cutter, because I'm getting close. Need to be careful, I need the phone to be centered in the space vertically, and as far to the left as it can go. So I test the phone and battery against the new hole every few cuts, fractions of millimeters.

I want a tight fit, because I want it to be held in place partly by the aperture holding the battery. Not too tight, though, don't want to squeeze the battery. Just hold it.

Then I wonder about the rear camera and flash. I don't think I'll have any use for them. Probably not. But... well, they're making the phone lie uneven because of the bezel around the camera, so I might as well make a cutout for it. I might end up using it somehow someday, anyway. Perhaps the flash can be routed out somehow as the Pip-Boy's flashlight. We'll see.

If it fits, it sits
It fits snugly.

Padding thickness check
The thicker of the foam pads marked 'D' (I have two, one thin, one thick) seems like a good fit, so I'll use that. Not whole, but sliced up and placed around the hole.

Taping in the padding
I use painter's tape for this, for no reason other than that it's what's to hand. Turns out I actually need two layers of foam after all.

The rubber padding ring, with button notches
When I first used the Pip-Boy, I had to slice away at the foam padding around the phone so that the volume and power buttons were no being pressed. I noticed that there were recesses on the phone compartment for the buttons to fit into, but they weren't enough. I'm now wondering if I should take these cut holes all the way through the plastic, too - it would give me the option to add something to press them at a later date.

As with the cutout for the camera, I don't see any reason *not* to, so I do. The Dremel rotary blade wouldn't be up to that task, but the box cutter slices through the soft plastic with no problems.

Notches cut in the case for buttons

Step 3: Add USB connections.

At this point, the phone fits in its compartment again, just as it did without the extended battery. I've accomplished nothing so far, really. Next step is where all the work comes together: getting the charging plug in place.

Now, I see two ways to do this. First is to repurpose an existing USB cable, so I don't have to wire up a plug. The other is to wire up a plug. Eventually, it comes down to space constraints. The USB plugs I bought have cases 16mm long. The shortest case on a cable I have is 20mm long. 4mm doesn't sound much, but I've not a lot of space to work with: I have only 14mm from the end of the phone to the outer casing. With a self-wired plug, I can just leave the case off, at which point, when plugged in, the plug protrudes from the phone only 9mm. It fits!

USB plug notch
So with a combination of Dremel and box cutter, I carve a notch for the plug to sit in.

Total time so far: 2 days
  • Did it live happily ever after?

    I know it may sound tedious, but did you keep working on it after this? I love seeing people make real life pipboys and this might be the most promising mod Ive seen and was surpised when the journal hit an end too soon. Did anything happen?
    • Re: Did it live happily ever after?

      Eeee! Someone actually interested in it!

      So far, it has been pushed to the side because looking for new job and digging up a leak in the front yard and clearing out the garage and buying a 3d printer and playing with it and having it break and fixing it and stuff.

      The garage part is because I want a proper workshop to work on this stuff. I have finally cleared space (it's taken me over a year), but the workbench is broken, so I need to fix that. Then I can move my tools downstairs, set them up, and have a proper workspace! :D :D :D

      At that point, yes, I do hope to continue. I have so many plans, and so many parts, that I can't *not* continue with it! This is gonna be FUN!

      Fun, but probably slow. Sorry :(
      • RE: Re: Did it live happily ever after?

        Ha, the worst enemy for online journals and prop making is always real life, so I'd understand

        Wish you the best of luck for real life and hope you find time soon
  • i, too, am interested! i'm disassembling mine to apply a matte spray (i don't like the glossy look) and might modify the lighting a bit. your pictures were handy to verify how the cable "reel" and hinge pin come out.

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