Sillybutts & SLAB: A Designer Q&A

Sillybutts & SLAB: A Designer Q&A

In the last month, we welcomed a new featured designer to our ranks with the release of the SLAB hardware, parts kits and fully-assembled blasters on the shop. Sillybutts, the designer and namesake of Silly’s Lever Action Blaster, is a madman with a CAD file. From reworking Taffy’s Skewer into a ’95 Crossbow-inspired springer to his own SillyPistol, Thumper, SillyMaxx air blaster, and the list goes on; it’s impressive what he’s done in little over a year! So, in celebration of the SLAB coming to the shop, I thought I’d sit down with him virtually for a Q&A.

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J Perry Heun: So, Sillybutts, what prompted you to start designing a lever action blaster?

Sillybutts: Well, I knew that all the options on the market were too expensive, too complicated, and closed source (so I couldn’t go and edit the design to my liking). I tend to repeatedly look at a category of blasters, see that they are really expensive, then go, “well, I can make that better for a lower price.” I then proceed to do exactly that!

JPH: Do you have a list of blaster categories you want to go through, or do you pick your next projects randomly?

SB: It's pretty random. I can go from “huh, that would be neat” to a finished design in a month or less. I don’t usually stew on ideas; I immediately work on them. At this point, I have tons of different designs sitting in deep freeze waiting to be finished. 

JPH: Is there usually an order in which you design? Do you start at base components and ask yourself, “what can I make with this?” or do you look at the final design and think of what components you need to make it function properly?

SB: I usually start by figuring out what mechanism I want to use for a design. I want something fun and interesting! Then I lay out rough versions of components in CAD, roughly in the spot where I think they should sit in the final design. Then I just connect the dots with printed panels, aluminum bars, threaded rods, etc.

For the SLAB, I went through three different mechanisms and eventually settled on the moving magwell concept (borrowed from the Talon-fed version of the FLAK). I then laid out the components I wanted to use, and I just had to connect the dots.

JPH: You are one of the most, if not the most, prolific designers in the hobby space right now. How do you release such quality designs so quickly?

SB: As with most things, it’s a combination of factors.

First, my modeling workflow is very streamlined and fits me very well. I don’t bother designing the blaster on paper or figuring stuff out beforehand. I immediately jump into software and figure out the layout of parts in 3D space. This means that when I find something I like, I can start making progress on the design extremely quickly. I don’t need to take my drawing and convert it into a 3D space. I already have my thoughts in 3D; I just need to refine them.

The ability to skip straight to modeling is also born out of necessity. I have a medical condition called aphantasia, and the best way to sum it up is that I don’t have a “mind’s eye.” When I close my eyes and try to imagine something in my head, I don’t see anything. It's sort of like being blind, but for your thoughts; I don’t really get any benefit from sketching out a design on paper since I can’t imagine what any parts of it look like other than what is on the paper.

 

 

Therefore, 3D models are very helpful thinking tools for me. Instead of having to reason and intuition my way through exactly how something should be laid out, I can just go and lay it out that way in CAD. If it doesn’t work out, I change it in the software. It sounds weird to many other designers (and creative types in general), but it works very well for me.

Secondly, I have had a lot of free time for most of the past two years. The pandemic closed everything in my junior year of high school, and I didn’t have a job to fill that time. With nothing better to do, I decided to teach myself some new skills. One of the skills I picked up was 3D modeling, which I grew to really enjoy doing. My massive amounts of free time continued until September 2022, when I began my first year of college. For (basically) two whole years, I had every day of the week all to myself—tons of time to design blasters. I also work on whatever design I feel like working on, so I rarely ever get burnt out on designing. If one blaster gives me trouble, I work on a different one. There is always progress being made on one project or another.

Thirdly, I make extensive use of existing resources for blaster design. Instead of making a new blaster from scratch, I tend to mash together parts of existing blaster designs. For instance, the SLAB is mashed together from the printed parts of five different blasters (Lynx turnaround. SillyPistol plunger, catch, and top slide. FLAK stock and lever. Caliburn V4/Talon Claw V4 aluminum bars. Skewer magwell), along with mechanical ideas borrowed from another (the Chimera by Northeast Design’s trigger linkage). This sharing of ideas cuts the prototyping process from 6+ months to sometimes less than a week. From there, it’s just editing and tweaking the various parts of the blaster to flow together and function correctly in my design.

And lastly, of course, experience is extremely important. The more I design, the better my designs get. At this point, I intuitively know how thick a part should be or what’s the best way to connect different pieces together. Knowing is half the battle!

