Con-Artists: Need a Sonic Screwdriver? Craftsman San Holo Shoots First at Wizard World Chicago

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From capes to cowls, from wands to wigs and from shields to swords, costumes have come a long way since molded plastic masks and apron like uniforms. Now conventions are filled with costumes from simply homemade to screen quality reproductions. Superhero suits, tactical armor, weapons of all sizes and anything else you have seen in print or on screen. To paraphrase the Joker, “Where do they get those wonderful toys?” To get it right sometimes you have to build it yourself. Or know someone who can build it for you. onFiction’s own Uncle Ted sat down to talk with someone who can build them himself, Andrew Combes, or as he’s known in this field: San Holo. You can take a quick peek here for examples of his craftsmanship. Now that you’ve peeked, listen in as a self-taught crafts-geek talks shop.

Uncle Ted: San Holo, everyone with a love for this genre has an origin story. Where does this love for Sci-Fi start? What ignited your passion?

San Holo: Most two-year-old kids, when given the option of choosing anything they want from a large chain toy store, would pick out the biggest stuffed animal they can find. Maybe pick out a Sesame Street rotary phone, this was 1982 remember. Not me. (UT Note: Given what I know about San Holo I am not buying this 100%) My two-year-old counterpart grabbed a Han Solo and a Stormtrooper action figure(s). After that, my mother stopped showing me Nickelodeon and introduced me to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek: Wrath of Kahn, Dune, and a myriad of other science fiction and fantasy movies.

Flipping through channels in my preteen years, I came across a green make-up and cardboard driven TV show that most other kids would have flipped past. That TV show was Doctor Who. I appreciated what it was, but a blue police box didn’t beat a time machine made out of a Delorean.

UT: YES! The Delorean! That is my first favorite time machine too. So I take the toys on the shelf weren’t good enough for you?

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SH: I was always a stickler for things looking like they did in the movie or tv show that featured them. I hated the bright orange Fire Rescue Batman or even the giant handled hollow tube lightsaber toys that make whooshing in the wind sounds when you swing them. Why? Cause IT DIDN’T LOOK LIKE THE ONE IN THE MOVIE!

UT: Most people don’t follow the adage of doing it yourself if you want it done right until they are older, but you just jumped in with both feet it seems.

SH: Yes, at a very early age, any piece of junk or hardware store part that looked like a piece of movie memorabilia, I would modify or glue something else to it to make a lightsaber, phaser, or anything else. The best part about junk builds is that A LOT of movie props are made from real world items. This made reproduction easy… and accurate.

UT: Playing with junk is easy. Got it. Junk must also be a gateway building material. How did you progress?

SH: Over the years, duct tape and wooden pieces turned into metal fabrication and programming. My “final” junk build was an Arc Reactor I made out of a tap light, wire, and washers. I was gluing it together while watching the new Doctor Who episodes on Netflix. I knew my next project was gonna be a sonic screwdriver.

SH: The first handfuls of my custom screwdrivers were made of brass plumbing supply parts. I sanded and dremeled pipe fittings into parts that sorta looked like a sonic screwdriver. BUT I was able to make my own electronics using an Arduino micro controller. I impressed myself enough with them that I posted my very first YouTube video(s). Within a month I had people asking me how to make one, or can I make one for them. That led to funding my little hobby and adding tools to my garage shop. A year later I was turning aluminum on my new lathe and more recently adding details with a milling machine.

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UT: Okay, so you slowly but surely improve on your designs and methods. What was the response like when you shared your creations with other fans?

SH: The response I get on YouTube, DeviantArt, and RPF still wows me. Without ever advertising myself or saying “HEY, I make and sell custom props!” I’ve gotten enough interest and requests to make this a day job. Whereas a lot of folks posting pics and vids of their custom props get ripped apart in comments and reviews, I have yet to have anything other than a warm welcome response. For that, I am eternally grateful to my fan base. I try to be as good to my fans as they’ve been to me. I’ll take the time to answer even the youngest fans questions and spend more than a few minutes a day explaining why I can’t just make/send a custom screwdriver to 9 year olds. Always thanking them for liking my work and watching my videos.

UT: It is surprising how frequently those little details get overlooked in dealing with customers these days. Let’s say someone asks you to custom build something other than a Sonic Screwdriver. Is that a possibility? What else do you have plans to do regardless?

