Home How to How To: Build Your First Drone (exhaustive guide)

How To: Build Your First Drone (exhaustive guide)

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After almost 2 years of flying RTF quadcopters, hexacopters and other multirotors, I finally decided to take the plunge into the world of custom builds. I’ve been flying drones more for the thrill aspect than any other purpose (read: aerial photography), so an obvious choice was to build a 250-class racer and not anything larger.

I had to wait for a lot of parts to arrive, which meant the build didn’t progress at a speed I would’ve wanted it to. Nonetheless, in the end, the result is a smooth, fast, mean quadcopter that also looks like a Silent Assassin (pardon me, that’s what I choose to call it). ūüėõ

Anyway, that was for my side of the story.

Building a drone is an extremely enjoyable experience, and pretty straightforward if you invest time learning about it. Going through others’ build logs makes it sound like an extremely simple task, but then once you start getting the components it starts getting tricky.

Which is why you should read this guide (maybe even bookmark it for quick reference) over and over again till you have the entire process registered in your mind.

How To Build A Quadcopter Drone

How to build a quadcopter drone

Required Parts & Components

It’s generally a good idea to purchase components that aren’t too expensive for your first build. That is what I did too. You can then ‘test the waters’ to check if you’re genuinely as interested in flying racing drones as you think.

Parts List

  1. Carbon Fiber Frame¬†…or Amazon
  2. Power Distribution Board¬†…or Amazon
  3. 4 x 12A ESCs¬†…or Amazon
  4. 4 x Brushless¬†Motors¬†…or Amazon
  5. CC3D Flight Control Board¬†…or Amazon
  6. 4-12 x 5030 Propellers (aka ‘Props’)¬†…or Amazon
  7. Battery (3s/11.1V) 1300-1700mAh [Recommended 2-4 LiPos]¬†…or Amazon
  8. Transmitter …or Amazon
  9. Receiver¬†…or Amazon

Rough total: $230.

It is worth noting that you can always use the transmitter and receiver you purchase here with any other quadcopter/multicopter you decide to build in the future.

…besides this, you’ll need lots of zip ties (more the merrier; get 50), double sided tape, nylon spacers, and some tools (soldering equipment, hex screwdrivers, thread locker, etc.).

It is generally a good idea to pick and choose parts. However, there are at times ‘kits’ available that will come with most parts you’ll need to build a quadcopter.

This kit, for example, has components 1 through 6 from the parts list above; all for $88 shipped worldwide.

Once you have the parts, you can start with your build.

How To Build A Quadcopter Drone: Steps

Step 1: Figuring out the Component Arrangement

This is one of the biggest challenges that you’ll be faced with while building your first drone. ESCs, the PDB (power distribution board), FC (flight controller), the battery, all need to be arranged in a manner that the weight is as evenly distributed as possible.

You also need to keep in mind future upgrades that you may want to have, such as FPV, etc.

Most frames will divide the area between the top and bottom plate into three sections. You can leave the front section empty for FPV upgrades in the future. Use the centre portion to mount your Flight Controller, and possibly even the PDB if that is possible.

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***Ensure you have the Flight Controller on the centre.***

We want to have the center of gravity as close to the center of the quadcopter as possible. This is so that the flights turn out to be stable, without the Flight Controller having to correct/compensate too much.

Once you’re done figuring out where you want what, you can proceed to the actual build.

Step 2: Mounting the Motors on the Arms

This is perhaps the simplest step involved. The good thing is, it is the first real step towards building the drone and gives you a nice feel of how it’s going to be.

Most motors will come with two or three sets of screws, differing in length. This is so that the motors can be used with arms of any thickness (3mm arms being the most popular).

To mount the motors on the arms, ensure you have it aligned in the right direction; you want the three wires sticking out towards the arm.

Here’s the right procedure that ensures proper motor installation on the arms:

  1. Start with a screw and tighten it just so the motor doesn’t fall off.
  2. Now install the screw diagonally opposite to the one you started off with.
  3. Repeat with the third and fourth screws.
  4. Tighten all screws.
  5. Unscrew the first one, put a drop of thread locker on it (blue) and tighten it to satisfaction.
  6. Do the same with the other three screws, ensure you move diagonally from screw to screw.

