Thursday, September 16, 2010

Things I've made: Ironing Board

We live in a 1926 Bungalow and have just recently redecorated (Read gutted and started over) the back of the house including the master bedroom and laundry area. This was due to the fact it had been decorated in 1980's home Depot style!My wife needed an ironing board and we found an old one at an auction, but after examining it closer, it was in very bad shape. So I built one from oak, using the one from the auction as a pattern, but adding some "Arts & Crafts era" style to it.
Here is how it turned out:

Pennsic House: The pay off.

Gregory and I arrived at Pennsic Sunday afternoon and Casa Bardicci was starting construction. In order for us to set up the house in the planned orientation, the entire Casa layout was shifted to the south 12 ft. 

 Once the rear loggia (Balcony) was set up, we could layout the floor of the house. In order to level to floor I made a simple tube level. This is nothing more than a piece of tubing, clear Tygon in this case, with an added feature of a clear acrylic tube at each end and small metal stakes to hold the tubes vertically. Since water will seek out its own level, the tubes were just place at either end of the house frames and since the water surface is level at each end, we simply leveled the frames to this.
It took about an hour to level all 7 cross frames and crib up each one, because the ground as about a 1 ft. crown in this location. This time cribbing was made from sections of leftover 2x10’s, but now that I have the measurements of where the house sits (and will each year)  I will make dedicated blocks for each location under the cross frames. This will make the process much faster.
Once the floor was leveled and squared, we set up the vertical 4x4’s and the 2x10 frame. It went very fast with just Gregory and me, with some additional help when pieces needed to be handed up to the second floor. Once all of the structure was up, and the upstairs furniture was in place it was time to attach the walls.
Here is the house almost ready for walls (note the canal behind the house)
Remember me commenting on how the scaffold system would come back to bite me, well, here’s what happened.  I plugged in the scaffold support bars into the houses frame then because others were busy, I wrestled the 2x12 scaffold board to the back of the house where the canal is and into the bars myself. Not noticing I had rested the board on the 5/8” “locking” bar, instead of the ¾” “load” bar. Now the 5/8” bar should still have supported my weight, but I had not tested it, and it turns out it was not fabricated from low carbon stainless, but high carbon stainless, and it was too hard and brittle where I bent it. Because while on the scaffold right near the top of the stairs, I leaned over to grab another wall screw and heard a snap and instantly realized I was falling. Now early in my life I did stunt work, so I immediately tried to kick my body backwards towards the canal. Figuring it would be better to land in this putrid water than on the hard ground or the houses foundation. I partially hit the water and bounded my head off of something because I saw stars.  As I dragged myself towards the embankment I’m thinking, what the hell broke? Well a number of people saw this and came scrambling over to me. Meanwhile I was taking a mental inventory of my “parts” and thought ok, nothing hurts I must not have broken anything. It is then I looked down at my right chest and saw a rather large gash. Crap! This is definitely a hospital trip…and I Just bought this tee shirt! There wasn’t much blood but I was told in no uncertain terms an ambulance ride to Butler hospital was required.
I’m sure the hospital reception though I was a drunken homeless person because I was all wet, no shirt, missing one shoe and the back of my head was caked with black mud. After waiting in the triage center for a ½ hour the hole was given a good “scrubbing” (that felt “good”) and 14 stitches (on the outside, I don’t know how many inside. It turns out it was pretty deep) and a drain tube. Oh yeah and a huge bottle of antibiotics!
Two days later.
Well the next morning I went to see what had broken and saw the broken lock bar. I then realized my mistake and remembered that old adage, “When making something fool proof, Never underestimate the power of the fool.” Or as an old boss of mine said, “Next time I need a “dumbshit”, I can go myself!”

