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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Nap Time"

The goal of this week's project was to use metal rods, sheet metal, and plate metal to echo the form of something organic. We could use plants, animals, insects, microbes, or even natural phenomena for inspiration.

As usual I like to inject a little bit of fun into my projects whenever possible and this time around I was in the mood for a little dark humor. The idea of a snake-eating-a rat came to mind. Nothing against rodents of course; I strongly prefer them over snakes, but I wanted to create a typical scene out of Nature.  We all know what happens when a snake eats a large meal; the snake becomes very lethargic and will rest or sleep for a long period of time as it digests its kill. This is where the title for my piece "Nap Time" came from. Also, creating this scene would allow me an opportunity to experiment more with hot bending techniques, and to attempt a ship-in-the-bottle type illusion which has always fascinated me.

The snake body was formed by hot-bending 3/8" metal rods into coils. The rods came in 48" lengths, and were welded together end-to-end as needed. It may not look like it but the snake body used up about 14 feet of rod. This took much longer than I had anticipated and was quite physically demanding to manually bend a total of 18 coils. Although super heated metal can be quite pliable, I could only bend an inch or so at a time, to gradually form the concentric circles.

Nails were bent and welded in place to create fangs. The tail was made with two pieces of hand-cut brass, and then struck with a ball peen hammer to create a scale-like texture. This part was fun in that I got to finally put to use a tiny anvil that I have here in my home studio. The tail is attached to the body with a spring. There is a hollow space inside the tail that holds four BBs which will rattle briefly when the tail is flicked with a finger. Thus my piece becomes "interactive".

The eyes of the snake were not the best choice according to my class and instructor critique. The "language" established by the steel and plate is interrupted by the plastic of the eyes. I can remedy this by substituting something such as small metallic discs or using nuts for the eyes.

The rat is hand-cut from light sheet metal, and it's texture was created using a wire brush attachment on a power tool called an Angle Grinder. The rat's eyes are copper BBs (the same kind that were placed inside the snake's rattle), the tail is a brass rod, and the legs are heavy wire with small magnets for the feet. Here's the ship-in-the-bottle part of all this; the rat went in last, after the snake was assembled and painted. It is not as easy as it may look.

The rat body with tail was inserted first, and then the legs and feet were attached while inside the snake. This procedure took the better part of an hour to complete, and the whole time I was trying not to scratch the painted surfaces or warp the rat body. I found a version of Super-Glue that will bond metal together rather nicely and I used that to attach the magnetic feet. Why magnetic feet? I liked the look of the magnets and it allows for re-positioning of the rat if and when needed.

Here I am in my welding gear.

To balance out the macho, robotic look..I added a "Hello Kitty"sticker on the side of my helmet.

The next post will be on Wednesday May 7th.
See you then.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Two for the Price of One

This week we look at two recent projects from my Sculptural Processes class in which we spent the first half of the semester working in the wood shop and the second half working in the metal shop.  I’ve used  all the basic wood working machine tools before but never to the extent that they are used in this class.  As far as metal shop goes I’ve only done some very basic spot welding which took place many years ago.

Wood Shop “Towers” project.  Working in pairs each team was provided two 8 ft. x 2”x4” pine boards. The goal was to create a tower (something that is taller than its base is wide) that uses all of the main power and machine tools in the shop. The design categories were to build; the tallest, the strongest or most aesthetically pleasing. Initially it didn’t look like I would have a partner because on the day we were assigned the project we had students who were absent, which gave us an odd number of people.  Instead of waiting (and wasting an entire three hour class period) until the following week to see if I would have a partner, I went ahead and designed a tower for myself.

The next week I was assigned a partner, and in order to save some time we went ahead and used my design but the actual work of constructing the tower was evenly split. We had to use the provided boards but they could not look like standard 2x4s. They had to be split, cut down, or re-shaped in some way. Our base was a bit overbuilt because at the time we didn’t know how large and heavy the arc was going to be. Wood screws and wood glue was used to hold the entire thing together. The screws hold the pieces in place and allow for the glue to dry. The glue would set and become structurally sound after 24 hrs. and that is the true strength that holds the project together.  Finding and cutting the proper angles was the key to our success.  After that, the build was pretty easy. This project preceded the 3D wooden puzzle fish posted here a few weeks ago.

Metal Shop “The Body” project. Working again in teams of two using up to twenty feet of 3/8” steel rod we were to reference, represent, enclose, modify, or otherwise interact with the human body or one of its parts.  Once again special attention had to be placed upon making solid, clean, welds, and spray painting the surface in a professional way. This time my partner had a strong idea and we went in that direction with a few modifications. We wanted to combine form, function, and fun by creating a coat and hat rack that looked like an abstracted “butler” type figure. My contribution to the original design was the addition of the wheels, the bow tie, and the hand with tray. The bow tie was originally going to be cut and formed from sheet metal but for a variety of reasons that did not work out. So the tie was created with red felt and “museum board” which is a very stiff and strong cardboard material. The tie had a purpose in it was used to conceal the junction of four rods coming together. Not a pretty sight for us first-time welders. We have been told a number of times that “a good craftsman covers his mistakes well”.  And that is exactly what we were doing; covering our unsightly intersection.

Bending of the rods was done mostly “cold”, using manual labor by placing the rod in an iron brace and using brute strength and body weight to make series of incremental bends. The hardest part was bending the 2ft circle for the base. That was a two hour process of continuous, slow, and deliberate work that I did on my own. The figure’s hand was hot bent with an Oxyacetylene torch. One merely heats up the rod until it glows a bright orange, and then the metal becomes quite pliable. 

We went through a few working titles for this project which ranged from simply “The Butler”, to “Winston”, and eventually to “Wobbles (the Butler)”. The name came from the fact that our figure being a little bit top heavy, had a tendency to wobble somewhat any time it was touched or moved. We thought the wobbling was not a detriment but it actually helped to animate our guy and put a little “life” into him.  

Painted wooden balls were placed on the ends of the coat and hat hanger arms. Painted black wooden balls were also used to cover the nut & bolt assembly that holds the wheels on. We wanted the option of being able to remove the wheels in order to place Wobbles in a semi-permanent location. A plastic tray was velcro-ed onto the hand and there were three shot glasses placed upon it. We had a little trouble with gravity just prior to our presentation on Critique Day, when two of the glasses slid off and broke on the concrete floor…yikes! But it all worked out fine in the end.