Msties Domain

So you want to build Crow...

It's often said that in MST3K botbuilding, to start with Servo, because he's fairly easy to build. Crow is a bit more complicated. A degree in advanced math is helpful.

I acquired all the parts for Crow in the fall of 2000, but his complicated eye mechanism left me confused, and I ended up putting the parts away for a rainy day. Well, that day didn't come until 2011, and his eyes didn't get easier. I'm not trying to scare you away, Crow is a lot of fun to have around, but you need to understand that he is like those 'some assembly required' toys that frustrate parents the world over. This is going to be an adventure. Make sure your wallet and hot glue gun are well stocked. Enjoy the ride.

Parts Required
Crow Parts

  1. Cooper XL7-FG Hockey Mask
  2. Vacuformed Copy of a Schwartz Brothers Soapdish
  3. 'E' / Crown pin
  4. Two Ping Pong Balls
  5. Poppet Toy
  1. Tupperware Floralier And An Extra Tray
  2. Six Inches of Gypsy Tubing
  1. Two Resin Wallace Desk Lamp Copies For Shoulders
  2. Two Grabber Claw Hands
  3. Assorted Plastruct Tubing and Styrene Joint Pieces (see below)
  4. 34" of Closed-Cell Foam Pipe Insulation (Hoverskirt Tubing)
  5. Poppet Toys
  1. Five Cans of Testors #1242 Metal Gold Flake
  2. One Can of Gold Spraypaint
  3. One Can of Semi-Gloss Black Spraypaint
  4. One Can of Krylon Day-Glow Yellow Spraypaint
  5. 3' of 3/4" 200 PSI PVC Pipe
  6. 4' of 1/2" Schedule 40 PVC Pipe
  7. Assorted PVC couplers, Nuts, Bolts
  8. 3' of 3/8" Acrylic Tube

The Head

The Soapdish 1. First, cut out the center of the vacuformed soapdish. Beginning with this is about as close to good practice for the bowling pin that you'll get. I used an exacto knife. Cut slowly to avoid going off track (the plastic will try it's best to not allow you to cut in a straight line). After that's done, move to the bowling pin.

2. I had a couple spare bottom injection Crowns laying around, and made a first attempt on one of those. I quickly discovered this was not going to be easy, as the knife will want to slip off track. In prepping the pin, measure along the side seam from the bottom of the pin back six inches and make a mark on each side of the seam. This is where the slope will start. Measure back another 1.25 inches and mark a spot centered on what will be the bottom of the jaw. I then drew a curved line from each side mark back to that center point. Now, cut the lower jaw off. Later, you'll reattach the bottom piece to the top by hotgluing a tiny 3/4" hinge on the inside of the jaw. I got the hinge at an Ace Hardware. You'll also need to cut off another piece of the pin at the narrow, top end. I cut that piece after measuing down two inches from the top and drawing an arced line running toward the center seams.

3. To make Crow's jaw work, you need to drill a couple of tiny holes, and it's best to do them now, before you paint, even though we won't reassemble the parts until after. Take the tiniest drill bit you have and make two holes a half inch apart on the top of the bowling pin inside the recessed 'e' area. Make two similar holes on the bottom. You'll thread elastic through all four holes. This will keep Crow's jaw closed when you're using him. Now make a third hole for the mouth control string a half inch from the bottom elastic holes. Doing this terrified me, wouldn't the plastic fall apart? Would the elastic stress it too much? No, and no.

Crow Head Side 4. Now on to the PVC. First, in building Crow, I learned there are several kinds of PVC piping: Schedule 40, CPVC, and 200 PSI. For Crow's head, we'll be using a 1.5" long piece of 1/2" Schedule 40 PVC and a single 1/2" PVC connector. Fit the short piece into the connector. The 1/2" connector will fit into a hole drilled into the bottom of the bowling pin, with the 1.5" long piece of pipe protruding from a hole drilled into the top side of the pin. Yes, that means the holes are different diameters. It's awkward to drill. The bottom hole is roughly 1 1/8" diameter and the top is about 7/8".

5. The XL7 will attach to the narrow end of the bowling pin using two small bolts. You'll want it to mount about two inches back from the hole you drilled for the neck. In dealing with the bolts, hardware stores stock shiny metal bolts, and muted black ones. The black ones blend better, but cost more.

The molly bolts glued to the soapdish. 6. Going back to the soapdish, drill a 7/8" hole centered for the PVC pipe to fit through. You'll also want create a backplate for the soapdish. Take some spare styrene sheet plastic and trace an outline of the dish onto it and then cut it out.

Where to get styrene sheet plastic? I managed to nab a few 6"X6" pieces in a hobby shop, but you easily cut up an old Rubbermaid container too. To hold the backplate in place, hotglue 2-3 plastic molly bolts into the soapdish itself and drill matching holes into the backing plate for screws. It took me a couple tries to get everything lined up right.