This ensures proper installation. Do not attempt to skip adding thread lock, the vibrations on your flights will cause the nuts to fall off.

Step 3: Soldering the ESCs to the Motors

Depending on where you wish to place your ESCs, the wiring on them needs to be cut/elongated. If this is your first drone build, skip cutting the wires — we’ll just tuck the extra around the arms later.

Now, since you’re building a quadcopter, there are two clockwise motors (motor numbers #1 and #3) and two anti-clockwise motors (motors #2 and #4).

Identify which of your motors are clockwise and which ones are anti-clockwise, and then move to the next step.

Let’s assume the three wires leading out from the ESCs are wires 1, 2 and 3, and the ones leading from the motors are wires¬†x, y and z.

Pairing For Clockwise Motors:

1 – x

2 – y

3 – z

Basically, you just solder each ESC wire to the corresponding motor wire.

However, its a bit different for anti-clockwise motors, as seen below; you have to switch any two wires to make the motor spin in the opposite direction.

Pairing For Anti-Clockwise Motors:

1 – x

2 – z

3 – y

As you’ll have noticed, two wires from the ESC are switched; this causes the motor to spin in the anti-clockwise direction.

Do this for all four motors. Motors are arranged in the following manner:

Here, CW denotes ‘clockwise’ and CCW denotes ‘counter-clockwise’.

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How to build a quadcopter drone

(Don’t mind the missing prop on motor #4, just had a bit of a crash) ūüėČ

Step 4: Soldering the ESC Power Leads to the Power Distribution Board

The ESCs need to draw power from somewhere to feed the motors. This comes from the PDB (Power Distribution Board).

A red and a black wire will lead out from every ESC. Every red wire is to be treated as positive, and the black as negative.

Accordingly, solder the red and black wires from each ESC to the PDB. Do take note of the positive and negative notations, this can make or break your first drone build.

***Make sure you know where your PDB is going to sit on the frame before you solder the ESC wires (or any other wires for that matter).***

Next, solder the battery wires to the PDB in the same manner – red (positive) and black (negative).

Step 5: ESC to Flight Controller Wiring

The flight controller is the CPU or the brains of your quadcopter drone. The FC will thus decide how fast each motor should spin; this message must go through the ESCs.

It is extremely easy to connect ESC wires to the FC. Most FCs, such as the CC3D, will come with markings (for e.g. 1 to 6) which will help you connect the ESC wires. Since we’re building a quadcopter here, we’ll have four wires to connect.

Step 6: Receiver to Flight Controller wiring

Depending on the number of channels on your receiver, you will have cables that will need to be connected from the receiver to the flight controller. Note: Most receivers do not come with these cables, but instead the flight controller does.

Remember, 4 channels are enough to get a quadcopter in the air, but purchasing at least a 6 channel receiver is recommended.

Luckily, there’s no specific order in which you have to connect these cables. This is because every channel is later configured via software (such as OpenPilot/CC3D). So just connect all cables from the FC to the receiver.

How To Build A Quadcopter Drone: Getting it in the air

How to build a quadcopter drone

Congrats, you’ve successfully built your own drone! The next challenge is to get it in the air. For this, you’ll have to configure your Flight Controller (basically tell the flight controller the specifics of your build), which can be done via software such as OpenPilot/LibrePilot etc.

In our experience, Ground Control Station software such as¬†OpenPilot/LibrePilot don’t work very well with Macs, so having a Windows PC will help (we all have those, don’t we?).

Remember: what you’ve built isn’t a toy and can potentially cause harm. Brushless motors are powerful, and must be handled with care — especially when they have props on them.

Once you’re confident flying around, you can think of adding FPV gear. So this was our word of advice on how to build a quadcopter drone. Let us know if you have anything to add (or ask) in the comments section below and we’ll have it answered at the earliest!