There are many how-to projects listed online with instructions to build a flying crank ghost, but the recommended motor is relatively expensive at approximately $60. We set out to build a flying crank ghost where all parts would be less than the cost of the motor itself – the video shows the result – keep reading to see how we did it.
- windshield wiper motor – $16.50 online
- computer power supply – free
- aluminum angle iron – $8.99 big box store
- flat black spray paint – $1.18 big box store
- styrofoam mannequin head – $3.50 online
- 24″ blacklight – $15.99 electronics store
- cheesecloth – $1.99 discount store
- RIT fabric dye – $1.49 discount store
- wire clothes hangers – free
- 2 red LEDs – $2.99 online
- LED fader $11.95
- fishing line – $4.50
- assorted nuts, washers and bolts – $3
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Motor and Frame Preparation
Step 1) Prepare the wiper motor to mount the aluminum angle iron swing arm. The wiper motor comes with a short arm already attached. Loosen the nut on the central shaft and discard the short arm – these nuts are often on very tight so it can be helpful to use a pair of vice grips or large pliers to grasp the arm and prevent it from turning. Be sure to keep the nut!
Step 2) Using a piece of heavy paper or cardboard, trace the bolt pattern from the wiper motor then cut out the holes for the bolts and for the central shaft – this creates the template to transfer to the aluminum angle iron.
Create paper template of the bolt holes and cutout for center hub
At this point, you need to make some decisions that will affect the final movement of the ghost and can be difficult to change later.
The length of the swing arm will impact the overall size of the apparatus – be sure to leave enough clearance for the swing arm to make full rotation with plenty of clearance. Our Flying Crank Ghost is displayed in the front window of our house, so we built the frame to fit the space – see the diagram for dimensions.
Frame dimensions for the display space in our house
The length of the swing arm also determines the amount of movement in your ghost for both the head and arms. The total arm length in the video for our Flying Crank Ghost was 10 inches and we think it would be improved with slightly less movement, approximately 8 1/2 to 9 inches.
The top of the image is the front of the ghost with the motor mount directly in the center. Our frame is made of 2×2 lumber and we highly recommend using structural connectors (also called rigid ties or strong-ties) at the joints to tie everything together. Spax wood screws (buy on Amazon) are a slight premium to normal wood screws but they are worth the money because of how smoothly they go in. Its amazing how big a difference they make – we use them exclusively now.
Mount the Motor and Power Supply
Step 3) Using the template, transfer the bolt pattern and central hub cutout to the aluminum angle iron and then drill out the holes and cut out the opening for the hub. The holes were easily drilled, but the larger cutout for the wiper motor hub was more challenging. We used a hacksaw to remove most of the material and then finished it off using a Dremel tool to get the final shape. After the holes are cut, mount your wiper motor to the angle iron and make sure everything fits.
Mark the template … … and cut it out Make sure everything fits to mount the wiper motor
Step 4) Your wiper motor will have 3 terminals – high speed, low speed and the ground (the ground terminal is probably connected to the motor housing). For a Flying Crank Ghost you will be using the low speed and ground terminals.
Now examine the pinout configuration from your computer power supply – the diagram shown is from an ATX power supply. ATX power supplies are switched-mode power supplies – which means they must have a load connected to operate properly – the power supply will check for the load using the voltage sense (or power sense) wire.
It may look complicated, but you really only need to find 4 pins: 2 black ground wires, the green power-on wire for the supply, and an orange 3.3V wire to get the lowest speed for your ghost. If using an ATX power supply, conveniently the voltage sense wire is already configured with a 3.3V line to Pin 11. Make note of the wires you will use and then cut all the wires to remove them from the plug, bundle all the other wires together using a tie wrap – you won’t be using them.
- Connect the 3.3V and voltage sense wires from Pin 11 to the low-speed terminal on the wiper motor.
- Connect one of the ground wires from the power supply to the ground terminal on the wiper motor.
- The green 12V wire is the switch wire for the power supply, our plan was to control the entire ghost assembly from the extension cord so we just connected the green wire to a black ground wire using a wire nut – you could also install a switch if you want to control the ghost movement separately.
- Mount the power supply to the aluminum angle iron (we just used zip ties to secure it) and make the connections to the wiper motor.
Power supply and wiper motor mounted
Build the Swing Arm and Spinning Washer
Step 5) Now cut the aluminum angle iron to the desired length of your swing arm. The swing arm used in the video was 10 inches (9 inches from center of the motor hole to the center of the swivel mounting bolt).
We used a 3/8 inch drill bit to drill partway thru the aluminum angle iron to form a bevel, and then used the smaller drill bit to finish the hole. The bevel ensures the wiper motor hub will have a good connection to the swing arm.
Starting with a large drill bit to dish out the arm Finishing with small drill bit gives a beveled hole
Drill the appropriate sized hole at the other end of the swing arm to match the bolt size you will use to build the assembly in Step 6).