Gregory was a huge help and we (with me getting yelled at for lifting anything) were able to get the rest of the house together in the next couple of days. Here is the final result.
(Photo credits: Daniel P. Bronson, William J. Tifft, C. Gilman, Helena Hall, Eveline Darroch)


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pennsic House: The second story

After finishing all the bottom floor elements (less final paint) I put everything together and tested the fit to make sure I could move on, as well as get a sense of the overall look of what would be the main entertaining area of the house.

Up until this point I had only been working on the bottom floor as the ceiling height of the shop would not permit the entire structure being set up. To work on the top floor, I removed the 4x4 uprights and lowered the “ceiling” down to the floor structure and started assembly of the second story. The basic construction is the same using 4x4’s and the plastic skinned foam walls. However as there is a 16 foot height limit at the Pennsic site , the top floor is a bit shorter than the bottom floor and to keep the openness I used an open rafter style and a shallow pitch to the roof. (10 degrees)
The roof rafters are again of hollow box beam construction and light weight; in fact even with an overall length of 14 ft, one can be carried in each hand. (Although at 6’3” and 240#, I am a bit of a moose!)

Each rafter has a 1 ½” steel tube running through the wooden cross brace and welded to each end of this tube is a 4” square steel tube socket, just like the floor structure. These where foamed inplace with rigid urethane foam. These sockets drop down over the top of the 4x4 uprights. Welded across the top of each socket tube is a steel plate, this keeps the 4x4 from passing through the tube as well as allows a 3/8” stainless bolt to thread into a threaded insert in the top of each 4x4. This neatly ties the rafters down to each 4x4 upright.

 The roof is constructed from 10mm sheets of Coroplast. This is basically “corrugated plastic” Just like the corrugated cardboard boxed are made from, but polypropylene plastic. These sheets are very tough yet light weight. Since the material is like corrugated cardboard, it can be folded and “boxed” like it’s paper counterpart. I used a 4mm Coroplast to make folded box beams that drop down into the top of each rafter. These are pop riveted to the 10mm room material. These will be pinned into the box beams with a cross pin.

This drawing will better illustrate the construction.

To achieve a more period look, I used a vacuum formed “Spanish tile” roof panels over this that I bought from the Warner Brothers staff shop. Down the ridgeline of the roof, I constructed another Coroplast box beam reinforced flashing piece. Each roof panel is 7’x7’ and dovetails together with its neighbor to create a waterproof roof. Because I had around 350 sq. ft. of roof, I didn’t want any rain (often heavey at Pennsic) to shed onto our courtyard, or the neighbors. So I cut recesses in the tops of each end of the rafters and installed gutters. To keep them from looking like gutters they were painted to look like wood and the Spanish roof tile extended over them. But to drop the rain water into the gutters, the bottoms of the roof tiles were cut out were they extended over them.

For the arches I again fabricated the entire end of the house structure from the ¾” foam board and added vacuum formed arches. All bonded together with Weld-On. Since the floor needed to be light weight, it was made from the same foam board with a layer of 1/8” luan plywood. This was bonded to the styrene skins. Except for the “porch” area, as I knew this would get wet with rain and even with a urethane finish the luan would likely warp, I used a vinyl flooring. To make sure water could not find it’s way through joints in this floor section, I added raised “dykes” around each opening to prevent water from finding its way to the downstairs ceiling. I also pitched it towards the front so water would run off. At Pennsic we had some pretty heavy rains and even with the wide open arches the roof overhang (about 18”) kept most of the rain off the porch and any water just shed off the front of the house.

I knew that setting up a tall ladder to reach the upper walls and roof elements would be difficult. Setting up a tall ladder is unstable enough in grass but to make problems worse, the house would be very close to a canal on the back side, so a ladder there would be close to impossible. So I came up with a scaffold system that “plugged” into the houses frame. This scaffold would be 14’ feet long and the clips would plug into the metal frame elements at 12 foot increments around the house. The system consisted of a simple 3/4” diameter “Z” shaped bar made from tool steel and an additional 5/8” bar that when weight was applied, the whole assembly would twist and pin the scaffold board in place.

