No model trains this time … this article is part 1 of 3 on building your own ‘super smooth’ joystick and throttle that can be used with flight simulators or racing games.
- The final result and the components needed.
- The woodwork, a Fusion 360 model and drawings with dimensions.
- The wiring and the software, with a download link of course.
Images can be clicked to see a larger version.
As a flight sim enthusiast every now and then I fly with either FSX or with X-Plane. One day I treated myself to a Saitek S52. It’s a great set with just one issue for those who are not so much in fast and jerky combat flying but who like to perform easy going smooth corners and landings: the spring in the stick is quite stiff and, a bigger issue even, there is quite some static friction (stick-slip) which makes small subtle stick adjustments a challenge. First you need to apply a force larger than you’d like to get the stick moving, but then, once it is moving the friction becomes less and you easily overshoot.
I tried the mods that can be found on the internet. The spring force can be decreased by clamping windings together with tie-wraps. It helped make the stick ‘looser’, but unfortunately a stick-slip larger than I liked remained.
I went on the lookout for something that operates real smooth. I was even willing to pay for say a Thrustmaster Warthog if it would bring me what I was looking for. Reading reviews and watching video’s learned me that even this quite expensive HOTAS would not be as smooth as I would like it to be. (Admittedly without having tried it … I didn’t know where I could try one and I did not want to take the risk buying one.)
Luckily … there are solutions to get super smooth joystick action.
Already for years I have a 3DConexxion Space Mouse on my desk for 3D design work. I was curious if it would work in X-plane … and … yes it does! It was recognized in the joystick settings and the X,Y,Z axis could easily be configured as pitch, roll and yaw. Man … that flies super smooth! It works alongside the still connected Saitek X52, so its throttle and all the buttons and switches are still in use. The Space Navigator only needs subtle pushes to smoothly fly a plane. However … it does not ‘feel’ like a joystick … well … that’s just because it isn’t one! 🙂
When I scanned the internet for a dual potentiometer assembly I could use to build a joystick myself, I came across this device that is used for CCTV pan-tilt-zoom cameras. I acquired one. And guess what … no stick-slip at all! It still felt a bit stiff, which was due to two built in metal springs. These could easily be removed after taking off the bottom, which is mounted with 4 screws. Now the only force on the stick is from the rubber dust cover. Now that is what I call a smooth joystick!
This is the result of a little DIY tinkering: a super smooth X,Y,Z joystick with a top switch and 5 additional push buttons, plus a throttle with a slider, a rotary encoder and 4 more push buttons. It’s controlled by an Arduino Leonardo that contains the software to connect to a PC as a USB HID (Human Interface Device, the USB category joysticks fall into).
These are the parts needed to build the super smooth joystick + throttle. Total cost: about $25,-.
4 mm multiplex, enough to cut out 4 pieces of 175×145 mm.
13mm multiplex, enough to cut out 4 pieces of 175×30 mm and 4 pieces of 119×30 mm.
8 pcs 25 mm screws for the side plates + 32 pcs M3 x 8 mm bolts for the top and bottom plates + 4 pcs M3 x 20 mm bolts and 8 nuts for the slider pot.
Joystick XYZ + top switch. Find at Aliexpress.
A 10k slider potentiometer. Find at Aliexpress
1 Rotary encoder. Find at Aliexpress
1 Arduino Leonardo. I got one that included a short USB cable with the proper ‘micro B’ connector. Find at Aliexpress
1m USB extension cable.
1m 10 strands cable to connect Joystick and Throttle. I used a flat cable I had lying around.