Creating a maquette for school project
Rob and his daughter build the Faisal Mosque, the fifth largest mosque in the world - well, a maquette of the mosque.
It’s not too often I get to spend time with my 13-year-old daughter in the shop. When she came home with an assignment to make a maquette of a mosque I casually offered to help her build one. She admitted that she’d like to build one together, and that she had already asked her teacher if that would be okay. I promised her I wouldn’t take over the project, but I knew that was going to be a challenge for me. It wasn’t my project, after all, it was hers.
We had about a week to get it done, so we started right away. First, we…I mean she…selected a mosque design. This was a geography project, so her task was to choose one from Islamabad. After a bit of searching we came across the Faisal Mosque, the fifth largest mosque in the world. I also knew this mosque would be reasonably easy to build. Mosques often include circular peaks and rounded arches and are adorned with intricate designs. The Faisal Mosque was much simpler, and lent itself to a wood maquette.
The Finished Faisal Mosque
Here’s the completed project my daughter and I made for her geography class. Although I obviously had a hand in machining the parts, she played a large role in deciding on details like angles, dimensions and most of the design details. She also actively took part in just about every single step in making this model mosque.
The Real Thing
After making the tiny model, I have even more respect for the architects and construction crew who built this mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan.
First, a paper model
We wanted to see what the general dimensions of the triangles were that make up the roof structure. Rather than head to the shop, I grabbed some paper and we began playing around with different triangles to see how close we could get to the original. Paper, a cutter, tape and a tape measure were all we needed to start to refine the shape. After a few iterations we were satisfied with the shape of the triangle sections that would make up the roof.
To the shop
The next day we went to the shop to spend a couple of hours on the maquette. I assured her it wouldn’t be any longer. Together, we decided on some 1/2″ plywood for the build. Thick enough to allow for easy glue joints but thin and light enough to easily work with.
I did most of the machining, though I encouraged her to do any work with the bandsaw. I left most of the math to her, too, which worked out great. She told me how wide to cut the parts and at what angles they needed to be cut. I didn’t want to make this too easy on her.
I cut the triangles to size then machined a bevel on their mating edges, all the while consulting her. One left and one right, she taped the triangle sections together to form the four roof panels. We glued them and let them dry. In the meantime, we marked and cut out the end gables on the bandsaw. She preferred my accurate cuts, but I assured her nobody was going to fault her for her cuts, which were actually quite close to the line. She’s patient and can usually leave just a slight line on while at the bandsaw. That was it for the first day, as I didn’t want to press my luck.
Turn up the heat
At home, she laid out the lines on the gable ends and the edges of the roof panels, then used a pyrography pen to burn the lines into the material. This allowed her to add a few intricate details without the trouble of working with very tiny wood parts. A pyrography pen was also something she was used to, so it went well.
We glued the end gables to the corresponding roof sections and let them dry overnight. The mosque was coming along nicely.
Back to the shop to assemble
After school the next day we returned to the shop. Some of the sharp plywood edges needed to be eased, then we played around with how to best align the four roof panels to give us the most even joints. This was one of the trickier assemblies I’ve dealt with in a long time. We both stood there, hemming and hawing for about 10 minutes, talking about a plan of attack. We decided to use some relatively slow-setting CA glue to piece the four roof sections together, one at a time, then adhere that assembly to the base. Thankfully we had just enough hands between us to make it all happen.
To the towers
I broke out the material for the towers (my daughter isn’t a huge fan of loud machines that can easily cut her hands off, it turns out) and we worked out the details on how long these parts would be and what angle the tips should be cut to, then I quickly made them while she eased their edges and sanded their surfaces. Time ran out on the day, so we went home and chatted about tomorrow’s plan to finish the project off.
My daughter wanted to add some lines to the towers to mimic the real towers, so she did that with a pyrography pen. She added some lines to the roof, too. I kept telling her she didn’t have to be perfect with all of these lines, as the eye doesn’t mind seeing some imperfection. In fact, imperfection is a good indication that someone has taken the time to do something by hand. Perfection is something I’m trying to steer her away from in most aspects of life.
We teamed up to position and attach the four towers. She laid out their location and held them in place while I bored a couple pilot holes in each tower, through the base. A pair of 2-1/2″ long screws hold each tower in place.
I showed her how to apply a finish with an aerosol spray can. It’s not easy, if you’ve never done it before. A few years ago, she sprayed on a finish on a snowflake she made on the scroll saw, but she’s still far from a finishing expert. I showed her some basic techniques; stay about 10″ away from the surface, keep moving, try to overlap the passes, etc.
Although I finished the first half of the mosque, she applied the finish to the second half and it turned out great. Don’t tell her, but I couldn’t help myself from adding a few passes here and there once she went back inside. After about 30 minutes we sanded it down (apparently her quest for perfection doesn’t include an impeccably sanded first coat of lacquer, as she barely waved the sandpaper in the general direction of the mosque to prep it for the second coat) and shared the duties applying the second coat.
We went outside to check it out once the final coat of finish had dried and were very pleased by the finished project. Not only does it look pretty darn close to the real thing, but it brought a lot of satisfaction to both of us. In fact, I’ve been imagining triangles for the past few days, as they produce some interesting options for design. Maybe one day I’ll bring them into a piece of furniture. Until then, my soccer-loving son mentioned to me that he wants to build a model of a soccer stadium, so I might have another model-making project in my near future.
The Right Angles
We decided on what size the eight roof panels needed to be by cutting and taping together paper triangles. When satisfied, we set to work making the 1/2" thick plywood roof panels for the model.
Bevel the Mating Edges
The upper peaks all received bevels so they would fit together nicely. I did this on the table saw.
Tape Them Together
My daughter quickly got the hang of using masking tape as a clamp.
Trace for the End Gable
Once the roof sections were dry my daughter traced them onto another piece of plywood so we could cut out the gables and glue them onto the roof sections. Accuracy is her strength, and the four gable ends fit nicely when she was done.
Fine Tune the Fit
This gable end was a bit big and had to be planed down so the two lowest tips of the roof sat flush on the base.
Even I was stumped by how we should go about bringing the four roof sections together for good. We eventually settled on CA glue, accelerator and some guide blocks to ensure the fit was good. We adhered one roof panel at a time.
Get to the Point
I set up a jig to make quick work of bringing the ends of the towers to a point. My daughter was happy to let me take the lead on this technique. She sanded the towers and eased all the edges when I was done.
A Bit More Burning
My daughter used the pyrography pen to add some lines to the towers that mimicked the real towers. She quickly realized there were some time-saving approaches that also kept the lines even on the different towers.
The Last Details
The last thing to add before applying a finish were the short lines on the roof panels. These lines mimicked the glass windowpanes in the real mosque and helped bring the model to life.