This turned out to be a lot more challenging than I had anticipated but I am happy to say that the Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition Awards are finally complete! It took a lot of work and the involvement of some other very generous people, and I thought that I would take some time today to talk about how these awards got from a sketch into a final product that will hopefully be prominently and proudly displayed to the people who receive them as a token of my deep and sincere appreciation.
Here they are – at the end of last week, I was finally able to assemble all the parts and sometime over the next week or so, these should be going out in the mail … just in time or Christmas. In all, there are 36 awards to be distributed – 28 to the Finalists of the 2015 Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition, and 1 apiece to Dallas CASA, Humanetics, and to the contractors who built this year’s winning playhouses.
If you consider yourself a designer, you should design everything.
Bob Borson, June 15, 2015
This was the sketch that started the entire process of designing and fabricating these awards. I thought it could be iconic and simple, but just like the playhouses whose designs are deceptively complicated, these awards turned out to be a lot harder to fabricate than I anticipated. It might be worth your time to take a moment and skim through the original post that indicated the thought process and full concept sketches:
I think it will give you a worthwhile added level of knowledge and appreciation for the process I am about to walk you through.
This was the very first prototype that was made – an unfinished piece of 11 gauge steel and a block of mahogany. I wrote the concept design post back in June but the first tangible prototype was only created about 5 weeks ago. Since then, a lot of changes have occurred.
From left to right are the order and development of the metal component of the award. First was steel plate with the original “Birdhouse” design – followed shortly by an aluminum version of the same design. The problem with the aluminum was that in this context, it didn’t look like metal … it could have been a silver painted piece of chipboard – so it was eliminated. The birdhouse design itself was changed because a) it looked like an arrowhead and b) there was no articulation between the metal plate and the profile of the playhouse award outline. As a result, I changed the circular opening to a door and went with a single directional grain to the steel. The third example up above was plain steel but I put a single application of clear coat on it to protect it from rusting. I also engraved some horizontal lines (which represent the deck from the original design) to visually provide some articulation.
The last example – and the one I ended up using as the final design – is the same as the third example except instead of the clear coat, a zinc finish coating was applied.
In order to get the metal pieces fabricated, I turned to my friends at Humanetics. I have worked with them before and on this little project, I had initially just talked with them to get some fabrication and material advice – and they graciously decided to donate the time and materials to fabricate the steel pieces of these award.
I can honestly say that I don’t think these awards would have turned out nearly as good as they did without help, and Humanetics really came through for me on this project. The other thing that was pretty interesting to mention, was that they were all really, really focused on the output quality. You might think “Of course they were, this is what they do for a living”.
This would be the 4000KW Mazak Fiber Laser – which mowed through the steel plate.
Hot off the fiber laser, this is what 40+ pieces of steel (that could be used to easily kill someone) look like. Every edge was ridiculously sharp – something that I will confess I hadn’t spent much time thinking about until I kept stabbing myself as I was admiring my handiwork. If I had taken a picture of the floor, there’s no doubt that there would be some blood drops you could find. (You’re welcome for me leaving those pictures out – but not so much as to keep me from telling you about it anyways)
A closeup look at the two horizontal break lines I added to help separate the playhouse from the body of the award. It wasn’t enough to simply etch the metal … we were going to have to partially cut those lines in if they were to read correctly.
This is the machine that added the grooves – I don’t know what it’s technically called … the “Groovinator 5000” I think.
The Groovinator 5000 at work … the lubricant is being continuously put on the piece to keep the tooling bit from getting too hot and I would assume, from scorching or distorting the metal during the process.
Violã! Isn’t that a whole lot better? These little awards are fairly precious – it’s the little things that make them nice.
Next up? Time to visit the Amada Press Brakes. (Those three guys above have a total of 17 fingers total between them … I kid! … maybe)
The first real manufacturing challenge that we had to deal with was when the cutout letters were getting distorted from the brake process since they were so close to the bend. In the end, we left the letters where they were and simply adjusted the radius of the brake.
Since these were finished pieces, we didn’t want them to get scratched during the fabrication process (metal on metal can do that). The solution was to use “Brake Tape” – which is what that piece of paper up above is called when it is taped to the equipment.
Since the steel pieces I was using were only 11 gauge (1/8″ thick), we used the smallest of the brake machines … only 50 tons of force.
