Steampunk Gun Mods

An essential part to any Steampunk Costume, and one of the simplest mods to do. Click the images for more detail, and rollover for information.

The format is under revision, I want to see how well this works and looks (in my mind it is palacial!)
Also, apologies for the quality of some photos, it was taken on both a Canon TX1 and a Nokia N95 8GB depending which was at hand at the time.

All right, let’s go!

To start this mod off we can use any toy gun as a base. Steampunk as a theme is quite broad and interpretive, so don’t feel any pressure about what you should end up with. Like all good artistic endeavours, its all about what you like, and what feels right for you. Hell, as I will show later, a toy gun is but one starting point; only your imagination limits you here.

I chose two different toy guns, the first was the Nerf N-Strike Maverick, possibly one of the most overdone steampunk mod guns on the intarwebs. Seriously, it’s been done to death, but I was low on time. Plus, the reason it is so prolific? It’s made well, the parts are of a high quality, and thus makes the job so much easier for you!

The Nerf N-Strike Maverick, a good starting model.

The second was a No-Name brand generic toy gun. This one I started before the Maverick, and finished afterwards, so I only have photo’s of the middle process. However, the actual modding translates easily to whatever you have at hand, so fret not.

We begin our journey by carefully dismembering our stock model, keeping note of where each piece is coming from and what its function is. If you want your gun to continue functioning after this mod, and with minimal effort that is more than possible, then take the care of this simple precautionary step. Photos are a good way of remembering intricate setups within the mechanisms of the gun. Tools you will need here:

  • Screwdriver Set: Good long necked screwdrivers will make your job much easier here, especially since most of these toys are designed for the screws themselves to be unseen, and thus are buried under 2-3cm of plastic. Also, thicker handles mean more torque as ? = r x F, so if you are finding yourself stripping the screws or simply not making any progress, there’s your remedy. On that same note, the torque also applies to the size of the screwdriver head you are using. The best size is the largest that will fit. Try using a smaller sized head and you will just strip the screw, making it impossible to get out without a drill.

Screwdrivers with a long neck are best.

  • Sandpaper: Both coarse grain and some wet-and-dry (WnD) are needed, as most of these plastics are very soft and will show up scratch marks like my white dress shirts show red wine stains. The WnD is very fine grained, and you may think when you are buying it that it would be useless, but trust me on this one; twenty seconds of use and you will end up with a surface that looks almost polished. If in doubt, ask your local hardware store staff and they will agree.

Sandpaper - Coarse Grain (red) and Wet-and-Dry (black)

As you remove these screws, I can guarentee that the more… paranoid… of you will start to fret at this point, but I want to ease the stress. The screws will have some of the plastic still attached to them when you pull them out. This is normal, it’s ok, the paint will actually add this thickness back later on. Also, the screwdriver will have small bits of metal from the screw heads left on the tip. This is inavoidable, we are dealing with very cheap screws here. Toy companies don’t expect the screws to ever come out, and as such they aren’t made to very high standards. Again, this is fine, and as long as you aren’t stripping the thread, you won’t have a problem.

The yellow plastic is caught in the thread, but this is acceptable Magnetically stuck to the driver are some metal shards, but again, this isn't a problem.


With the gun now in twain, we can see the inner workings of the firing mechanism. Rember what I said about photos here. Even a sketch of the pieces and what they are connected to is better than nothing, but it takes two seconds to whip out your mobile and snap a shot or two. Since it is impossible to buy a gorram phone without a camera these days, this should be simple enough to do.

Don't look! I'm Naked!! A close-up of the firing mechanism. Keep track of those springs, trust me!

Since this has a revolving barrel design, the firing mechanism is a little more complicated than some. I took another shot of the barrel rotate/release mechanism for good measure. Keep in mind, you dont actually need to paint or mod these pieces as they are not visible, and are usually black or some other non-obtrusive colour. As a regular “Voider of Warrenties”, I have a lot of experience with taking things apart and putting them back together, and even still, whenever I take a piece out, I put it back in immediately to help remember and visualise how each component contributes to the device as a whole. Get into this habit and there will be fewer tears later on.

Now that we are in pieces and we have our “Insurance Photos”, we can start the first big step. Painting! Now here is where your creativity needs to take a front seat. I personally use a metallic spray paint with a black undercoat. The black undercoat gives it a more solid, heavy look, while a white undercoat gives a brighter, light appearance. Either way, I highly reccomend one or the other colours, as if you attempt to paint colour without a base-coat you will use up much more paint than need be, and when dealing with metallic paints, this is a good AU$20 price difference. Remember to use a good coverage of newspaper or similar, not only to protect the ground beneath you from paint, but also to protect your freshly painted item from dirt and organic debris.

