Jan 272012
 
 January 27, 2012  Posted by  Add comments
Buy or Build Quadcopter

Buy or Build Quadcopter

Flying quadcopters is an expensive hobby. Flight controllers, motors, ESCs, batteries, and frames are not cheap. Regardless of whether you buy or build, it will probably cost over $300 to get started, with another $100 or more being spent every few months on upgrades and replacing broken or worn out parts. So, is it better to buy a kit with everything included in one package or assemble a quadcopter using parts built or purchased separately? For me, a DIY build is the best. Continue reading to find out why…

Kits

Kits are great for people who don’t have much time to spend understanding which components will work well together. The components in a kit are usually carefully matched and pre-soldered making them easier to build. They may also appear to be cheaper at first. Often, when you add up a similar configuration of parts purchased separately, the kit looks cheaper. The catch is that the kit contains parts that are only made by the manufacturer. So, when you go to buy replacement parts they are much more expensive than generic off the shelf parts. By the way, crashes inevitably happen and parts do fail.

Also, while the parts in a low end kits may be carefully matched, they may be poor quality parts or parts without many features. The flight control board is the most important part of a quadcopter. To get advanced features such as auto leveling, axis lock, altitude lock, position hold, or gps with way points, you will have to buy a very high end kit. From what I can tell, it is very expensive to buy a kit that has anything more than gyro stabilization. Read my post on gyros vs. accelerometers to understand the importance of this.

Though I have not purchased a quadcopter kit, the one that appears to be the most popular is the Gaui 330X-S. Less expensive quadcopters are listed at the goodluckbuy site. Good luck with those!

DIY

Conversely, when you build from a collection of parts that you purchase separately, it will take more time and perhaps even appear to cost more initially. However, it will be much cheaper to replace a part since you have lots of choices and are not forced to buy a part made by the kit manufacturer. Also, you can buy and configure any flight control board with whatever features you require. This gives you total flexibility of which features you need and want. It also allows you to change boards as your demands change. The following blog posts may help if you decide to do it yourself:

Update – 1/6/13 Also, here is a series of blog posts about an easy DIY quadcopter I built:

The Frame (Buy vs. Build)

Even if you decide to build your own quadcopter using parts purchased separately, you may want to get a frame kit. This way, you will know it is engineered correctly and you can still equip it with whatever parts you want.

The DJI F450 and the Q450 from HobbyKing are very low priced, durable frames that make great starter frames. HobbyKing also sells an even lower cost version of the Q450 without a built in PCB. This frame requires a separate wiring harness. These frames are so cheap it hardly makes since to try and build your own unless you just like to tinker.

Higher end frames are much lighter, but still tough. The HT-450 from HoverThings is one of my favorite frames and is reasonably priced.

Building your own Frame

I have had a lot of fun building my own quadcopter frames. It is not that difficult and doesn’t require a lot of special tools or materials. However, it does take a lot of time and precise measurements. If you are pretty handy, have a drill or drill press and a hack saw or miter saw, building your own frame is the way to go. Here is my post on building a frame for under $10.

Frames can be made with lots of different materials. At a minimum, you will need some screws, center plates and arms.

Screws

Small screws can be found at rcsrewz.com or McMaster-Carr or on ebay.

Center Plates

Center plate material needs to be rigid, tough and light. I have been using plexiglass discs I bought off ebay, because it is really cheap and looks cool. G-10/FR-4 Epoxy or carbon fiber plates are lighter and probably stronger. But, they cost more and may have to be ordered from Asia to get the best price.

Arms

Quadcopter arms can be made of wood, aluminum, or carbon fiber. Again, strong, rigid and light are the characteristics to look for. I have been using wood. It is not very tough. Wooden arms will easily break in a crash. But, it is so cheap and easy to get that I don’t mind replacing arms when they break. I will probably experiment with aluminum and carbon fiber arms soon. Aluminum will bend in a crash, but it is also fairly cheap. Carbon fiber is probably the best alternative for everything, but it is also the most expensive and harder to find. To get carbon fiber cheap, it must be ordered from Asia. On the other hand, wood and aluminum are usually easily sourced locally.

Conclusion

Everybody has different budgetary and time constraints. For those with unlimited money and little time, kits are the way to go. But, for those of you, like me, who are on a tight budget and enjoy the fun of building stuff, I would suggest DIY all the way!


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  22 Responses to “Buy or Build a Quadcopter? Kit or DIY?”

