Lessons In Printed Plastic Paper Mache Molds

My daughter and I have been working on a project to create paper mache fairies and fairy furniture.1

Photographic Background Stand, ready for shooting!

Photographic Background Stand, ready for shooting!

But first, I can’t help showing off this nifty 3D printable photographic background stand I designed.  Inspired by some other designs on Thingiverse, my first draft worked exactly as I was hoping it would.  Okay, back to the paper mache.

Printed fairy mold (about 2" long)

Printed fairy mold (about 2″ long)

I designed two tiny human-ish figures in OpenSCAD, subtracted them from a block, and sliced the block in half to create a two-piece mold for what we were hoping would be tiny paper mache fairies.  I was pretty sure the tiny figures wouldn’t come out well in the printed plastic mold and that the mold wouldn’t work well with the paper mache.  However, my daughter really wanted to try to make fairies of this size (about 2″ tall) – so we gave it a shot.

Cast paper mache fairies

Cast paper mache fairies

I squeezed the paper pulp so it wasn’t sopping wet, added a liberal amount of white glue, packed the printed mold with the mixture, and put a rubber band around it to keep it together.  I gave it a few days, then pulled the mold apart.  I wasn’t able to add much of the mixture into the upper half, so the reverse side didn’t seem to leave much of an impression.  Once it was dry, the dried paper mache stuck to the bottom half of the mold so well it tore in several places as I got it out.

In any case, here are the lessons I’ve learned:

  1. The fairy bodies are somewhat angular – which I think made them difficult to remove from the mold.  I would have made them more rounded in the first place, but there were already a lot of spheres and cylinders in the design which were causing some pretty long OpenSCAD render times.
  2. Larger molded objects would probably work better.
  3. The mold would probably release the cast object if I made the interior smoother – either with sanding or acetone.
  4. A release agent would probably help.  Maybe petroleum jelly on the inside, perhaps plastic wrap?
  5. I should have sanded the tops of the mold halves – so they would mesh better.  This might have allowed the paper mache to be pressed better into the top part of the mold.
  6. It may help to add something to the paper mache mixture to make it stronger.  My thought is pieces of frayed yarn or pieces of a cotton ball.  This may give it more strength and flexibility.
  7. It’s hard to tell if it would matter, but more glue might have helped.
  8. I think it would have helped to create the mold in multiple pieces – similar to this Chris K. Palmer early Thingiverse chocolate mold.

  1. I’ll leave it to your imagination to decide who chose the subject matter []

DIY Chess Board Bag – 13 years in the making

Very nearly four years ago I had a vision of a totally DIY chess set.  In the year 2000 I designed a bag for holding chess pieces – that could be turned inside out and used as a chess board itself.  I filled the bag with some cheap1 plastic chess pieces… and then lost it after we moved in 2006.

Fast forward nine years after I made this bag to the year 2009 when I bought my very first 3D printer – my trusty MakerBot Cupcake CNC #465, “Bender.”  In preparation for Botacon 0 in the winter of 2010, I was furiously dialing in my printer to create a set of non-black chess pieces so that I could bring a full set of printed chess pieces to New York.  I was able to print the pieces – but I still could not find the chess bag.

Today, I found my chess bag – and I’d love to share it with you.  I’m not a tailor and I’ve had no formal training with a sewing machine.  When I was in college I wanted a very specific kind of carrying bag – so I made it.2 What I know about sewing I learned from my dad when he showed me the basics of the machine operation and turned me loose on my mom’s sewing machine.  In any case, I no longer have the designs for this chess bag, but I’m quite sure a clever person, such as yourself gentle reader, would be able to figure out how to put one together from the pictures you shall find within.

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If this is the sort of thing you feel like embarking on building yourself, I have some suggestions:3

  • Find the fabric first.  I’d recommend canvas for the outside, obviously a simple black and white checkered square for the board itself, and a nice pleasant deep color for the border around the checkered board.
  • Get a cool cord.  The bag as designed incorporates a pretty nifty looking shiny cord.
  • Consider how you’ll put it together carefully.  As best as I can recall and piece together from its appearance, this is the rough process I used:
    • Prepare the checkered fabric.  I remember that I had to find a good piece of the checkered pattern that was more square than other parts.  I then ironed it so it would hold it’s shape.  Then, cut to size, leaving about 1/2″ all the way around the checkered board.
    • Prepare the cool border.  The next step I recall is ironing the cool border, then sewing the checkered square to it.  I think my border is about an inch thick – maybe an inch and a half.
    • Create the bag.  I am pretty sure the next thing I did was sewed the border fabric to some of the canvas (but I’m not certain).  Once that was done, it looks like I folded the pieces of canvas so that it was trapping the cool red cord, and then I sewed that together.  Once I had the two sides individually assembled, I then sewed them with the board-side-out.  This had the effect of putting all the seams on the outside edges of the bag, making them visible when the bag was laid out for play.  The reason I sewed the bag in this fashion, rather than leaving it so the seams were on the inside of the bag when it was laid out for play, is that it would have caused too much fabric to be inside the bag making it uneven during play.

I simply cannot tell you how happy I am to have united these pieces I printed in 2010 with the bag I made them to be contained within in 2000.

If you and I happen to see one another, and I hope this is soon, please remind me to bring this bag with me and maybe we’ll share a cup of coffee or a beer over a friendly game and a bit of conversation.

  1. Injection molded []
  2. I’ve been increasingly tempted to make a new bag – but that’s an entirely different post for an entirely different day []
  3. Alas, all the drawings and plans I made for this bag have been lost in the mists of time, otherwise I would share these with you too []

Productivity Hack: Fight The Tab

Must resist tab!

Must resist tab!

One of the best things about modern browsers, the tab, is also the most destructive to my productivity.1 While I wouldn’t want to give up my tabs, I’ve found an awesome productivity hack to help me manage them.

1. The Problem

In short: cognitive clutter.  Visiting Twitter, a favorite blog, or some RSS feeds I’ll end up accumulating tabs in my web browser.  These tend to be things I know I may want to come back to later, but wasn’t ready to commit to bookmarking.

The problem with bookmarking a website is that either you have to spend a lot of time curating your bookmarks (into folders or hierarchies  or you just bookmark things willy-nilly.  What I needed was a way to save things I knew I wasn’t going to visit all the time – but which I might want to see again some day.  Since I was pretty sure I didn’t need a bookmark of these tabs, I would just leave them open (I’ll get to them some day and then close the tab).

Those open tabs created what I’m going to term cognitive clutter.  Whenever I looked at the top of the browser, all I saw were a line of icons – things I felt like I needed to read or do.2

I’m pretty sure this is exactly why Evernote has a business model – people want to save the things they see or think in a searchable fashion.

2. The Solution

The answer was e-mail.  While I don’t need MORE e-mail, my e-mail is already a repository for information that I want to keep because I may some day need or want to look back on it, but not a place where I went to refer to something all the time.

Now I send myself an e-mail with the subject “bookmarks” and then dump any links I’m not going to get to immediately and don’t warrant a bookmark.  To find something that I once saw, all I need to do is search for an e-mail with “bookmarks” in the subject line, from me, and then perhaps a word about the thing I’m trying to remember.

Really, I use this same system for a lot of other things as well.  I e-mail myself “todo” lists, “song” lists, and other lists.  Things I don’t need to remember, but don’t want to forget forever.

Anyhow, I hope this has been of some use to you.  :)

  1. Photo courtesy of Bill Selak []
  2. And, really, cognitive clutter sounds SO much better than “digital hoarder” []