JPH: What got you into the blaster tag / foam-flinging Hobby?

SB: Well, I’ve always liked figuring out how things work. As a child, I would constantly take apart toys and mess around with the little motors inside or take apart clicky pens to mess around with the spring inside them. Eventually, I realized that nerf blasters could be taken apart, and they were very cool inside!

My first mod was a penny-mod for the Maverick, following a mod guide from LordDraconical. I then modded the (brand new at the time) clear Raider that my father had bought to duel me with. From there, I was hooked! I found NerfHaven and hung out around there for a few years, which is also where I became a massive vintage-blaster-collecting nerd. Show me a picture of any blaster, and I can probably tell you what company made it, when they made it, and how it works. I particularly love SuperMaxx blasters from Larami. (Did you know that the painted portions of the Supermaxx 5000 are inverted compared to the previous SuperMaxx 2000 and SuperTech 9000?) Nerdy stuff like that.

JPH: What was your first design in CAD?

SB: My first CAD model was me flippantly skipping past any learning resources for CAD software and immediately trying to design a flywheel blaster similar to the Bulwark: A horizontal Talon magazine in the top of the blaster, curved pusher to direct the darts into the flywheels, the usual stuff. It was absolutely awful, and I never finished it. In fact, it turned me off from learning 3D modeling for a few months.

 

When I returned, my first finished design was a printable PVC Wye foregrip for the v3 Caliburn, making it look like the original 2016 Caliburn prototype. From there, the first design I was really proud of was a series of slamfire conversion kits for all the Caliburn and Talon Claw family blasters. That was also the first design I did where I went through a prototyping process, beta tests with other people, and managed a full release to the community.

JPH: Back to the present, the SLAB represents perhaps the most polished design in your already substantial catalog. Are there specific things you learned or challenges you worked around while designing this blaster?

SB: One thing that I really struggled with was the trigger linkage. I went through at least five different mechanisms to transfer the motion from the trigger to the catch, which are basically a foot apart. I ended up using two pivoting levers, along with a long piece of threaded rod as a transfer bar. The final system is both durable and adjustable, and I’m really proud of it! 

JPH: How has your experience with that problem-solving influenced your design decisions looking forward to your next project(s)?

SB: Well, now that I have a proven design for long trigger linkages, I can put a plunger and catch basically anywhere on a blaster. This makes a lot of ideas a lot easier to design around. 

One example is my work-in-progress bolt action blaster Cynthia, which is basically my version of the Indra by Captain Slug. By using the same trigger linkage as the SLAB, I can massively improve the trigger feel of my design versus the sliding, gritty trigger feel of the Indra.

JPH: What’s your favorite design in the hobby so far?

SB: Oh, don’t make me choose; I could never pick just one! A few that I really like at the moment are the C35A Rocinante from Cobalt Designs, the original 2016 machined Caliburn design, the VenoMaxx from Venomm213, the FoamKnight RX, and the Coathanger by SpitfireProducts/Tinkershot and Hotkoin.

 

JPH: What do you like about those blasters? Is it more the aesthetics, mechanics, or something else that appeals to you?

SB: On the Rocinante, I love the aesthetics. The machined Caliburn and the VenoMaxx are the peak of old-school homemade crafting skills, which I really enjoyed and miss dearly. The FoamKnight RX is very mechanically interesting, and the Coathanger is mechanically interesting and one of the coolest-looking blasters I’ve ever seen! 

JPH: If you had one thing to say to your past self, or to an aspiring designer in the hobby, what would it be?

SB: If you’re starting out with designing blasters, don’t start from scratch! Use the vast resources the community has provided, especially the open-sourced designs from Captain Slug. Work off of others’ stuff at first, don’t jump into the deep end right off the bat. Passion can get you far in the design world, but doing it without prior knowledge – or without borrowing the knowledge of others, will leave you disappointed.

JPH: Are there any upcoming projects you want to tease?

SB: AEGs are really cool.

JPH: And lastly, where can people find you and your work?

SB: I release all my designs for free on GitHub. I also have a website with links to all my social media and contact info: Stuffbysilly.com

Thank you for the opportunity for this chat!

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And that was Sillybutts, the designer of “Silly’s Lever Action Blaster” now on the shop. I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear from him, but I highly recommend subscribing to his YouTube channel if you haven’t already. It’s always great to see his progress updates as they come available. - JPH

P.S. If you liked this style of designer Q&A, leave us a comment or shoot us an email! Ultimately, we want this blog to be something you want to read regularly, and your feedback is always appreciated.

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