  1. Hi, im new to quadcopters, ive been flying a latrax alias since Christmas, bought it for my 10 year old son, but I want something a little bigger for myself without breaking the bank on a DJI or other mainstream RTF, and am considering a DIY.

    would the following DJI flamewheel kit
    http://www.amain.com/product_info.php/cPath/3347_3352_3233_3237/products_id/235232/n/DJI-Flame-Wheel-F450-ARF-Quadcopter-Kit-w-Motors-ESC-Propellers

    work well with the less expensive hobbyking KK control board?

  2. I am interested in building a quad copter myself but i have no clue on where to start. I was hoping that you could lead me in the right direction since I am fairly new at this.

    Thank You

  3. Hey Britt, First I wanna say , fantastic site, perfect for beginners like me … Second, I have been pondering a solution to my minor problem. I used your diy build plan and opted for parts that were slightly different from your list, I.E. the Transmitter and reciever combo .. I wanted to add fpv in the near future and got the 6 channel HK Trx and Rx but did not read the part where u needed a cable to program the Trx from pc … long story shorter … will the BESC power the KK2 board from any position , `say channel 4 instead of ch 1 … if so , would changing the order of the motors from 1,2,3,4 top down on the outputs .. to 4,3,2,1 top down on the outputs correct the reversed elevator and rudder problem … Thanx Mike

    • Thanks! The first motor connector is the only one that takes power. You might be able to change the motor mix on the KK2.0 to get them reversed, but I would just get the cable. You may be able to get one on eBay a little faster.

      • Thanks again … I have the cable on the way just don’t know when it’s gonna get here … Thank you for the quick response and the insite … So as long as the motor with the besc is in the #1 position it will power the board reguardless of where the motor is on the frame … Thanks , Mike

  4. Hi Britt, very interesting web page the biggest hand I have found so far. Thank you very much and congratulations. As I am not yet in the RC business, I can only comment that I also invested in HK merchandise to built my first Quad and, after having read for days what the HK forum offers, picked nearly the same configuration as you did. I had to split the order in two, as neither the ESC plush 30 nor the 9XR and its case were available. The first order with frame and everything else should arrive in a few days. The second order I reduced by the case for the 9XR yesterday because this case is not available before march and I am #40 on the back order list. Here an info which might be helpful for someone cutting back on an order: Even HK announces not being able to pay back shipping costs, they did credit part of mine yesterday when I requested to cancel the case. The case cost about 11 $, the whole order was decreased by about 30 $. So if you want to cancel something, do what I did, get on contact in the live chat and talk. I was attended by Ivy. ;)

  5. I need quadcopter kit along with flight time more than 40+minutes is there any idea , Please suggest me. THANK U

  6. Britt – Gigantic “Thanks” for putting this site together! I’m not only new to RC, but to quadcopters as well. I wanted to do something with my son that would get him going on something “sciencey” and I thought RC’s were a great way to go since so many disciplines are at play. We’ve bought the off the shelf mini RC helicopters and he likes them, but it lacks the intimacy and sense of accomplishment of building your own from scratch. Not to mention that you don’t actually learn anything by doing that. I want this to be a learning experience for him.

    I started scouring the Web trying to get information on how to get started but I found that most of it was either way over my head or incomplete for a noob like myself. Then I came across your site. Perhaps this is elementary to more experienced folks, but for people like me, this is a GREAT starting off point. We’re going to get started once the school year is out and I will let you know how we’ve done.

    Thanks again for taking your valuable and precious time to create a site like this.

    • Michael,

      Thanks a lot. Glad to know it was useful.

      It will be a fun project. Three tips that came to my mind thinking about your project are:

      1. Be careful, these things can be very dangerous. Here is a thread on safety at rcgroups with plenty of people who learned the hard way:

      http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1144377

      2. learn to solder and order plenty of connectors
      3. pick a proven flight control board that is easy to fly

      Good luck with it! I would love to see how it progresses.

  7. it was real helpful

  8. I’m interested in building a FPV quadcopter. As I watch quadcopter videos on youtube I noticed that most flights are jerky. Stability is obviously a concern. With your experience what do you think would happen if you doubled the length of each arm? Have you or anyone else you’ve seen tried it?

    I imagine the copter will weigh more. It’ll be slower and less responsive. The flight time will be reduced because of the added weight. BUT I imagine you’d get increased flight stability.

    any thoughts?

  9. Hey, I have two FPV flights under my belt now. Home-made frame, gopro, 5.8g foxtech video…here is a video at the park: http://youtu.be/0M8V5rin_JA

  10. i found my frame here:
    http://quadframe.myshopify.com/collections/quadframe/products/lunar-explorer-4
    inexpensive and strong,
    very light weight with option to install gopro gimbal.

    It is some DIY it doesn’t come in one piece.

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