Caution: Construction Zone

Hello! My name is Asha Mani, and I am a sophomore in Principles of Engineering at the Ann Richards School. If you’ve been reading for a while, you already know all about our new cornerstone project—we’re building a greenhouse! If you haven’t, go check out Briana’s post explaining some of the ideas and plans that we have for the greenhouse, and why we decided to build a greenhouse in the first place.

Briana saw

Briana Palacios uses a miter saw to cut some of the first beams for the scale model of the greenhouse.

Before we start building the actual greenhouse outside, though, we need to brush up on (or acquire) our construction skills. We will be making a scale model of the greenhouse at ratio of 1 inch for every three of the actual size with wood before we begin the actual structure. It seems unlikely that our greenhouse would collapse on top of someone, but it’s always better to have more practice to decrease the risk! Making a model will also give us the chance to learn how to use the tools that will be used to construct the greenhouse, so that we’re not afraid of wasting all of our materials. It will also allow us to practice measuring, joints, and trusses in a no-pressure situation. If we mess up, it won’t mean the collapse of a structure worth thousands of dollars—just a little model that we can easily fit inside of the Makerspace.

Before we could begin practicing with the saws, we needed to go over safety. It all seemed pretty standard—wear goggles so you don’t get splinters in your eyes, don’t put your hands too close to the blade, take off your ID, pull back your hair. What really made these safety precautions stick with us, though, was Ms. Jo’s story about a student from Yale. She had been working on her project and her hair got caught in the saw, and it killed her. Though we always follow all safety guidelines, I think that it is easy to forget why. Anyone can slip up, even if they knew what they were doing. Though we had heard these rules before, I was glad for the refresher, given the disastrous consequences of forgetting.

cypress speed square

Cypress Lefebre uses a speed square to measure and mark where to cut a beam.

On the less morbid side of building a model, though, we’ve been doing a lot of practice measuring. An eighth of an inch might seem insignificant, but it can make or break your greenhouse. Even 1/16 of an inch could be the difference between a beam that supports the necessary weight and a beam that won’t quite reach both joints. We started working with Speed Squares (or right triangles), which makes measuring angels and drawing right angles fast and easy. There are several different uses for a speed square, including drawing parallel lines, drawing 90 degree angles, and as a saw guide. Re-measuring and re-cutting the same length of wood for the same part gets really old really fast, and speed squares are another tool that makes your life a little bit easier.

We have started to cut some of the first pieces of wood for the model that we are building as a class, though we still have a lot more to go. We went over how to use a miter saw, and how to know where to position the wood that you are cutting so that the result is as accurate as possible. We all took a turn cutting some of the boards for the walls of the greenhouse. From, there, we quickly scattered. Some people cut more beams, others measured, and still others double checked their work or scaled down the dimensions to find the correct lengths.

We’re all looking forward to seeing how this model comes together. It’s one thing to look at floorplans and elevation views on paper, and quite another to see a physical model. Until next time!


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