I tested the system (close to the ground) with 3 times the weight it would be supporting. I also put a long extension on the main bar and tested its stiffness, all was good to go. (This simple clever idea, that would come back to bite me!)

After completing the upper floor and balcony, I was down to the last couple of days. It was now time to paint everything. To give the walls a “finished plaster” look I needed a tough yet lightweight (also thin) coating that would stick to the styrene skin of the the walls and arch elements. Over the last few weeks I tested a number of things that came to mind, but I wasn’t really satisfied with anything. One day at Home Depot, looking at their “artistic” home finishes, I got to thinking, “What could you add to paint to give it a “plaster” like texture…” “What could you add to a Water based paint to give it a plaster texture….”

“Duh! Plaster!

So I went back to the shop and tried Plaster as well as Hydrocal and did some tests. The results were fantastic. The polymers in the paint kept the plaster from being brittle and the plaster set up because of the water in the paint. The result was it could be applied just like plaster with a trowel and thinly then, when it dried it was very tough. I settled on a 50/50 by volume mix of latex wall paint and plaster.

So over the weekend my wife and I painted all the walls inside and out. Exterior was white and the interior was a light mustard color. With help from a new shop employee, all the trim was painted a terracotta color. The plan was to hire a couple of motion picture scenic artists to give the entire house a complete “aging” to make all of the elements homogonous, but time was too short, so all that could be done was some scenic work to the fireplace and the ceiling.

The day before packing the house into the trailer, we set it up in the parking lot of the shop. This would be the first time the whole structure would be set up. With minor difficulties, it went together quite well.
I had planned on having period balcony railings but out of time I had to settle on just the simple bar railing.

I now knew I could assemble it completely at Pennsic. So with much help from the guys in my shop, we packed it into the 22’ enclosed trailer. Since we also had to pack all the furniture and some armour it was a bit tight, but we eventually got it packed. (It is about a 3 day drive across the US from California to Pennsylvania.) Finger crossed we hit the road.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pennsic House: Windows

Every house should have windows and since mine was a 16th century house, they needed to be 16th century ones. After looking at many paintings, bull’s-eye glass seemed to right choice. Bull’s eyes or Roundels were the "leftover" centers of the large discs of glass blown to create small panes of glass. The panes were cut from the outer part of the disc and the centers were trimmed an used as filler or to create “Bull’s-eye” panes.

Here is the image featuring a Bull’s-eye window I decided to replicate.

Since I knew I was not going to use real glass in the windows as they would be to fragile and heavy I chose to vacuum form them from clear PETG plastic. In order to keep the detail of the lead came and glass surfaces, I would use a “female” pattern. This means I would be using the surface of the plastic that comes in contact with the mold. First I isolated the window from the painting and mirrored it so to create a complete window. I then scaled it based on what I thought the real size of the window was (based on items in the painting) and on what size would look good in the house.

A friend, Jason Klein is an accomplished glass blower and owner of Historic Glass works and he offered to create the glass bulls eyes (or roundels) for me. As we had become good friends at Pennsic, we both thought this would be a nice collaboration. I received the roundels from him and I made RTV silicone molds of them. From these molds I cast urethane plastic copies that I could then cut down to the needed diameter as well as cut the in between “triangles”. Using real lead came I fabricated on complete “Pane”. Since I’m not an experience solder and even with a period “Iron” I could not get proper (read neat looking) joints. Well since I needed to clay up the spaces between the plastic roundels and the came to keep mold material out, I also clayed up proper looking joints.

Here is the finished “Master” ready to be molded.

