Stackable Magnetic Pyramid Terrain
So much delay. Confused

You can see my Competition Entry for details.

Suffice it to say, I have been working on this and there will be a post soon to reflect that. Smile

Until then, happy building everyone.
As promised, here are a few pics of what I've been up to.

I decided to bite the bullet and carve out each of my cylindrical pillars to give them the appearance of a base. I left the tops cylindrical so as to suggest that the pillars continue on upwards since real-world Egyptian pillars are much taller than they are wide. These pieces are just supposed to give the impression of the bottom sections of such pillars.

While I was at it, I made a bunch more pillar pieces. After I was done, I discovered that many of them had slight slants to the ends due to sloppiness on my part, mostly from picking warped foam to work with. This made them lean when placed upright.

(I could have cut the ends square, but that would have made my pillars shorter than my walls. If I had been more observant of my wonky foam, I would have deliberately made my pillars too long, then trimmed them down to size while making the ends square.)

In the end, I tossed out nearly half my blanks, but I was still left with a respectable number of pillars. 

In order to carve the notches into my bases consistently, I created a hotwire jig.

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When I turn up the heat, I can rotate a cylinder blank in the jig and it will give a nice notch and curve to it.

(The sharp-eyed might notice that the wire doesn't exactly conform to the notch made in the foam. This is because I wanted as shallow a transition from the curve cut to the straight sides of the cylinder as possible, so I actually used the radiant heat from the wire to continue shaping the foam away from the site of the immediate cut.)

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After a bit of work (in a garage, with a fan, while wearing a respirator - foam fumes are no joke) I ended up with a decent pile of shaped pillars. Here I am near the end of my process.

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Before I did anything else, I gave each notched pillar a little spa treatment.  When I used the quarters and hotwire to form the initial cylinders, it left each cylinder covered in a layer of fine polystyrene threads, almost like fur. This is because the combination of the heat setting for my wire, the speed I was working, and the enclosed space between the newly forming cylinders and the scrap pieces being removed, all conspired to make super thin hair-like strands of molten polystyrene in the wire's wake. These threads glued themselves to the surface of the cylinders (and the scraps).  This "fur" needed to be removed before the next step.

Thankfully, removing the hairs was simply a matter of rubbing my fingers over the surface of each cylinder with some vigor (again with fan-aided assistance) until all the offending fuzz was removed.

While I was at it, I used a sponge sanding block with fine grit to go over any spots where the transition between the carving and the rest of the cylinder was not as smooth as I liked and touched up and places where I might have left ridges or imperfections while making my initial cylinders.

Once all that was done, it was time to give the cylinders a little texture. I have decided that the interior of my pyramid will be a little rough rather than perfectly smooth. Real-world pyramids often have rougher workmanship along the walls where they don't have special carvings. Since all my carvings will be done with tape, I am texturing all the surfaces of my cylinders and walls. The tape will go on top giving the illusion of smooth surfaces in those locations.

My extruded polystyrene insulating panels are notoriously difficult to texture through making impressions. For the most part, the foam just dents or tears a little bit. It's nearly impossible to make any fine purposeful detail.

However, I have two (OK, three) things going for me on this project.

Firstly, it turns out that the interior of the foam is less resistant to taking impressions that the large flat exterior surfaces of the my panels. This is probably due to the manufacturing process making the smooth exteriors of the two large flat surfaces slightly denser and more compressed than the interior. Whatever the reason, it means the exposed sides of my cylinders and the narrow edges of my wall sections can be more easily textured.

Secondly, I am not trying for deep indentations here, just suggestions of an imperfect surface. I want the pillars and walls to look nice and straight, with just enough texture to tell that the pieces weren't given the same level of super smoothness as where the tape is.

And thirdly, I'm not trying for any kind of purposeful detail here. Random marks of varying depth and location are what's called for.  Big Grin

With all that in mind, I used hot glue to secure some clay cat litter to a scrap of wood to form a texture-making surface.

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I then rolled each cylinder across the litter a few times until I was satisfied with the results. The whole box of pillars took only a few minutes to texture.

(Even though the flat tops of the pillars are intended to suggest that the pillars continue on upward, I went ahead and textured the circular tops too so that they will visually match the tops of the wall pieces that will have textured tops.)

