So, I picked a very heavy craft to follow. Pottery isn’t exactly light, and I tend to get extra fancy with my displays. For about 10 years I was a face painter at various conventions, birthday parties and what have you, sadly, that did a lot of damage to my back. When you’re in your early 20s, you tend to not fuss yourself with “old people” problems like taking care of your back.
Come Fall of 2022, my second-to-last show of the year, I put my back out lifting boxes of pottery and equipment into my car, and hauling it to the show site. The phrase “I’m too old for this” has never repeated itself over and over so many times in one head.
I needed a way to showcase and move pottery to shows that didn’t murder my body.
Let’s Do This.
Ever since I first saw Andrea Denniston’s Teardrop Build, I became enamored with the idea. Stash everything inside? Hell yes. Trailer becomes display? More hell yes. Similarly, I loved Diana Kersey’s “Foamie” display trailer after seeing it at Texas Clay Festival. No tables to haul, no shelves to assemble, just stow and go. It’s like an infomercial.
Planning commenced, with minimal self-imposed stipulations:
- trailer must be able to fit inside buildings that have double doors or cargo entrances
- trailer must be light enough for me to manipulate/move
- trailer must be able to display 95% of my work
- trailer must be light enough for me to manipulate/move
The venture into Trailer Land began with installing a tow bar onto the Subaru. The resources at E-Trailer.com are great, they have clear instructional videos that allow you to not pay $200+ at U-Haul to have them install a tow bar as was recommended by far too many people.
Use that $200 towards a Harbor Freight trailer frame. I picked me up one of these bad boys for a little over $400. Buying new, it was the cheapest. Had I shopped around, I might’ve been able to pick up a good second-hand trailer for a reasonable price. My reasoning was that building it would give me a better understanding of how the thing worked. Plus building stuff is fun.
I wasn’t especially sure how well me and the trailer would get along, so it went on a “test trip” to an event in Austin with all my equipment, sans pottery, strapped to the back. The only thing I added was a 3/4″ plywood floor.
Strapped on were my three display tables, tent, box with tent roof/walls, and box with display shelves. (Shelves flat pack.)
At this point, I was too nervous about the leaf spring shocks providing any protection to my pottery, so it traveled in the car.
The inaugural voyage got me used to pulling a trailer of stuff, how it moved, and the fact that I cannot for the life of me reverse the car and get the trailer to reverse.
Wood is Expensive
It WOOD (haha) have been great to be able to find lots of salvage and build with it. But I live in a post-apocalyptic suburbia where people charge a premium for garbage fence pickets on NextDoor. Fortunately, I had plenty of my own scrap, PLUS a retired bed platform I had constructed about a decade earlier. This isn’t to say I didn’t plunk down a chunk of change on new wood and needed hardware; you can only dig so much out of your personal woodpile.
No, I did not follow any specific building guidelines. I eyeball a dangerous amount of measurements, though in general rulers and cuts weren’t too wonky.
Let’s 3D Print
At this point, the majority of the construction was done. Originally, I had planned to put shelves on hinges that latched up, so I could pull up to an event, unlatch the shelves, and boom. Put up pottery. However, after a test run, I was concerned about the amount of rattling and jiggling outside shelves would take.
I took the base on a test run throughout the neighborhood, doing my best to emulate MarioKart. Topped it off with some donuts in a school parking lot, and I was satisfied that the house wouldn’t tip, and had no tendency to lean one way or the other.
I decided to go with French cleats for hanging my shelves. That way I could add more, put up less, and not worry about them becoming damaged while in transit.
French cleats are pretty reliable as far as holding weight, but mine were kinda skinny, so I added tabs to prevent horizontal motion from happening. Unless someone trips and falls into the house, it ain’t goin’ no where. The brackets pop off for transit and ride inside the house with the shelves, all is well. Each bracket took around five hours, I printed two at a time, each side had eight brackets. My calculator tells me that’s roughly 240 hours of print time. That comes out to…TEN DAYS to print the brackets. Man. My Prusa needs a vacation.
At this point, the Texas weather was unseasonably warm for days at a time. This means it’s time to start slappin’ down paint!
UGH I forget how much painting solid colors sucks. This step not only involved painting, but also patching, caulking, sanding, etc. The WOOOOOOOOORST. You only THINK you bought a decent piece of plywood until you have to paint that sucker. Then you decide your next project will be to go back in time and hit yourself with a bag of cement for picking the world’s lumpiest, bumpiest, most uneven sheet of wood known to mankind.
