Intro: Scale House Mailbox
Remember when you were a kid the feeling when you got mail? Though digital messaging has largely replaced paper mail, those pesky bills somehow always find me. Make the experience of getting mail more exciting. And what's better than a mailbox that's a scale model of the building you live in?
I live in a duplex that has garage space. After taking measurements of the entire building I scaled it down so that the garage doors were large enough to fit a standard envelope. Each garage space would be a mail receptacle for me neighbours and I, then I put the mailbox on the lawn in front of the house.
As an added twist I included a few solar panels on the roof and lights inside so that when the sun goes down the interior lights up.
Give your mailman a smile the next time he delivers the mail, and make checking the mail something to look forward to again. Ready? Let's make!
Step 1: Measure
To make a scale model of your house you're going to need measurements.
If you have a dimensioned set of drawings for your house then you're all set! If you're the owner of your home and have no drawings you can probably find them at City Hall. Try going to the Building Department of your local City Hall and asking to see the plans of your house.
If you rent (like me), some (not all) municipalities/counties count select pages of building plans as public record, which means anyone can view them just by asking. Most times this shows things like lot size, setbacks, and exterior elevations (things that are already public record, or are visible to the public when the house is complete). The drawings they will not show you are the interior partitions, as those are not public record.
I couldn't get drawings for the place I live in. Instead I took a measuring tape and went around the house to get a rough idea of dimensions. We don't have to be too precise as we'll be reducing the size of the house, which means any errors will also be reduced. Another great source for finding dimensions was to look up my house on Google Maps and use the roof outline, more on that in a bit.
Make sure you take rough measurements of all openings you want on your model, like doors and windows, and the height of each floor of your house (hint: most floors are the same height - unless you have vaulted ceilings).
Step 2: CAD - Floor Plate
After measuring the exterior I transferred all the dimensions into CAD software. I used AutoCAD (free trial if you want to try); but there's countless free CAD software available, and since we're only doing the most basic of functions with CAD, almost anything will work. We'll be drawing the dimensions in actual scale, the scaling down later.
I start in one corner and work my way around the house inputting the dimensions clockwise, when you get close to the end of completing the circuit of your house you may notice that there's a gap preventing you from completing the exterior of the house walls. DON'T PANIC! This is likely caused by errors in the measurements you took, and since we're making a model and not building a real house we can compensate for this gap by just lining up the walls as best you can and closing the walls. If it's a large gap, like more than 6" (15cm) then you probably missed a section of wall in your measurement. Check carefully that you have a complete floor plate before moving on.
I then input the window and door locations along the floor plate, we'll need these to make accurate elevations.
Step 3: CAD - Make Elevations
After making a complete outline of the exterior we can make elevations of the walls.
To make elevations we'll set a reference line perpendicular to the side of the house we're facing, then draw a second line offset from the first the same height of your first floor (you did measure that, right?). For example we'll imagine we're looking at the bottom side of the house in my picture. We'll draw a horizontal line below the bottom of the floorplan, then we'll extend the edge lines of every wall jog downwards to meet the perpendicular line we drew.
This might sound hard, but should make sense once you make a few lines and get an idea of what you're making. Continue making lines at every wall jog on your reference line, along with the window and door openings.
After a few minutes you should have something resembling an elevation as seen from that side of the house. Continue doing this for each side of your house. Take your time and ensure that each elevation matches your measurements, and more importantly matches what your home actually looks like.
Step 4: CAD - Roof Geometry
Before tackling the roof, take a moment and find your inner peace. Maybe leave and have a cup of tea and become zen. When you're ready to tackle some tricky geometry you can start on creating the roof.
Sloped roofs are difficult, especially if you have non-rectilinear shapes. It's deceptive how complicated the roof really is to create. Unlike walls, the roof needs to take into account slope and complex shapes. Before we can start making the roof we need to know a few pieces of information.
The first piece of into you'll need is the slope of the roof, which is usually represented by a measurement of X feet laterally for every 1 foot vertically. The roof for my building is 3:1; 3 feet laterally for every foot vertically.
Using an aerial view of my building that I found online, I took a screen capture of what my roof looked like. This will help me get the shapes just right. I cropped the image and imported it into my CAD program, then used it as a reference to make the roof geometry.