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I've been doing more than what's posted here, so more updates to come soon. Smile

Happy building everyone!
[+] 1 user Likes ableman33's post
(06-12-2016, 08:47 AM)ableman33 Wrote: [Image: 27521026842_d7ee8f6a27_o.jpg]

This is down right clever.

The texturizing looks great too; can't wait to see them painted!
I am also pretty darned impressed at this. My tiny brain would have gone with carving by hand... I never see the big picture... Well done
OK, now that the contest is over, I can get back to working on the main dungeon.

Next step, texturing the wall pieces.

Just like with the pillars, I want to give the foam pieces some mild texturing to break up the smooth flat surfaces. I want the foam to look like the workers roughed everything closely into shape, but didn't actually keep going until everything was smooth and flat.

I couldn't just smush the wall pieces into the glued-down cat litter I used for texturing the pillars. The surface areas involved would have required too much pressure to make proper indentations that way, and plus the wide flat sides the foam are more resistant to taking impressions as I've described before.

No, texturing the foam wall pieces would require some more direct engagement. So I pulled out some of my texturing materials...

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This ball of broken asphalt is really pretty much the only tool I have ever used for this sort of thing. It has differently sized protuberances, densities of bumps, and degrees of curvature along different parts of its surface. I can rotate it around to achieve most any effect I desire. The other rocks and bits of shells I have are things I've collected, but never actually gotten around to using yet.

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A combination of pounding, rolling, and twisting can give me pretty much any effect I'm looking for.

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There are a LOT of wall pieces. It took me several hours, spread over several days to keep my wrist from getting grumpy, to make my way through all the foam, but I've finally done it. Smile

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Next up, hitting all the edges with a hotwire engraving tool to toughen them up and round them just a bit. Then after that it will be magnet time, covering everything with PVA, paint, and finally decorating. Smile

Happy building everyone!
[+] 1 user Likes ableman33's post
So, it seems like you would have more time to work on stuff in the summer when you are a teacher... That would be a "No". Tongue

Some progress has been made though.

One of the issues I've had for years working with foam has been ventilation. Usually I put on a mask, open up the garage door, and turn on a fan. This has a few downsides to it, biggest of which is open up the garage to the weather (rain, loss of air conditioning, wind, etc,) and letting in mosquitoes.

I'd been kicking around ideas of what to do about it for a long while now. The best of them seemed to be to get some sort of blower with a rectangular nozzle that could be shoved under a partially lifted garage door. The rest of the gap would be blocked somehow (pieces of foam, wood, fabric, etc), and maybe I would rig up some sort of hose to the intake end of the blower so I could pull away fumes from a source. But all that seemed non ideal. Blowers were expensive, and getting everything in place around the garage door anytime I needed to ventilate seemed like a hassle.

Then my aunt, an art teacher, gave me a spare blower fan for a ceramic kiln. That got rid of most of the expense. Then, since the output of the kiln blower was so small (~2x3 inches) I had a brilliant idea. There was an old cat flap in the boarded up side door to the garage that I had covered over with a steel plate. I could cut a hole in that to pump the air out and I'd never have to deal with the garage door for ventilation again. Big Grin

A quick trip to Home Depot for some supplies and I was good to go.

Here you can see the intake end of my flexible 6-inch ductwork. I can clamp this down wherever I need it, or I can attach it to the side of a fume hood as necessary. If I need faster flow, I can just cover over part of the rectangular opening.

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Here you can see the arrangement with the old cat flap. I reinforced the old opening with a sheet of plywood and attached a rectangular sleeve that the blower can slide into. All that is permanently attached to the door. The blower is held in place with some bungee cords so that it can be easily removed when needed. I taped on a 6-inch collar to the intake portion of the blower, but the flexible duct is held on with a hose clamp, again for easy removal if needed. The blower came with a handy switch already installed on the cord, so I don't have to crouch down every time I want to switch it on or off.

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To protect the outside of the opening, I attached the end of a dryer exhaust which has a flap inside. When the blower isn't on, the flap falls down and keeps the outside and inside separate.

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I'll probably go back and add some critter-excluding screening to the exterior opening, but for now I'm good.

