Neil's News

Volcano Diorama

30 November 2012

A friend got hired at Google and threw a party to celebrate. I was asked to bring a diorama of a volcano. Why, I have no idea. I've long since given up trying to understand Americans. But I'm an engineer, so I figured I could throw something suitable together from materials lying around the house.

The first step was to construct a space frame[?] that was both lightweight and rigid. The addition of high-tension diagonals solved the issue of torsional flexing.

[Space frame made of Meccano]

The next step was to glue together a large number of disassembled cereal boxen to create a flat working surface on top of the space frame. To prevent the surface from sagging it the middle of the grid, I glued on diagonal flanges which created effective depth.

[Surface of cereal boxes]

The roadbed needed to be exceptionally flat and stable, so I took a weight penalty and built it out of two layers of corrugated cardboard, with the layers rotated 90° from each other. The roadbed was elevated using toilet paper tubes.

[Roadbed supported by toilet paper tubes]

The project took a temporary turn into ugliness as the shape of the terrain was roughed out with cardboard. Tissue box, oat containers, masking tape. A plastic bottle is hidden in the mountain peak for the volcano.

[Cardboard shapes]

I've used papier mâché once or twice in the past few years, but this was by far the largest application I've ever dealt with.

[Adding strips of papier-mache]

The first layer made the diorama look like an advertising nightmare. The second layer used plain packing paper.

[First layer of terrain complete]

With the railroad tracks and trestle installed, the project started to look decent again. There are a pair of access hatches at the back in case the train derails in the tunnel. The last step was to add landscaping with material from a local park.

[Finished diorama]

Transportation to the party became problematic. I'd verified that the diorama would fit inside the car. But I'd failed to verify that it would fit through the hatchback.

[Hatchback too small]

Upgrading to a van solved the problem.

[Cargo van]

While the volcano itself (Coke and Mentos) didn't fire as quite impressively as hoped, the train kept the adults, children and dogs entertained for the duration of the party. Fun project.

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