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I teach US history and I wanted to experiment with 3D printing to help students learn about Colonial Williamsburg before we visit there as part of our trip to DC. We have been using Inkscape to create 2D laser cut versions of buildings, which was great for talking about architecture, but it was not giving us the sense of the full city. So this year, after we did the 2D models, we made tiny 3D buildings and put them together on a scale map of the colonial city.

Before I taught the students how to do this, I had to do one myself, and I picked a rather complicated one: the Capitol.

Step 1: I Started With a Floor Plan of the Capitol and a Front View Image

This image of the floor plan comes from the fantastic archival collections at Colonial Williamsburg.I also got the measurements of the building from the research section of the website. The capitol is 70 feet wide.

Step 2: The Shapes I Drew in Inkscape Gave Me the Shapes to Create in Tinkercad

Since students had already done a 2D version in Inkscape I started with that.

I measured the front view image after I had traced in in Inkscape (the trace is not really necessary, it was part of another project).

Notice that I have set the units to mm and I have scaled the drawing so that 1" = 1 mm. While I don't want to print this size, it is much easier to create with this ratio, I don't have to do any math at all, I just need the measurements from the research I did. I have measured the doors, the windows, the height, the roof, and the tower. As I crated the model in Tinkercad I kept referring to the measurements and checking the scale.

I also used Inkscape to trace the floor plan and create an SVG file which I then uploaded to tinker cad to become the main part of the building.

Step 3: Tinkercad

As you can see from the image, the final version looks complicated. But if you look carefully there are no complicated shapes, just simple shapes, and holes, combined.

A few key steps: You may need to change the "snap grid" in the lower right corner, it seems to default to 1mm, but for things this small .25 turned out to be better.

It is very important to drag the ruler from the gutter on the right onto your model so you can see the scale.

As we built, I kept telling my student to think about scale, and how many details they really needed in order to create the look of the building. Set in windows were enough, we did not need to see mullions.

I needed to look at the building from every side, and from the top and bottom to make sure that the parts of the building fit together.


Step 4: Printing

When I was ready to print, I downloaded the file as a .stl and sent it to the 3D printer (MakerBot Replicator 2). I reduced the size by 50% for these prints.
As you can see from the images some of the prints came out better than others. (The nickel is there for scale).

The file is public on the tinkercad site if you want to print it:

https://tinkercad.com/things/4cLp6hx2TEi (but wouldn't it be more fun to make your own?)

Step 5: Many Buildings on a Map

I created a copy of the map of Colonial Williamsburg (the one from mapquest turned out to be the clearest) and each student could attach her building onto the footprint on the map so we were able to see the full collection together.

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