Before... ...and After

Depending on your paints, this can dry in anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours. Do something constructive with your time, like getting ready for the next steps, reading a book, doing some homework, learning a new language, or playing Team Fortres 2. In this time, it is also a good idea to move the drying pieces about every now and then. This stops them from sticking to the newspaper, thus saving you the hastle of picking the celulose fibres off one by one. Seriously, not fun. Learn from my mistakes, because I won’t.

Now we should have ourselves some nice black pieces of plastic. Do you have that tingly feeling of satisfaction in your spine, just between the L2 and L3 vertibrae? That is because you are stating to see how this could end up looking, and that is exciting. But don’t rush, lets keep this looking good. On the Tommy Gun one I have decided to keep part of the chassis black so I can detail it later. There is a good chance you will want to do two or three tones of colour on yours as well, so let’s have a look at minimising effort and maximising rewards here. By using some of that cheap, papery masking tape we can create border lines where we want one colour to start and the other to finish. Using the edge of the tape, mark out the border with the exposed edge being the side you want to paint. Honestly, the cheaper the tape you use here the better, as it will stick less and thus leave no marks. Thanks China!

Yes, I know the paint is patchy, its a first coat. Too thick a coat turns gluggy and terrible. Lines dont have to be perfect here, try using the contours of the model as a guide.

Here I have used the sandpaper to remove the unwanted Nerf logos, and smoothed out some detail I didn’t much care for. I left the Maverick logo on the barrel support beam, as I really love the word ^^. In the back you can see the barrel itself being painted; this one took ages as it has some pinned-in moving pieces that would prove too much of a hassle to remove. In situations like this, if you want to ensure that the movement of a mechanism is preserved when you paint it, use a cotton-tip to apply a little amount of vaseline to the moving parts. Not only will it stop the paint from adhering to this surface, but it will also keep it lubricated when you want to use it. Note that a mechanism relying on friction will need to be cleaned of the vaseline before you try to use it; this includes brakes! Also note that anything under the vaseline will have its original colour preserved, so ensure you do not make the protected area too big, or in a visible area. If this cannot be avoided, do it anyway and touch up the spot later on with a brush and some patience.

The black undercoat gives the brass a nice heavy look, without losing the sheen. A good even coverage gives a fresh look, or a patchy coverage can make it weathered.

With all the visible bits covered and the base coats finished, it’s time to assemble the pieces once more. Keep in mind, these designs are very plain, feel free to add more depth to yours with other colours. Chromes can look stunning if used sparingly, as can rusty-reds and earthen-browns. Try sponging (a technique I will cover later) for the old and weathered look. Once reassembled, we can use dry brush techniques for depth and flavour. For some more intricacies, we could add on some superfluous items, like tubes, dials, and little glass vials (look at my mad poetry skillz!).

Those photos really came in handy when you have pieces from two different guns! Just a barrel and a trigger away from a working brass weapon!

Ohnoes!!1! The trigger does not spring back to its X(0)! Remember that spring I pointed out before? You betcha, it was sitting on the floor next to me. Too bad it wasn’t visible in the photos I initially took, but some balancing of forces at equillibrium equations later and I found where the little bastard came from.

The offending spring was tucked behind the trigger, I hadn't noticed when I took it apart

Put back together, she was in a condition good enough as a prop for the costume I was designing her for, but as soon as my University work permits me some spare time I will go back and pretty her up a little. While you wait, here is one prepared earlier. Notice the drybrushed lines and weathered barrel, not to mention the pressure valves added to the front stock.

More to follow!

Coming Soon:

Drybrush techniques,

Aftermarket Additions,

and Lessons in araldite
(aka how to seperate your fingers!)

  • Might I suggest “Lessons in araldite” as a suitable follow-up.

  • Awesome work, with the photos – I have that tingly feeling of anticipation in my spine, just between the L3 and L4 vertibrae. Or it could be rheumatoid arthritis. Anyway, I’d love to see some photos of the complete costumes, too.

  • you have too much time on your hands lol, thanks for the photo demonstration however , its always easier to follow pics than just read instructions

  • Missmeow

    Can’t wait to see the rest ^.^