Edinburgh family builds intricate 3D Pentland Hills map from Scottish ash wood

By Jacob Farr

A woodworking family from Balerno have produced an exceptional 3D map of the Pentland Hills and the surrounding area using Scottish hardwood.

Ben Alderson, 38, graduated from Edinburgh university five years ago with a mechanical engineer degree and currently works as a design engineer in Livingston.

But the former student also runs a woodworking business - Caledonian Woodcraft - that he runs with his wife Tracy, 39, and two kids Jaiden, 16, and Isaac, 8, who help out when they can.

And Ben, along with wife Tracy and their handy helpers, have created a masterpiece that encompasses a region from West Linton in the south up to the City Bypass at Swanston in the north to the western edge running along the side of the Pentland HIlls Regional Park and the easter edge going out as far as Rosewell and Leadburn.

All in all the project took over five years to create when the research, 3D modelling and construction was accounted for.

On his work of art, Ben said: “I've always been fascinated by the tactile nature of geography. We can see, feel, taste and smell the world around us and a printed map just doesn't do that justice.

“When I was growing up I remember my mum taking us into Town and we'd always end up playing with the sculpture of Edinburgh on The Mound. I'd sneak toy cars in my pockets to drive around it, my mum would have to literally drag me away from it. I was fascinated by seeing how all the streets and bridges linked up. Seeing it from above, and being able to trace with your finger the route you've just walked, it really lets you appreciate on a human scale how it all works together.

“I've been walking in the Pentlands for as long as I can remember and I've been planning to carve a 3D model of the hills for about five years now, most of that time being on research. I started working on this piece on and off around January this year and finished it in September.

“The first step in this process was to create a 3D model of the Pentland Hills. To create the initial model I used some software created by Chris Harding at Iowa State University. The software takes radar height measurements from a satellite (the Japanese ALOS-2 project (Advanced Land Observing Satellite)) and turns them into a 3D model. I then spent about six months working on the model to clean it up and fix any issues.

“This was a very slow process as the 3D model file was humongous and it made my PC cry a lot. The model covers a region from around West Linton in the south up to the City Bypass at Swanston in the North. The Western edge runs along the edge of the Pentland HIlls Regional Park, and the easter edge goes out as far as Rosewell and Leadburn.

“I knew that the carving had to be made on Scottish hardwood, so I went over to the brilliant folk at Central Scotland Sawmill at Winchburgh to see what they had available. Straight away a lovely piece of Ash grabbed my attention as it had a beautiful smooth grain and I thought the darker heartwood on one half of it would be perfect to contrast the "hills" and 'valley' side of the carving.

“Then I had to match up the model to the wood, make sure the sizes agree and that the river would be in the right place etc. Once everything was ready I took the wood to my CNC machine to begin the carving. This is a computer controlled process that allows me to create incredibly detailed and accurate pieces. Generally the finished result is within 0.01mm of where the 3D model says it should be. Normally this sort of tech is used in precision engineering and manufacturing. I own this machine and use it for my woodcraft business so it's great being able to use it for a purely artistic endeavour for once.

“The carving happens in a number of stages, using progressively smaller carving bits to add in more and more detail. The finest details are added with a bit with a diameter of just 0.25mm. The total machining time was well over 30 hours and this is not including a breakdown that paused play for a week while I waited for replacement parts from Germany.

“After machining there was a long sanding, staining and finishing process. I experimented with a number of wood stains to add contrast, and the final polish was added with our own beeswax based Wood Butter that we manufacture ourselves for use on chopping boards and foodware.

“The actual making took around 50 hours in total, but the planning and designing started months if not years ago. It's about 450mm Long by 200mm wide and the highest point -Scald Law - is about 36mm thick.

“I plan to keep this one - it's not perfect but it represents a very long journey for me in my workshop.

“But I am planning to make another one using a different wood, hopefully some local Beech if I can get my hands on some. I plan to create a new, higher resolution model and fix a couple of issues with the machining too. It's hard finding the time to fit it in around 'real' work though.

“Although I'd love to donate it and see it displayed at the Harlaw Visitor Centre one day.”

You can visit the unique family business, who also create personalised signs and bespoke woodcraft items out of Scottish wood, through their websites.

Links to their FB and website are below: https://www.facebook.com/CaledonianWoodcraft/

https://www.caledonian woodcraft.com/


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