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Building a Model Box from Card Stock

Started by lorisarvendu, Mar 25, 2010, 11:32 pm

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Mar 25, 2010, 11:32 pm Last Edit: Mar 25, 2010, 11:47 pm by lorisarvendu
I've been building model TARDISes/Police boxes for about 3 years now, so I thought I'd share my own experiences, tricks and traps.  I'm not particularly expert at it, but it's an enjoyable pastime and if you're attempting your own model build, you might find something in here of use, so here goes.

At first sight, building a Police Box/Tardis model looks relatively easy. You just start with a cuboid and stick corner posts and some roof stacks on it, right?  The question is, which part of the box do you start with?  Well most plans show you the width of the various roof stacks, the corner posts, and the box as a whole.  But if you could theoretically remove all those added bits and just leave a cuboid with windows in it, how wide would that cuboid be?

A lot of plans don't have a top-down view, so to be honest I guess.  In the case of the Metropolitan Police Box I assume that the first roof stack is the same width as the doors and just build my faces from there.


Now the first box I built, I made an unfolded plan out of card (or a "net" as the kids call it these days), like so:

02 Main box plan.JPG

Now that was all very well, but it honestly didn't make life easier, as when I folded it all together, the pieces didn't fit fantastically accurately.  So nowadays I make 4 separate faces and glue them together with cut-out tabs.


I tend to write "N, S, E, W" on them in pencil.  The reason for this is that I don't actually make them all the same width, and I need to keep track of which is which..

You see, unlike when you fold a "net" up, when you stick the N and S faces to the edges of the E face, the edges of N & S increase the width of E.  


So when you're measuring your faces, ensure that two of them are slightly wider by twice the width of your card depth.  I use 1.5mm mounting card, so I make two of the faces 3mm shorter.  


When you're building a model that's approximately a foot high, and working with card that's about 1.5mm thick, one thickness of card should suffice for the panel insets - unless you want your TARDIS to be especially "chunky".  I find that it is essential to get your panels in and your windows done before you attempt to put the four faces together in a box.

IMPORTANT!  Two of your faces will be slightly wider than the other two (if you've taken note of the previous tutorial), so if you measure the panels from the outer sides you'll get them wrong!  Draw a line down the centre of your plan and measure the panels & windows from there, outwards.  You'll find that the distance from the panels to the outer edge is wider on two of the faces than the other two.

Oh, and a note about the height of the box.  If you're going to seal the ends with a square of card, remember that this will also add 3mm to the height of the box, so make allowance for this when cutting out the faces, and make them 3mm shorter.

Before you glue the box together you'll have to have the window frames, and the "glass", all glued in. You can't do it once the box is sealed!  And painting window frames is incredibly fiddly with the window glass already in situ.  So my advice is to glue the frames in first, then paint them, gluing the "glass" when the paint is dry.


Here we can see the window frames painted, and the glass sealed in behind, with not a drop of paint on the glass.  Remember also that once the windows are in, you'll be sealing them in for good.  If they become detached or fall off inside the box, you won't be able to repair them.  So make sure they're firmly glued in. 

YJP Build2 03.JPG

I glue a further piece of card onto the back to keep them firmly attached.  However if you're planning on lighting your model from the inside you'll need to keep the glass unobstructed, so perhaps fix some card strips around the edges.  Also remember that if you do want lighting inside, and you paint your windows, the light will show up paint smears in quite a horrible way.

What material you use for the "glass" depends on how accurate you want to be for your prop.  I have been known to use a kind of "pebbled" texture PVC from a children's pencil case, though for the 2005 prop I found that strips cut from the side of 4 pint opaque plastic milk bottles worked fine.  Plus it takes paint very well.

A Word About Glue!

I started out using PVA adhesive, and I quickly moved to Epoxy resin when I found that the water-based PVA was causing the card to warp.  However, Epoxy glue dissolves paint, so when you get to the stage where you're gluing roof signs on, it might be worth switching back to PVA.  If you use signs made from laser acetate like me, the Epoxy can melt and smear the laser print, completely ruining your signs.

Remember to always use Epoxy in a well-ventilated area, or you may start to see your TARDIS dematerialise as you pass out!


No matter how precise you are with your measurements and cutting, when you come to glue the box together, it will bow.  In fact the larger the model (and the relatively thinner the card), the more it will tend to bend inwards.  So I have found that supports are essential.

RedBox09 BracingStruts.jpg

These are quite simply made from angled strips of card with tabs on the ends.  A bit of trial and error is required to get the right length, but once you get them correct, they help to support the box and keep it rigid. You'll know if you've got it right, because the corners of your box are at 90 degree angles, and the top and bottom squares fit perfectly.