Painting Sucks Let’s 3D Print Again
I wanted shingles for the roof. I looked. And looked. For some crazy reason, people only want to sell you enough shingles to get started covering an entire regular-sized house. People building 4′ x 4′ homes need shingles too, people! After more dead-ends than I would’ve liked, I printed out a test leaf-shaped shingle.
Test leaf came out perfectly. I liked the shape, I liked the look, and it had the unanticipated benefit of being able to be shaped by heating it with a heat gun. I guess we’re doing this. Rough calculations say we’ll need…SEVENTY TWO LEAVES to cover the roof. Time for a trip to Microcenter, I guess.
Each leaf took two hours to print, not counting the time spent manually changing filament colors. (I even cobbled together some gcode to make it spit the filament back out at the end of a print to save me that step.) You get out your own calculator to figure out how long the print time was for the leaves because SIX DAYS OF PRINTING GOOD GOD
I really need to do some printer maintenance.
Next is fun painting. Still laborious, but fun. Barring cold days, it probably took around two weeks to get all the painting done. I opted to go with regular ol’ craft store acrylic paint as A) the trailer would not be sitting in the sun for months at a time causing fading and B) the entire trailer would be getting a clear coat of polyurethane.
Because the weather was warm/cold/warm/cold, I spent some time doing a bit of 3D printing during the cold. First up, a nice plaque to go over/in the sun on the back of the house.
Have you ever struggled with cutting angles beyond 45° with wood? I have a miter saw and a desire to keep all my fingers, so I couldn’t figure out how to safely cut wood slats for the gables of my little house. 3D printing and a protractor to the rescue! I measured, printed, and got close enough to say “Eh, I’ll fill it in with caulk.” Tada, fake gable supports.
Back to painting! I like my faeries to have transparent wings, so I did a little airbrushing and cut some wing stencils in order to spray on some color-shift paint for wings. Violá! In the meanwhile, I started to add some black to the roof and trim.
Time for…a freeway test run. I’m a member of a makerspace in Richardson, TheLab.ms. Folks on our Discord channel kept asking me how it did on the freeway. My builder sister asked me how it did on the freeway. My experienced father asked me how it did on the freeway.
Uh, I suppose I need to take it out on the freeway.
Opting for a Sunday evening drive, I tooled my not-quite-finished trailer out to TheLab and lo, I arrived safely. Much trailer building discussion was had, and I made it back home in one piece. Huzzah.
Back to painting!
Oh. I guess that was a short rest of photos documenting painting.
Shelves! Cleats! Vinyl!
Painting, DONE. Time to add on the cleats and hang the brackets and place the shelves!
The bottom shelves were a bit of a concern; I wanted them to cover up the wheel wells, and “frame” the house. However, they’re right at knee height, and if someone were to bump them a bit, they might tip. The brackets weren’t enough for how wide I wanted them. Simple solution? I drilled a hole and put a clevis pin through the shelf and wheel well. Shelf isn’t tipping nor is it sliding, and the pin is super fast to install.
I was a bit concerned with visibility at night despite looking like the Studebaker from the Muppet Movie, so I managed to locate some reflective vinyl online. Five minutes on the Cricut later, I had a jumble of lettering to adhere to the house.
Not all the vinyl is reflective, just the giant-ass website so people know who to complain to when I cut them off.
I admit I was waffling on the leaf shingles up until two days before I had to leave for a show in Austin. Would they hold up under three-ish hours of sustained 75mph winds? Did I want to test that? I had screwed three leaves for my test drive to the makerspace, but not an entire roof full.
Screw it, I’ll put ’em all on.
Using the heat gun to bend the leaves brought an unexpected benefit; it basically fused some of them together, thus eliminating potential flapping in the wind. I lost a few leaves, but way less than expected. Fortunately, it was not noticeable at the show.
Time to play trailer Tetris! Load ’em up! Pack it up! Cram it in! Pottery this time rode in the trailer, tightly packed in with packing foam. Everything else was strapped down with either bungees or straps inside.
The top of the car had to hold the tent. It’s just too long to fit into the house! Likewise, I was concerned about my larger ceramic faerie houses being banged around too much. They’re not packed especially tight, and I felt better with them in the back of the car.
Overall, I’m absolutely pleased and satisfied with this build. It was challenging, used a variety of my skills, and was extremely eye-catching in its final form as a display piece.
Will there be future improvements/additions? Absolutely. But my major goal was to create a transport and display that wouldn’t kill my poor back at the end of the day. I’d say I nailed it.
Addendum: 72 leaves were not enough, nor were 90. I suspect I’ll have to update later with exactly how many leaves create a satisfactory roof.