Now that my 1:1 terrain is done, I can get back to working on my foam walls. Smile

Happy building everyone!
[+] 3 users Like ableman33's post
Nice! I need a better ventilation solution as well. We have a nice, large, screened-in porch, but my man-cave is in the basement, so every time I want to do something that produces lots of dust or fumes I need to cart everything upstairs and out the back door. It gets old in a hurry. It's also not great in the summer (when the humidity gets high enough to make priming dicey) or the winter (when it's cold as balls outside and the materials you're working with start to behave strangely).
It's been way too long since I've posted anything here.

I've been working on this project off and on for a while, I've just been bad about taking pictures or reporting on my progress.

However, I've given myself an insane challenge to get my off my rear to finish this. I have a group of junior high students that I run games for. These girls don't get to play often, so I try to pull out the stops and make each session extra special. Our next game is in six days. I'm going to see if I can have this pyramid ready for them to play-test it. Blush

Just to make it even more of a challenge, I start back working at school tomorrow, so other than today, I'm only going to have evenings to do this. Tongue

All right, with that insanity in front of me, it's time to get cracking.

All my pillars and wall sections will have magnets installed in their bottoms to hold them in place. These magnets are not just going to be glued onto the bases, but will sit inside recessed holes so that the magnets are flush with the base of the foam. There was no way I could create the hundreds of holes needed in a reasonable amount of time with a knife or hotwire engraver like I've done in the past.

Instead, I created a jig using the remains of my old 45-degree angle foam cutter, some scraps, and a carefully bent heavy piece of nichrome wire attached to my hotwire freehand router.

Here you can see the final setup. The router can be unscrewed from the wire so I can leave the wire in place for use later.

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And here are some closeups showing how I carefully bent the wire to make sure it didn't touch itself (and thus make cold spots as it short circuited the heating path). You can also see the shims and guides I used to orient the pieces correctly. Here the jig is set for making holes in the bottoms of pillars.

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Here you can see what the holes looked like. (These pics are of one of my test pieces as I was dialing in the jig to center the holes. The final holes were well-centered.)

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Once all the pillars were done, I rearranged the guides on the jig and made two holes in the bottom of each wall section.

I secured the magnets in place with a blob of hot glue. To insure that the pillars cooled so the magnets would hold them upright at 90-degrees, I used my 1-2-3 blocks to make a set of right-angled corners for the pillars to rest against. Underneath everything is a large magnetic dry erase board covered in wax paper. This let all my pieces be held in place by their magnets as they cooled. It also insured that any magnets that were recessed too deeply would draw themselves down to be flush with the ground.

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I then repeated the process with all my wall sections.

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Once all the magnets were in place, it was time to prep for painting.

Before I can paint, I need to cover everything in a layer of PVA glue. This will not only toughen up the pieces and make them more durable, but it will protect the foam from the solvents in the paint.

I tried using a paintbrush to coat the sides of some wall sections with straight PVA glue, but it took FOREVER. There was no way I could get everything covered before I retired.

So, I got creative.

Introducing ableman's secret recipe batter-dipped terrain! Big Grin

Dilute PVA glue 50:50 with water to make a milky soup that will cling to foam, soak into cracks and crevices, but not smooth over surface details.

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Then dip your pieces, coating all sides thoroughly, and arrange on some elevated hardware cloth to dry. The magnets will still stick to the cloth while drips go through. Once dry, pieces can be snapped off the wire since there isn't enough surface area to cause adhesion issues.

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This is SO much faster than brushing on the glue. I did this entire board's worth of pieces in the same amount of time it took me to brush the test pieces you can see on the table beside the dry erase board.

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My hardware cloth scrap isn't big enough to do all the pieces at once. I still have the pillars and about a third of my wall pieces to go. Once the first batch dries, I'll finish those.

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Here's hoping I can get everything done in time! Tongue

Happy building everyone.
[+] 2 users Like ableman33's post
I need to come back and finish this thread.

Everything got made and the pyramid was the center of the last half of the campaign. It worked great. Big Grin
[+] 4 users Like ableman33's post
I had to redo my registration just so I could complement you on an amazing job and I for one would love to see the finish product!!!!
[+] 1 user Likes DoggNewTrix's post

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