After placing a metal frame the same size as my vacuum form table around the master, I used what we call Bondo-resin to coat the master. This coating is made by taking Bondo, (a micro-balloon filled polyester resin used as a auto body filler) and adding polyester resin in order to thin the mixture to the desired viscosity. Once the Bondo-resin has hardened I filled the back with urethane foam. I turned over the master and repeated the process on the other side. Once both sides had cured, I removed them from the master. The resulting 2 pieces are negative impressions of the bulls-eye glass pane master, one female vacuum form pattern of each side. These are placed into my small vacuum former and after heating a sheet of .062” PETG (A clear thermoplastic) I lower the frame onto the “platen” and apply a vacuum. [Note: Do not think of a vacuum as pulling or “sucking” it is more like when you pull a book out from beneath a stack of books. The other books are not “sucked” to the table, they merely fall into the hole you create. Same with a vacuum, there is roughly 62 miles (100km) of atmosphere over your head, think of it as an air ocean that you are at the bottom of, and if you could put a 1”x 1” x 62 mile tall column of it on a scale it weights 14.7 lbs at sea level. So when you create a vacuum, your making a hole and all that “fluid” we call air, flows into that hole and if something is in the way, it will push down on it with a maximum of 14 lbs per square inch.] So with a flick of a switch the machine makes a hole and the air flattens the plastic against the Bondo-resin pattern.
Here it is in video:

Once all the pieces are vacuum formed (2 per window x 6 windows) The pieces are rough trimmed and then glued back to back with an industrial hot glue gun. With the addition of small plastic balls glued evenly through the pane to space the two sheets the proper distance from each other, the assembly is placed between a layer of soft foam and ¾” plywood and clamped. Then I fill the void between the sheets with polyester resin. (The small plastic balls keep the sheets from “crushing” together between the foam) If you do this, be aware of the amount of MEKP (catalyst) you use. As polyester is an exothermic plastic (generates heat when curing) it can get very hot and soften or melt the PETG surface.

The piece still have their blue protective vinyl film, this was deliberate (normally these are remover before forming) because I now cut around all the “came” with an X-Acto knife and peel off the protective vinyl covering the lead came area, leaving the film over the Roundels. Mixing up a grey paint, then adding some silver metallic powder I have the “lead came” paint and can now paint the came.

Once the paint dries, I remove the remaining blue vinyl and “ta - da”, a realistic looking bulls-eye glass pane. (In one tough lightweight piece of plastic)
I took one of the first test panels and cut out a section and made a mock up of what the window frame and casement would be.

Here is a cross section of that mockup

The frames are made from surplus mahogany “Fireplace surround” kits it be sold off cheap at a local home improvement store and with a few passes through the table saw they have been reprofiled to work perfectly as 16th century window frames and casements.

In the source painting there are these latches to hold the panes into the casements. It took me a while to figure out what these looked like, but then I found a high resolution copy of the painting and could make out what they likely were.

Here is the brass master I created for these latches.
I made a vulcanized rubber mold of this master for my 12” spin caster and cast 60 of them in pewter. At some point I’ll cast these in brass so they will be stronger, but for the sake of speed and economy, I chose pewter as I could do it cheap and fast myself. Each cast “screw” had a steel wood screw cast in and the heads were designed to work with my 8 point sockets so they would be easy to install. Once they were all cast (50 of them) I had them antique /blackened brass plated.

To complete the look, I added steel bars across each pane. Later this year I will most likely add the small pull rings shown in the painting.

The finished windows separate into an outside casement and an inside casement and are screwed together trough the walls using ¼-20 stainless Allen screws. (I know another tool to bring, It’s up to 3 now!)

Here are the finished windows.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pennsic House: Details

In order to fulfill one of the goals of this project and make this look as much like a real house as possible, I needed to concentrate on the details. As I looked at more and more paintings I needed to settle on architectural elements I could make work both as an 16th century house and in a easy to assemble structure.

 First were arches. Arches were needed for two reasons, one; many of the painting from Italy of the era seemed to have arches and two the rest of Casa Bardicci had arches. If you have arches, you need capitals and columns. This is one of the first things after the wall material I started to source. I kept an eye out on eBay as well as the movie studios here in LA.

