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Volpone's TARDIS build...

Started by Volpone, Nov 18, 2011, 10:44 pm

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Volpone

Judging from this board I'm not the only person who, as a kid, thought it would be cool to build a TARDIS.  Actually, I did back then.  Only it was 5" tall and cardboard.  And not very accurate.  But it allowed a properly dressed "Return of the Jedi" Luke Skywalker to have adventures as the 5th Doctor.

After years and years of renting a home, I finally bought a little house and started to fix it up.  Then I got a decent job so I had some money coming in.  Lastly, I realized I didn't have nearly enough space in the house and garage for all my stuff.  Oh, and I saw an article online about people in England who had built TARDIS garden shed.  And I was stalled by Portland Oregon's winter rains on another .  At that point, it was settled.  I would build a TARDIS. 

As is often the case with my hobbies, the goal wasn't to make it 100% screen accurate--just good enough so that people would say "You have a TARDIS!"--and to balance cost and difficulty of assembly with realism.  Internet research found a blueprint that purported to be the original Brachaki prop--including dimensions.  This confirmed my suspicion that four sheets of 4x8 plywood, four 4x4s, some 2x4s for the base and roof, some 1x3s and 1x4s, and a bucket of blue paint would get me in the ballpark.  (I already had an old 2x6 that would serve as the lintel signs.) 

Armed with my blueprint and a couple reference photos from the Internet (one of which I'd picked intentionally knowing it wasn't 100% accurate) I assembled my cut list and piled into the 1983 Nissan pickup for Home Depot (having access to a pickup was another contributing factor). The first stop was at the paint counter.  I'd decided that the best color to use would be "Oxford Blue".  Of course the kid working the paint counter had no idea what Oxford Blue was, so I had to head over to the paint swatches and guess the closest match.  I did OK.  More on that later. 

While the paint was mixing I set out to buy the rest of my supplies.  I did have some trepidation as the pile of lumber and hardware grew.  This was not going to be an inexpensive project--at least not as inexpensive as I'd hoped.  My plan had been to use a solar landscape lamp for the roof lamp.  I ultimately wound up with something like that--again more later--but for starters, I found an affordable  low voltage landscape lamp that looked like it would work. 

One challenge of building an outdoor TARDIS in the Pacific Northwest is water.  In fact the other project I was stalled on was a leaking garage roof.  I'd just reroofed the garage and hadn't gotten all the asphalt glued down before the rains had started and now water was getting in.  I couldn't go back and finish the job because I needed temperatures above 55 degrees F and no rain for 48 hours.  Eventually I found some different sealer that could be applied to wet roofing but that's another story.  But I digress.  From my experience fighting leaks in my garage roof, I was very nervous about a relatively flat, tiered roof with a big honkin' light in the middle.  When I got the gear home, I decided I didn't like the lamp I'd bought and brought it back, begining a long quest to find a decent roof lamp.  Again, more on this later. 

Windows.  In an effort to simplify the build, improve structural integrity, and keep out water, I'd decided to do fake windows.  I mean, since the TARDIS was a fake police box, you could never see in through the windows anyway, right?  So I'd just paint the panel behind the "window" grey, put in my "glass" and then glue the frame over it.  In looking for appropriate window material a woman in an orange apron stopped to ask me if I needed help.  I said I was building a garden shed and was looking for window material.  We went to look at the assortment of Plexiglass they had and she asked me what, specifically, I was trying to accomplish.  Sheepishly I replied "It's kinda nerdy.  You know the TV show, 'Dr. Who'?"  "Yes."  I handed her my reference pictures.  "I'm building this."  She was delighted.  "That's not nerdy," she said approvingly, "that's geeky!"  I didn't bother to ask her why geeks were better than nerds--or tell her the origin of "geek" was a sideshow performer who would bite the heads off of chickens.  At any rate we decided, like so many novice TARDIS builders, that plastic neon light diffusers would serve admirably for TARDIS windows. 

When all was said and done, the initial bill for the TARDIS was over $500--and that included a 10% military discount.  Later I would add costs and I'm still monkeying with the final design but the initial build took a couple months, working off and on.  The actual build--and photos will come when I get time to write more and scrounge up the build photos. 

