Farnsworth Video Communicator Prop

(as seen in the Warehouse 13 TV series)

Some shows that come along really stimulate the urge to build in someone who likes props. Warehouse 13 is a prop builder's paradise when it comes to ideas. Every episode sees the agents out and about tracking down a different "artifact" to bring back the warehouse for safe-keeping. A gadget that appears in every show is the "Farnsworth", a video communications device that was supposedly invented by Philo Farnsworth (19061971), the American inventer and "electronic" television pioneer.

I joined the Replica Prop Forum and discovered a thread had been started for the Farnsworth. So the search for "found parts" began. The guys on this forum are pretty good at finding stuff and there are many very skilled prop builders among its ranks.

Farnsworth

It was eventually worked out what most bits were but two major pieces would have to be fabricated. These were the brass faceplate and the domed "screen". A couple of members of the RPF were able to have them made and offered them for sale to other members. Thanks guys, for your hard work. Found options for the screen are 80mm "watch glass" laboratory drying plates and the glass from a 1937 Ford car radio dial. These work really well and look really authentic. They are really the only options now unless someone wants to make his own, and in many ways look batter.

faceplate1 faceplate2

screen

OK all of the pieces of this prop are now accounted for including the push button switch which ended up being hard to find. It seems that the actual switch used came from an old cathode ray tester so a very similar switch will be used. The real switch is available but the manufacturers won't make them available in smaller quantities. Anyway this one looks just right compared with a screen prop though it needs some modification to fit into the case.

Parts list and links (note that many of the links are in the USofA and I've not found appropriate local alternatives):

The case is actually a Richard Wheatley 9601GD gold anodised aluminium fly fishing box which has been painted. Unfortunately the company in the UK is no longer trading but the cases may still be found. In the UK, Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, try emailing Clive Edwards. In the Americas and Asia try here.

Wheatley box

The left knob is a fluted knob with skirt that is often used on some Fender guitars for the treble control. Available here
left knob

The centre knob is an old fluted radio style knob which has had its skirt removed. Available here
left knob

The centre clear crystal is basically just a 15mm glass cabochon found in craft supply stores. They may also be called "mosaic gems". Available here
crystal

The red indicator dome is the red lens for a pilot light. Available here
red lens

The Switchcraft brand part numbers for the switches with black buttons are
201 for an SPST (Normally open)
202 for an SPST (Normally closed)
203 for an SPDT
switchswitchswitch
The switch will require modification so it will fit behind the faceplate as depth is fairly limited and to make it a NO type.

I was lucky enough to find someone in the USofA who could buy some in his area and send them to me but these switches can be found online here and here. (see note below regarding prices).

The two jacks on the side of the case are just miniphone (3.5mm) audio connectors (panel or inline types) or DC power jacks depending on what you wish to use them for.
side jackside jackside jackside jack
I won't post any direct links as these are commonly available items at places like Jaycar Electronics and Altronics or even Dick Smith Electronics stores around Australia (or similar stores worldwide).

The final items are four small brass escutcheon pins or nails which are placed at four points around the screen to "fix" it to the faceplate. Also obviously some materials to weather/age the brass faceplate and paint to complete the old look of the box.



I'm looking to build two of these Farnsworths. The idea is to just have one as a totally "static" prop but try to make the other "functional". The static one may simply have the back of the screen painted light grey as if it were switched off or I might try to put an image behind it. I shall attempt some electronics into the other one to either allow it to play images or sound or both. My ideas range from a static backlit image on the screen with recorded sounds for playback to using a small 3.5" digital photo frame to show a slideshow of images and possibly sound. It depends on what I can fit in there.

An add-on has been created by "Claudia" for this model and her "Farnsworth" Farnsworth that turns them into direction finders. It is basically a dish antenna assembly which can be plugged in the side of the Farnsworth. This will also require an extra couple of "sockets" to be installed in the side of the case of this unit. These will actually be brass eyelets as used on the screen props. Also the screen is black and has a red arrow on it. Due to my limited number of screens I am more inclined to go with my original stencil idea for the screen images.
scanner dish

Here is the link to the project page for this add-on build. I thought it best to make a separate project file for this as it is used on both Farnsworths.


Here is an almost completed Farnsworth replica by RPF forum member Kylash327.
Farnsworth

Here is a finished Farnsworth by RPF forum member deck5.
Farnsworth

During the process of researching this and doing some work on one, Quantum Mechanix (QMx) became the licensee for the props from the show as well as supplying props for use in the show. I decided to buy one of its replicas (shown below) as well as it will be screen accurate. Of course I will continue work on mine.


Farnsworth


More when I can get back to writing this.

The Farnsworth given to Claudia in season 2 is here.


Thanks go to the members of the Replica Prop Forum (RPF) who are so willing to share their time, skills and experience with others.

I must also mention jhusel, Szyntax, Kylash327 and Fyberdyne Labs from the RPF without whom I wouldn't have been able to get all the parts to make this prop. Thanks guys. Also thanks to rebelscum.

As mentioned many of the parts links are to companies in the USofA. Dealing with these companies can be very expensive especially with regard to the cost of shipping even small items to Australia.


Last modified: 28th October 2012