Art School: Semester 5, Week 9

Greetings, gentle reader!

Here we are at the end of week nine. How we got here I have no idea. I am running as fast as I can at this point, just hoping to keep up. It’s iffy.

This week has been all about the classes and the plastic recycling project. Nothing else. So, here are the details:


In design class we did our presentations to our fellow students to see what people thought of our designs to date. People mostly liked the same design I did, which is good (from my perspective, anyway).

But its never as simple as that. As class was getting started — and I was getting my models out — I realized that I had been complicating the design of the stool top & bottom a bit. There is a simpler way to perform the physical act of stabilizing the fins that isn’t quite as complicated looking. So I created a new model to compare the two after the presentation was finished. That’s the opening picture this week.

To repeat it, left is the original concept, and right is the new design:

If you do the math it has 16 fewer parts than the original in total, and many of the parts are much larger. Here’s a side view to compare them:

I surveyed my classmates and the instructor. Nearly everyone preferred the new design.

I have taken that advice to heart and layed out the revised version in preparation for cutting it this coming week, or at least some of it. I honestly have no clue how fast this cutting process is really going to be.

As it happens I will probably be the guinea pig for the cutting process. One other student has done extensive layout in RhinoCAD at this point. He might be ready to cut on Tuesday as well, but I am not sure. In any case, of the ten (or so) of us, I will be either #1 or #2 to hit the CNC router to start cutting wood. The rest of the students are not to this point yet.

Also remember that this is the first time the class has been taught with a CNC router at all. We’re heading into unknown territory. Whee!

Aboriginal Carving

I still have no pictures of the new spoon. It’s a bit more than roughed out, but still not much to look at. You’re really not missing anything. Next week. I promise. It’s due next week anyway!

But that doesn’t mean nothing happened. We got back to the tool making exercise. Last time we did this (something like three weeks ago) we had shaped our new knife blades and we were waiting to harden them. To do that we need a forge:

and some quenching oil:

That’s 10W-30 motor oil in a can. Yes, really. :)

The procedure we were taught was:

  • Put the knife blade into the forge
  • Wait for it to get very hot (a white/orange colour)
  • Pull it out and let it cool back to black (this is “thermal cycling”)
  • Put it back in; heat it up again
  • Pull it out and quench it in the oil (which involves moving and stirring and avoiding the flames that inevitably happen when really hot steel hits oil)
  • Let it cool completely

This is what you get.

My blade is the one on the left — others are still being hardened

Technically the process isn’t done yet. The instructor was going to put all the blades into a toaster oven for an hour at something like 450 F to reduce the temper on them a bit. That is, it will make them a bit softer (if I understand this properly) and thus less likely to break.

As time allows after that we can mount them on handles and fully sharpen them.

Oh, we also discussed the bowl project, and some of us picked up pieces of alder to carve bowls from. The instructor wants these very simple… nothing fancy. Just simple, small bowls. I have done nothing with my blank yet, so… ugh. Maybe next week.


Why “ugh” above? It’s because of sculpture class, of course. The time consumer.

I can’t recall what I wrote last week about the beast, but the base stone turns out to weigh somewhere between 450 and 600 pounds. I need to remove a LOT of it to make it possible to pick it up. Here are a couple of shots of the work in process as of a week ago, after the blog had been published, but before Thursday’s class:

Stone, chips, and some of the tools
Stone and chips

A couple of points:

  1. Those images are tinted orange because of the orange awning above the stone.
  2. I decided to save the bigger chips, as I have an idea for the work that I hope will be cool and interesting. More on that in a week or two.

But when class arrived on Thursday, there was no time for carving. It was aluminum casting time for our bas relief tile thingies.

The first thing we did was mix up the greensand in the muller:

That’s the muller mixing greensand, which is a mixture of water, sand, and bentonite clay. It is used to create art casting moulds for molten metal. The muller pictured could not possibly be sold these days due the the huge safety issues with it. If you stick your arm in there while it is running, you’re losing the arm. Period.

Anyway, we have these odd, wooden box(ish) things called a “cup and drag” (or, oddly, the “flask”) into which we place the object and then pack the greensand over it. The process is a bit complicated, but here is a photo of another student’s object (the white tile; you’re looking at the back of it) with sand packed around it (and a wood block that will form the reservoir where the molten aluminum comes in). She’s done half of the packing at this point. The white powder all over everything is a release agent (calcium carbonate, I think) so that the two halves of packed sand don’t stick to each other or the object.