Step 6) This spinning washer assembly is important to get right – the assembly must spin freely without binding. We used a 1/4″x3″ bolt as the main shaft with matched lock nuts and metal washers. At our local big box store we found a nylon nut that fits the 1/4″ bolt (look in the specialty fastener drawers) and that fits thru the inside of the large washer. Drill three holes in the washer as shown.
The assembly order for the bolt is as follows:
- Insert the bolt thru the swing arm
- Tighten the first lock nut all the way down to secure the bolt to the swing arm
- Lock nut 2
- Metal washer
- Nylon washer (nylon washers are optional but will reduce the chance of squeaking from the ghost)
- Nylon nut
- Nylon washer
- Metal washer
- Lock nut 3
Lock nut 2 and lock nut 3 should be snug against each other to minimize the chance that the spinning washer will bind, but make sure the spinning washer can rotate freely. After finishing the spinning washer, mount the swing arm to the wiper motor. The picture shows the final assembly.
Spinning washer Spinning washer bolt assembly Completed arm assembly with spinning washer
At this point you need to plug in the power supply and verify that the swing arm rotates correctly and is aligned to give clearance all the way around.
CAUTION – Wiper motors are strong! The swing arm may have sharp edges that can cut, you can get pinched, hit, or tangled in the mechanism. Stay clear of the assembly and turn off the power before making any adjustments.
Make any adjustments needed then give the entire assembly a coat of flat black spray paint – go ahead and paint the spinning washer, just keep it a light coat so it doesn’t gum up. Don’t spray inside the power supply.
Give everything a coat of flat black spray paint
Build the Ghost Head and Wire Frame
Step 7) Now to build the ghost itself. Take the styrofoam mannequin head and poke a hole thru each eye to the back of the head using a pencil sized wood dowel or a long screwdriver. Also poke a hole straight down thru the center from top to bottom.
OWWW my eye! Momma always said I had an electric personality
You can see that we hollowed out the back of the head to make room for the LED fader and battery and we also dug out the eye sockets to make room for the small plastic ‘eyeballs’ that we picked up at a craft store. The eyeballs aren’t necessary, but they help to diffuse the light from the LEDs and create a nice effect where there is a brighter center ‘pupil’ with the ball of light around it that adds to the spookiness. The circuit we used came with leads to wire each eyeball LED and we used red LEDs to contrast with the bluish glow from the blacklight.
Eyeball with LED Wire routing I see you …
Step 8) Now take the clothes hangers (or other wire) to form the structure of the ghost body. Nothing fancy here, just make the central section long enough to reach all the way thru the styrofoam head so you can hang it. We wanted our ghost to be approximately life sized, so we used 10″ for the shoulders and 12″ for the upper arm and forearm lengths. The arms need to move freely and not come loose, so make sure the loops are fully closed and have enough room to swivel. Give the completed wire frame a coat of flat black spray paint.
Now assemble the styrofoam head and wire frame together – the wire frame can be left just by itself but we decided to add some foam pipe insulation to give the ghost limbs a little more substance.
Make the Cheesecloth Body and Final Assembly
Step 9) Prepare your cheesecloth by soaking it in the RIT fabric whitener (following the package instructions). Hang the cheesecloth and allow it to dry thoroughly – it should now glow nicely under blacklight.
Step 10) Now hang your completed frame from Step 6) in the display location and you can string up the ghost. Up to this point, we have followed what many other people have with their flying crank ghosts, but as we looked at all the videos online we didn’t like how all the FCGs just bobbed up and down.
As we looked at the mechanism we realized that one simple change (that nobody else had done) would add another dimension of movement and give the ghost a swooshing movement that causes the ghost to sweep forward and rise before it drifts down and backward. The faster rotation of the wiper motor works well and when combined with a small fan to add movement to the cheesecloth creates an eerie effect.
The change we made was to add a pulley to the swivel washer and suspend the ghost directly from the swing arm (the reverse of the standard setup). We found a very cheap pulley at the local home improvement store in the screen door section – a sliding screen door tension roller – it has nice deep track to keep the string on the roller and not let it slide off and the metal tab made for easy mounting.
Be sure to use fishing line that doesn’t glow under blacklight – we used 12lb test Spiderwire EZBraid.
Hang the ghost by tying one end of the fishing line to the wire hanger on the ghost head, route the line up thru the pulley attached to the spinning washer, and then tie the other end of the line to the wood frame at the rear. This is the dashed red line in the diagram.
For the arms, tie the line to one of the ‘hands’ and then route it thru an eyehook on the wood frame and then tie the other end to the swivel washer (you can use snap hook to make the connections easier to remove). Repeat on the other side for the other arm. These are the dashed blue lines in the diagram.
Many designs call for small pulleys instead of the eyehooks we used for the arms – since the largest weight is the head assembly we found those pulleys are not necessary. We restring every season and haven’t had a problem, but you could certainly use pulleys if you prefer.
After hanging the ghost, you can arrange the cheesecloth however you like it. We opted to create a wispy shroud look for the arms with a more substantial center ‘body’ outline while still leaving the torso very wispy – get creative and try different configurations until you find something the kids like.
Front view Side view