Another Design Exercise: 1/2″ = 1′-0″ Scale Model Furniture

Earlier I wrote of one of the major components of a course that I teach at Simpson College when I related information about the CADD training that students at Theatre Simpson get through the Design and Technical Theatre courses in the department’s curriculum.  Another major section of the THTR 223: Techniques for Set and Costume Designers course is the construction of scale models.

For many years, the gold standard as a method for designers to communicate scenery and architecture to their constituencies has been the creation of the physical scale model.  In fact, there is an entire sub-industry within scene design of set designers who specialize in creating models for other designers.  USA (United Scenic Artist) contracts often include a separate fee for the creation of a scale model and for the employment of a model builder.

While the physical model may one day cease to be the standard with the advent and eventual adoption of 3-D CADD, it is still in a designer’s best interest to develop skills in the creation of scale models. Model construction breaks down into several main techniques:  Stick-building, Scoring & Folding, Layering, Sculpting and using Found Objects,  No one way is the only or preferred method.  In fact, all methods are relevant, and any given project may employ more than one method.

Model-building can require a number of specialized tools, a variety of materials and a great deal of patience.  I try to mitigate some of these challenges (thought the students still must provide a quantity of patience) by creating a 1/2″ = 1′-0″ scale model of the Arts-& Crafts Stickley style chair that they are familiar with from the CADD excercises earlier in the course.


Students are provided with a sheet of tag-board with an adapted version of the drawing of the chair pre-printed on in and with the following detailed instructions:

Create the legs:

  • Create by laminating layers of card stock, tag board, Bristol board or chip board together and cutting it to scale width with X-acto knife (note that 2 thicknesses of chip board & a layer of card-stock or tag board will approximate the correct thickness)
  • Cut 4 lengths using drawing from sheet as template

Create the Side and Back Panels :

  • Carefully cut out all 6 panels.
  • Cut out the open areas in the centers.
  • Spray spray 77 on the BACK of 3 of the panels
  • Glue to blank piece of card stock, tag board, or Bristol Board
  • Trim the blank card stock to the edges of the pre-cut panel
  • Spray spray 77 on the BACK of the remaining 3 panels
  • CAREFULLY position on the BACK of the first laminated panels making sure to orient the panels the same way.

Cut out Front

  • Spray cement the template to a piece of chip-board to approximate 1″ in scale (about 1/16″ in real-world thickness)
  • Trim around the template, cutting the laminated result to size

Cut out Brackets

  • Spray cement the 6 bracket templates from the worksheet to another thickness of card-stock. (this will be a little thin in scale, but you don’t want these details to get to clunky).
  • Trim to the template outline(s).
  • Careful not to lose them, they are small.

Cut out Arms

  • Cut out arms from 1/16th inch thick stock (the template cardstock spray-cemented to a thickness of chip-board)
  • Use the outline(s) from the worksheet to cut the piece to shape

Create Cushions

  • Cut out cushions from 1/4 inch or thinner foam core or chip board laminated to just shy of 1/4″ thickness
  • Use the outline(s) from the worksheet as template
  • Trim or sand over all sharp corners to form 1″ scale fillet
  • Use filler (joint compound, spackle, water putty, or similar) to fill seams or foam-core edges if needed.
  • Sand & texture & paint


  • Assemble the “wood” portions, then paint. Add pre-painted cushions.
  • Place arms upside down on table and assemble upside down so that gravity helps line up and hold joints together while drying.
  • Use craft glue to edge-glue sides & back to bottom of arms and to legs
  • Use small amount of tape to hold while gluing
  • Position front and glue in place (not that it is glued 6″ in scale from the bottom of legs.  Create a jig or use tape to hold carefully in position while glue cures.
  • Use thin coat of cyanoacrylate (super) glue to give the chair a stiffness and firmness that will make it more durable and hold up to paint. Make sure to do this step in the Loading Dock! the fumes will be obnoxious and potentially dangerous in the enclosed space of BPAC 102.
  • Sand with very fine sandpaper (400 grit) , then paint.

Students have the opportunity to work in-class on the project for about an hour-and-a-half or less.  This gives them the opportunity to ask questions or ask for individualized instruction and demonstration of the techniques that they need to learn and employ.  The exercise probably takes up to 3 or more hours for most students, so they must schedule out-of-class time to use the Design Lab and the equipment that it contains (or to work on the exercise on their own at home with their own tools).

The finished model is a handsome piece of scale furniture in the style of a Stickly-designed Arts & Crafts armchair.

1/2" = 1'-0" Scale Stickley-Style Arts & Crafts Chair

1/2″ = 1′-0″ Scale Stickley-Style Arts & Crafts Chair

Meanwhile, that’s enough for now! Have fun!  But be safe!



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