This paper critically interrogates how borders are produced by scientists, engineers and security experts in advance of the actual deployment of technical devices they develop. This paper explores the prior stages of translation and decision-making as a socio-technical device is conceived and developed. Drawing on in-depth interviews, observations and ethnographic research of the EU-funded Handhold project (consisting of nine teams in five countries), it explores how assumptions about the way security technologies will and should perform at the border shape the way that scientists, engineers, and security experts develop a portable, integrated device to detect CBRNE threats at borders. In disaggregating the moments of sovereign decision making across multiple sites and times, this paper questions the supposed linearity of how science comes out of and feeds back into the world of border security. An interrogation of competing assumptions and understandings of security threats and needs, of competing logics of innovation and pragmatism, of the demands of differentiated temporalities in detection and interrogation, and of the presumed capacities, behaviours, and needs of phantasmic competitors and end-users reveals a complex, circulating and co-constitutive process of device development that laboratises the border itself. We trace how sovereign decisions are enacted as assemblages in the antecedent register of device development itself through the everyday decisions of researchers in the laboratory, and the material components of the Handhold device itself.