Workshop FAQ

These questions are a summary of those most commonly asked by first years during the first semester. Let us know if you have more!

  • How do I start Modelmaking?

To start designing anything we have to get our ideas out and defined somehow. This could be through some sketches or perhaps through modelling.

Once you have some direction you can begin to refine your idea be deciding on sizes of different aspects of your idea. Working from sketches or drawn plans you can then define separate elements of your project and begin to plan their construction.

An example of how you might list these components might be: A base of xxxx dimensions, 2 X supporting wall at xxxx dimensions and 4 X roof trusses at xxxx dimensions.

You must allow yourself to explore through sketching/making before refining your ideas enough to have a clear direction when it comes to producing a presentation model which should be past the point of exploration in the actual design. If you are unclear on details of your design then they must be figured out clearly in order to effectively assemble a well presented model. Figuring these out may mean more exploration through making/sketching. A common mistake is to simply ignore issues with joining or bad fitting components. This only proves to create more problems further down the line and so accuracy and good planning go a long way to success here.

  • How much detail/context should my model include?

This is a very circumstantial question as each model has a different purpose and therefore will require a different approach to its level of detail. For this question you should refer to the answer to ‘What scale should I make my model at?’

  • What scale should I make my model at?

Deciding on a suitable scale for your model is critical and should ideally be decided on before beginning to make in the workshop.

The most appropriate scale depends on a number of factors:

What do we need to convey using this model? Is it a single building in detail or a building in relation to other buildings? What other aspects of infrastructure such as roads/rivers in the locality may be important to your scheme?

For example, small scales such as 1:1000 and 1:500 will consist of massing rather than detailed building facades which would be more suited to larger scales such as 1:50 and 1:20 where details are clearer to define and explain.

  • How do a make a dome/glass or clear dome?

Domes within architecture are not made they are designed and are produced in a variety of styles. This means that the form must be created using separate pieces created for the purpose and that we are able to control using our chosen materials. The same applies to modelmaking.

Components – Much like the construction of many 1:1 domes, creating them for a model can be accurately done through components designed for the purpose. This most likely requires a structural frame to which smaller elements can be fixed at given points. In order to effectively design a dome in components you should consider the scale of your model and in turn the thicknesses of the materials available.

Vacuum Forming – Vac forming allows a versatile number of shapes to be created through the use of pre-made formers. Styrene is heated up before being formed around a given shape. This process could utilise an existing former or may require you to make one to suit your design.

Existing Forms – It may be possible to utilise existing domed forms for your design development such as food packaging which often contain domed elements. This is ok for sketch modelling but will likely need refinement as design progresses and once a defined size is decided it is possible to purchase pre-made domes in a variety of coloured and clear plastics although this should be considered a less desirable option for first year learning as the process of design used to create a dome allows for a great deal of material and technical learning.

  • How do I make a curved wall?

Much like the question about creating a dome, curved walls within models must be designed with material qualities and scale in mind.

Scale pending they may be created by curving a single sheet of material or may be more suited to a component based design.

Components – Much like the construction of many 1:1 curved building details curves can effectively be created through components designed to be fixed as angles to make up a curve. In order to effectively design a curve in components you should consider the scale of your model and in turn the thicknesses of the materials available.

Bending – Materials that naturally have flexibility to allow them to be curved into different shapes. This may require a designed backing structure of some kind to fix the material in place. Examples of materials suited to this are Styrene sheet, some Cardboard, Paper and Thin Timbers. Particularly useful for sketch modelling is Finn Board which can be modified by being wet and allowing to dry in the desired shape.

Vacuum Forming/Heating – Certain materials can be heated up and re-shaped. This may mean making changes its material properties (such as heating up and curving styrene or acrylic then allowing it to cool in the desired shape. This may require a former to actually reshape the material to. Vac forming allows a versatile number of shapes to be created through the use of pre-made formers. Styrene is heated up before being formed around a given shape. This process could utilise an existing former or may require you to make one to suit your design.

  • Can I make/How do I make a cast/concrete/plaster model?

It is possible to cast on a small scale in the workshop. We do not have a dedicated space for casting and therefore casting large objects can be difficult during busy periods. In many cases we are able to advise on the design of moulds before allowing students to cast either in the dedicated MMU casting workshop or at home.

Casting in concrete is possible but often unnecessary for the materiality desired for modelmaking and so we often recommend casting using plaster with powder paint mixed to create a grey finish when dry.

We do not supply either concrete or plaster at the workshop. We advise using stone plaster which can be purchased from Fred Aldous and various other suppliers.

The work in casting anything is 90% in the design of the mould. This is not something to be rushed into without some research and planning.

  • How do I represent metal?

This requires further questioning – What kind of metal? Rusting Metal? Polished metal? Steel? Copper? etc. As with the representation of any material (the key word being representation i.e not what it appears to be) creating a material effect can be done by using paint finishes, metallic effect plastics, foil or paper coating and even with another material all together to simply negate the difference in materials from one component to another.

  • How can I make Trees/People/Cars etc.?

Take caution here to look at precedents as it is easy to cheapen your work using over detailed or literal scale representation. Items can be created to suit your requirements using silhouette or by using off-the-shelf items. Scale items are readily available at common scales from models supply companies and some local shops. We stock a limited amount of these.

  • Where can I buy materials?

The workshop stocks a range of modelmaking materials suited to our regular requests. Other materials are also available to you from the MMU workshop, A4 & More store and both MMU and UoM Students unions.

Off campus you can find a variety of arts and craft stores in and around Manchester city centre. The most useful of these is Fred Aldous in the Northern Quarter. Online Modelmaking specialist companies such as 4D Modelshop (10% student discount) and EMA Model supplies are also very useful.

  • How much does laser cutting cost?

Laser Cutting is charged at £10 per hour of use and must be booked ahead of the required time be visiting the workshop and asking a member of staff about your requirements before establishing a booking. Materials are priced according to type and size and are listed on our material store page.

  • What materials can be used on the laser cutter?

We stock both MDF and Plywood suitable for use on laser cutters. Standard MDF is not suitable and should not be used without permission.

Acrylic and styrene sheets for laser cutting are also available at the workshop. A full list of sizes for these is available on our blog.

Most Card board and paper and fabrics can be cut on the laser cutter but always check with us before going ahead.

Metal and glass cannot be cut using the laser cutters. We stock imitation brushed steel effect styrene which can be laser cut along with acrylic mirror.

  • How much does 3D Printing cost?

3D printing is calculated based on the volume of material a model uses and in turn the amount of binder/support required for the print. These quantities can only be calculated by us from a completed model using the machines in the workshop.

  • Can you teach me AutoCAD/Sketchup/3DStudio-Max?

We will only be able to assist you with the set-up of drawings/models specifically for the application you need the workshop for such as laser cutting. You will be taught CAD packages as part of your teaching programme. It is up to you to prepare your files to suit based on the guidelines provided on our CAD setup page.

  • What are the workshop opening times/Is the workshop open at the weekend?

The workshop is open Monday to Friday 09.30 to 16.30 with an hour lunch between 13.00 and 14.00. Towards the end of the academic year we are usually open later. Exact times are specified when they are confirmed nearer the time. The workshop is closed Saturday and Sunday.

  • Can I leave/keep my model in the workshop?

This is very circumstantial due to the number of students that wish to use the space. If you are still working on the project and intend to return the next day you can leave your work tidy in your workspace at the end of the day.

Whilst we do have limited storage in our models store for longer storage this is also subject to fluctuation depending on the time of the year. The best thing to do is come to ask when the time comes.