Monday, March 12, 2012

Great Endeavor

Yeah, OK, I'm a Derby Dad. The shoe fits; I'm wearing it. Those of you who have been around for a few years have seen the lengths I went to for Fiona's cars the last two years. Well, this year, it was Aiden's turn to get the full treatment.

Trying to make up for the last-minute nature of last year's entry, and, realizing that I had to er, got to make two cars this year, I bought a couple of extra kits and decided to get an early start. (There's an enormous amount of irony here, but I'll talk about that later.)

So, I asked Aiden what he wanted to make. Sky's the limit, I said — I figured I'd let him choose, and I'd worry about how to implement it. Well, Aiden went beyond the sky, and said he wanted a space ship. I heartily agreed, and we started sketching.

Well, I started sketching, anyway. Where Fiona can't do enough on projects like this, I was finding it hard to keep Aiden involved past the first five minutes. I don't know why; I just haven't figured out how to connect with him and motivate him yet. He's a mystery to me in so many ways. So I did this largely in five- to ten-minute segments, as long as the attention held out. Maybe I'm a bad dad, I don't know. But I'm trying.

Around the beginning of July, we watched the final flight of Atlantis, and something clicked in my mind. Instead of making up a spaceship, I asked Aiden, would you like to make a model of a real one? Aiden liked it, and the plan fell into place.

Fortunately, the details of shuttle design are well-represented on-line, and some quick calculations showed that the whole thing, tank, boosters, and all, would fit very neatly into the required pine car sizes at 1:300 scale. Better yet, there were plenty of patterns at that exact scale for people that liked to build paper models. A few printouts, and we had our blueprints. We could start cutting.

One of the non-negotiable rules is that you have to use the block of wood that came with the kit. Here, I'm cutting the initial guides on the lathe.
Getting the shape...
...and cutting the shoulders down on the places where the wheels attach. There's a lot of sanding left to make this look good.

Fortunately, Aiden enjoys sanding. This is something I have a hard time explaining; Fiona really enjoyed sanding, too, both of them way more than I expected. Maybe it's the "hands-on"-ness of it, which isn't there for the cutting or painting. Not sure. Another thing I learned? Emery boards are perfect for kids and sanding. you can get all kinds of little details, in sizes just right for little fingers. A few bucks for a pack of 50 is a bargain, too.

The appropriate attire is essential to your pine-car building experience.

The orbiter went together in several pieces:

Then it was time for painting. One of the things that has always frustrated me about the pine car derby is the fact that the weeks and months preceding it are almost without fail COLD. Spray paint doesn't dispense properly below about 50°F, and it's hard to get a really smooth finish without it. Fortunately for this car, we got the main painting done back in August. The rest of the cars had to be done indoors, in the shed, with the little wall heater running full blast for at least an hour ahead of time.

I made some special holders for both the painting and the drying. It let me (or the kids) hold the piece, while the other person did the painting. I'll be using these for many, many years, I think.

Hand painting, believe it or not, is more work than all the prep necessary for spray painting. Aiden got a lot of coaching on technique.

Checking against the source.

The final product went together the night we had to turn the cars in.

It's the last-minute details you're proud of. I needed to add a few tenths of an ounce to bring the weight up to the 5.00 oz. maximum. I was about to unscrew the brass fitting I'd set into the back of the tank, and add lead shot, when I noticed a bullet tip among the weights offered at the last-minute pine car workshop before we turned them in. A little drilling, a little super glue, a perfect rocket nozzle.

I'm pretty happy with how the final product came out. Aiden was, too.

I left the remains of the turning on the front of the tank, but cut it down to serve as a rest for the car to sit against the starting pin.

Andy to Aiden: We are go for launch!


Amy @ Experience Imagination said...

Looks great! Do you display all your entries from each year (or maybe photos of them) someplace special?

Anonymous said...

The car(s) we make each year tend to get displayed on the piano for a few months. There's no permanent storage or display area, though, which could be a problem, as the number of cars per year is growing by leaps and bounds!

Carolina Kerr said...

when does this one fly, or has it already flown? Sorry for not knowing that, but I'm a bit out of the loop.