Notes from Windward: #69


Learning Big Things Small

the joy and utility of modeling


     Here at Windward housing is a personal endeavor. Most of us live in small structures that are conducive to our lifestyle and our personal heating budget. This summer I wandered over to the Tuff Sheds on display at Home Depot and was fascinated a 12'x16' gambrel roofed storage shed with a loft.

the shed design that caught my eye

     Instead of ordering one and depleting my cash reserves I decided to pick up the Ultimate Guide to Yard and Garden Sheds and started reading. I've always enjoyed building models of things including floor plans and learning how things go together. I really liked the overall shape of the structure and the design matches several storage units we have on-site.

     As a do-it-myselfer, I fall into the trap of learning as I go and incorporating my mistakes into the structure instead of taking the lesson to the next level and improving the next structure. If I only need to make one than there is no place to apply what I've learned. To get around that trap, I decided to build a scale model.

     My first task was to research the supplies available for model building. Commercial balsa wood sold by the sheet or in kits, posterboard, craft foam, and construction paper were available at a local hobby shop. I decided that I did not want to invest in commercial supplies so I harvested scrap lumber and cut it into scale lumber. The planer made it possible to take table-sawn lumber and plane it to exactly the dimensions I needed. The structure will be 1/12th scale (one inch equals one foot) and so my 2x6 boards are roughly 1/4" by 1/2".

scaled down 2x10 and 2x6s

     After collecting my drafting supplies as well as several clamps, glue, and cardboard I started assembling the model. I've enjoyed reading a few pages from my book then being able to apply it to the model quickly framing up the floor joists then setting it aside for the glue to dry while I read about wall framing. Next, I cut more lumber to length and worked on the walls. I learned several lessons during this phase including the importance of getting the dimensions right.

The floor all framed up with plywood represented by a thin sheet of craft foam

     The "floor" is 12' x 16' but that includes 4' of porch and all four walls are 12' in length on the outside of the structure.

One of the walls in clamps drying

     Another challenge is deciding how much to trim so your inside and outside heights make the best use of sheet goods like drywall, plywood, or T-111 which are 48" x 96".

my growing stack of walls

     While the last wall was drying I started working on the roof design. Each truss would require five pieces of wood that needed to be trimmed to length at the correct angle to make the geometry work.

     With the table covered with drafting supplies, I quickly sketched out the roof truss design but then I had to decide if the roof should sit on top of the walls or extend beyond the walls to help protect them from the weather. With those details worked out I headed over to the workshop to cut a form/jig to clamp each truss to as I made it so they would all be the same.

Opalyn cutting roof truss pieces to length

     With the walls complete and the roof design under way I decided to raise the walls. Sarah even had some small nails so I could nail and glue the walls in place. I mounted three of the walls and tied them together with the top-plate leaving the fourth wall removable for future access for design or modifications.

going vertical

     Tonight I'll cut more roof truss pieces then continue building trusses until I have enough to frame the roof.

     I am fascinated by how the things I am learning while building small. I am planning on following the design in the book for this first model and then to build a second model that incorporates what I'm learning during this first run through. Everybody here has been supportive as I undertake to learn more about construction and many people have offered tools, knowledge, or model sized alternatives for electrical or plumbing.

[Walt:     The modeling skills that Opalyn is developing play an important role in a community more interested in building consensus than in building buildings. Not everyone has the skill needed in order to be able to look at a set of plans and visualize the result, so building a scale model is a great way to help others visualize your plan. The more clearly others can see what you're proposing, the easier it becomes for them to support the project.

     A detailed model is a great way to assure others that you've thought the project through and know how it all goes together. It's natural for people to have doubts about any new project since lots of things that look good on paper can turn out to be a disappointment--a scale model goes a long way towards building confidence and support.

November 19:

Gluing on the trusses

     The roof trusses took quite a bit of time but now with 20 trusses complete, it is time to finish the loft. Even with using clamps and a jig, the care I took with each truss was not enough to produce identical trusses. I stacked the trusses up next to each other and clamped them together, then headed out to the workshop where I fired up the stationary belt sander and achieved uniformity.

hot melt gluing the trusses in place

     Hot glue made mounting the trusses fairly easy given its quick setting time and soon the loft was framed up. The quick setting time proved problematic in one or two instances but once the heat gun comes out of "deep storage" that will be an easy fix.

[Walt: for new readers of these Notes, we use the term "deep storgage" to describe a situation in which we know that some tool or resource is around here somewhere--we're just not sure where at this point in time. With more than a hundred acres to work with and a number of projects underway at any given time, there's always a list of things that have gotten themselves in the "deep storage" category at any given time.]

     Learning big thing small will provide me an opportunity to apply lessons learned when it comes time to build a small cabin or storage unit. The importance of getting a solid, square, and level foundation comes through as you use the open floor as a platform to build each of the walls before raising them into place.

the overhang creates a porch

     I've decided to call this model finished and will work out the details of door and window placement before I build another model. This model has a 12' x 16' foot print. The downstairs is 12'x12' with an upstairs loft that is about 8' wide by 16' long. The extra length upstairs provides a covered porch.

     Next steps include working out the details of doors and windows as well as interior walls and room design. I plan to layout several floor plans including a 12'x12' unit (like the model I built), a modest size cabin (20' x 20') with a loft, and a shipping container apartment (8' x 40').

     I've also started on 2D scale representations of various furniture and household fixture items. For instance a 36" by 36" shower stall would be represented by a 3" x 3" piece of cardboard.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69