Section 7 -DIY Drone Repair and Upkeep
Even if you are all thumbs, there are some simple repairs that will help you get the most from your quadcopters. Here are some of the more common repairs and the basics needed to perform them.
Propeller Replacement – Propellers for small drones are very inexpensive, so you should replace them once they are bent or otherwise out of shape. Smaller quads have propellers which attach in one of two ways – the micros often have friction-fit (push on) props which only require a deft touch and small fingers to remove and replace. Some hobbyists claim that a small drop of a wood glue such as Elmer’s helps them stay on better – yet is easily removed when it’s time for replacement. Minis generally have a single phillips head screw holding the propeller to the drive shaft. For this and other repairs, your first tool purchase should be a set of tiny screwdrivers.
Motor Replacement – Motor replacement is a common task on small drones. Depending on your hobby skills, you may want to research your initial purchase to find out exactly how the motors are replaced on your particular quad of choice. Some are plug-in, while others require that you solder the new motor (motor comes with leads) to the main circuit board. It’s often possible to take a shortcut and simply solder the new motor wires to the cutoffs of the old ones. Motor replacement sometimes requires disassembly of the booms (the cross pieces which hold the motors to the main body).
These motors use plugs so no soldering is required for replacement.
Boom or Shell Replacement
As shown in the photo below, the booms of most Mini quadcopters are press fitted into the main frame and also into the motor pods. The booms are very inexpensive, but you must be careful in your replacement work as it is possible to rip out the motor wires or harm other assemblies if you are too rough. If your motors have plugs, this process is easier – boom replacement on some models will require de-soldering and re-soldering of the motor wires to the main board.
The booms (cross pieces) push into the main round frame – wires run through the boom and are plugged into
Fix it or Sell It?
Other repairs can be done – in fact, you can get virtually any part for most quadcopters, including the main circuit boards. But there comes a time when the repair costs may be adding up. However, don’t throw that quad in the trash yet! You can still recoup some of your cost by selling it for its parts content! For example, just your transmitter, which probably never sustained damage, could be worth $10 or so. Add to it some of the parts from your hulk, and you may be able to get $15 or more for what is left of your quadcopter. eBay and RCgroups.com are both places where you could consider selling your parts. Be sure to accurately describe your sale so your buyer and you remain happy after the transaction. Some hobbyists will give away their “hulks” to fellow hobbyists willing to pay the shipping and handling.
Repair and upkeep is a big part of the enjoyment for many people. However if flying is your only goal, the “use and sell or discard” route may fit your needs. As with all aircraft and mechanical devices, there is a certain cost per hour of operation. This holds true whether you decide to repair or to replace your mico and mini quadcopters.
Yet another parts strategy is to wait for a good discount sale and buy two of the same model quadcopter. This gains you an additional battery as well as a full complement of parts to fix one of the machines. Mini and micro quadcopters often are sold for as low as $20 each when on sale – so the cost for two would still be reasonable.
Tools of the Trade
If you enjoy repair and modification, the following tools and supplies should be the beginning of any basic drone tool collection:
1. Razor Blades, X-Acto knives, etc.
2. Electrical tape – various colors
3. Glue – some superglue as well as perhaps some other glues or epoxy. A hot glue gun can also be useful.
4. Mini and micro screwdrivers
5. Soldering Iron with small tip ($15-$20+) – if you intend to progress further in the hobby, pick up a more powerful one with interchangeable tips and variable heat. You can find bargain high-power models for about $40 including the tips. Pick up some solder for electronic use (usually rosin-core).
6. Digital Multimeter (voltage meter)
7. Good lighting for the work area as well as a magnifying glass on a stand for inspection of those tiny parts
8. Fastening odds and ends such as velcro, rubber bands and zip ties.
Chances are that some of these items are already sitting around your house or workshop. A nice kit could be put together for less than $50. Look for bargains both online and at the local dollar store.