All of the metal fabrication for these awards was done by Humanetics Precision Metalworks. I really can’t thank Humanetics (and Humanetics President, Robert Hasty) for stepping up and making these awards become a reality. I will admit that there were times during this process where I would have accepted far less from them than I received. Everything was always incredibly well made but they threw out a bunch of pieces, always stating that there was some flaw, or scratch, or something literally didn’t line up perfectly. I certainly wasn’t going to demand perfection – they had already been amazingly generous with their time and knowledge – but they were the ones that kept saying: “Your name is going on this, it needs to be exactly right.”
How cool is it to hear that from someone donating their efforts? The right answer to that question is that it’s the coolest thing to hear.
I thought that once I received the metal parts, the hard part would be over … man, was I incredibly wrong. The next task literally took up a huge chunk of my time off at Thanksgiving, as I sat in my carport – while it was cold and raining – while I sanded each piece over and over again.
Doesn’t this look awesome? So inviting and comfortable … Yes. I sat on a plastic 5-gallon bucket for hours and hours because the people who will receive these awards – they are worth it.
All of the blocks were sanded up through 220 grit sandpaper before I moved on to applying the polyurethane. Because I don’t really know what I’m doing, it was recommended to me that I use canned spray polyurethane – so that’s exactly what I did.
I set up a work table just outside the back for of my house and spread out all the individual wood blocks. I knew that I would be spraying these blocks over and over again. Spray, sand, and repeat.
I will admit that I was surprised just how different the blocks looked after each coat of polyurethane – not only did they get shiny (I used a glossy finish spray) but the color of the different species of wood just kept getting richer and the grain of each species more pronounced and beautiful.
By the time I had worked through 3 coats of poly (and sanding each of the 38 blocks), I had run out of the weekend.
So I moved the production up to the office!! I was done with the sandpaper sanding (through 220 grit) I decided to sand all the blocks once with #00 steel wool, and another coat of poly, then #0000 steel wool and one final coat of poly.
Luckily at my office, we have this groovy space outside our office that I could use for the final bit of finishing work. I don’t think the people in my office would have liked for me to sand down all these blocks in the office … seems like an issue for Human Resources to deal with, but since I AM the HR department, I decided to go ahead and move outside.
For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 6 total coats of poly. Was it overkill? Probably but I know that these blocks are finished as well as anybody could hope for – although – you can still tell on a handful that this was my first major wood finishing project.
The home stretch. I was starting so get so close I could taste it – or maybe that was all the polyurethane I sanded off. Either way, all that was left was to actually assembly the awards. It was time to take the metal fabricated by the geniuses at Humanetics, and screw it to the wood blocks.
If you are a ‘Life of an Architect’ superfan (I don’t even know if there are such people) you might recall from the original design post that I was going to use Mahogany for al the wood blocks. As it turns out, I didn’t do that. I got a woodworker that has worked on many of my projects, to cut these pieces of wood out for me. He offered to do all of this for free if he was allowed to use whatever wood he had around his wood shop.
Turns out that he had Honduran Mahogany, Sapele, and Walnut. The vast majority of the blocks are the mahogany, so out of the 36 awards, only 3 are made of walnut.
Wonder who will get those ones?
Just as a nice finishing touch, I thought I would use brass screws to attached the zinc-coated steel to the wood blocks.
Turns out that the Sapele is really hard and I had to pre-drill (7/64″ drill bit) every screw. I learned this after I tried putting the screws in with a smaller pre-drilled hole only to have the first brass screw head twist and break off half in and half out. I also had to hand screw the screws in place simply because the power drill had too much torque to safely use.
I also learned this the hard way.
Here’s the final product – oriented to show the brass screws.
Nice tight fit where the metal and wood comes together – this is a look at a Sapele block.
From left to right: Sapele, Walnut, and then the Honduran Mahogany. All look amazing – far better than these pictures would indicate – and I am extremely happy with the final product.
This has truly been a labor of love and I wish that I could have had the time and ability to recognize everyone who participated in this years Playhouse Design Competition. It’s hard to believe that the year is just about over because before you know it, it will be time to begin start this process all over again.
Am I going to be making a ‘Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition’ award for you?
I hope so. Cheers –