Building A Tricorder Prop Worthy Of Mr Spock

We’ve all been there. You want to assemble a proper Star Trek: The Original Series landing party prop set, but the TOS tricorders you can find on the market are little more than overpriced toys. Imagine the embarrassment of beaming down to Cestus III with a plastic tricorder. The Metrons wouldn’t have even bothered with the trial by combat with such a sorry showing.

Unhappy with the state of Star Trek props, [Dean O] decided to take matters into his own hands. He purchased a TOS tricorder from Diamond Select Toys and set out to modify it into something a bit closer to Starfleet standards. Anything painted metallic silver on the toy was replaced with a machined aluminum duplicate, adding some much needed heft. He even spruced up the controls and display.

To start, [Dean] stripped the tricorder down, separating all of the silver plastic parts and finding aluminum stock that was close enough to the desired dimensions. This ended up being .125″ plate for the sides, and .500″ bars for the horizontal dividers. To make the side panels he placed the original plastic parts over the aluminum, marked the mounting holes with a punch, and used the belt sander to shape them.

[Dean] then put in a more screen accurate Moire disc, and went as far as to get real watch crowns for the buttons (just like the prop used in the show). In a particularly bold move, he even drilled out the center of watch crowns to install plastic light pipes for LED illumination.

Last year we saw a build that crammed a Raspberry Pi into the same Diamond Select tricorder toy to excellent effect. Now somebody just needs to combine both projects and they’ll have the slickest tricorder in the Alpha Quadrant.

24 thoughts on “Building A Tricorder Prop Worthy Of Mr Spock

    1. Of course, think of when the original prop was built. We still had a B&W TV in our house when Star Trek originally aired and I had to negotiate time in front of the HUGE 21″ set in the living room just to get to watch Star Trek in color!

      I also tell friends we had it really bad back then. I had to wade through 12 feet of shag carpet just to change the TV channel….

      1. Was watching an early Dr Who episode the other day – which featured video conferencing – and the prop was clearly a piece of ply with a hole cut in it and a B&W telly behind (well, it may have been colour but the broadcast was B&W…).

      2. Man I can remember, when I got home from Nam in 1971, I was stationed out at Fort Lewis Washington. We had to get an apartment off base, and found one out on South Tacoma Way, it was a rambling sort of apartment complex and we had to take a small one to begin with but when a larger apartment opened up, we moved to that. Our next door neighbor had a COLOR Television, all we had was an old lugable 12 inch, so when they invited us over to watch Star Trek, I was very excited. Man was I disappointed when Spock turned out not to be green! Pissed me off to no end because in my mind he had been green, like the little green men from Mars, that we all used to hear tales of. I have been thinking of building a mock tri-coder for my niece who is into ghost hunting and Star Trek. I have already made her a bunch of different “ghost detectors” the last most elaborate uses an Arduino and puts out an average EM radiation read over a two second period to keep the reading steady in high static electrical places. I am thinking of using an arduino with the modern programmable touch screen to add to the usability.

  1. How “well defined” are these iconic props exactly at this point in time? Meaning does the RPF or somewhere already basically have a list of where and what most of what these props were built from? At least the ones that are fairly easy to figure out anyway?

    1. I imagine more than a few props have been lost over the years, but there are still original “hero” tricorder, communicator, and phaser props in personal collections and museums that have been studied meticulously by the community.

      An excellent resource is:

      1. You have to appreciate the immense amount of resources that go into exploring and documenting all of the details of one and only one iconic prop from TOS only.

        2) We deal only with The Original Series (TOS) Star Trek classic black body flip-open communicator.

    2. I’d just like to see a text from when they were planning the show tat outlines what a tricorder is supposed to do.

      I know it got waved round on the show, but I’ve never seen clarity about what it was doing. It’s name suggests it’s a recorder, and actually that it records three things. We sort of see that in the one where they go back in time to the thirties on Earth. But most of the time they seem to be measuring something, but that’s always vague. We see someone recite the results, but we don’t really know what the gizmo is doing.

      It would be so much easier to build a real one if we knew what it was supposed to do.


  2. Zenith Transoceanic radio, that was a hot piece of tech then. Add a tiny TV to top it off.
    I bet the prop-maker or someone up said the TV had to look like contemporary boob tubes for the mask not the square corners display of the future and of film. Meters could look retro-future, but that boob tube. Either that or no imagination.

    I found a cute palm sized TV with a tube, flatfaced, and phosphored to the corners. I turned it into a o’scope that’s self contained only one coil added to change it over. Even boob tubes got better before going.

    Try the free developers app for Android, Sensor Kinetics. It shows in realtime all the sensors in your phone, closest to the real thing for meaningful readings. No static G forces but all else. Pull it out and show somebody your new “tricorder”, they will be impressed. Even if it’s just a phone, all the screen data is real.

  3. On a semi related note, I’m waiting for someone to get a good picture of what’s under Star Lors’s thumb on the abilisk scanner (Mattel Football game) at the start of Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

    I got the Mattel game console, an Arduino and TFT screen etc ready to go to build a functional replica, but just need that detail to get it right.

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