A new class of quads has been gaining popularity lately, TOOTHPICK CLASS QUADS. Toothpick class quads are ultra-light weights that have an AUW of under 100g. Unlike the larger 5” quads, the 3” and under, best toothpick drone can fit in tight spaces and don’t cost a fortune to build. The toothpick quad rage began when motor manufacturers started introducing smaller and smaller brushless motors.
The lightest of the toothpicks use a 07xx, 08xx for a 2” and 11xx sizes for 2.5” and 3”. These tiny motors produce insane amounts of thrust in a tiny package all the while weighing less than 8g or less for the heaviest 11xx sized motors.
Since the motors are small, power management becomes easier. The current draw is small and the batteries do not sag as much as the 5” quad batteries. A good toothpick can be built for as little as $80 and the replacement parts are cheaper with the only expendable parts being the flight controllers and maybe motors. The frames are rigid enough that they are virtually indestructible at these sizes and the propellers are hard enough to withstand a few crashes.
These smaller builds are a pain in the butt to solder, all the components are smaller, the soldering pads and the wires are all shorter. These require a bit of patience to build. That being said, once done they are a fun build and a blast to fly. Below we try to cover some of the possible parts that might work on a build.
As we know frames house everything from our motors to flight controllers and FPV cameras. A toothpick frame is one of the simplest types of frames- a bottom plate, 4 standoffs, and a canopy. The carbon fiber bottom plate’s thickness varies between 2-3mm, is virtually indestructible at these small sizes as the force acting on the arms during a crash is relatively lower.
One of the first Toothpick frames to come into existence is the KababFPV toothpick micro frame. Toothpick quads were popularized by KababFPV. The micro frame comes with a carbon fiber bottom plate, supporting 16x16 stacks and 25.5x25.5 AIO boards, and some standoffs. The frame does not come with a canopy and several canopies can be found on Thingiverse that can be 3D printed. Another well made toothpick frame is the ZJWRC 110X. The 110X comes with a canopy; antenna mounts and comes in two thicknesses 2 and 2.5mm, supporting only 25.5x25.5 AIO’s, while still costing the same as the KababFPV frame at $15.99.
While we’re talking about KababFPV and beginnings of toothpick era, we must mention Lil’Deuce toothpick- often forgotten one on the Internet. Drama and politics in FPV world marginalized this great designer who brought us not only one of the best toothpick frames but also designed high-standard motors (Lil’Floaters) for that frame class. You’ll hear a bit about them in another review. Lil’Deuce frame is 111mm, 2mm carbon thick with a mass of only 5.3g. Stack mounting is standard 16mmx16mm; or any Whoop AIO pattern (24-26mm). Camera mounting is Acro-Micro-AIO mount. Max prop size is 2.5” with 11xx, 0905 motor support. Total mass is from 39.00 to 40.00g.
As you probably can notice, the market is flooded with toothpick frames with battery mount on the bottom. Armattan has finally decided to do something different- their version of 2,5” and 3” toothpick, Tadpole, with battery on top. This frame is even lighter than the competitors, only 17.5g and $34- but you’ll read about it soon in another review. Thanks to top-mount battery design, Tadpole has built-in aluminum camera-cage and unique alu-antenna mount on the back of the frame. It uses 16x16mm stack mount and the manufacturer offers adapters for Whoop-style FC (25mmx25mm). Motor mount pattern is standard 9mm, and motor-to-motor is 119.5mm.
AIO Flight Controllers
Since the current draws are small (around 6-8A per motor), manufacturers were able to squeeze in an FC and an ESC into a single board. AIO (All in one), FC ESC combo, boards have been around for a while and they haven’t been very useful until the Toothpick fever began to spread. The popular mounting hole patterns are 16x16mm, 20x20mm and 25.5x25.5mm.
The smaller 16x16 FC’s usually have separate FC and ESC boards also known as stacks. The 20x20 boards have both AIO’s and stacks. The AIO boards usually are a little bigger and all the frames do not support this. A 25.5x25.5mm board can accommodate FC’s and ESC’s and are AIO’s.
Some of the popular choices are the iFlight Succex V1 stack that comes with an FC, ESC, and VTx comes with 16x16 mounting holes. The Succex stack comes with an F411 Flight controller with all the bells and whistles of a larger FC. It comes with a 12A ESC with voltage inputs of 2-4s.