Now just fit everything together, and move to the torso (we'll get to the eye mechanism later, once his body is assembled.

The Torso

7. The floralier pieces will all mount to a length of 3/4" 200 PSI PVC. 15" of pipe is about the right length. I know what you're thinking, "Where do I buy 200 PSI PVC?" My local Home Depot doesn't stock it, nor did a nearby hardware store. Lowes was the only place that carried it.

Drill 1" centered holes through the two floralier stacks and one of the two trays. For the second tray, drill a 7/8" hole (this will be the top tray). Fit a 3/4" 200 PSI PVC coupler into the socket of the top tray, connect the 15" long piece of pipe to it, and dry fit the rest of the floralier parts. You'll probably have to make your holes a teeny bit bigger for the 200 PSI PVC to fit through, but I like having things snug enough that they stay in place without glue whenever possible.

8. Cut a 21" long 1/2" Schedule 40 PVC pipe. This will be for Crow's neck and will run through his body inside the 3/4" 200 PSI PVC and protrude about 3" out of the top tray. At the bottom of the 1/2" PVC pipe, fit a 1/2" connector, and drill a small hole into it for the bottom of the mouth control string to fit through. This 1/2" connector will keep Crow's neck and head from sliding up as you hold him.

The C Clip To keep his neck from falling down through his body, we're going to modify a 1/2" connector. The standard connectors are about 1.75" tall. Cut one down so it's only 0.6" tall and then cut a slit through the side, making it "C" shaped. You can then slide the connector down the top of the 1/2" Schedule 40 PVC pipe to be flush with the top floralier tray. Inside the "C" clip gap, drill a tiny hole in the PVC pipe itself for Crow's mouth control string. You'll eventually superglue the clip onto the PVC pipe to hold it in place, but not until everything has been painted.

9. To attach the shoulders, drill two holes on each side of the Floraliers and also through the shoulders and run two 2" long bolts through each of them. You'll also use about four inches of Gypsy tubing in between the two floraliers. If you don't already own any, it's generally only available in increments of at least ten feet, although it's not expensive.

The Arms 10. Now let's build the arms. There's two ways to do this. You can go to a thrift store and buy two adjustable desk lamps to use as arms, or you can use Plastruct tubing and pieces of Styrene sheet plastic. Plastruct is lighter weight, but can be a pain in the butt to find in stores. Perhaps realizing this, the Plastruct Company maintains a list of dealers on their website. To make the arms, you'll need eight pieces of 3/8" Plastruct tubing, 20 3/4" bolts, and 20 matching nuts.
  1. Cut the Plastruct into four 10.5" (upper arms) and four 9.5" (lower arms) lengths.
  2. Make eight Styrene equilateral triangles with each side measuring 1 3/4". To scratch build them, draw a 1 3/4" line, then measure up 1.5" from the center of the line and make a point. That's where the other two sides of the triangle will meet.
  3. Make four Styrene lower brackets. This joint is basically shaped like a triangle with the top cut off and a donut hole in the middle. The base is 2.5" across and the top is 7/8" across, centered 2 7/8" above the base. The donut-hole inset is 1/2" from the outer walls all the way around.
  4. Put it all together with the nuts and bolts and then attach four 8.5" lengths of closed-cell foam pipe insulation (Servo hoverskirt tubing). Tada! Now take it apart so you can paint it.
Dry Fit Crow is a Menace to Society


11. Take everything apart and lightly sand anything that is going to painted. Once that's done, start painting with the black parts. Doing the black first ensures you won't end up with dark overspray on any of the combination black and gold parts. After painting the dark parts with semi-gloss black paint, mask off the appropriate sections of the soapdish and mouth and go to work with Krylon Gold.

Once that's done, it's time for the Testors Metal Gold Flake. For many years, Testors called this Lime Gold Flake, but they've changed the name. The color number is still #1242. While painting, use the lightest coats possible. I can't emphasize this enough. The lime gold runs unbelieveably easily, more than Ruby Metal Flake and Pearl Purple. You do not want this. I ended up having to sand off and repaint sections of the e pin, soapdish, a floralier tray, and both floralier columns because of paint runs. It's very frustrating to use light coats and you feel like you're not getting anything done paint-wise, but having to fix paint runs is worse. Thankfully, you can apply as much Lime Gold as you need. With Servo, if you keep adding coats of Ruby Metal Flake, he'll eventually turn maroon. That won't happen with Crow, so don't worry about overdoing it.

Now's a good time to paint Crow's eyes. The ping pong balls are Krylon Fluorescent Yellow. The best way to get even coats on the eyes is to poke two finishing nails through a piece of cardboard and push them into the eyes. This way you can paint the entire ping pong ball at one time. You'll eventually need the holes in the ping pong balls anyway to mount them to the eye control mechanism.

