Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making the Tedious and Fiddly Less Painful

A while back when I was experimenting with the 3d printer, I realized that it might actually be better for the insides of model buildings than the outsides.

Yup, definitely.

One of the complications for the fruit packing warehouses near San Jose's Market Street station was their clerestory roofs. Many turn-of-the-century wooden warehouses (such as the Ainsley Cannery ones pictured here) had a small raised area at the roof line to let in more light and an exhaust path for hot air. They're very common around here, and even our lunchtime Italian restaurant in Campbell had such a roof. (Our lunch venue was formerly part of Sunsweet's Campbell (California) dried fruit packing plant, just down the road from the Ainsley Cannery.)

Unfortunately, clerestory roofs are a pain to build - lots of precise angles, small pieces, all sitting on top of an existing roof that may not be as square as I intended. These aren't very common in models, so I couldn't borrow an existing model for kitbashing purposes. Walther's Cornerstone Lumber Mill is one of the few plastic kits with such a roofline. There's a couple craftsman kits with such clerestory roofs (for example Campbell's Seebold and Sons), but I can't imagine they're not fiddly and tedious too.

I spent my weekend remembering how tedious and fiddly the roof could be, trying twice to cut identical ribs to hold the raised roof's shape. Neither came out square... or uniform... or even acceptable to my remarkably lax eye. The real problem in building the roof was making uniform ribs to get the proper cross section, matching the angle of the existing roof, and having pieces that could stay square as I glued the roof and sides on. Thin sheet didn't work well, even with lots of clothespins to try to hold them vertical.

Now, while the 3d printer can be a bit coarse, it's good at making identical parts and making duplicate parts with similar cross-sections. Why not print out the ribs? They don't need to be visible to the outside.

My first try was just making solid blocks with sloped bottoms and tops to match the existing roofline and the expected roof line for the clerestory roof. The blocks were also 1/4" thick, so they could stand on their own during construction. They still weren't easy to keep in place. The next revision added a vertical slot that could hold a plastic spline for the roof peak, and hollowed out the blocks so they'd use less plastic. The final splines are visible in the photo. They're not as thick as I would have liked, but the printer was starting to misbehave and I'm lucky I got these done.

To build the actual roof, I cut a strip of 1/16" styrene sheet for the spline, inserted it in the slots and spaced the ribs every 2 inches, and glued the spline in place. Next, I cut strips of the styrene for each side of the roof, then similarly cut pieces for the underside of the assembly (so it'll be easier to glue the roofline in place.) Next, I'll glue board and batten siding to both sides of the assembly for the outer walls (with window holes cut out), glue in the Grandt Line 5251 windows, and I'll be ready for final assembly.

These ribs didn't make the process completely painless; my first try at assembly failed because I hadn't cut the roof sheet correctly, and forgot that the building runs into the backdrop at an angle. However, the second try had everything go together remarkably smoothly. I'm tempted to make 3d models for the ribs in several different angles and widths/heights, and keep them on hand for my next clerestory-building adventures!

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