Shipping Containers the Hard Way

I’m building some ISO/conex/shipping containers for 28mm gaming stuff, and instead of following the several fine tutorials for scratchbuilding your own or using readily available 3d models or just buying one, I’m making these myself.

Step 1: Obsess About Scale

Following several moderately successful experiments with toy cars, I’ve settled on 1:55 as a good scale to cover the variety of tabletop miniatures I have. A standard 20′ ISO container is, well, 20 feet long x 8′ wide x 8’6″ tall. There’s some dodgy math going on here, but since I’m making this model in Blender it comes out to 110 x 44 x 47 blender units. That’s just a smidge smaller than the scratchbuilt crafting tutorials suggest (they go for 5″ long x 2.5″).

Step 2: So Many Ribs

In Blender, I basically take a cube and subdivide it a lot, then extrude the resulting faces to create the signature corrugation common to these containers. Here’s the vital trick: I’m modeling the ends of the container separately, so I can use an Array modifier to easily double the size of my container.

Step 3: Divide the Sides

Now that the container’s modeled, the easiest way is to print the box is one side at a time. It’ll be self-supporting on my FDM printer’s bed if I do it this way, and I can just glue the sides together afterwards.

Step 4: Regret

I forgot my print bed is only 4″x4″. The long ends of the container don’t quite fit. Instead of printing each side, I’m going to print multiple cross-sections of the container’s body up from the print bed. The good news is that with this strategy, I could make any length of container I need. The downside is time. Printing in the Z axis always takes longer than X and Y movements.

9 hours later

Step 5: Assembly and Priming

From here, it’s just gluing the parts together and giving it some spray paint. I’m going to try some nasty brown color so later in the process I can weather the acrylic topcoat down to appear realistically rusted.

Step 6: Painting (and More Regret)

My kids spilled the light blue acrylic craft paint I was eyeing for this container (because of course they did), so I tried to mix my own light blue using these Liquitex paints we used earlier this year for paint pouring. While it’s probably possible for someone to mix these correctly for model application, I’m not that someone and it came out alternately streaky and watery or gunked up the details. I’m treating this step as a second primer/first basecoat and will return once I’ve bought some cheapo craft paint I’m more familiar with.

I printed and cut out just the right logo to use as a stencil so I could make the whole “container” thing into a joke.

It’s a Docker container.

Step 7: Weathering

Using a wet q-tip, I rubbed off the acrylic paint in some spots to reveal the rusty-colored spray paint beneath. A little bit of wash to add some grime and I’ve got a respectable beat-up shipping container.

Was It Worth It?

This one time, it was absolutely worth it. I learned a lot, but the most important thing I learned is that I don’t need a bunch of shipping containers. I’m not even sure why I made this one – I haven’t played wargames in decades and I’m not gaming in person right now. I think that sometimes you just need to do some arts and crafts for the sake of arts and crafts.

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