Each Movie Studio has a “Staff shop” which is a shop that makes the architectural details for any period of film or television set, from wall textures and molding to capitals and corbels. Most of the staff shops have a cataloged with all of the architectural pieces they offer.

Warner Brothers Staff shop

Now if this project was for a film, with a films budget, it would be built in a very different way. First it would be relatively temporary, made from 1x2 lumber and luan plywood, nailed together with staple & nailguns and the finished scenic paint job would make it look like a completely real structure. Well I would not be able to afford all of the normal Hollywood tricks and my structure needed to be more robust and reusable, but I should be able to pull of many of them, including hiring a couple of really good “scenic” painters to add the finishing touches to the house.

It would turn out that tapered columns were too expensive, especially since I needed 7 of them, so I settled on schedule 40 PVC pipe. The capitals I bought from Worthington Mill works.
I bought one of their Roman Corinthian decorative capitals and made an RTV silicone mold with a Hydrocal (Like plaster of Paris but stronger) outer shell or Jacket of the capital. I then cast lightweight copies using a 2 part urethane plastic and filled these with the same 2.5 lb. Density foam I used on the beams.

Original fiberglass capital (brown piece added)
Silicone mold with Hydrocal Matrix

Since I had a second floor, I needed stairs. These would be placed on the opposite end from the arches facing the lake. In front of the stairs was a wall, fabricated from the 1” PVC & foam board.

Here are the stairs, traditionally built with 2x10’s and 1x8 pine. (These are by far the heaviest single element of the house. I had to install them myself a few times, but easier to install them with 2-3 people.)

Early on I decided the downstairs needed a fireplace. In many of the period paintings you see a fireplace, I also noticed sometimes there was a cover, over the entire opening of the fireplace. This appears to be a “summer” cover or installed when the fireplace was not in use. The way they are painted it appeared t be a metal cover with slide bolt style latches.

As I had a great deal of space under the stairs, this would be the perfect solution to getting behind the wall to get to under the stairs for “mundane” storage. So using the 1" PVC skinned foamboard I fabricated a fireplace onto the back wall. Again the pieces were bonded with WeldOn and temporarily held together with masking tape till the solvent cement set. For the details I used a plastic foam trim purchased from Lowes and bonded it with WeldOn to the foamboard. I added some plastic copies of small “carved stone” corbels left over from another project, then vacuum formed two corner pieces to finish off the effect. After using the Locktite caulk/ adhesive to fillet any seams, the fireplace and wall where then given a coat of “Featherfill” to add a bit of “plaster texture”. “Featherfill” is a polyester based sprayable build up coating used in automotive body shops to fill in small surface imperfections over large areas.

Here is the fireplace wall fitted in front of the staircase.

(The barrel is to become a "Jockey box" for the beer keg that will be located beneath the stairs.
The side table it’s on is a stand in for one of the correct period I’ll build)

I also noted in 15th & 16th century paintings, that the corbels most often were longer across the ceiling than down the wall, something that is the opposite in later architecture. I found a set of 2 oak corbels on ebay for about $75 and I added some additional pieces of wood to make them work horizontally (instead of the intended vertical orientation) Again using RTV silicone, I made a mold, this time with a wood “jacket” or matrix and cast these in the same manner as the capitals.
Primed cast plastic corbel & wood fascia pieces.

Because silicon is rather heavy and has little surface tension, it flows into every tiny detail of the surface being molded. Because of this it will faithfully capture all the detail and nuances of any given surface. Also silicone usually doesn’t stick to anything, with the exception of itself and glass. This is why, in the movie industry, we use it as the default mold material to make copies of many things.

The resulting corbels have all the wood grain detail of the original oak corbel and once painted will be practically indistinguishable from the real thing.

To attach the corbels I embedded a piece of aluminum “T” material in the top of the corbel and made a “shoe” from some steel angle and strap stock, that this aluminum could slide into. This meant no tools for installation. As these slid in, they also trapped the fascia pieces I made to hide the metal brackets and 2x10’s of the main frame.