PS: I'm posting this because I got a fair amount of ideas, inspiration, and moral support from this board--and especially Scarfwearer's work.  And I wanted to share my experience for others considering a build.  Yeah, and I'm at least a little proud of it.  And in case I forget or didn't mention it, I started out working with the Brachaki prop as a reference and I was aiming for the late 1980s fiberglass prop for the look I wanted, but it wasn't going to be 100% accurate.  Along the way it managed to take on some features of the 2005 prop--even though I haven't seen a lot of the new episodes.  More on that later.  :)
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

Volpone

Nov 19, 2011, 01:17 pm #1 Last Edit: Nov 19, 2011, 01:20 pm by volpone
So the intent was to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).  Ideally, I was hoping to just stick up four 4x4s, slap four 4x8 sheets of plywood between them, put in 2x4s for the base, 2x6s to hold the top together, and then add the cosmetics.  And looking at the plans, at first I thought this was possible.  But when push came to shove, while the thing was something like 4' wide, you lost 3" for the base width and 7" for the corner posts, so I wound up ripping close to a foot off the plywood.

Since I was using 4x4s instead of 2x4s (a mistake, IMO.  2x4s are likely lighter, cheaper, and actually simpler) I decided they'd be added on the sides and then I'd attach the front and back to them at the assembly.  

That said, once I got the first wall done, I couldn't resist leaning it all together for a latenight photo:
GardenShed.0.jpg

(If you look closely, this is a huge cheat--I've got the two sides leaning up against each other.  Since you can only see it from this corner, it looks complete, but the other two sides aren't even framed.  You can see where one 4x4 is butted against the other)

Next up: Build a couple more and paint the buggers!
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

Volpone

The thing that just didn't register for me at any point was how damned big a TARDIS is.  As an American, the closest frame of reference is an old-fashioned phone booth.  And those are relatively small.  But once you get three sides built and laid out to paint, you start thinking "Geez, this thing is pretty big." 

I'd planned to just stick it behind my garage or along the neighbor's fence, where no one would see it.  But I quickly realized it would be taller than the back of my garage.  (It actually has a higher ceiling than in my house.)  And the neighbor's 6' wood fence wouldn't do much to hide it.  For better or for worse, it would be out there for all the neighbors to see. 

But for now, it was still safely in the garage, getting its first coat of paint.ThreeSides.jpg
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

Volpone

Nov 20, 2011, 07:33 am #3 Last Edit: Nov 20, 2011, 07:47 am by volpone
A quick note on the walls: Again, I'm keeping it simple. I'll admit I've started looking at the effort some people here have put in and I'm humbled.  I'm a bit embarrassed to admit my workmanship.  

That said, the walls are just 1/4" ply with 1x3s and 1x4s screwed and glued to them.  It was challenging finding screws that were short enough to not go through the 1xs and indeed one wall has the tips of screws protruding from it.  :-[  And since I used 4x4s, I had to content myself with gluing the edges, butting them against the 4x4s, and holding them until they dried.  The major structural elements are where the walls are screwed to the base outside and the sign lintels.  

Well eventually the time came to start screwing everything together.  (I don't have any photos of building the roof, and truth be told, the less is said of that, the better.  If I remember correctly, I'd already fabricated the door too.  More on that later.)  I was going to be stubborn and try to do it myself.  Luckily one of my neighbors decided to come over and give me a hand.  Thanks so much, Earl!  I probably could've managed, but you made it a lot simpler.  

This was also the moment of truth.  There was no longer any hiding what I was up to.  There would now be a nearly 9' blue police box in my back yard.  Happily at this point the neighbor closest to it came out and asked "Is that a TARDIS?"  To this I replied "Actually, it's a shed.  But it looks like a TARDIS."  Earl wanted to know what it would do.  I think he was a bit disappointed when I told him it would hold tools and junk that I didn't have space for in the garage.  I'm not quite sure if he actually thought it would travel through space and time. ;)

Anyway, here's the first shot of it all getting put together.  I think I'll save a couple of the others and talk about the roof and the door when I post them.  
Assembly.jpg
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

Volpone

Before adding the next assembly picture, I'll mention the floor.  As you see from the previous picture, it didn't have one.  I also didn't have any pavers or any kind of base the TARDIS was resting on.  A friend pointed out that it might not be the best idea ever to leave even painted wood on earth in the Pacific Northwest and I wound up adding bricks under each corner.  In later photos, you may notice that the TARDIS is slightly elevated above the ground--that's the bricks.  Surprisingly they haven't sunk into the ground yet, for as heavy as the TARDIS is.  We'll see where they are at come next spring.  If need be, I'll add bricks--hopefully without compromising the integrity of the TARDIS. 

So yeah.  Here's joining the back wall to the sides:
Assembly2.jpg

In most TARDIS builds, it looks to me like the sides end at level with the sign lintels.  The way I did mine, the sides go all the way up--I didn't cut down my 8' sheets of plywood.  This was part of my theory of KISS--simplicity and "good enough" versus accuracy.  The corner posts extend the full length as well--at least they did at this point.  More on this when I put the front side on. 
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

Volpone

So I didn't paint the front wall/door combo when I did everything else.  Part of this was that I didn't have space in the garage, but part of it was that I didn't trust my plans enough to build the bugger until I had the other three sides in place to confirm my measurements. 