The included VTx has power outputs of 25/100/200mW with an Ipex antenna connector with IRC telemetry. Another popular option for stacks would be the HGLRC FD413 stack. One of the popular AIO boards is the BetaFPV F4 FC with an F4 FC and 12A ESC weighs a mere 6.2g. The board has voltage support between 2-4s and supports FrSky, Flysky, Futaba’s Sbus and Crossfire receivers.
An alternative for an AIO board is the GepRC GEP F4 board with similar specs to that of the HGLRC stack. In newer versions (2.1), iFlight Succex Micro F4 USC in a stack can also be with motor connectors (JST 3-pin 1.25mm pitch picoblade), which makes the toothpick a bit heavier but helps a lot with installation and assembling- soldering 12 pads to ESC is not needed.
The functionality of this micro ESC would be greatly jeopardized by unskilled soldering. Manufacturers offer versions with connectors, without them and with unsoldered connectors- the buyer has a choice if they want to solder them to PCB or not. That soldering job is much more simple than soldering motor wires PCB.
Traditionally brushed motors were used for 2” and smaller quads, all this changed with smaller Brushless motors being introduced and gaining popularity. Some of the popular motor sizes in the toothpick class are 08xx, 11xx and even some larger 12xx. Going with larger motors would require larger batteries and beefier ESC’s to accommodate for the higher current carrying capacity and is not advisable to use any bigger motors, besides the point of building a toothpick class quad is to go lightweight.
Some of the lightweight 2” 1S build uses a 0806 build and might make use of some larger 1102 and 1103 motors. Larger sized 3” quads can use 1104 and 1105 builds for 2-3s builds and larger 1106 and 1204 builds for 3-4s builds. Some people have even messed around with 1404 toothpick builds, the stator volumes are more or less the same with differences between 1404, 1206 and 1207 motors at 30% and lower. The reason to go for a taller stator (11xx, 11mm high stator) would be for its higher-end top speed and a wider stator (xx06, 6mm wide stator) would be for its increased torque.
The volume of a Cylinder (our motor stators in our case) can be calculated by using the formula
Stator volume (mm3)
We can see that 1105 motors have a larger stator volume than 1204 sized motors, larger stator means more power. Larger the stator volume equates to a powerful motor, but also increased weight and higher current draws. So it is quite important to choose the right motor as it is a major factor in deciding the overall weight of the quad. If the toothpick has motors for 3S batteries with 2.5” propellers (1103-1104), total motor mass (including wire and connector- if there’s one) would optimally be 4g to 5g.
Weight is a significant factor for smaller builds at this level, every gram counts. A toothpick frame will generally use a nano sized AIO camera. AIO cameras house a nano sized camera and a micro Video Transmitter.
This camera type is so widely used with toothpicks because of its compactness, lightweight, and high practicality. Everything the pilot needs to do is connect it to appropriate pad. Integrated VTx is quite similar to “normal”, full-sized VTx when it comes to specifications. The small size of these cameras is the result of 25mW power amplifiers, micron lenses and sensors, and PCBs with just the basic electronics. Transmitters can work on 40 to 48 channels, 5-6 bands.
Although small, image quality is good enough for a toothpick. Dynamic range, distribution, and speed of light/dark modification are quality enough for safe and fast flight.
Two basic types of antennas (we’ll rarely meet the others) which are built in VTxs of AIO cameras are CP and whip antenna. Your choice of the antenna depends on toothpick set-up, the way canopy is built and the type of space where you’ll fly.
Whip antennas are impact-resistant, simpler to build in and lighter than CP antennas. One aspect where CP antennas are superior is multipath- cameras with whip antennas are prone to it. Antennas are typically already soldered to the camera and that makes them difficult to change.
Considering that it’s better to have two cameras with two different antennas- or AIO camera with u.FL antenna connector and switch your antenna according to your flying needs. The latter is rarely considered practical. That’s why it’s a good idea to choose the camera and antenna type before assembling the quad- unless you really are a true fan of soldering coax cable to PBC.
Interconnection of the camera body and VTx has been solved by modular header pin, or recently, VTx separated from the camera connected by silicone wire. This way of connecting can be used in other ways.
