Make Your Own Mountain: DIY ‘3D Printed’ Mt Rainier

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A college senior’s 3D rendering of the Cascade’s tallest mountain marries cutting-edge tech with preschool arts and crafts. The to-scale mini-monument cost less than $10 to make.

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In just two days, Ben Parnas’s Imgur post (titled “Mt. Rainier Topo Map”) garnered nearly 100,000 views. People were intrigued by the photos, which reveal a process that yielded a near-perfect scale model of Mt. Rainier.

It’s made of craft foam, plywood, and glue. “The vertical scale is very accurate, 500.51 feet per layer,” Parnas told GearJunkie. “The horizontal accuracy for this version is not perfect, however it’s not hard to make it accurate.”

Laser cutter in action
Laser cutter in action

Compared to the stunning and meticulous professional topographical carvings from manufacturers like Precision Peaks, Parnas’s pet project might look amateur. But the ease with which he made it — and the accuracy of the end product — should pique the interest of collectors and tinkerers alike.

The layered-foam model required only cheap materials. Parnas spent $7 total, and he used some easily accessible technology.

Laser-Cut ‘Topo Lines’

A senior at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Parnas had free access to the school’s “makerspace,” The Construct, where he used design software to laser-cut the foam layers.

Maker spaces, which are workshops with expensive, precision technology available for member use, dot the U.S.  For the mountain project, Parnas relied on a free user-generated library that gave a vector file of Rainier.

He input this file to the laser cutter, which sliced the layers of the mountain to be glued. (For reference, Parnas used programs including Thingiverse and 123d Design.)

“It’s a fun experience,” he said, “You learn a bunch, and you come out with the feeling of having really accomplished something – kind of like hiking a tall mountain.”

Layers in a line, cut and ready to stack and glue
Layers in a line, cut and ready to stack and glue

Parnas’s mini-mountain stands 2 inches tall and 8 x 8 inches at its base. His next project will be larger and more substantial, he said.

“A larger scale version of, say, the Presidential Range that I can hang in my living room would be very cool,” he said.

His next models will be made entirely of wood and will capture the topography of iconic landscapes like the White Mountains, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon.

3d rainier plaque
Finished sculpture of Mt Rainier

“I certainly wasn’t expecting the attention that this project would get, so I’m considering making more of them,” he said. “Thinking about different sizes and shapes as well.”

He may offer future creations for sale. But, most importantly, Parnas hopes his project will inspire others to flex their crafty side and experiment with the art of “making stuff,” be it a mountain or anything else

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By
Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.