In adding structural strength and keeping the build simple, I opted to only have one door open.  So once I confirmed my dimensions, I zapped the plywood down to size, cut the door, screwed and glued the 1xs and fastened the whole shebang to the other three walls.  Then I added the door via hinges.  A lock (and a whole bunch of planing was to come later. 

Note:  The "roof" is just there to give me a feeling like I'm accomplishing something.  I don't think I've even finished it yet.  And I'm pretty sure the door plaque doesn't say "POLICE TELEPHONE FREE FOR USE OF PUBLIC..."  I think it say "Certificate frame.  Use this frame and matte to display your..."  But I wanted it on there to give me a feel for how the finished project would look.  Assembly3.jpg
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

Volpone

So here she is with her first coat of paint and assorted signage.
Assembly4.jpg
A whole bunch to comment on here.  At this point, the 4x4 corner posts still extend the full 8'.  There is also a noticeable gap between the roof and the walls.  This is partly because the walls aren't completely true and the roof isn't either.  I actually tried it in all four directions to find the closest fit.  Ultimately I wound up adding in another strip of scrap lumber under the lip to join it all up.  This gave it more of the actual police box three tier effect and helped stabilize the roof, which, truth be told, just sits on top.  


More on the roof.  I built the TARDIS while waiting for the weather to clear enough to finish my garage roof.  The garage project taught me not to underestimate water's ability to get in.  It also left me with scrap material laying around.  I opted for a plywood roof and then cut a bunch of right triangles big enough to cover two sides of the roof.  I tarred the bejeezus out of the plywood, stuck down a layer of tarpaper, rotated the bugger 90 degrees, and repeated until I had a pretty watertight roof (and ran out of big enough tar paper).  Then I painted the whole thing.  Then it rained overnight and washed all the paint off, so I painted it again.  But on the bright side the runoff paint helped "weather" the sides of theTARDIS.  

The light wound up costing far more than it should've because I had to try so many times before I was happy with it.  As I mentioned upthread, initially I bought a cheap Home Depot low voltage landscaping light but I wasn't happy with it.  Then I got a $4 bird feeder that I also had second thoughts on.  It sits to this day in the trunk of my car because I didn't ever get around to returning it and now it is broken.  The penultimate solution (that you see in this photo) is a 3" "Jam Jar" lamp glass from Lowe's.  (The last couple times I've been in they haven't had them in stock, so it may be a discontinued item.  Looks damned close to the Fresnell lens but only costs $4.)  Then I got a 4x4 capital from the landscaping section.  It is this pretty cap you put on a 4x4 to give your fenceposts a finished look.  I pried the top off the neck.  The neck became the base.  Then I siliconed in four dowels and spraypainted the inside of the lamp glass white.  Finally I glued the top of the...finial(?) onto it all for the look in the photo.  

As I hinted at before, the door plaque is just a cheap 8x11 document frame with an inkjet printout in it, screwed to the door.  (I think this is when I cracked the frame glass by overtightening the screws.  The lintel signs were a bit craftier (but almost as cheap).  I got some inkjet transparency sheets and printed out the graphics.  I trimmed them to size at the local UPS store (because I wound up accidentally giving away my paper guillotine a few years back).  Then I sprayed the backside with white spraypaint (to make the lettering white).  The trouble is, inkjet prints aren't waterproof so I sprayed the sheets down with some spray polyurethane I had laying around.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I ran out of poly spray before I got really good coverage, so the graphics have weathered in the, um, weather.  They got glued to the lintels with basic mucilage/rubber cement.  

What else do I need to say?  Oh yeah, I ran out of gray, silver, and then white spray paint while painting the windows.  I also decided to try gluing aluminum foil to the openings.  The theory was, it would complete an even better illusion of an actual window than grey paint.  Huge mistake.  It is impossible to get a totally smooth layer of foil.  And adhesion is problematic.  When I glued in the "glass" and trim, it didn't want to stick.  Ultimately I wound up doing a ton of damage control on the door windows.  

PS: Part of the reason the windows arent in place is due to waiting around for paint to dry.  
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

atomicgraph

Congrats on your tardis. You really knocked out the build fast. Ink jet print outs probably won't last to long you could probably get some pexiglass and cover them that should by them a little time. Good luck with putting the finishing touches on it.

