• How To...Build Rudder Pedals

    How To...Build Rudder Pedals

    By Bruce May (27 April 2006)

    Why another rudder pedal article?

    Well, two reasons.

    Old pedal
    First, I want to encourage people to try rudder pedals as a project. It was easy, fun and has enhanced my enjoyment of flight simulator beyond belief. Rudder pedals rock!

    Second, I have come up with a brake pedal improvement worth sharing.

    My Experience

    It was surprisingly easy (and fun) to make rudder pedals. With a little ambition, some ingenuity and some quality workshop time you too can do this. All the information here is yours to use - have fun!

    Read every article you can find on how to make rudder pedals. Every author has something to share and they all have great ideas to help you with your project. The design you see here is the amalgamation and extrapolation of a lot of good ideas. There has been one base and three sets of pedals over two years, each one an evolution of the previous.

    Make lots of mock-ups from wood, cereal box cardboard, etc. This really helps visualize things and helps you figure out what will work and how things interact.

    Be prepared to send the whole thing back to the drawing board if it needs refinement. By refining and reworking your design you will end up with a finished product which will work well, will make flying more fun (remember fun is the objective here) and will be something you will be proud of.

    Safety

    Be careful. Workshop safety is important. Use all tools carefully and follow all safety precautions for each tool.

    Tackle this project only if you are capable of doing it. If you are not sure then go do some more research - get the advice and help you need.

    Another safety note, be sure follow all safety precautions when soldering. Burns are not fun.

    Remember I am not responsible for any problems, injuries or PC damage you encounter...


    Pedals side
         

    Rudder link detail

    Materials

    The goal was always to keep the project inexpensive and to use as much "off the shelf" hardware as possible (i.e. all the bits and pieces are commonly found in most hardware stores). Everything I used (including the joystick) was cheap, easy to find and will, eventually, be easy to replace. Some of the parts have hundreds of hours use and have gone though several revisions over two years with no signs of wear.

    Most of the wood parts are cut from 1" X 10" pine. The cams were cut from a piece of poplar (a denser wood to hold the screws). The base is 1/2 inch plywood (20 inches square) (3/4 inch particle board also works well).

    Metal brackets are all just common braces and corner brackets from the hardware store. Some larger metal parts were cut from 24 gauge sheet metal.

    The only major expense (if you can call it that) was an inexpensive USB joystick ($15.00). A Saitek ST 50 joystick was taken apart for the circuit board. This was used for the inputs. USB means no fiddling about with the game port.

    The pots were purchased from a local electronics store for $2.00 each. The resistance value was matched to ones from the joystick (100k linear).

    All the other bits and pieces were made up out of things lying around the workshop along with a few screws and bolts from the hardware store.


    Circuit board
         

    Pedals rear

    Electrical

    The three pots which were used for X, Y and throttle inside the joystick were disconnected from the circuit board (make note of where each wire goes) and new pots were wired in.

    One pushbutton was added. This is needed when calibrating the joystick. You could also add more if you want to program them for other functions in FS.

    Note: all three pot inputs on the circuit board need a pot connected to them (even if you are using only one of them). If you are not adding toe brakes then wire the other two pots in anyway. Otherwise the board may give you unpredictable results.

    The USB joystick makes connecting easy. Windows will detect it as a joystick but FS knows better. FS can be configured to assign each joystick axis to a specific function. More on this later.


    Parts
         

    Pedal pin detail
         

    Pedal rear

    Trial And Error

    The first step of the project was to try the just gutted joystick and the pots in FS. I was able to assign functions to it and make things happen. This was perfect - off to the workshop to make pedals...

    Rudder Control

    The first set of pedals was built for just rudder control. The design was loosely based on Bill Spencer's design for rudder pedals (thanks Bill) and evolved as I started to create from the materials I had at hand. The base mechanism described below has not changed since the first design.

    The rails for the pedals are made from 3/4 inch square pine. The bottom of each pedal has a 1/4 inch shoulder so that they sit on and are guided by the rails. Rub a little candle wax on the rails to help them slide. Be careful! Too much wax will make them sticky. Note that the rails shown in the picture have a shoulder cut in them - this has since been eliminated to match the drawing.

    The pedals are linked to an aluminum cross bar. I chose aluminum because it can be cut and modified with less effort than steel. The bar is held up in the center by a long bolt. The two lower nuts set the height of the bar and are jammed together to prevent them from moving. The upper two nuts hold the bar in place and are also jammed together. A little space is left between the pairs on nuts to allow the bar to move.

    The pedals have a bolt, which goes up into the aluminum bar. As the pedals slide they move the bar. I used two small pieces of metal tube around the bolt on each pedal. The inner one acts as a bushing to prevent wear. The outer one holds the bar up.

    Note: Any bolt which acts as a pin will cause a lot of wear. Use metal tube around bolt threads to act as a bushing to prevent this.

    An extension arm on the bar is connected as part of a link to a pot. This converts the motion of the bar to rotation of the pot. The pot was originally out behind the bar but the linkage took up space. The solution was to turn the bottom half of it around and place it below the top half. Now it is out of the way (and the cat does not try to attack it). Note that there is a small bushing here too so as to avoid wear.

    The pedals looked very much the same as they are today but the pedals were fixed (did not rotate).

    You can stop here with just rudder control if you like, or dive right in and add toe brakes.

    Toe Brakes (Version 1)

    This part was project number two. After feeling pretty good about the first project I decided to tackle toe brakes. The whole works went back to the bench for an upgrade.

    I decided to work on my original fixed pedals and add a pivot (rotation point). The pedals need to rotate close to the bottom. This seems to work best for the ergonomics of flying a desk (i.e. matches the rotation of your ankle). The corner brackets, which were used as a pivot point on the bottom of the pedals, gave me better results than a hinge because I was able to move the center of rotation around until I was happy with it.

    The link from pedal to pot is made up of simple materials. A small corner bracket, a length of pipe hanger strap, a hand cut cam to connect to the pot and a couple of screws all work together to convert the motion of the pedal to rotation of the pot.

    My first design used a spring underneath to pull the heels of the pedals back down but there were two problems. The rotation was wrong - the pedals were flat out (horizontal) for a full stop. Also the spring was weak and there was no "feel" to the pedal. There needed to be some real resistance when stepping on the brakes (the brakes need to push back).


    Brakes off
         

    Brakes on

    Toe Brakes (Version 2)

    After a couple of months of test flying an idea hit me and the whole thing went back to the workshop for a revision. The solution was to have each pedal compress something of the right density so that it felt real. The obvious choice was an ordinary kid's sponge rubber ball. The pedals were re-worked to incorporate a ball underneath. The pedal is assembled and then the ball is stuffed underneath. Simple.

    The pictures show how it was built and the drawings will allow you to get dimensions to make your own.

    Note that in the pictures there are two small shims under the balls. This helped stiffen up the feel of the pedals. I have since moved to bit larger size sponge balls.

    Drawings

    Dimensions for the whole rudder assembly and photos of the final version of the pedals are included in here for your reference. Sorry to all the metric people (after thirty years of trying my hardware store and I are still not metric...).

    Final Setup

    Once all assembled you will need to do the following steps:
    • Calibrate this joystick in Windows.
    • Adjust sensitivities in FS.
    • Reverse any axis if needed.

    By now, you have gone back and read all the other great articles on rudder pedals. Some of these include good detailed directions on calibrating so I will not include them here.

    Final Step

    Cleanup the workshop...later. You have some test flying to do...

    Enjoy!

    Bruce May

    View rudder plans (PDF format)