If you have physically connected, soldered headers, it’s very difficult (sometimes even impossible if the manufacturer didn’t plan two extra wires) to connect this camera to OSD. With cameras connected to VTx by silicone wires, it’s possible to cut the video output off the camera, bypass it to the FC and connect the other end of the wire to FC’sOSD pad.
That means we’ll get the OSD stream, even if it wasn’t the original idea the manufacturer had for physically separated modules. This issue is being slowly resolved- (Betaflight) OSD wires are becoming a standard part of today’s camera. Newer models of AIO cameras even have SmartAudio protocol support which allows you to change VTx channel and band.
The best (and most expensive) cameras you can get are Caddx Firefly and BetaFPV Z02. Budget-friendlier models are Eachine TXO6, Eachine F7, and FX806T.
Thanks to the toothpick popularity, standards for stand-alone cameras are already set- nano-cameras. Typically, they’re 14mmx14mm with everything bigger cameras have. There are even some HD (720p max) cameras that fit into the nano-camera category.
Top camera manufacturers have recognized toothpick’s popularity which means there are a lot of options to choose from available on the market. Stand-alone cameras have started changing AIO cameras (mostly due to VTx and development) so this type of camera will become s standard for toothpicks in the future. In the beginning, toothpicks used whoop-world technology.
Over time, there became a need for own standards due to toothpick popularity. The result of this is more and more toothpick sets contain 15mmx14mm nano-camera, 16mmx16mm VTx (for stack), or triangle-shaped 25.2mm stackable VTx, or standalone VTx like ImmersionRC TBS Unify PRO Nano, etc.
Manufacturers who recognized astounding development of toothpicks are RunCam, Caddx, Foxeer, BetaFPV, NewBeeDrone… Those mentioned are leading toothpick camera manufacturers.
There are three dimensions of ultralight quad propellers- 2“, 2.5“ and 3“ (only on some frame versions). Most widely used are 2.5“. Sometimes you'll see 65mm propellers, but they're the same as 2.5“- just in different units of measurement. When talking about 65mm ones, they're usually press-on propellers- you don't screw them to the motor, you just place them onto the motor shaft. Dimensions in inches usually mean screw-on propellers (they mostly use two screws for the shaft balance).
Motors are typically made as two versions- press-on and „bell“ with a screw slot. Some motors support both types of propellers. There are a few standards for press-on propellers, with 0.8mm, 1mm, and 1.2mm diameter.
Toothpick motors' shaft's diameter is 1.5mm in most cases- which is something to consider if you're planning to use them for a drive (?). Although propellers with smaller hole diameter can easily be adjusted to 1.5mm motor shaft, the final result often leads to vibrations due to imprecise drilling around the dead center.
65mm propellers are used for quads with 1s batteries. For the drive of the larger propellers, naturally, you need more powerful motors and high-voltage battery. For 2s and 3s batteries you should use 2x2.5, 2x2x3, 2x2.5x3 (tri-blade), 2.5x2.5x3. It's not advisable to use 3x3 propellers (3“diameter, 3“pitch, 3- blade) on batteries larger than 2s- due to great motor load they could draw too much current for such a small ESC in the stack or to AIO FC.
Most often, you'll see toothpick with 2-blade or 3-blade propellers. 4-blades are rarely seen on bigger frames, but in many cases are seen on brushed micro Whoop class.HQ Props, Avan Rush and Lumenier are the most popular toothpick propellers.
Most toothpick batteries are 1s to 3s (rarely 4s) with 450mAh capacity. Size (mass and capacity as well) depend on frame size, power-hungry drive, and quad design. There are a lot of batteries on the market, and some of them are designed for smaller models- they were elongated and made lighter.
Their capacity hasn't been changed, just like with bigger batteries for 3“ and greater models. Considering most toothpicks are designed to start flying when on battery and land on it as well, it becomes the most vulnerable part of the equipment. These quads are light, 100g max- so it's not hard to land on the battery. Top-quality toothpicks' all-up-weight (AUW) is 50%, or a bit under, mass of the battery.
When purchasing one, it's also important to consider the battery's C-Rating- discharge rating. The greater C-Rating is, the battery is better. That means less voltage drop when quickly changing min-max throttle for a longer time.
