Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Birthday Vanity Table

Since we made something fairly large and interesting for Carys' last birthday (our-home-doll-house), we thought we'd best make something similar for Ffion's. Ffion is really into all things pink and princessy, which is a bit of a surprise since she doesn't really have a role model in this regard (Lin, you know it's true!). Queen FilthWizard had a great idea (as usual) and suggested making a largish vanity table, one where a few girls could sit around to preen and play at the same time. Oh, and it needs to be PINK!! (not just pink).

I took the morning off work one day and spent a little time with the missus scowering the local thrift stores for a table to use as the main base.  We got very lucky at the local salvation army where we found a basic (and slightly beaten up) girls vanity table - job complete?  Nah, it needed to be larger and more personalised.  We have some strange and random bits of wood in the garage, one item is an old desk top (you can see it in the picture below) which we thought we could combine with the table to extend the sides and create more counter space.

I cut the table top in half, shaped the sides (scroll saw and router) and added a few bits of 2"x2" which I used to secure the panels to the main table top.

Lin designed a second backboard with space for an extra couple of mirrors (no fighting over mirror space!).  I cut this out of a sheet of 1/4" MDF board, painted it and added a couple of wooden hand mirrors that we'd found at the local thrift store (these look like they came from Michael's or JoAnne's or similar).  I wanted the backboard and extra mirrors to be different shades of pink, so they were painted separately with an area masked off on the MDF so that the mirrors could be glued on afterwards.

A Lin added a few extra nice touches using some gold spray paint to make sparkly pots, trays and hand mirrors.

Here's the birthday girl enjoying her present (which was ready in time for her actual birthday, unlike Carys' which was... er.... 3 months late.  Well Birthday + Pi Months = Pi birthday, right?  everyone loves Pi).

Finally some random baby pictures :)  Say hi to my newest little girl, Delyth (also looking pretty in pink), who was 6 months old in this photo.
And here's a more recent one of Delyth through a toilet roll tube (don't ask) - she's actually 11 Months old now!.

And here's the other two filth wizards enjoying their home made x-wing flight suits.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Our home" doll house

I love to make things for people & I've found that kids birthdays are a fine excuse to take the time to make something epic - last year, for Carys' birthday, Lin and I made a millennium falcon dolls house and a set of star wars peg dolls.  The two of us had been noodling for a while about what to make Carys this year (ok, last year now since this post took me ages to get round to writing) - the girls have really been enjoying make believe play with dolls houses and those little people dolls you see everywhere (Polly pockets and the like). So, in keeping with the interesting dolls house for birthday theme, we thought we'd make a mini version of our own home - one that would be an interesting puzzle for the kids to put together and that would come apart easily for storage afterwards.

The inspiration for this came from an old woodworking book we picked up a while back.  I'd been flicking through it and noticed the page with the modular dolls house idea & thought the girls would love it.

To begin with I tried moking something up by taking measurements of the house using the overhead view from a google maps satelite image and filling in the inside myself.   This was ok, but it was difficult to get the internal dimensions looking right.  So I ended up going round the inside and outside of the house measuring the lengths of all the walls and using these measurements to create a few "architectural" drawings.  I quite like seeing the drawings people make of their ideas, so I've posted a load of mine at the end of this post (they're nothing special, but you can see the evolution of the idea).  For the impatient, here's the final design I was working from:

I spent a few nights just looking at and thinking about the set-up before realising that I was over complicating everything by trying to be too precise (left wall is 33.24", middle is 12.56" etc).  I decided to simplify everything and round all the measurements (making sure to keep the proportions sane and as close to the true values as possible).

I mocked up a simple version of the house using CamBam and cut it out of 1/8" thick plywood on my CNC machine. This gave me an idea of how it all could fit together and how to improve the design.  Sure, I could have cut it out of cardboard, but this method is more interesting to me & had the upside of leaving us with something a bit more robust that the kids can play with.

Lin took a look at the ~8" x 6" model you see above, frowned and said "how big can you make it?".  I had to laugh, because that was the exact comment that lead to the glow in the dark wall after I showed Lin a scrap of parchment paper I'd covered with glow-in-the-dark paint.  The main size limitation turns out to be the trunk space of our Nissan Dissapointment - I can just about fit a 4' x 4' sheet of plywood in there, so that's how long the main side walls are.  This had the unexpected benefit of making the house a 1/12th replica of the original.  This means that we can buy 1/12th sized doll house furniture and it will be in perfect proportion. It also meant that the dolls house furniture that our friends, Jessen and Lani, bought for the girls fits perfectly.  Thanks guys, if you're reading this!

After deciding on the final design, I set about drawing each individual piece and working out where all the mating slots should go - this is important because it defines the order in which the walls can be slotted together. I wanted to work out a sequence that's easy (no having to straddle a couple of pieces while a second person slots something in) and that makes sense (large outside pieces first to make a frame for the inner walls to slot onto later).  For this design I was limited by the fact that I've put the roof on the front piece so the slots have to go on the bottom, this makes the first step in assembly slightly awkward, but the rest is a doddle.

