Towers

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Tower

Given certain parameters of length, width, height, and material, each team is to design, build and test the lightest tower to carry a maximum standard load.

  • The first issue of tower building is the wood selection. BalsaWood is the best, followed by bass. I recommend an all balsa wood tower, but it may be pretty tricky to handle. To use any type of wood, you need an extremely sharp knife for every cut, so as to cut the wood and not smash the wood fibers (A blade will have a lot of life left after you change it for tower building, and one way to save costs is to save the blades and use them later for other projects, etc.). Smashing the wood fibers damages the integrity of the wood and hurts your score.
(Different opinion) Personally I believe that heavy bass wood should be used first when you are trying to understand the dynamics of the structure. Once you have a working design using bass wood, you can then cut off weight by using smaller sizes or balsa. Using Balsa personally makes it more difficult if it is your first time.
  • The next step is design. A four legged tower is easier to build but may not be as efficient. A 3 legged tower is extremely difficult to build, as the angles aren't nice and neat. Furthermore, a bracing strip needs to be angled 2 ways, whereas in a 4 legged design it's only 1. Also, don't forget about laminating wood together, many good towers have been built by laminating very small wood together for the legs.
  • After you've decided on the number of legs, the bracing is the part that towers are won and lost by. It depends on the type of leg design you use, but generally balsa wood legs of dimensions 3/16x1/8cm need to be braced every 5 or 6cm all
    Bahtowers2.JPG
    the way up (by the way, a solid wood square is not the best way to go for legs). Also, with the bracing, equality is of high importance. If you brace at 5cm and then the next space is 8cm, you're testing the 8cm space. It would be better to brace at 6.5 and 6.5 in this example.
  • Other then this, the only advice I can give you is test, test, and test some more. The more you build, the better your chances of getting a good design, and the better you get at building. analyze your failed structures, knowing which member broke first (you can tell by the type of break, sheer, torque (twisting),or bending) this will tell you what piece of wood needs to be more dense, or larger in cross section. It is very good to understand how the stresses are flowing in your tower. Over time, time spent on building individual towers will decrease, while the quality will increase. Also, never test towers over the maximum weight that the rules say. If it holds, set it aside and see where you can cut back. If you fail, then you still have a backup.


Step 1: Get the Following materials

  • - Easy Cutter by Midwest (Easy, fast, and clean cuts, even angled) ~$15-$20 on ebay.
Personally, I believe a pack of blades from Rite Aid or Savons is useful too.
  • - 1/8 and 1/16 BalsaWood. (Make sure the 1/16 isn't too flimsy and cheap)
  • - Zap-A-Gap glue (reasonably strong, and fast curing)


Step 2: Design

So how should you build your tower? Well the best way is to really create a full scale blueprint on graph paper. First of all you should think of a more general, design and draw it out, here was my basic design for 2006.

Tower 4285.jpg

Once you have that you should continue on and draw it out on graph paper. It makes it a lot easier if you create a "jig" of your blueprint, in other words use pieces of scrap wood to create a template shown below:

(picture to come)

The jig makes it possible for concise construction of the tower, insuring it will not be slanted.

Step 3: Construction

Construction is rather easy with an easy cutter and plans with measurements. All you have to do now is to cut all the pieces out that you have measured, although this can take up hours if you have never done it before. Remember to cut out 4x the amount of wood on the blueprint, since this is a 3d tower.


  • I believe the most important thing about Tower Building is the straightness of it. If balance is off and the weight is not distributed equally it will fail when using lighter smaller wood.

Tips and Tricks

  • - Make base 16 cm across (don't make it 20cm!! if you turn the base, the 16cm should just touch the outside of the square opening)
  • - Cut a little bit more than you need so that you don't cut too small and waste the wood.
  • - Make sure you apply only as much glue as you need. You do not want to add too much glue because it will overall increase the mass of the tower and it will not significantly help it.

Useful Threads

From 2006:

From 2005:

From 2004: