Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hand-Made 36" U.S.S. Enterprise Spaceship Comes Together in my Tool Shed

Hand-built 3-foot scale model of the USS Enterprise from the Star Trek TV show
My friend Ron made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

Ron is a woodworker-cabinet maker. His wife is a die-hard Star Trek fan. He wanted to give her something extra special and unique for her birthday. As it happens, I am a Star Trek fan as well. He asked me if I would be interested in a trade of labor - he would build me a custom modular solid wood desk/workbench of my own design, if I would build a coffee-table-size scale model of the U.S.S. Enterprise spaceship from the original Star Trek television series. This custom hand-built scale model was to have electronic effects, illuminated portholes and needed to be free-standing. My desk and computer work area at that time was an old closet door laying down across two book cases. I could use a new custom-designed desk. It was a fair trade.

My workshop consisted of an 8-foot storage shed in my backyard. I had a modest collection of tools and materials from college, so I knew I had the means to pull it off. The finished size of the model was largely determined by the size of the workshop, the capacity of my tools, cost of the materials, and the weight of the various components that were to be assembled into the finished model. We settled on 36" from bow to stern. I drew up full-size plans and went to work on the model itself. Ron would make the solid wood base that would support the model and supply power to the electronics.

The principal material used in the construction of the model was sheet acrylic sourced from local plastics retailers. Other materials used were fiberglass resin, various other plastics, and various bits of structural hardware, and electronic components. Shaping of the saucer and hull components was done by layering and cementing together rough-cut acrylic parts and machining them down with power tools on specially-constructed jigs (we nearly burned out a router while shaping the 18" diameter saucer components). Since the port holes needed to be illuminated, I borrowed a hollywood special effects technique and chose to make the entire model transparent so only a few strategically-placed lights would be needed to illuminate the whole thing from the inside. The final paint job would be applied so that only the portholes would be unpainted and allow the light to show through in those places. As seen in the pictures of the model, this is quite effective.

The model needed to be semi-hollow in places to accommodate the internal lighting and electronic components. These hollow areas also needed to be accessible so maintenance could be performed if a bulb burned out, or if some other component needed service. Access to the inside of the model was designed into it's construction from the beginning. Three specific areas were designated as internal access points where parts of the model could be removed and replaced without affecting the overall appearance of the model, and without needing any tools.

Final touch-ups
Power to the internal components is supplied through the wooden display stand and a special connection plug inside the support tube under the lower hull. When the model is lifted off the base, the power coupling disconnects by itself. The primary on/off switch is on the wooden base The "sensor dish" at the front of the lower hull is connected to a rotary switch inside which allows the selection of the various lighting effect simulation modes of the model. Switch position #1 turns on the porthole lights, position #2 turns on the "running lights", position #3 turns on the lighting effects inside the caps in the front of the engine pods.

The project took about 4 months to complete. The finished model weighed about 20 pounds and was quite a conversation piece.

Below is a slideshow of images showing more views of the model, and various parts of the project.

Oh, and about that custom-built modular solid wood desk of my own design? It continues to serve me well and is more practical than just about any mass-produced piece of furniture could be.

Modular Desk built by Ron Hiatt Construction
The desk shortly after it's completion.