Me, podcasted

>> Thursday, October 10, 2013

In which I am interviewed on the Reading and Writing Podcast.


The Lady Doctor!

>> Monday, September 9, 2013

Meet the Youth Best In Show winner from the 2013 DragonCon Masquerade contest: The Lady Doctor and her steampunk companion K-9!

Jo loves watching Doctor Who, so she designed this Lady Doctor costume for herself. There's lots more about how she made it herself over at Wendi's Shiny Happy World blog.

Jo was especially proud of the vest, which used all different brass buttons. The coat is pretty great too. You can just see the really spacey lining here, on the lapels. Her hair is dyed TARDIS blue.

I helped her with the rocket boots. She still did all the spray painting and the drilling and gluing but I was there as the technical advisor. One of her Monster High dolls has rocket-powered boots, and so Jo wanted a pair too. The silver rockets are actually upside-down plastic things you put on chair legs to keep them from sliding. We glued them on with Gorilla glue, which held surprisingly well. The boots were thrift-store finds, spray painted with a really super copper color Jo picked out.

The whole ensemble, before she went on stage in the Friday Night Costume Contest! This was a fun costume for Jo--and one she could walk around in afterward without too much trouble! She did trade the rocket boots in for a pair of red Converse high tops for roaming the hotels though...

Congrats, Jo! So proud of you!

For more pics of the steampunk K-9, and to see how I built it, check out the next post.


Steampunk K-9

For this year's DragonCon, I built a steampunk K-9 to accompany Jo's Lady Doctor costume in the Masquerade. Together, we won Best in Show in the Youth category!

As a model, I used this tiny scale model K-9 from ThinkGeek, which I got Jo to go with the Barbie-sized TARDIS I built her. Despite being just a couple of inches long, it's all to scale, which allowed me to do the math and extrapolate a larger version.

I started by building a mock-up out of foam core. I got it mostly right from the start, but this allowed me to mess up and not waste wood. (And time!) The foam core is just held together with masking tape and straight pins. I designed it to fit on a remote controlled car base I bought, and ended up making it almost 1:1 scale with the original K-9...

Late in the process, we realized that a key would make a brilliant tail for a steampunk dog. Originally, I was just going to buy an antenna and spray paint it brass. I think the key turned out much cuter.

When I was finished, I cut all the taped joints apart and used my foam core pieces as pattern pieces. I traced them on a very thin plywood, and cut them out with a Skill saw and jigsaw.

I don't have very many pics of me actually building K-9, strangely. I love process pics, but so often I did the building later in the evening while watching TV, and the light was always terrible for taking pics. I always said, "Oh, I'll take a picture tomorrow in the good light." And then I never did. But here's me using a vise to hold together the tricky angles of the face while I screwed it together. In the back of the head, you can see the small square dowel I used in the corners to give my something to screw into besides the thin plywood.

And here's the finished product! It took me a few nights to stain him brown, but I love the result.

The TV K-9 has colorful buttons on his back. For the steampunk K-9, I used two great brass faucet knobs we found at the Home ReStore in town. I think they were maybe $2 each. The joiner pipe is actually a piece of wood dowel I spray painted brass. The keyboard (in lieu of colorful buttons) is made up of individual wooden keys. I found a person on Etsy who laser cuts them out of wood, then applies pictures of antique keys to them. They look like authentic typewriter keys, but they're fake! They're a lot lighter--and a whole lot cheaper than real typewriter keys, which go for a pretty penny on eBay.

The tail is wood, spray painted to look brass. Again, much lighter! And there was no way I was going to be able to make something like that out of real brass.

The neck is dryer tubing spray painted brass. It took the spray paint really well! And I didn't have to attach it--all I did was bend it around the head, and the angles did all the work. The collar is a brass hand towel ring with the mounting piece cut off of it. The bone tag is wood, again painted to look brass. A rule I've heard that I'm trying to live by is "looks great from six feet away." I think all this looks great close up, but it all passes muster six feet away, which is really the level of detail we want on our costumes.

The nose was a real score at the Home ReStore, which is a Habitat for Humanity store that recycles old fixtures and building materials from torn down houses and renovations and resells them. This faucet was an awesome find. Jo and I spent a very happy couple of hours rooting through the plumbing bins at the store, looking for treasures like this. I hadn't planned on putting a faucet on the nose, but it was too good to pass up--and ended up sort of making the whole thing.

We had a lot of options for K-9's ears. I almost went with another pair of faucets made of wood and brass, but these curtain rod ends won out in the end. They were just too cool looking. They're plastic--about the only plastic thing on the whole dog, except for the remote controlled car underneath him--but they look brass, and they have the added benefit of being lightweight, which was an issue on the head.

K-9's eye bars are wood, painted brass. The eye itself is of course the knob off a garden hose bib. I loved it--particularly as the original K-9's eye is a red circle. I left the maker's ring on there too. It was too awesome.

