How To Design and Build a Model Bridge

If you're curious about how to design and build a model bridge, odds are you're a parent with an old-school kid, or an adult who is young at heart. Either way, it takes some planning and some doing, and you don't want to spend all that time putting something together that's just going to crumble-or look lousy to begin with. Here are some steps to bridge the gap between confusion and completion.

The Design
As is the case with building an actual bridge, it is highly, highly imperative that you sketch out some plans or blueprints of the structure before you try building it. The most important part of a model bridge is the load point. This is where you should center your entire plan. Another important part is picking out what kind of truss you plan on using-or, the layout for the "cables." The three main options are: Howe-wherein the cables face outward from top to bottom from the center to each side; Pratt-wherein the cables face inward from top to bottom from the center to each side; or Warren-wherein the cables merely alternate from one post to the next, making triangular formations across the bridge. Once you've done this, use some graph paper to draw your bridge 100% to scale, deciding how big each part will be.

The Materials
If you want to keep it simple, you can go with toothpicks or popsicle sticks. Balsa isn't a great choice for beginners, as its density can vary from piece to piece, causing poor balance. Next up is glue. When it comes time to build, there are a couple of tools that are of great help: a miniature saw and an Exacto knife, as they can make clean, precise cuts.

Putting it Together
Using your sharp tool, cut out each piece you will be using for one side of the bridge, using your drawing to make sure every piece is the correct side. Take all the pieces off the drawing, and tape down the top and bottom chords, taping in-between where the other pieces are supposed to go. Next, glue all the remaining pieces to the truss. Once both sides are dry, tape both sides of the bridge within set, parallel parameters to make sure they are even. Then, connect the two by gluing on a lateral bracing. Un-tape the bridge, and carefully flip the bridge over. These are the basics for building a model bridge. 

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