Even if there's a little bit of skew, don't worry too much, as the corner posts and sign boxes will help to break up the finished box's outline and quite frankly hide a multitude of sins.


Mar 26, 2010, 12:18 am #3 Last Edit: Mar 26, 2010, 12:19 am by lorisarvendu
Now you could make these up in the same way as you would a full-scale build, and actually craft long thin boxes.  However at the model scale I've found it far easier to build them up as layers of card strip.  It's more time-consuming to cut them all out and glue them one, plus you have to keep making each layer to slightly different dimensions, but they have the added bonus of adding to the model's rigidity.

For a Met box or pre-2005 build I've found that leaving an edge gap that can be filled in later with a long thin strip creates a good approximation of the corner post "bevel".

RedBox14 CornerPosts.jpg

On the other hand, when building an NST model, where the corner edges appear to be far simpler, an interlocking series of strips seems to work better.  You can see the way they intermesh on this picture here.  Again you must ensure you take into account the fact that the edge of one strip will become part of the side of the adjoining strip, so add that extra 1.5mm (or whatever thickness your card is) into the equation.


Concentrate more on the width of your corner strips than the height.  If you make one strip slightly too tall, you can wait till it's dry then pare it down with a sharp knife.

A word about knives

I use cheapo snap-blade knives from a chain of popular hardware stores.  They're about 49p (about 70c) but they're nice and thin and at that price you can go through loads of them and it doesn't really matter.  I do have a fancy multi-blade affair in case of fiddly bits, but to be honest I rarely use it.


Now you can make this as strong or as weak as you want.  Personally I make it the strongest part of the build, simply because it's going to have the whole model resting on it, and I don't want it bowing under the weight.

This means making a flat base with supports inside, so you can simply smother the bottom of the box with glue and slap it on.  I draw two diagonals in pencil to help me line up the box.

If you're doing a Met box, then you just have to glue the base on, like this :

34 Base Closeup.JPG

However if you're doing a bevelled base, like this, raise the box on a few squares of card to the right height, and then stick angled strips along the side. You can use your knife to slice the diagonal edges off once the glue has set.


The first roof stack or two is quite easy, always remembering to allow for the width of the card by cutting two sides 3mm shorter than the other two.  Basically you replicate what you did for the base here, only with one square instead of two.  Again I would suggest drawing a couple of diagonals on each roof to assist with lining up.


The extra bits on top of the corner posts can go on now, by the simple method of gluing interlocking small strips onto the corners of the first stack, as you can see above.  It's remarkably effective.  Remember that when you paint this, a lot of the detail will disappear, hiding any slight imperfections.

Now the first time I did the sign boxes I made actual boxes and glued them on. Although this has the benefit of making the tops of the boxes smooth you have to be very accurate, and at the scale you're working the potential for skewing them is very real.

19 Signs.JPG

For subsequent builds I made life simpler by building them up strip by strip. This makes the top of the sign boxes a bit uneven, but the paint eventually hides this so this is now my preferred method.

RedBox22 Roof Signs.JPG

And it doesn't look too bad.

RedBox25 Roof Step On.JPG

For most of my builds I made the sign inset one thickness deep, but for my 2010 box build I tried double thickness to get a deeper inset, as you can see here.  This was because my roof signs were flimsy and I needed to stick a backing card onto them.



Mar 26, 2010, 12:42 pm #5 Last Edit: May 28, 2010, 06:44 pm by lorisarvendu
Now the first time I tried one of these I used the Pythagoras Theorem to work out the length of the sides of the 4 sloping roof panels.  I then glued them all together and put the finished product onto the roof in one go.

28 Roof.JPG

I quickly found there were not many pros to this method and quite a few cons.  The slightest alteration in the angle between panels produced a big difference in height, and I found myself having to redo it 2 or 3 times.  So now I take a different approach.  It takes longer, but I have more control over the finished product.

Firstly, I fix angled supports all the way round the top roof stack like this:


Secondly I tend to use a thinner card (.5mm) for the  roof slopes to reduce the "edge" that glues onto the roof stack.  This makes the roof slightly flimsier...but the angled supports fix that.

Thirdly I actually measure the roof width, lamp block width, and the diagonals, and cut the panels to that.  Far more accurate and less chance of having to redo.


The lamp seems to be the part of the TARDIS that has changed the most over the years.  Everything else is just slightly different in measurements. Depending on which version you're going with (and how accurate you want to be), this will either be very easy or very hard.

