14 December 2011

Away in the Workshop, Away in a Manger

One of the unfortunate side effects of being an architecture student while concurrently having a full time career is the complete lack of anything that even remotely resembles "free time" (hence the lack of blog posts). However, I was recently able to sneak away from the omnipresent due dates and deadlines to spend some much needed time in the workshop (aka my garage). 

For the past couple years, the wife has been dropping hints that she wanted a new outdoor manger scene as part of our front yard Christmas decorations. A few weeks before her birthday, I started looking into my options. Not knowing what to expect as far as costs, my first stop was to eBay and Amazon to see what I would have to spend to buy one. To my surprise, I was looking at a couple hundred big ones for just the manger with Mary, Joseph, Jesus and a couple sheep… and north of $500 for the entire scene! So... I decided to build my own. 

My first step was to find something I liked, then model, to scale, my own version.

Next, I modeled in SketchUp a 4'x8' background and placed my individual parts on it to make sure I could get all these pieces out of one sheet of plywood. In this case, I used a 3/4" sheet of plywood having one side faced with maple and the other with birch. It was $50 from Lowe's and, other than the paint I already had, was the only costs associated with the project (not bad compared to the cost of buying I mentioned above which, by the way, did not include shipping).
From my SketchUp model, I exported it into REVIT so I could print a 1:1 scale on paper to use for tracing individual elements on the plywood. For some reason, there was a little bit of an issue with printing and everything came out a little smaller than I had intended. I didn't notice this until everything was cut and I started to lay it out on the plywood.

While this made it a little more difficult to cut in areas with a tight radius, it ended up being a bit of a blessing because, when I later decided to build the entire scene, I only had to buy one additional sheet of plywood instead of two.

The entire time I was working on this project, I was being hounded by the workshop manager. I felt like every time I turned around, he was right there to make sure everything was being built to spec. What a pain…
After everything was cut out, it was time for a test fit. To my surprise, with only minor tweaking from the original design, everything fit together, and stood on its own.  Great Success!
Next came my least favourite part… painting. I'm not a big fan of painting, but it had to be done. The biggest annoyance was painting the edges…

Here he is again… inspecting the paint job.

The final product came out pretty nice, I think. I learned, throughout the process, the most difficult part was to hide it for a little over a month until Kelly's birthday. The morning of her birthday though, was fun. I bought a landscape spotlight and wrapped that with her card. After she opened it, I'm pretty sure I got the, "Oh…nice…thanks." But then I told her the rest of the present was outside. I think she liked it =)

Next step… finishing the rest of the scene. I'm racing to get it done before Christmas, but I think I'm in good shape. I'll post a pic after everything is completed.

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