I popped over to home despot to decide on what wood I was going to use and to pick up a dadoe blade set for the table saw (hey, there's nothing wrong with using present making as a reason to pick up some new tools!). I've ended up using some fairly decent 1/2" plywood.

I had to make a new insert for the old Atlas table saw - a zero clearance plate for the dado blade.  Here's a few pictures to give an overview of the process (I cut out the initial shape using the original plate to draw a template and a scroll saw to cut it out).

I used the table saw to cut out the main house pieces and a jigsaw to cut out the shape of the roof and the windows. The dadoe blades (1/2" wide setting) were used to cut all the slots and finally a router, with rounding bit, to curve the edges. I used a scroll saw to cut out a few of the more awkward parts at the end & now I wish I'd used that for all the windows and doors... It was much easier and more accurate than the jigsaw.

Here's the house assembled in the kitchen. I hadn't decided on how to do the porch at that time, so it's still missing.

After cutting out the main shape (and deciding on the porch design) it was just a matter of painting it.  This took a bit longer than I expected... we wanted to keep it a surprise so it was only worked on in "the mystery room" after the kids were in bed.

Here's the completed house with some kids in the mix so you can get a sense of scale :)

As always, some of my favourite touches are the ones that Lin added.  She did all of the detailed painting and went one step further by creating some scaled versions of the more recognizable items around the house (rug and pillows in pic below).  Awesome!

I love the rug on the rug effect.  Ffion often comments on my enjoyment of recursion...  We were reading Charlie Cook's Favorite Book recently and she said "Look dad!  That's the kind of thing you like!" pointing to the cover (which has Charlie reading his favourite book, which is the very book he's in).  I haven't yet made a small enough copy of the house to fit on the small rug though.  That'd be great - a playhouse within a playhouse within the house it was modeled on.

Here's a load of sketches I made whilst thinking about and planning the house.  You can see the evolution from "I don't really know what I'm making" to "how is this all going to fit together?" to "this is where everything goes and this is where the slots need to be".

In retrospect, if we were doing this again from scratch we'd probably make the corridor wider to make a bit more room.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Homemade Christmas Presents

Every Christmas, Lin makes a load of lovely presents for friends and family, and I run with the excuse that I'm too busy to make anything.  Well, this year, I thought it was about time I got off my arse and made a few presents for friends and family and not just sit around watching Lin make awesomeness.

We came up with a hunormous list of things we'd like to make for people and very quickly realised we'd have to think a little smaller - Delyth was only 4 months old and had regressed into bad sleeping patterns so Lin and I had to take turns holding her in the evening, which didn't leave much time for, well, anything really.

I'm enjoying a little bit of woodworking at the moment (I think I can blame the CNC build for that) & I liked the idea of making a few wooden toys for friends & family back in Blighty.  I found a scroll saw on sale at home depot one day & couldn't resist - so I've been playing with it (partly with the help of this book).  It came in pretty handy when making Carys' birthday present (which I'll blog about next since it turned out really well) and got some good usage making these Christmas presents.

A few of the presents were cut from patterns in this scroll saw bookwhich has a load of good ideas - I'm most fond of the ones that make something the kidlets can play with, so those are the things I chose to try first.   I particularly liked the interlocking/nested animal patterns & there were a couple of beginner ones that I could start  - a zebra/horse set and some elephants.

Here's the first set of horses I cut (out of poplar); Lin finished them off for me by whittling the sides and giving them a couple of coats of tung oil.

Since the horses turned out well, I used them as an excuse to pop down to my local woodcraft to pick up some more wood to experiment with.   The woodcraft in San Carlos stocks a load of interesting and beautiful wood. You can buy it by the board foot (a uniquely North American unit of measure), which means that you can pick up a small amount of a variety of wood to play with without it costing an arm and a leg.

After a long lunchtime looking at, feeling, and smelling all the interesting wood, I ended up buying some purple heart wood and some zebrawood (no prizes for guessing what that one is going to be used for).  The purple heart wood is just so visually striking!  I'd never seen a wood that was naturally purple!

I used the same horse/zebra pattern with the zebrawood and tried out an elephant pattern with the purple heart wood:


The last present I want to talk about was something we made for my nephew.  I have some very fond memories of receiving hand made gifts from my granddad around Christmas time; he made me and my brother a few cool things - school desks, go-karts and a wooden castle are the ones that I remember fondly (they all got a ton of use and play!).

My nephew is 19 months old and loves anything with wheels.  Lin came up with the idea of a truck made into the shape of his name; I'd had a different plan that I'd been trying out, but it was complicated, fiddly and a little frustrating - we were a little short on time at this point so it was a huge relief to have something more tractable to work on.  Also, we had all the necessary pieces on hand!

The truck was cut out of some 2x4 Douglas fir I had left over from building the CNC machine (If you're interested there are a few posts about that here: part1, part2, part3, update).   Here are a few gratuitous "in-progress" shots:

The wheels were from a bag of wooden shapes that LiEr (from ikatbag) sent to us when Delyth was born.  Thanks, LiEr!  That bag of wooden tidbits has been a life saver.

I really like how the truck turned out - It's personal, robust and simple. I think Harry liked it too, he certainly played with it a lot over Christmas :)