T.J.'s Tank Tips
This really is my current favorite picture of me and the Tiger
First tip: Don't build one! It's not worth it! hahahahahahaha. I am only kidding (well mostly anyway). Building and maintaining a paintball tank is a lot more work and aggravation than most people realize. I also believe that the larger the tank the greater the aggravation. At least I hope that all the guys out there with tanks smaller than ours have a lot less aggravation than we've had over the years. After one year (1999) Jimmy and I were all set to take the Tiger out light it on fire and toast a bunch of marshmallows off of it's smoldering remains. Luckily George stopped us and as much as George's wife regrets it, we made it through that crisis of tank faith and the tank is with us to this day.
So you've gotten past that and still want to build your own tank. There are many things to consider when you start this crazy project. One of our biggest headaches has been where to store the damn thing when we're not using it. If you decide to go with a smaller vehicle it is that much easier to find a place to put it and cover it up for storage. I don't know for sure I think having a golf cart based tank tucked away in the corner of the backyard is not quite as obtrusive as an eight foot high by sixteen foot long and 8 feet wide lump covered by one of those monstrous tarps. Another thing made easier by going with a smaller chassis for your tank is transporting it to events. A monster such as our Tiger needs a 20 foot trailer and a vehicle with a class 3 hitch capable of towing over 3000 pounds. Yet another advantage smaller tanks have over the big ones is in cost of materials. The new turret on the Tiger along with the ring on the tank itself used more sheets of plywood than many tanks out there have used for their entire construction. Granted the turret ring on the tanks roof took six sheets on it's own. Although they were 30" wide sheets, I'm sure that if I used full 48" sheets I could have gotten away with only 3 sheets. Lucky for us Jimmy had gotten us nearly a hundred sheets that were 30" by 8' for free when one of his old jobs closed down and moved to PA. So what is the advantage of having such a monster machine? Well sheer size of course hahahaha. A lot of it's advantage is psychological the players see something much bigger than they are that is shooting at them and shooting back at it doesn't do anything much so most of them make a hasty retreat. We've had two instances when by just appearing we stopped an entire fire fight, had dozens of players stand up and look at us in disbelief for a few seconds before they realized that they were being shot at. Those were games that we started out early in the day on the field before many players even got to the event. One more thing! Check the field you plan on using your tank on! Some fields are not very good for large vehicles. While we're on the subject make sure you check with the field and find out that it's even o.k. for you to bring your tank to their field before you start working on it!
O.k. so where to start? There are two basic ways of going from here, either you already have a vehicle that you want to use or you plan on getting a vehicle especially for your tank. Actually there is a third route but only the Rat Patrol has done this to my knowledge, you can start completely from scratch and build your own frame from the ground up! Now if you are interested in acquiring a vehicle just for building a tank you should look through the tank gallery and see what some of the other tankers have built. For small tanks you can go with: golf cart, six wheeler, atv such as a quad, ride on lawn mower, even a couple of bicycles work or completely custom or if you are extremely lucky you may be able to get one of the Army 'mules'. I'm pretty sure that the mule would be the most expensive and the bicycles would be the cheapest. It really doesn't matter it's up to the builders some may be more unconventional than others but that can be part of the fun. It's a good idea to look over the field you want to be driving through. What kind of roads do they have for tanks? Generally these are the trails used to get players to outer fields during regular playing. Some fields do not have roads suitable for large vehicles.
The most important consideration when building paintball armor vehicles in my opinion is sight. Once you lose your ability to see out of your vehicle you are basically eliminated. You can't move and you can't shoot at anyone. In some cases you have to get out of your vehicle and clean off the windows giving all the players you were chasing the opportunity to get even, not something I would care to do! Now you have to figure out what kind of view ports suit you vehicle. Do you want a windshield wiper setup, or some sort of netting? Provided you have the space netting can be really good but it has to have enough room to flex enough so that the paintballs bounce back before they hit the view ports. If you go with wipers that doesn't matter just turn them on and the paint gets wiped away! You could even go as far as using only netting but be ready to get covered in splatter! I've only seen that setup once and the tankers came out at the end of the day just as covered as their tank! We're currently using a netting setup on the Tiger and the turrets windows can be opened from the inside to clean the splatter. Although there were times that we really wished we had managed to keep the windshield wiper setup the netting works rather well for us. One last thing in regards to the view ports USE LEXAN! I know it's about double the cost of Plexiglas but this is something that you can not save a bit of money on. A lot of people don't know that there is a difference between Lexan and Plexiglas but there is. Generally they are sold side by side at Home Depot and there is no visible difference between the two. Lexan is many times stronger and much more flexible than Plexiglas. So far I've seen two different tanks get their view ports shot out because they used Plexiglas. I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with the greater flexibility that Lexan has but using Plexiglas is not a good way to save a bit of money. It may even stand up to several shots or even several dozen but not an entire day of several hundred people shooting at it. Even the thicker Plexiglas is not a way to go. I haven't seen it myself but I've been told that Plexiglas that is 4 times thicker than Lexan will shatter before the Lexan will. So Please buy the Lexan!
