Friday, April 13, 2012

Ogre Mk. V

One of the niftier features of the designer's edition of Steve Jackson's classic wargame Ogre is the 3d Ogre designs, constructed from punch-out chipboard shapes.

As one of the stretch goals of the Ogre Kickstarter, reached absurdly quickly, they provided blank Ogre templates you can print out, decorate, and build yourself. But I thought "If I want a really big Ogre, I can do better than that..."

I started out with more 2' x 2' sheets of the quarter-inch birch plywood I used for the Batcave fan, a pencil, and a small art projector. Not cheap, but vital for this sort of thing. From a distance of about five feet, it magnified the largest piece of the Ogre to about two feet wide. Tracing the lines wasn't easy, given the slightly wobbly board I was working on and my utter lack of ability to draw a straight line.

Indeed, I went back over the forms with a straight edge and a red pencil.

After clamping and screwing a few sheets of plywood together (so I'd have multiple sets of Ogre parts to experiment with), it became a simple matter of sawing things out. The only tricky bit was chopping out quarter-inch channels to fit the pieces together, which would be a lot easier if I had a router table.

And after that, it was an even simpler matter of painting (light green base, spritzes of other colors to give the impression of camouflage) and then assembly. The finished Ogre is about two feet long and...well I haven't measured it, actually, but probably something over a foot from treads to the top of the conning tower. That's a Lego stormtrooper for scale.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Alex has a ceiling fan. It's a typical ceiling fan, which is fine, but not very Batcave-like. So we decided to replace the blades with something a little more bat-themed, like what this guy made.

I got the recommended quarter-inch birch plywood and cut it into strips, then traced a fan blade onto one of them to get a general shape and size. The various curves defining the not-conventional-fan-blade bits of the fan blade were traced out using a dinner plate.

Once I had the basic design down, I stacked up the birch plywood strips, clamped them together, and started cutting with the remarkably versatile jig saw. I had to move the clamps around a few times to get access to all the places I needed to cut while keeping the stack together. After that, I drilled the screw holes, and painted.

The toughest part of this was installation. Because of the ten-foot ceilings, I was on top of a ladder trying to avoid rattling glassy fixtures to get the dusty old blades off and the new blades on. But it's worth it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


We wanted Alex to have a clock with hands that fit the theme of the room, but we couldn't find anything that quite worked for us, so we decided to build our own. The clock mechanism proper is an inexpensive battery-powered job from the craft store, but we had to make the face.

I started by enlarging a Bat symbol and printing it out (splitting it over two sheets of paper to get it to the size I wanted). Cut out, and trace onto a thin piece of wood:

The jig saw did a surprisingly good job of cutting out the bat shape. I thought I'd have to rough it out with the jig saw and then finish by hand with a coping saw, but the power tool was able to do it all to my satisfaction. I put a hole in the middle for the center of the clock. Then I got a big oval wooden piece from the craft store, found the center, traced the clock body around it, drilled holes in the corner, and used the saw to chop out a space the clock could fit through.

Using a protractor, I marked spots at 30 degree intervals at a set distance around the center of the clock and drilled small holes for later reference. The oval got a coat of yellow paint and the bat shape got black. Added copper nails in the little drilled holes, installed the clock behind the bat piece, then attached that to the oval. The battery can be removed through the hole cut in the center of the oval. This is the finished clock:

And here it is on the wall:

Friday, February 10, 2012


One of the features of Alex's new bed is that it has a desk underneath, giving him a nice place to do homework and put his computer. The image I've always had of the Batcomputer has involved a big, wrap-around screen:

Part of this was easy. We had a modestly-sized LCD monitor kicking around upstairs, so we just plugged that in, doubling his screen size. But to make his "computer" bigger still, we went low-tech to create something that looked like a computer screen but wasn't. I started with a relatively inexpensive shadow box from the craft store, a pair of inexpensive USB LED light bars (ordered through Amazon; they took a month to get here because they were shipped from China, but they were very inexpensive), a cheap USB hub, and a sheet of photocopier transparency "paper."