Volpone

If you're lazy, the advantage on building a TARDIS is that it is supposed to look like a 30-ish year old London Police Box.  Indeed, a big part of a build is artificially weathering the exterior.  As such, I didn't put a whole lot of energy into sanding or dealing with minor imperfections in the wood.  And I laid the paint on pretty thick.  In my opinion, runs and drips just helped create a look of an object that's been painted over many times over the decades. 

The challenge in the final stages of the build is that I started building because it was too rainy to work outside.  Once the TARDIS was assembled, I had to fight the weather on that as well.  I wound up painting the roof twice because it got rained on before the paint was dry.  Then after I got my "windows" (the ubiquitous fluorescent light diffusers siliconed in place and got the window frames over them I had to wait for a dry spell to touch up the trim.  So here's how she looked with windows on.  Just waiting on a door lock when this was taken:
NoLock.jpg
I should mention two things at this point: 
1) Apologies for the varying photo qualities throughout the build.  Photos were taken using three different cameras:  My old cell phone camera, which was reasonably decent; my aged Canon Elph, whose battery is now only good for about two shots before needing recharge; and my new cell phone which, while I like it, has a crap camera.  This is a photo with the new cell phone. 
2) It was at this point that I decided I needed "caps" on the corner posts.  So I dragged out the stepladder, the extension cord, and the skilsaw and trimmed the tops of the posts to shape--a bit like chainsaw woodcarving.  Don't try that at home, folks.  It turned out pretty well, but standing on a ladder with a power tool probably isn't the smartest thing I ever did. 

A couple more photos and we'll be getting up to the present state of the build. 
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

willfleming

HUGE Doctor Who,GHI,GH and Torchwood fan

Volpone

This is about the last picture of the initial build.  Of course I was almost immediately unhappy with it and started making improvements.  I'm just about done with the improvements (for now) which was part of the impetus to join and post this thread. 

This picture has the paint finalized and a lock in place.  It's funny how unobservant we are.  Even though I should've been able to immediately see that a standard deadbolt wouldn't do what I needed (they stick out from the door more than an inch) I bought one and got ready to install it before I realized it was completely wrong.  It took awhile to find the right kind of lock--Home Depot and Lowe's both have them, but they aren't with the standard locksets.  It isn't a Yale brand, but it does the job quite nicely. 

Yay, responses in the thread!  While I tell myself I don't care what anyone thinks, I'll admit I was a little sad when I'd come here and no one had commented.  While I used three different cameras to take the photos here, they were all crappy by today's standards (2.0MP)  The good thing about this is that it hides a lot of the imperfections in my work.  The bad thing is it also hides a fair amount of cool detail.  Later on I added some weathering but you really can't see it in the photos.  It looks like it might be something different, but you really can't put your finger on it. 

Now a quick reply to atomicgraph's comment on the sign:  You're 100% right on the signage.  Well kind of.  It hasn't held up well.  Like I mentioned, I printed the signs on transparency paper with an inkjet printer.  The problem with inkjets are that they aren't in any way waterproof.  I'll come back to that.  Since printers don't have white ink, I got the white by spraypainting the back side of the transparencies with white paint.  I waterproofed the ink by carefully spraying polyurethane over it.  Unfortunately I ran out of polyurethane before I was completely happy and the weather has wreaked havok with the signs.  That's at least kind of OK, because it gives them the weathered look the signs had circa the Pertwee years.  I wound up pasting them up with rubber cement, which hasn't resisted the persistent Oregon rain as well as I'd hoped, so they have bubbled and shifted more than I'm happy. 

At some point I may redo them.  I'll probably do them on paper and laminate them.  This will also give me an excuse to create an inset for them (instead of having them just pasted to the lintels) that will add some accuracy. 

A final point, which you'll see later--and if you've ever done a build, already know--is that it is striking how much blue changes in different lights.  The first time I showed someone photos of the walls being painted in the garage, he thought they were way too dark.  Lately I've been disappointed because I thought the paint was too light.  Actually I did a pretty good job on the paint.  I didn't realize it until I was going back and looking at this photo.  It is a lot darker than it looks most of the time--and is a lot closer to what I thought the paint should look like. 
GardenShedEdit.JPG
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

Volpone

After getting everything else built, I dug around for some scrap lumber to fabricate a floor.  I wanted some ventilation, so I left it free-floading--kind of like resting a pallet in there.  And I put a vapor barrier under it.  It actually worked out a lot better than I'd hoped. 

I also painted the interior.  I settled on classic series Control Room White.  Like some other members have said, I was surprised that the interior seemed to suck up more paint than the exterior. 