The roof overhang needs to be taken into account, don't forget to include it!
Putting it all together:
Once you have the reference material small portions of the roof can be drawn out. I started by offsetting the perimeter of the wall outline by 1 foot, this would give the the outline of the roof overhang, and represents the outer limits of the roof line. Then I used the aerial image to get the roof ridge line lengths. To get the diagonal slope lines I used the slope reference to draw a line between the roof edge and the ridge line. This might sound complicated (and it sometimes is) but try with a few sections of roof and you'll start to get sections of your roof complete.
This was by far the most challenging part of the build. I made a few errors in my roof, but after a few attempts at perfection I chose to live with the results and move on (hopefully they're not too obvious at a quick glance).
Step 5: Scale Drawing
When your house is all laid out to scale it's time to scale it down to a smaller size.
First I measured a standard piece of mail to get an idea of how large my mailbox would have to be. I scaled down the entire house, using one of the garage bays as a reference point to match the width of a piece of mail. This should satisfy almost all the mail I get. For any larger pieces of post the mailman can just fold over the mail, or deposit it to my regular mailbox.
Step 6: Cut Pieces
I cut my pieces with an Epilog 120W laser. Though, you could just as easily print the pieces on a desktop printer and cut them by hand.
I chose to 1/8" (3mm) thick hobby plywood. Since I had the option with the laser cutter I decided to embellish the brick and roof with appropriate texture by using an etching pass instead of a cutting pass, I applied the same technique to the shutters with the windows.
Step 7: Foundation
I cut the floorplan of the house from the same 1/8" (3mm) thick plywood, then traced the outline onto 1/2" (13mm) thick plywood. The thick plywood was cut to match the floorplan outline, then the thin ply was laminated to the thick ply to form the foundation of the mailbox.
Step 8: Chamfer Edges
Before the walls can be joined together the abutting edges will need to be chamfered to get a good fit. This isn't totally required, but I feel gives a cleaner look to the edges when the building is assembled. I chamfered the vertical wall edges, and the roof edges and ridges.
I used a chamfer bit on a router table. Alternatively you could just sand off each edge to get a clean chamfer.
Step 9: Wall Assembly
I cut scrap plywood into small sections of wood that would act as support and help hold the exterior walls together.
After aligning the walls in the correct position to each other I glued a small section of plywood to the inside of one wall, then attached the adjoining wall. I continued on different sections of wall, allowing the sections to dry completely before moving them to glue on the next piece. Eventually all exterior wall pieces were glued together.
The same technique of using scrap plywood sections was used to glue the walls to the foundation wood.
Step 10: Roof Assembly
Since the angles between the roof sections were not right angles, I couldn't use the trick of using sections of rectangular plywood that I used to join the walls together. Instead I used a strip of paper to help hold the roof sections together with glue.
Two adjacent roof sections were placed next to each other, running a small bead of glue on the matching edges. Brace the two sections of roof on your workbench with something underneath to hold them at the correct angle. Apply a liberal amount of glue between the roof sections and carefully place a strip of paper on top of the glue, bridging the gap between the pieces. Let the glue dry completely before moving two sections of glued roof.
This works to hold together the roof sections as paper has good tensile strength. Though you can easily rip paper (shear force) try pulling on either end of a piece of paper. This tensile strength is perfect for this application, as it's light, strong, and can be painted.
Step 11: Eaves Mask (optional)
I painted the interior of the roof grey. Before painting I masked off the eaves with tape, leaving me with a nice visible wood finish for the eaves.
Step 12: Windows
I wanted to have windows in my mailbox that would let light through from the solar garden lights I would be installing on the inside.
After measuring the scale model window dimensions I made window panes from clear acrylic, they were cut slightly larger than the openings I had cut so I could glue them in from the inside. I used a laser cutter set to inappropriately high power settings to cut this acrylic.
Step 13: Fog Windows
To diffuse the light from the solar LED's I decided to fog the windows by sanding them. Random orbital sander with 100 grit sandpaper I sanded both sides of each window. After, the windows were cleaned with a damp cloth to remove any powder and debris.