The big "K-9" on the side are wooden letters from A.C. Moore, again spray painted brass. I screwed them in from behind, so you can't see the screws. You'll see screws everywhere else though. My original plan was to cover those with "brass" trim, which was going to be a brass duct tape I found. In the end, I loved the look of him without all the brass trim. I think going without was a good call. He's already pretty blinged out as it is!

The other side had a door. This served two purposes. One was practical--it gave me a way to reach inside and attach the cotter pins to the posts that connected the K-9 unit to the remote controlled car. The second was part of the show: we put a tea cup and saucer in there, and at a certain part of Jo's performance, K-9 raced over to her and she took out the cup and pretended to pour tea from his nose! It was a real hit. This space also, coincidentally, made a nice storage area for his controller, spare battery, charger, etc.

For the curious, here's the R/C car I used as the base. It's not your cheapo mall-bought R/C car. I got this at HobbyTown USA, where they know their machines. At first, I was worried it wouldn't be strong enough to move the wood and brass K-9 I built--but I ended up having to take it in to the shop to have them help me slow it down! It's a beast of an R/C car, and it worked great.

The steampunk K-9!


The Barbie TARDIS

>> Sunday, August 4, 2013

Meet the Barbie TARDIS!

I built this for my daughter Jo, who is eleven years old and super into Doctor Who. (As she should be.) She has dressed up one of her dolls in a Who-esque costume, and calls her the Lady Doctor. I couldn't let the Lady Doctor travel without a TARDIS of her own!

The TARDIS is made out of scrap plywood of different widths I had lying around from previous projects. The windows are a thick frosted plastic, with the casement lines drawn on with a Sharpie. They let in a soft light, which I like, and Jo likes putting electric tea candles inside and letting the windows glow from within. With both doors open, you can see inside where I glued the windows in.

The "POLICE BOX" signs at the top were found online (thanks, Who-builders!) and glued on with Spray-Mount. The blue paint was chosen by Wendi and Jo on one of their trips to Asheville--I think they nailed the TARDIS blue!

The sign on the telephone door was printed out from a larger image I found on the web. In this picture, you can also see the teeny-tiny handles I bought from They came in brass, so I spray-painted them black. The handles, the paint, and the hardware for the light on top were the only things I had to buy for the project.

I should also point out that though I like to call this "The Barbie TARDIS," that doll is not a Barbie. She is, in fact, a Monster High doll, which Jo much prefers. This is the Robecca Steam doll, who is steampunk-themed. The clothes, however, are homemade--they are pieces from the Project Barbie challenge Wendi and I did together years ago, when we made Barbie clothes to match the challenges on a season of Project Runway. Jo likes the colors because she feels they are very Doctor Who.

While I was building the TARDIS (which took MONTHS, much to Jo's chagrin) I saw this little K-9 advertised on ThinkGeek, and I had to get it for her!

And look--the scale is perfect! I surprised her with it (and the finished TARDIS) when she got back from sleepaway camp last month. The TARDIS itself is pretty large--about 16.5 inches tall and 8.5 inches wide. Jo likes it because her Lady Doctor can fit a lot of companions in there with her, including K-9.

I'm really pleased with the look of the signage, and the slightly mottled look the plywood took on when I painted it. It looks like a weathered and used TARDIS.

I decided to add the St. John Ambulance logo, which is on the 11th Doctor's TARDIS. Here again you can see one of the super-tiny handles.

I struggled with how to do the light at the top. I trolled the dollhouse aisles at our local hobby shops and surfed around online looking for a sort of hurricane lamp I could appropriate for a light on top, but never found anything. Then I had the idea to use a test tube--and we just so happened to have a tiny one already, which was being used to hold beads! The test tube is inserted upside-down through the three layers at the top, and held in place with a swinging hatch made out of the window plastic, so I can replace the little light bulb if and when it blows out. The light bulb was bought at a hobby shop--it's meant to light streetlamps and homes on a model train layout.

The light is strung to a 9-volt battery on the inside, and then to a little switch I acquired at Radio Shack. Because who doesn't love flipping switches!? The light switch sticks out the back corner of the TARDIS, and is pretty unobtrusive. I had dreamed of attaching a sound chip to it with the sound of the TARDIS taking off and landing, but alas, that's beyond my very limited technical abilities. As it is, the TARDIS goes "WERRRN-WERRRN-WERRRN" only when you flip the switch and say "WERRRN-WERRRN-WERRRN" at the same time.

Here's a pic of one of the unpainted panels. I used a coping saw to do the windows, and ended up using a chisel to hack out the top layer of plywood to create the panels. When my chiseling got rough, I smoothed it with wood putty, as you can see in that top right panel, then sanded it flat.

The Barbie TARDIS, exploded view, during the painting phase.

I'm thrilled with the result, and so is Jo! Allons-y, Lady Doctor!

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