Once I got the interior painted, on a whim, I picked up some cheap styrofoam plates from the local supermarket and glued them to the walls with the following results: 
TARDISInterior.jpg
It's funny, because for as cheap as it is, it doesn't look that bad up close.  And from 5' away (or in a photo) it looks really cool. 

While the actual intent/excuse for building this thing was for added storage space, I must confess, I haven't moved anything into it yet.  This was partly because I wanted to see how waterproof it was and partly because I can't play in it if it's full of paint cans and lumber. ;) 
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

atomicgraph

not a bad build at all! and really cool what you've done on the inside there.

Volpone

Nov 24, 2011, 08:09 pm #13 Last Edit: Nov 24, 2011, 08:11 pm by volpone
Thanks!  I'm off to eat turkey, but soon I'll start posting the improvements to date. I think I'm very close to being "done"--at least for now.
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.

Volpone

If you're like me (and I think at least a few people are), once you've built your TARDIS, you immediately start finding things you aren't happy with.  Mine were (in no particular order):

-The door plaque not filling the entire panel.
-I ran out of paint when I was doing the windows, giving me an excuse to try using aluminum foil instead.  My reasoning was, if you want to create the illusion that you have glass, putting a reflective surface over the plywood would work best.  Big mistake.  It is impossible to get a smooth surface and instead of just looking like frosted glass it looks like frosted glass over aluminum foil. 
-For that matter, I wasn't that pleased with the fluorescent diffuser -vs- a mix of hammered and frosted glass panes. 
-I wasn't entirely happy with my lintel signage. 
-While there is quite a bit of variation on the roof lamp over the years, the consensus is to a sort of inverted flat bowl shape for the lamp shade. 
-Weathering.  For an outdoor TARDIS, I sort've felt like weathering was something that would naturally take care of itself.  And in fact most people I talked with felt that way.  The only thing being, a TARDIS would be replicating the weathering of something that had been on the streets of mid 20th Century London for a couple decades.  Mid 20th Century London tends to have a lot more vehicle exhaust, coal soot, and assorted other grime than my back yard does. 
-And of course just the color in general.  I don't know if anyone else has this, but once I got a color of blue on the TARDIS, I immediately started seeing blue structures that had, in my opinion, a much nicer shade of blue.  When I was ordering the paint I also forgot I had to decide on a level of gloss.  Thinking on my feet, I decided to go with a semigloss finish, thinking it would both protect the wood and look like old, built up paint on concrete.  Once I got it on, I wasn't entirely unhappy, but I kept wondering how it would look with a duller finish.  (I also wished I'd applied "orange peel" texture paint to the wood before painting it, but I wasn't going to repaint the whole thing and I was pretty sure this product didn't come in Oxford blue.) 

But for most of this I really couldn't justify spending the time and money "fixing" things that basically worked.  Besides, 95% of people wouldn't know or care about the things that bothered me. 

Then, one day, I happened upon a can of exterior spray paint in a flat Oxford blue(!)  I couldn't pass it up.  I hurried home and eagerly applied it--to no effect.  It had turned out that I'd almost perfectly selected an Oxford blue while matching paint at the store!  However once it dried I realized the color was just a slight bit darker and the dull effect was interesting.  One can wasn't enough paint to cover the whole thing--even if I'd wanted to--so I used it as a shadow, spraying it in low areas--the inside edges of the panels, under the lintels, along the sides of the cornerposts, etc.  As the can was running out, I gave a light coat to the lock to make it a bit less shiny. 

I was quite pleased with the results, so I went ahead and did the rest of my artificial weathering.  First off I took the advice that, I think, originally came from Purple Blancmange.  I had an old tube of lamp black artist's acrylic paint that I applied with a wet rag.  Like the blue spraypaint, I stuck mostly to the low areas that are shadowed and protected from the sun (and cleaning--cracks & crannies) with a small amount on other spots.  I also used this as a chance to try to remedy the windows--with limited success.  (I didn't use a whole tube like I've heard suggested.  I left it relatively pristine.)

Next I added highlights.  You know how paint wears and weathers?  I planned to do the same thing with some white paint.  Unfortunately, when I dug into my old paint box, the only tube of white acrylic I had was dried up.  So then I rummaged around for white oil pastels.  I used them (and later chalk) to hit the high points--corners, tops of the panels, door handles, etc.  Then in a fit of inspiration, I cut open the tube of dried up paint, crumbled it up, and applied it along the edge of the roof so the rain would (in theory) wash a white film over the TARDIS in a random manner. 

The result is below (combined with a month or two of Mother Nature's actual weathering):
Weathered.jpg
"My dear Litefoot, I've got a lantern and a pair of waders, and possibly the most fearsome piece of hand artillery in all England. What could possibly go wrong?"
-The Doctor.