And here we can see she has finished the packing completely and scraped off the top so it is flat.

The object is in the middle. and can be seen when the halves are separated.

Here’s a view of Zach’s mould. His object has been removed already (that’s the indentation in the lower left, the back of which can be seen in the upper left). The block of wood has also been removed (it was in the lower right). Two holes have been pushed through the top of the box (the cope, I think) to allow aluminum to be poured in and to vent out. There are also channels (called “sprues” to let the aluminum get into the object itself and air to escape. Those are the two horizontal channels Zach has created between his tile impression and the opening created by the wood block.

Once the object and block are removed, the holes made, and the sprues created, the cope and drag are reassembled and set on the ground, ready to have molten aluminum poured into them. There were four in my group, and here you see the crucible (where the aluminum is being melted), the instructor’s feet (in leather booties for protection), and the 4 moulds in a row.

The crucible runs on propane, and the aluminum to be melted down is regular stuff. Some bits you might recognize, but mostly it was cut down sheet aluminum about 3/16" thick, give or take.

It had been a while since my instructor had done this, and she is the one to work with the molten metal (for safety reasons). And of course I was the first in line to be poured. What all that means is that on my mould she poured it a bit too fast. There is an art to this. Too slowly and it cools and stops up the holes before enough can get in. Too quickly and, well, this happens:

As you can see the aluminum rocketed in and out very quickly, but it also cooled off in an odd way, blocking the sprues. As a result the tile didn’t get filled.

Happily she noted the issue and the other three pours went just fine. Even more happily, we think we managed to save my mould in the cope & drag. The cast you see above came out without much damage to the mould, and nearly all of it was in the wood block area, not the object itself. So the plan is to check it next week (by carefully opening it up again) to be sure nothing bad has happened to it). If not, we can pour it again. If, however, it hasn’t survived the week well, it will only take half an hour or so to redo the greensand and have it ready to pour again from scratch.

That was Thursday. The casting process took all of class, so there was no additional stone carving to be done. But I came in on Friday morning to work most of the day on the stone again. However, the facilities people had other plans:

That’s three floors up, directly above where I am working. That guy is cutting up an old railing on the top of the building. The molten metal and slag is falling to the ground below, and onto the awning we have to protect us when we work outside the sculpture studio.

As you might guess, there was caution tape up and a worker standing there telling all of us we can’t go into the area. Or rather he was stopping the people up top whenever someone went into the area. Don’t ask me why they were just dropping red hot metal onto the awning. I suspect everyone thought “that’s not my job.”

They finished removing the old railing around noon, but by then I was waiting for the tool making class to start. The instructor told me it would only take 15 minutes or so to harden all our knives, but it actually took over an hour. And then there was cleanup.

By that point I was cold and unhappy and generally not nice, so I packed up and went home. I am told there will be no one working on the roof above me this weekend (though I have no clue about future weekends or weekdays — supposedly they are going to install a replacement railing up there) so I am going to go back on Saturday morning and carve until my fingers bleed. Or something. And again on Sunday. And possibly on Monday too.

Other School(ish) Stuff

The plastic recycling project continues apace. I created this:

That’s the bomb-proof frame for the plastic shredder we’re making. It’s only tack welded together (mostly) at this point, and it is so ridiculously strong that a herd of elephants could tap dance on it without trouble. Why he wanted 1.75", thick walled, square tubing for this I really don’t know, but he did.

And I thought I overbuilt stuff. Yowza.

Anyway, we hope to have the motor this coming week so we can confirm the orientation of it and what-not. Then we can actually finish the welding, grind it all smooth, clean and paint it all. There will be castors, too, and a table top as well. I have no clue how I will work on this at all in the coming week or six, but I will figure it out. And in theory someone will pay me for some of it, at some point as well. Not much, but something.


I have been way too busy this week, so all you get is the usual Art School Post Index. Sorry!


One amusing thing this week:

There is a fancy house just down the street, designed by some (relatively) famous architect, I think. It’s quite pretty, with lots of glass and what not. It was listed for sale some time back for over $3,000,000, but it didn’t sell. Since then they have taken in renters (in the basement suite) and now they have let a film crew take over for a day. I could speculate about what all of that means, but I would rather just ponder how odd it is to have film crew trucks in your neighbourhood. Weird world we live in.

And In Conclusion…

I think there are some very important life lessons here:

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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