July 2, 2011

Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (Portal Gun)

For those of you unfamiliar with the games, Portal is a unique first-person puzzle game made by Valve, the same people who made Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2, and Half Life. Rather than being a “murder simulator” like many other games out there, Portal requires the player to solve a series of puzzles using the Apature Science Handheld Portal Device which creates a worm hole connecting two surfaces while conserving velocity and momentum. It has been a huge cultural hit, inspiring several internet memes, Half-Life mods, and merchandise. It also has made one particular prop builder in Atlanta, Volpin Props, insanely famous in the prop building and video game community when he made a replica of the gun for his wife.

Volpin’s Portal Gun

Typically, I try not to work on projects that someone already set the standard for, but I am a big fan of the Portal games and decided I really wanted to have my own Portal gun to play around with. I started of making the center barrel using 3” and 4” PVC and some plastic left over from other projects. The rear section of the gun is made from two 4” PVC couplers.

Prototype barrel.

Barrel with coupler support.

Final barrel with Back Ring

For the shells, I started of making a rough skeleton with cardboard and hot glue, and then filled in the area with expanding foam filler. Using the cardboard as a guide I carved the foam into the desired shape. While working on Delta I learned that the resin will cause the expanding foam to sag and pit, so I covered the foam with a layer of paper mache before I glassed the shells. After fiberglass the shells were shaped with bondo and a lot of sanding. For the back shell I used a thread to draw the groove line and used a dremmel to carve it as well as the indicator light port. The nubs for the hoses were cast from a block mold and blended into the shell with bondo.

After Carving Foam

Fiber Glass Added. You can see the paper mache underneath.

Shaping with Bondo

Filling in Small Gaps

Adding the Indicator Slot and Grove

Front Shell

Originally I wanted to have someone lathe the nozzle piece but decided to make it myself. Starting with a piece of 2.5” diameter PVC, I made a center balsa ring similar to how I did the tanks of Delta. The angles sections were made by using MDF rings and then filling the angle with bondo. Not bad for not having a circle cutter either.



The center tube assembly was made using an acrylic rod and polycarbonate tube from McMaster with a custom made centering piece. The assembly is centered in the barrel with foam strip.


When it came time to make the claws, I had two options. I could either make them 100% accurate which would have put me closer to par with the actual gun but would have been somewhat fragile, or I could make them similar but more robust in case they were bumped during the convention. I decided to go with the later with the intent I can revise the claws after the convention. Plywood pivot points were added to the shell and barrel with hot glue, and then the base of the claw was shaped from plywood.



The front branch of each claw is made from two pieces of plastic connected to a resin tip. Everything is bolted together with #8 rod and lock nuts. The claws can unscrew from the pivot point for maintenance and transport. For the diffuser I used a casting from a mailing tube and a piece of Plexiglas sanded with 400 grit paper to fog the plastic and hide the electronics. Once the lights are on you really can’t look directly into the barrel anyway.


The decals were designed by David and printed on Testor’s clear decal paper. We like to hide our logo in plain sight on our work, so we decided to change the barcode wording from “Aperture 04” to “2StoryProps DC11” and integrated our logo into one of the Aperture Science logos. The gun is painted with Krylon Gloss White and Black spray paint and Clear coat, and then was buffed with Turtle Wax.


Lighting was accomplished with blue and amber LEDs. The gun has two switches in the back. One switch turns the gun on and off, and the other is a single pole dual throw (SPDT) switch that changes the gun between colors. Using this instead of a three way switch ensures I never have a long pause when switching between colors.

Bottom switch turns the gun on and off. The top one toggles between orange and blue

All 24 LEDS soldered to boards and ready to be installed.

After eight straight hours of soldering, I now have my very own Portal Gun!







I am extremely happy with this build. I am planning to carry it around for some of D*Con while wearing and Aperture Science Lab Coat. Now that it’s done, I can focus on finishing Subject Delta. Be sure to keep up with our new facebook page to get updates about Delta, Daft Punk, and David’s new project as we hit the home stretch to D*Con 2011!


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  2. Here for this post...

    but I really like your entire blog!
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    Thank you!