The cheapness of the shadow box was an asset here. Better kinds have a hinged front. For the inexpensive model, you have to take the back off, like a picture frame. That made it easier to cut off two corners of the back, making an opening just big enough in each for the light bar cables to run through.

A coating of foil on the backing, a little superglue to hold the light bars in place, and a map of Gotham printed on the transparency sheet. The edges fit just under the frame quite nicely.

The base is even simpler. Two bits of a thick dowel fastened to a small wooden oval from the craft store. Paint black and attach to the "monitor" portion. Plug the USB cables into a small hub, plug that into a USB port, and there it is.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Conventional decor

Yes, just some pretty pictures, from Stephanie's good friend Breadchick. They're pages from a calendar of old Batman covers, recycled as framed art.

The one on the left has the appropriate title "The 1000 Secrets Of The Batcave."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cabinetry and shelves

We started out with a couple of cabinets we'd gotten from Ikea well before Alex was born (I think it's the Yinden-svorden-bergstrom-leheuden-borkborkbork cabinet, now unavailable), but painted here and there with a few primary colors. And as soon as he could pick up a pen, pencil, or marker, Alex embellished them with his own contributions. Here's one of them.

There were also a few makeshift shelves (just a plank and some brackets), painted a bright red to contrast with the blue/green walls, shown here after the room was repainted.

For the cabinets, the fairly obvious thing was to paint them in suitably Batman-ish black and gray. The lighting makes the darker gray on the lower cabinet appear bluer than it really is; there's also a bit of texture in some of the paint that doesn't come through here.

I was going to do the same thing to the shelves when I thought of the way the Justice League and related DCU cartoons, particularly Batman Beyond, depicted ultra-tech computer systems.

So instead of completely painting over them, I taped a bunch of lines to mask the original red in interesting patterns.

Paint, remove tape, remount shelves.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Night light

The Bat signal is an obvious choice for a night light, but how to make one? GE makes a night light which projects an image on the ceiling:

The easiest thing to do seemed to be to start with one of those and replace their image with one of my own. Opening the light was a little tricky. It's secured by three screws which need a special triangular head. Fortunately, they can also be opened with a very small torx head. Once the screws are off, the case opens and you can remove the sphere that contains the light and pop it open.

There's a light, image, and lens assembly inside. Taking it apart, you find a tiny bit of film in the middle which contains the image. I took that out and put it aside to use as a template for size.

Making the Bat symbol was the trickiest part of the operation because it has to be so very, very tiny, ideally no larger than half the diameter of the film circle. I can't work on that scale, but I got close. I made the symbol by folding a slip of paper in half with a similarly sized bit of foil in it. Starting from the fold, I sketched out half of a Bat symbol and cut it out, then removed and unfolded the bit of foil. It ended up being a bit rough, but perfectly symmetrical. This is actually a different and slightly larger version than the one I ended up with, but it demonstrates what I did.

Next, I got some stiff, clear plastic (a bit of packaging that was about to be discarded) and, using the original film as a template, cut out two circles. The Bat symbol went between the clear disks to protect it and keep it in place. The sandwich went into the lens assembly where the old film was, then I reassembled the whole thing. How does it work? Well...

Switches and outlets

The old outlet covers and switchplates were white, which seemed wrong for the room. Fortunately, black plastic ones are very cheap.


We kept the two-tone paint scheme, but used stone texture paints; if anyone cares: Valspar paint from Lowe's, Yosemite Heights on the lower part of the wall, Ancient Boulder above. Between the size of the room (those ten-foot ceilings add up) and the relatively low coverage, we used a lot of paint, six gallons altogether, and it was not cheap, so Alex is going to live with this until he moves out and goes to college. At which point I think Stephanie is taking the room over. From a distance, it looks like this:

Close up, though, the texture becomes apparent. The glints from the metallic dust admixture also become more visible.

Initial state of play

When we first decorated the room, Alex was a year or two old. We removed carpet (and with a small child and several dogs, so would you) and fussy-patterned wallpaper, put in laminate flooring, and painted with bright colors and a bit of a Scooby Doo theme. These are the initial colors.