Monday, February 12, 2024

Maker Monday - Project 1 - The Tall House

My wife and I have been dressing up our newly rebuilt house with furniture. That stuff comes in flat-pack boxes with tons of odd bits and foam pieces to protect the item inside. I noticed some great upcycle bits that I will be using for the first couple of projects. 

There is a ton of styrofoam in this packaging and I saved it all. The type I am upcycling is called EPS or expanded polystyrene which doesn't break down over time making it very hard to tip in the trash or recycling bin. 

I noticed that some of these companies are using small cardboard L's to get around using a lot of styrofoam and these bits are going to be the tip-top of these projects. 


Other handy bits found in packing are pieces of wood or particle board cast off the from manufacturing process. While heavy, it does fill space in a shipping box nicely. I have my cutting mat sitting on one, just so you don't think my table is a strange two-grained surface. 

Let's take a look at some of those pieces. 

I have my styrofoam and a couple of cardboard Ls on the cutting mat, plus Sarafina the Cat for scale. 

You will need your tool kit, styrofoam pieces, cardboard, heavyweight paper, and maybe some other items particular for your build, like popsicle sticks or stir sticks. 

What scale am I using? I call it "handy scale". Pieces are bigger than an inch and beyond that, I don't care much. I have both 15mm and 25 mm figures. I want the display pieces to be big enough to look nice but small enough to move around and store easily. I want to be able to use them for both 15 and 25 mm figures. 

I can set these parts to a scale like 1" equals 6 feet. In this case, the cardboard L is two inches wide (12 feet) and one inch high (6 feet). 

As I mentioned, the cardboard Ls are going to be the cherry on top of this project. They will be both the roof and a ready-made item I don't have to cut. 


I do need to make some measurements. The styrofoam (foam from here on out) is about 1 and 1/4 inches wide and much longer. When I match it up to the cardboard L, there is a 3/4 overhang. I can smoosh the cardboard to make this more or less by changing the pitch. This has the nice effect of making two different buildings appear to have completely different rooves with the exact same material. 

Each small L is about 4 to 5 inches long. The foam needs to be cut just a smidgen smaller than that, say 1/2 inch smaller so the overhang is close to the same all the way around. 

In the image, there is a very long piece of cardboard, about 12 inches. I haven't tried to cut it but I already know that I will use it for a different project as it is so tough cutting will be difficult. 

Speaking of size, let me apologize now. It's been a few years since I have posted on modeling. Mistakes have been made. What I need to get in the habit of is using GIMP to make sure every image is the same size. I didn't do that here, simply snapping a picture on my phone and cropping to whatever seemed ok. In retrospect, every crop is very not ok. It's annoying for me and probably distracting for you. 

I have sized up the foam I had in easy reach. The Ls match both, so I picked the skinnier, taller pieces for this model. This will be a Tall House after all. This particular piece is 4 inches tall making it about 30 feet tall plus an extra 1/2 inch under the eaves. This would represent a 3-story building. 

For D&D games, this would translate to a four-story building because there would likely be a dug-out root cellar or a crawlspace between the structure and the solid ground. This is highly variable as this building could be wood, stone, or block construction with the stone or blocks sitting on a rock base while a wooden structure simply resting on the dirt. 

I am not going deep into the weeds on this because how the building interacts with this ground is not only dependent on the material used but also the climate. If it freezes, you either need to be deep in the ground or right on top and no deeper. Both present construction problems in real life.

This reminds me, if you goof anywhere within this project, you can turn the building into a ruined structure. Ground heave, earthquakes, and fires have destroyed many, many ancient buildings. 

In my last post, I told you 3 lies. In this post, I will apologize 3 times. The second apology is about my 12-item list. I forgot sandpaper. We're almost there. You'll need sandpaper. 



In this picture, I line up the roof on the edge of the foam and push it over about 1/2 inch. This will give me a 1/4 overhang on all four sides. This is a very rude measurement and not entirely true for reasons I will explain later. 

This is a roughly built structure, so I just eyeballed the cutline. I want consistent lines, but not necessarily straight and square. I am shocked that the pencil is visible in the photograph. 

If your line isn't visible, use a ballpoint pen, not a marker. The ink can melt the foam and this is less noticeable with a ballpoint pen. 

This next part requires a bit of care. I'm working with a knife or wire foam cutter or maybe one other item, a hot knife. I forgot about the hot knife method until I opened my wire foam cutter and found one. The idea is that you put the knife in a flame and try not to stab yourself with a flaming hot knife. I am not a fan of this method. 

I used the wire foam cutter, but let me fill you in on a secret to using a foam cutter. 

Make a cardboard or tagboard jig or template. In the photo, you can see I simply aligned 2 cardboard Ls with the line. This was a mistake. The Ls are slightly smaller than the foam and it is only on 3 sides. This leaves a lot of wiggle room for the cutter. 

Well, that will be a problem. 

I selected the half-hoop cutter for this. I have a choice of two different probe-like wires and the half-hoop. I have poked myself with the probe-like wires so I wanted the one that can't poke me. 

These things get raging hot very quickly. They also cool just as quick. DO NOT touch, a couple of seconds can mean the difference between a cool wire and a 3rd-degree burn. Don't play that game. 

The wire is barely under Fahrenheit 451. It shouldn't burn paper, but could brown it. If you don't like burning smells in the house, open a window, go outside, or use your garage or basement.  

The trick is to move swiftly and smoothly as the wire radiates heat which melts the foam some distance from the contact point. This takes practice and the jig or template can help. Assuming you make it correctly, unlike me. 

The cut takes about 2 seconds to complete, maybe faster. Do not force the wire through the foam. Let the heat work for you. 

As you can see from the picture, I didn't move smoothly and my makeshift jig let the wire slide all over. I do have plenty of experience doing this and simply overestimated my skill. I am two or three years out of practice and boy did it show. 

I grabbed a piece of sandpaper, something I always have to run out and buy because I didn't have any around when I made my post about the 12 items you need in your tool kit. It took far longer to buy the stuff than it did to sand the block down. 

When sanding styrofoam, use steady, flat strokes. Resist the urge to go in circles or roll onto the edges, unless you actually want rounded edges. If you do round your edges, do all four vertical corners and leave the top and bottom natural. Rounding the bottom where it touches the ground looks weird unless you are making a sci-fi-themed building where there is the possibility that the "building" is actually a shipping container-like structure. 

As you can see, I quickly sanded this down. I could have covered this side with a skim of plaster, or a sheet of paper or made details that covered the roughness. You could, in theory, skip the sandpaper but I already did it. 

Now for the final apology. I had expected to have the whole building done in a single post. Rooves are fiddly things with a zillion options. Having the Ls shaped piece simplifies the build but doesn't make the roof less time intensive. Whatever you save using the L-pieces, you can burn with other details.   

This will be my very next post. Again, I apologize. 

Through the magic of making several buildings off-camera, we can look at several different styles and methods for the roof. In later posts, I will either link to the roof post or create a series of roofing posts that you can reference.  

This post appears on These Old Games, but please do me a favor and follow me on FacebookMeWeDice.Camp and/or Ko-Fi

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