And eventually stumbled across these great designs from breakfastsandwich on Thingiverse.
Amongst his awesome laser-cut Star Wars space ships are an X-Wing and a Tie Fighter. And better still, there's even a little Lego character inside the X-Wing! Perfect.
Except it wasn't quite - the designs are for 3mm thick material and the overall size of the finished spaceship is, frankly, massive (at least, for little five-year-old hands to play with). It looks great - the burnt edges and visible tabs and panels only adding to the "battle damaged, patched up" look. But it's just too big.
So we took the original designs, made some tiny tweaks here and there, and recreated his design in 2mm mdf. This immediately had the effect of re-scaling the entire spaceship to just two-thirds 66% of it's original size. At least it was more manageable for little hands.
The plans for this X-Wing are really, really nice. They're packed full of little tiny features (the way the undercarriage goes together is particularly clever). Everything lines up perfectly and the finished shapes are quite far removed from the usual blocky, square-edged appearance you often get with laser cut models.
We used PVA glue to put our test piece together - we figured it would allow time to re-position pieces should they need it - but the design is so well thought out and the instructions so clear and easy-to-follow, we could have put it together much more quickly with Superglue (no long delays waiting for joints to dry in between each section going together).
And, being re-scaled, the entire thing fits on just two A4 sheets of 2mm mdf. But given the number of parts and how small and fiddly they are, even just getting them out of the laser cutter proved tricky. We found the best way was to cover the sheets in masking tape before lifting them out - which ensured even the smallest little bits got lifted out and nothing got left behind (to end up inside the shop-vac hoover!)
The best bit? At 2mm, the rods and lengths of tube for guns and so on are a smaller diameter than in the original plans. But it turns out that lollipop sticks are the perfect size. And we needed at least eight of them. That was four lollies each!
Making sure the wings meshed properly took a bit of working out. But once they were in place, the wings opened and closed quite satisfactorily!
Even at 2mm, there was still room inside the cockpit for our Lego Luke. It was a bit of a squeeze (and there's no way the original cockpit cover would fit) but the character did fit inside the cockpit area.
So we decided to keep pretty much the entire design as per the original, and just devise some kind of new cockpit window to keep Luke in his seat.
A quick spray with some cheap white car paint (Poundland's slightly translucent, nasty cheap water-y white was perfect, as it allowed some of the darker, grimier areas to show through) and we were ready to put on the final stickers.
From the original laser cut plans we made a sticker sheet using our Craft Robo vinyl cutter
(the original stickers were designed and dry-fitted before the model was complete and spray painted but even at this early stage we decided they didn't quite look right)
(the subtle gradients and different levels of grey were removed and everything replaced with harsh, solid block colours, black lines on white and so on)
The end result was a pattern that looked a bit more "cartoon-y" but actually fitted in with the Lego characters much better than the original pattern designs.
Now if only there was somewhere we could conceal a small lipo battery and a charging circuit, we could cover the thing with tiny LEDs and maybe even add in a sound module......