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MAKE pal Gavin Harper sent us this great article on how to build your own “Skylon” – “For the Second Sustainable Science Symposium at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth in Wales, we wanted to create a landmark structure in a couple of days made from recycled, environmentally responsible materials.

The source of our inspiration was the original Skylon which was erected for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Originally called the “vertical feature” a less than inspiring title, the new name Skylon was devised by Mrs A G S Fidler.Dsc00904
The Makers

To this end, Nick Swallow, pictured left and myself pictured right set about building a Skylon.
If you want to have a look at some pictures of the original Skylon, follow these links:
http://www.buildingcentretrust.org/xplorer/May2002_pics/skylon_51.jpg
http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/photography/images/photograph/large/im00316.jpg
http://www.hilarymaryjackson.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/Images/Festival%20of%20Britain%20Skylon.jpg

In the original, the base was 40 feet from the ground, and the entire structure rose 30o feet into the air. An impressive feat. Due to the amount of pallets available, ours was somewhat more modest, hovering about 4 feet off the ground originally, settling to around 3 feet later than week once the supports had “bedded in” to the ground.

In the spirit of bureaucracy, red tape and health and safety legislation, following in the footsteps of the original Skylon, (where parliamentary questions were asked about the danger to onlookers from lightning-strikes to the Skylon – later being roped off to the public), our dynamic structure was also The fear being that an intrepid teenager with a pocket knife might cut one of the twines.

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Conceptual Design on the Floor

Firstly on to the wooden supports. We decided to use some pieces of pallet that already had spacing blocks. The lengths of wood were 6 foot long, with three inch packing in between. To make the lengths as strong as possible in compression, we removed the packing from the ends. Notched the pieces of wood as shown below.

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Notching the Wooden Supports For the Baling Twine

The compressed the ends in a vice and bound them with baling twine.

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Notched Supports under Compression

As most of our structure was made from old pallets, Tariq Abdulla, a friend of ours duly obliged to pull nails out of our massive stack of pallets – to him we are truly grateful.

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Tariq Pulling Nails Out of Wood (With a Somewhat Demonic Smile)

The largest pallets were eight foot in length. We decided that 16 foot would be a nice length for our Skylon, so we screwed two lengths of pallet wood end to end, with a third length screwed across both lengths of wood to provide reinforcement in the centre where our Skylon would bulge out.

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Screwing the Reinforcement to join the Planks

Our planks were four inches in width, so we cut a block of 4×4 to anchor our strips at either end.

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Cutting some 4×4 for the End Piece

This shows the first plank waiting to be mailed into place.

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The End Piece Waiting to be Nailed Into Place

Once we had anchored two plansks at each end, we experimented to find out how much we could bend our pieces of wood without them breaking. Experimentation yielded a central piece of wood with a length of about a foot. This was inserted and then anchored with screws.

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Inserting the Middle Cross Member

Once this was finished, we took a couple of other crosses of wood, and anchored them at intermediate steps either side of the centre to provide additional mechanical support.

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Inserting the Cross Members

We then attached the remaining two strips of wood. The photo below shows the cigar shaped tower awaiting the final plank.

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Awaiting the Final Plank

One the main vertical structure was finished, we took it outside for a test run. To erect it we debated whether to use an A-frame, but in the end, Tariq footed the bottom whilst Nick and I worked our way from one end gradually raising it to the vertical.

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Tariq and Nick holding the structure upright as a test

Unfortunately the clouds and an overcast sky threatened to spoil the party.

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Clouds Threaten To Spoil The Party as the Skylon is Silhouetted Against an Overcast Sky

Our Skylon differed from the original in that we employed four support posts for ease rather than the originals three.

We needed a way to anchor our cable stays and ropes into the ground. Traditional craft skills came into play here, using a spoke shave and some Hazel sticks, we sharpened them to a point. These were later banged into the ground with a sledgehammer.

One the stakes were banged into the ground, we attached lengths of baling twine. One we had run the twine, we attached it to the bottom of the Skylon using horseshoe nails. A free length of chord was attached to the op end of the Skylon also with horshoe nails. After lifting the Skylon into place on its cable base, we anchored the free cables to nearby objects to ensure that it did not come crashing to the ground.

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Hazel Stakes Anchored The Cable Stays

The cables in tension and support posts in compression provide truly prodigious strength. So much so that our cable stays were able to support Nick lounging supported only by two lengths of baling twine.

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Nick Lounging Recumbently Demonstrates the Strength of the Structure

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Nick Playing the Fool

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The Finished Skylon

The Second Sustainable Science Symposium was a fantastic success. Next year we will be holding another symposium and we need YOUR help. We are looking for MAKERS from all over the world to bring their gadgets and devices and demonstrate some aspect of renewable energy, sustainability or recycling. This can be anything from solar powered laptops to pedal bicycle smoothie makers. Free tickets are up for grabs for all MAKE: readers that bring along relevant gadgetry.
If you are interested in attending, please contact [email protected] including “Third Sustainable Science Symposium” in the subject field.

About the Author Gavin Harper is author of 50 Model Rocket Projects for the Evil Genius…

and Solar Energy Projects for the Evil Genius from Mc Graw Hill.