A vital instrument to use is one of these:


It's an adjustable circle-cutter and it's essential for making these:


This recessed part of the lamp base gives you somewhere to anchor and glue the lamp into.  Now I know it's possible to mold a fresnel-type lens out of clear resin, but that's something I've never done.  I sacrifice accuracy for simplicity here, and always go for a sliced-off section of clear biro tubing.  You can get them in various thicknesses if you shop through a dedicated stationery shop like Rymans (in the UK), and anyway your TARDIS will look so fantastic that nobody will look at the lamp.

38 Blue Lamp.JPG

For a simple 4-strut lamp I used to use 4 sliced sections of plastic cotton bud, but now I use cocktail sticks.  It seems to hold onto the paint better.

41 Painting.JPG

The dome is usually a plastic screw cover glued into another recessed hole.  However the 2005 lamp was a bit of a challenge.  I ended up using thin strips of black insulation tape covered in clear adhesive tape.


May 2010 - I have now completed my Series 5 TARDIS model, and once more the lamp design has changed.  The lamp has now reverted to a fresnel type, but with 4 struts that unusually do not go straight from the lamp base up to the lamp cap.  Instead they are angled out of the lamp and back in again, somewhat reminiscent of a cyberman's handlebars!

Since the struts are quite thin, I decided to use plastic-coated (coloured) paper clips.  This also enables me to paint them afterwards.  I first cut out the correct length of clip with a pair of wire-cutters and bend the ends at a right-angle.


Next on the base and the cap that I'm going to attach it to, I cut 4 little slots like so.  The ends of each strut will fit into here, to be covered up with another slice of card.


The finished lamp should look something like this:


Like so:



Mar 26, 2010, 12:59 pm #6 Last Edit: Mar 26, 2010, 10:45 pm by lorisarvendu
This is where you start to really feel you're building a TARDIS!

For my first model I painted directly onto the card with TAMIYA Royal Blue Gloss.  It took about 5 pots, because the card just soaked it up.  Notice the blotchiness here:

43 More Painting.JPG

So for my next build I went out and bought some white acrylic primer which is perfect for "sealing" the porous card prior to the "blue painting".  It has the added benefit of giving a bit of "texture" to the TARDIS surface.  

I was still having problems with the white primer showing through the gloss, so now my second coat (after the primer) is a Tamiya matt "Sea Blue".  More of a grey really, it's far better if a dark colour shows through the gloss than a light one:


Finally I cover with Tamiya "Royal Blue".  It's a gloss paint, but Tamiya don't do the same colour in matt.  


A couple of coats of that, and I slap on a few layers of matt varnish, which flattens the colour into a much more TARDISey blue.


Now the Signs are lot more difficult than you would imagine. My medium of choice is colour laser-jet onto acetate.   Regardless of whether the sign is white on black or white on blue, the text prints out transparent.  I then paint the back of the signs with a few coats of my white primer:

50 Box signs.JPG

You could use inkjet acetate, but I'm not sure how the ink would react to the glue.  This is one of the situations where I now use PVA, because I found that when I glued the signs directly onto a painted surface, the Epoxy glue sometimes softened both the blue painted surface and the white backing of the signs. In one case it caused blotches to appear on the roof signs and they had to be removed and reprinted.

51 St Johns.JPG

Another thing I have become aware of is that as the acetate is quite thin, it tends to follow the surface of the sign box quite closely.  This sometimes results in my signs not being completely flat (especially noticeable in a flash photo).  What I have taken to doing now is gluing my roof signs onto a thin piece of card and gluing the card into place.  Remember I mentioned about making the inset of my sign boxes two cards deep (3mm) instead of just one (1.5mm)?  This is the reason why.


Finally, how to get the signs printed out exactly the right size?  I have found the easiest way is to Copy & paste them into a Word document. You can then use the "Format Picture" function to resize it.  Take the tick out of "Lock aspect ratio" if you need to alter the ratio slightly. (Mac or Linux users will obviously have to use the equivalent settings in their own particular software)



So far I have been unable to source proper handles of the correct type and size, so I have been using bent wire.  The advantage of this method is that I can push two holes into the card and glue quite a length of wire in.  If you do find dollhouse sized handles, be aware that you will only be able to surface glue them, so they will be a lot more fragile than my wires.

64 Lock1.jpg

The yale lock is quite simply a piece of chopped off cocktail stick glued and forced into a hole.  To complete the illusion one should ideally paint the lock with a dab of bronze or gold gloss, but I confess that is something I have never got round to doing!


Anyway, as I said before, everyone will be too busy marvelling at the beauty of your model TARDIS to bother about little details like that!

Happy modelling!  :D