With lower C-Rating, those maneuvers drain the battery which means less time flying and shorter battery life. It's obvious why a greater C-Rating battery is a better choice. Manufacturers can sometimes inflate C-Rating for market popularity- that's why purchasing „sketchy“ batteries can be a bit risky if C-Rating presented doesn't match the real rating. Independent bloggers' tests which include a lot of batteries are the best possible source of information, not just a sticker on the packaging.
Battery voltage depends on the motor's KV- propeller dimensions. The greater KV, the less voltage of the battery and the smaller propellers it's advisable to use. If you want a quad with smaller propellers, you have to pick the smaller battery for lower AUW- the thrust of smaller propellers is significantly lower, therefore, battery capacity is lower as well.
It's very important to get the right ratio- this will be the topic of our next review. For 2.5“ propellers and 1103 motors (typical toothpick setup), we'll use 300mAh elongated battery. Those batteries weigh 40g, more or less. Flight time varies, and it's possible to get 10 minutes of hover with 1103 (depending on AUW).
On the same setup (8000KV max) and 2.5“ propellers, we can use 2s battery- that makes the quad a bit sluggish- but more appropriate for beginners who typically don't have as sophisticated gimbal movement ability- it's easier to control.
Experienced pilots, used to 5“ quads are more likely to use 3s batteries to get the same feeling of a bigger quad while flying. Some of the most famous battery manufacturers are GNB (best rating according to tests), BetaFPV, NitroNectar, and Tattu.
RTF Toothpicks - Our Picks
For experienced pilots is great for effortless flying for fun. Larva-X has all you need in a toothpick. Design is quite futuristic and wisely done. It's miles away from a cheap plastic toy that easily breaks when crashing into something. It's fast, agile, durable and with the drive, it can fly up to 6 minutes.
We do recommend you get an external receiver version instead of a built-in SPU receiver- for greater range and newer firmware FrSky equipment compatibility. It is a bit pricier than its RTF rivals but that0s justified by out-of-the-box experience. With minimal adjustment, you can fly in no time.
Not only it supports BetaFlightOSD and SmartAudio for VTx setting over OSD, it's possible to make just one tiny modification to set up telemetry over FPort bus protocol (and for that is necessary to upgrade external receiver for FPort protocol).
Small, fast, and agile, it flies like 5“ rather than a tiny toothpick. The price is a bit higher than for others, but Armattan offers a life-long warranty for the frame- even if you break the frame in the crash, Armattan will send you one for free (shipping not included).
There are 3“ quads with similar characteristics, but toothpicks are the real deal with 2“ and 2.5“. Those propellers are perfect if you want to see the full potential of toothpicks- and they'll be the standard for this class of quad in the future.
Ironically enough, the new law proposed which would direct craft ID (UAS Remote Identification), affected the FPV world. It helped develop quads under 250g- which are excluded from this law and don't need to have RemoteID. As a reaction, FPV Freedom Coalition initiative has spoken- against interfering bureaucracy and politics with the FPV world.
Ultra-light micro class (or just “toothpick”) is becoming the favorite type of quadcopter, even with experienced and professional pilots- due to their size, speed, and the „safety“ of it in the air. They're not dangerous as most 5“ models, while some weigh up to 60g including the battery. Considering that's way under 250g, they're legal in any conditions and you don't require a license for them. They're cheap to make and the market has finally recognized the demand for such small quads- that's why today, there's much greater selection of top quality, not as expensive parts as it used to be.
Last but not least, they're more durable due to lower altogether mass and not as prone to damage when crashing. You can fly pretty much anywhere, even if there are people nearby (although we would advise you to be careful).
As your first toothpick, the best choice would be one of the BNF models- they're cheaper, quite compatible with most spare parts on the market.
Still, there needs to be a proper mainsteam standard for stabilization to avoid all issues with compatibility. Even now, we have 16x16mm, 20x20mm, 25.5x25.5mm stack mount pattern, triangle VTxs, wide specter motor patterns etc. That's why it's hard to connect ideal pieces into optimal combo.
That's why it's a good idea to challenge yourself with BNF toothpicks, and later, if you like it (we did), you can start building your own toothpicks for which you'll get to pick and calculate all components. But before anything else, do your research.
- How to Rewind Brushless Motor | Repairing Fixing Drone Motors - September 9, 2020
- Orqa FPV.One Goggles Review | Next level FPV Experience - August 14, 2020
- What is FPV? Introduction to First Person View with Drones - August 3, 2020