Step 14: Paint House
The model looks good so far, but really needs paint to bring it to life.
Portions of the house were masked with painters tape. Then, colours were mixed on a palette to match the colours of my building. I printed off a few pictures of my house to make sure I got the colours right, and began painting the entire house and roof.
Step 15: Paint Inside (optional)
I decided to paint the inside of the garage space black, that way when the garage doors are opened there's just a matte black interior. I masked the windows and garage door openings from the outside so no overspray would paint the exterior.
Step 16: Attach Windows
After all the paint had dried I could install the windows.
Using strong 2-part epoxy I glued the windows from the inside and taped them in place overnight until the epoxy cured completely.
Step 17: Attach Garage Doors
I used small hinges to attach the garage doors from the inside of the model. Since the provided screws would penetrate through the model walls I decided to use more epoxy.
I attached the hinges in two stages, first the hinges to the garage doors, then the hinged door assembly to the model. More tape was used to hold everything in place until the epoxy cured completely.
Step 18: Dismantle LED Garden Lights
With the model mostly complete the LED garden lights can now be dismantled. I found these inexpensive garden lights at my local hardware store for about $2 each. These lights collect solar energy during the day, then release that energy in the form of light from the LED when it's dark.
The LED garden lights are easily dismantled and the solar cell, battery, and circuit are removed from the plastic housing.
Step 19: Modify LED Lights to Have More LEDs
These garden lights have one LED attached to the circuit board. Since I wanted to illuminate the interior of my house I knew I'd have to have more LED's to prevent any dark spots. After clipping off the existing LED, I soldered a few new LED's onto leads, then soldered the leads together and onto the LED spot on the circuit board.
Since I had two LED garden lights I made two bunches of LED lights and soldered one to each.
Step 20: Combine Batteries
I decided to combine my batteries, allowing both sets of LED arrays to draw and charge a common power supply.
The power leads were removed from the battery holder and combined, soldering leads from the power leads to each LED light circuit.
Step 21: New Battery Compartment
By combining the batteries I couldn't use the old battery holder, so made my own from scrap plywood.
The battery leads were attached to the battery holder and the entire circuit was mounted to a small scrap of wood.
Step 22: Drill Openings for Solar Panels
Lastly, openings were drilled to pass the leads from the solar cells to the circuit board. The solar cells were clipped from each circuit and longer leads were soldered.
I drilled small openings on the roof near the roof ridge on the side of the house that faces predominately south. The leads were passed through the openings and glued in place with hot glue. The mounted circuit board and battery assembly was mounted on the interior of the roof near the drilled openings. The solar cell leads were then soldered back onto the circuit boards, completing the solar LED circuit.
The LED leads were then stretched around the interior of the roof, providing a nice uniform glow when the solar cells stop receiving light. The light glow isn't super bright, but that's just fine for this application.
Step 23: House Numbers + Details
The last step for this model is to add details, like house numbers to each garage door that will let the mailman know what mail goes where. I also added smaller details like rounds of wood for door knobs, painted black, and the front railing and roof support posts.
While these details aren't required, they help solidify the resemblance of the model.
Step 24: Mailbox Stand
I made a stand for the mailbox from a 2" diameter dowel from the hardware store. I affixed a scrap square of 1/2" thick wood on the top of the dowel that will help secure the model to the post. After the scrap square was attached to the post I pre-drilled holes into the scrap square to make screwing the model into the square easier.
The end of the dowel was sanded to a dull point to make driving it into the lawn easier.
Step 25: Select Location
I wanted my mailbox to have a clear view of my house, so it'll make sense visually. I selected a spot on the front lawn near the sidewalk, then drove the spiked end of the stand into the grass.
Step 26: Attach Mailbox to Stand
Using the screw openings I drilled into the stand previously I attached the mailbox to the stand, then I oriented the garage door openings to the street matching the real house in the background.
Step 27: You've Got Mail!
Your new mailbox is sure to delight passerby pedestrians, and of course your mailman. Here's Mailman Vic positively glowing at delivering mail to my scale model mailbox. He even asked me to take his picture in front of it for his Instagram. Awesome!
With the solar cells in the roof the house glows when the sun goes down.
Do you have a scale model that you made? I want to see it!
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