SH: I find a little time now and then to build something for myself or an item I’ve wanted to own. I love a good ray gun. So naturally, attempting Star Wars blasters, Star Trek phasers, and Firefly pistols are a major goal of mine. But I won’t be happy until I’m making custom sabers. And before I retire or this hobby business goes under, I would love to be forging blades. Hence the name of my business, Sci Fi Forge.

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UT: I have seen first hand the quality of your products but we wanted to ask some of your customers what they thought. This is some feedback we received when we reached out to them:

When I first contacted Andrew (SanHolo) about a custom sonic screwdriver commission I wasn’t sure what to expect, much less if he would have the time to take on another project. I was very pleasantly surprised by how quickly he responded, and how excited he is about his builds. If you work with Andrew you can expect three things:

  1. You’ll have fun. I mean it. I really enjoyed his knowledge of his craft, Doctor Who in general, and his sense of humor!
  2. You can be assured that he’ll keep you in the loop during the build. He’s great about sending updates and pictures.
  3. You can expect a high quality product. I was amazed when I first held my custom sonic, it felt like a real tool that could be counted on to assist the Doctor at any moment!

“My custom sonic is affectionately known as the Post War Sonic. I came to Andrew with the idea of a doing a custom 9th or 10th Doctor sonic but the more we talked, the more it came to me that I really wanted to focus on the period right after the Time War, prior to the 9th Doctor. As a veteran of the war in Iraq, I know how important it can be to move from a place of anger, to one of healing. My sonic reflects the wear and tear of the time war, but it is clearly becoming the version that the 9th Doctor will later use. It’s really a homage to the inner journey the Doctor takes coming out of the war, if you will. Andrew put a lot of extra time and detail into my sonic. It’s something that I will always value. I’m grateful to have worked with him, and to be able to call him a friend!”

-Erin Gommel (United States Marine Veteran)

“I approached Andrew about building me a custom sonic after watching YouTube videos of others he had made. I explained what I was looking for and he was beyond helpful in getting me exactly what I wanted. Once I received my first set of sonics, I was truly blown away by the attention to detail and accuracy. The look and feel was absolutely amazing. It felt like I was holding a real sonic. One of the things I like most about Andrews sonics is, they are custom built so, each one is different. Unlike the toy versions or the companies mass producing them, no one has the exact same one as me. I have shown off my sonics to friends and at several cons now and each time the reaction is the same, people are amazed at the level of high quality and want to know where they can get one. While these are not 100% replicas, I would recommend anyone looking for a top notch, affordable sonic look no further than Mr. Combes as he is one of the best in my opinion.”

-Paul King (self-described highly satisfied customer)

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UT: I cannot argue with what your customers are saying. I have field tested a few of your builds. Aside from looking similar from a distance there is no comparison. You are making some top quality customs. I say customs because you have shied away from the terms props or replicas. Why is that?

SH: As much as I love accuracy, that wasn’t the idea behind this business. I’m happiest doing custom work. I get excited when perspective customers ask “Can you make it like the one in the show, but with a purple light?” or asking me to change the style a little. I’m not out to copy anyone else’s work or step on any copyrights. I like making things that AREN’T available from other sources. Especially original ideas like a Sonic Tuning Fork or Sonic Corkscrew. As a huge fan of accuracy, I never call anything I make a replica. I use the word custom not only because every item is made for the customer who ordered it, but because I know anything I make is not going to be EXACTLEY like it was in the movie or on the show that inspired it. Even though this little hobby became a full time job, I’m not out to get rich doing it. All my items are modestly priced for what they are. I’m just a fan who loves helping other fans that share my interests and like what I do.

UT: That is just how we do it here at onFiction too. We are just fans that want to share interests with like minds as well. See San Holo in action! Click —> Here.

Don’t forget that we want you to share your interests with us at onFiction. Comment on this article or submit your own ideas at onfiction.net/submissions/

Got a favorite prop or replica? Tell us on Facebook what you got and where you got it!

About The Author

Ted Willson

You read that right, Willson with two Ls. Ted's a special example of today's geek culture, he has the ability to digest media in almost any form and still - no matter how uplifting or positive - find a way to see the glass as half-full. That may sound like any other comment section troll, but Ted has the very rare ability to relay his cantankerous and crusty (the clown) view in an honest, compelling manner for others to debate. All jokes aside, Mr. Willson - Willsoooonnnnnnnnnn!!! - is a loving father whose adoration for all things Batman even led him to...wait, I think that's supposed to be a secret. Well, he's funny and grouchy and you should read his stuff...

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