The next thing to think about is how are you going to setup your gun ports? Generally you want something that closes up when you take the guns out. One way around that is to permanently mount the guns somewhere. One of the easiest type of gun port to make is simply drill a hole bigger than your paintball guns barrel and then cover it from the inside with a slightly larger piece of whatever material your hull is made out of. Just make sure that it is secured in a single place above the hole, this way when you're not using it the cover drops down into place sealing the opening. We're using long slots with slit rubber matting covering the outside and the inside of the slit. Another good idea is to use a CV joint or similar rubber boot bolted over an opening in the hull, from there you can either attach a piece of PVC or the gun itself to the boot. These offer great flexibility and are really good for a thin or single hull (like the sheet metal of a mini van).
Another thing to think of before you go crazy and build your vehicle is can you drive train handle the shell your going to build? In all likely hood whatever you choose wasn't designed to take the abuse of being a paintball vehicle. For car based vehicles this can be extremely important. Your going to be driving around for possibly hours at a very slow speed, can the engines cooling system handle that. If not what can you do to fix that? We're currently using a four core radiator out of a corvette along with dual electric fans and we've only had one hose pop off since we installed this setup (I still think it only popped off because it wasn't tight enough). The cooling or lack thereof can really ruin your day. This can also affect the transmission and really shorten it's life too, most cars transmissions are cooled through the radiator and if your overloading that you could loose your tranny at a very inconvenient time. Along those lines if it's a stick shift it doesn't require the active cooling an automatic does but can your clutch handle the weight of the tank you built on top of your original vehicle along with the weight of your crew? Our original drive train couldn't and we lost our clutch just before lunch time at the 1999 PBLI Big Game. As far as the smaller chassis goes I really don't know what they can take. Other than the Army mule I think the ATV Quads can probably take the most abuse, after seeing my cousin Chris drive his quad I really think this is true. Unfortunately Quads and such are designed to go much faster than practical for any paintball armored vehicle so I don't know how driving around slow would affect them throughout a day long event. A lot of this may not matter depending on the rules of the event. You may find yourself sitting around for long periods of time waiting to get into the game.
So how do you actually go about building one of these things? Well A good indicator is if you took a shop class in school. If you were one of those hopeless people around tools it's a good idea to get some help from someone who is handy with tools. From there it depends on what you're building your vehicle out of. We deal mostly with wood. Our most important tool so far has been our collection of cordless drills. I don't actually own one yet but George has two 18 volt Sears cordless drills and Jimmy has a 14 volt. I haven't handled the newer 24 volt ones yet but there is a big difference going from the 9 to 12 volt range to the 14 to 18 volt range. The 18's are the best we've worked with. Some other handy tools to have are a Saws all (reciprocating saw), chop box, ROUTER (sorry it was the best tool to have last spring for the new turret). Actually I could go on and on about the tools to use basically you need a wood shop and a automotive garage! hahahaha. Seriously though do not be afraid to improvise a bit just don't do anything foolish that could hurt yourself or someone else. One of the greatest pieces of equipment to have is a roll of duct tape.
Now another helpful thing to think of is your work area. Working outside is fine as long as you don't have a complicated monster of a vehicle your trying to build. The longer you work outside the more likely you're going to lose precious work time to bad weather.
And when you finally finish and you have a new tank that is causing your neighbors to really wonder about you you're still not done. You have to find a way to transport it to events. Where ever you take your tank to it's going to be more expensive to get there than it generally is if you were to just jump in a car and go yourself with your gear in the trunk. Anything towing something is going to burn more gas than it would without. Trailers cost more at toll booths too, generally it goes by axel, the more axles on your trailer the more they charge you. A friend of mine many years ago was towing a trailer for a job and didn't have enough money to get back to NY. His boss told him to stop before the toll booth (out of sight) and take the wheels off of one of the trailers axels to save a few dollars per toll. Now before you go running of thinking this is a great idea, it really isn't! He got away with it because he had a light load in the trailer and managed to fast talk his way through the toll booths. I would think that this is a really good way to give the cops at the toll booth an excuse to pull you over and give you all sorts of tickets. I'm sure that they'll absolutely love your tank (after they stop pointing their guns at you) but truth to tell it's not worth the chance. Trailers with more than one axel have them for a reason. If we tried something like this we'd probably have the two remaining tires blow out as we're sitting in the toll plaza and wind up on the T.V. show cops. Another thing do you know how to drive while towing a trailer? If not you'd better find someone who does! I really don't myself, sure I can go in a straight line but driving with a trailer makes me uneasy. George handles all of our driving but he is a NY city fireman and volunteers in his town. He drives the really long fire trucks with the ladder setup, actually I think he drives all the fire trucks. He's also had some lessons on driving an 18-wheeler. The point of this is transporting your tank can be dangerous. Blue over at EMR told us a story about how some guys had their tank destroyed during transport. I don't know the details but it either came off the trailer or the trailer flipped on their way to an event. They didn't even get a chance to use it. I'm pretty sure that nobody was hurt but it's something to keep in mind.
O.K. you've finished your tank, taken it to the event and got it home. Now you have to clean it and find a place to keep it until the next event. Got a wooden tank? Make sure it's covered before any lengthy storage times or better yet put it in a garage if you can.
Also, Don't forget to check out the articles I linked to on the main Tank Tips page! They're two really good tank articles that really are must reads for tankers.