12. Once everything is good and dry, you can reassemble Crow and run his mouth control string. BBI used some kind of thin nylon string, but black kite string is fine. If black is unavailable, you can always take regular white string and run a black marker on any part that will be visible. I secured the string inside Crow's jaw by tying it to a small washer.

The Eyes

13. We forgot something, didn't we? The eyes. This is the most difficult part of Crow. I've built, rebuilt, and rebuilt again Crow's eyes (no exaggeration). Gary Glover has the best method and that's what we'll use here. Gary has a really well done instruction video for Crow on YouTube. It's very helpful visually. An alternate, simpler option is to abduct Trace Beaulieu and make him build the eye mechanism for you. Note: Criminal charges may result from this course of action.

The central piece you'll need is a three foot long 3/8" plastic tube that will run inside the 1/2" Schedule 40 PVC. I got this at a locally owned Ace Hardware affiliate in the craft section by the balsa wood. Mine is clear acrylic. This tube will stick out 1.5" at the top of Crow. At the bottom, it will stick out about six inches, at least temporarily.

The lower portion of the Eye Mechanism The upper portion of the Eye Mechanism You'll cut channels into the acrylic at the very top and about 3" from the bottom and install tiny wheels mounted on small axles. The photos explain what it looks like better than text ever could. For the wheels, Gary uses a resin copy of an itty bitty Lego wheel. My Lego stash is limited and I don't have a resin machine, so I fabricated the wheels using two small hardware store nylon shoulder washers superglued together. This provides an inner channel for the eye control string to ride in and a place to hotlgue the eye mount.

The washer wheels must be roughly the same diameter as the tube, so they can slide through the 1/2" Schedule 40 PVC pipe that you use to turn Crow's head. I made the wheel axles out of hardware store threaded nylon screws. Run a loop of string between the two wheels and hot glue the string onto the wheels.

14. Fit the eye control mechanism inside the PVC so about 1.5" is exposed at the top of Crow's head. You should have several inches at the bottom protruding from the 1/2" connector. Cut a 6" piece of Schedule 40 PVC and fit it into the connector. This will be your handle to hold Crow and turn his head back and forth. To access his eye control mechanism, cut a 1"x2" opening in the PVC matched to the location of the mechanism.

The base of the eye control mechanism. The eyes will be controlled using a short piece of wooden dowel. You'll attach it to the shoulder washers by clipping a 1" section of a wire hanger and drilling a matching hole into the dowel and the shoulder washers and gluing the wire to both.

For the eyes, take the ping pong balls, as well as a 1/2"x1" piece of leftover styrene plastic and run a single finishing nail through each eye and the styrene. You'll hot glue the styrene to the upper shoulder washers. Crow's pupils are squares of black electrical tape.

To keep the eye control mechanism rod from sliding up and down when you're using Crow, go down to the bottom of the rod and drill a half-inch screw through the Schedule 40 PVC into the eye control rod (see photo). Since we want Crow's eyes to be articulated, you'll have to widen the hole in the PVC into a track so you can turn the eyes back and forth even when the screw is in it. Mine is about 3/4" wide.

Getting everything set with the eye control rod will take some adjustments, but it's really cool once you get it right.


At this point, you should be done! It took me a long time to figure out how to operate Crow's eyes and head and mouth string at the same time. You use one hand to run his mouth string, and the other hand for everything else. How does that other hand turn his head and run his eyes at the same time? A lot of practice. When I first started, I finally got why Crow had a 'stroke' when Bill took over. Either way, you've now got an awesome piece of Mystery Science Theater 3000! Congratulations!

However, with this power comes great responsibility.

Don't paint him black and threaten Sigourney Weaver. She will kick you out an airlock.

Prank calling with Crow is also straight out. Ro-Man has Caller ID, and he's good friends with Bender, Data, and Twiki, so word will get out far and wide to be suspicious of strange calls asking, "Does your face hurt?"

You may also find Crow's ability at turkey volume guessing has been overstated.

What's left?

Well, there is a Godzilla marathon on AMC this weekend...

The Bot!

Assorted Crow Pics!
I'm huge! Wait, do I say that?
Indiana Crow
Indiana Crow Jones. Remember, in Latin, Crow begins with an 'I'.
Crow looks at a tiny Crow.
Crow ponders his place in the universe.
Crow wearing sunglasses and a tie with a guitar.
Getting ready to sit in with his favorite musicians.
Crow thinking.
Thinking about tunneling his way right back to earth.

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Content © 2015, 2022 Toolmaster Jeff Zehnder
Guide Originally Posted 2015. Updated 2022.
Design © 2015 Kjo 2000 Graphics
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is © 1989 - 2016 Best Brains, Inc.
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