Learning Experiences

Wow! This past week has been a steep climb for me with learning the skill of mould making. I’m beginning to understand exactly why there are no commercial manufacturers of Seraph Blades. Let me tell you a bit about why the project is logistically really demanding.

If you’re going to cast something crystal-clear and bubble-free, typically, you’d want it to be small enough to fit in a pressure pot. Those are about the size of a big ol’ soup pot. As you’ve already guessed, no dice for me. Perhaps little wee Remiel would fit, but everything else is too big!

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The best resin for casting beautifully crystal clear objects is PMMA (acrylic resin). That’s a polyester resin and those are notoriously stinky. Like, not only will you have a headache but so will everyone else in the building kind of stinky. Obviously these kinds of castings are done in purely industrial environments where you can have your workers in protective suits and a nice big, badass air filtration chamber to keep that stench locked down.

I have a workshop sandwiched between a tailor’s shop and a ceramics maker. Again, no dice. I have to pick something that’s not horrifically smelly. See what I mean when I say that 95% of my job is problem solving? Hehe, I wasn’t kidding.

But it’s not all doom and gloom guys! I’ve got stuff to show you.

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That is the inside of the silicone mould I made. It seems that the mould release agent I got didn’t work. On the right side, I used wax, and that worked rather well. On the left, I used a spray-on release agent and … uh, well it ripped almost all the paint and some of the foam off the prototype that I made. (That prototype is NOT in good shape right now and I really hope I don’t have to take yet another mould of it cause I dunno if it will survive!)

Now, as you can see, the bottom of the mould stuck together. That’s not a deal-breaker and I know why it happened. I should have used probably about a half tube or a full tube more silicone per side than the amount I used. Whoops! But I had no idea how much it would take so I had to guess. So the silicone mould is thinner than I would like it but on the upside, I now know the exact amount of silicone to use for making the final mould. That’s really valuable information because professional grade silicone is really expensive! I paid over 300 euros for just 10kg of it. Aren’t you glad I’m not making your swords out of silicone?! No one would be able to afford it!

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Now here is the silicone mould clamped firmly in its plaster jacket. The rigid jacket is necessary to force the floppy silicone to hold its shape while I pour in the plaster. Yes, more plaster. Not resin just yet, because the prototype that I take the final mould of must be perfect. Any mistakes I make with that last prototype will be present in every single sword that comes out of that mould.

Now, there are some things that have me worried about this setup. 1. I forgot to put in an air vent so I’m going to have to pour super slowly. That means mixing the plaster in small batches and putting a lot of water in it.

What can go wrong? There is air in the mould. Of course there is! There’s air in the rest of the room too, haha! And when I start pouring in plaster, that air has to burp out somewhere or it will get trapped inside the mould. Annnnd that means the prototype sword that comes out will have holes in it where the bubbles were. Boo! We want holy swords not holey swords. (Okay that pun was awful, I’m sorry.)

2. I’m worried that the plaster might leak out of the mould all over the place. This mould is ugly, cheap, and very lumpy. It’s not nice and flat and easily clamp-able like it should be. And that’s okay. I only need it to work once. But it has to work at least once!

This is the principle of Rapid Prototyping. Use cheap materials and quick techniques to yield progressively better results until you’re satisfied with the final product. I’ll talk more about rapid prototyping later for all you enterprising prop-makers. 😉

3. I’m not really happy with the type of plaster I’m using right now. I’ve used a German brand (Knorr I think?) before and it took absolutely beautiful and accurately detailed moulds and I think that might be the kind I want to use for this. The kind I have (you can see it sitting in baggies in the picture of the silicone mould) is very thick unless you add double the amount of water it says on the package. It also cures really fast.

That’s great for things like making the hard jacket for the mould. I don’t need that to pick up fine details. I just need it to be done quickly and strong. So I’m not miffed that I bought a bunch of it form the hobby shop. I just don’t trust it to do what I need it to do for a prototype.

But the brand that I like is more expensive. (Story of my life.)

So what happens if this moulding doesn’t work? Well … the Iron Brother takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly (probably with a stream of his favourite cuss words) and starts the process over again. At that point, I have two choices. 1. I fix up the foam prototype and do the mould-making again from that without making the same mistakes that I made with this mould. (Too little silicone. Wrong mould release. Plaster jacket not straight and flush. Forgot an air vent for the bubbles.) or 2. I go with my original idea of crafting a perfect prototype first with a wooden core and polymer clay exterior polished to a high shine and coated in high-gloss varnish.

Which will I choose? That depends on exactly what kind of screw-ups happens with this casting! We’ll find out today folks. Are you excited? I’m terrified. Let’s go! Wheeeee!

 

Yes, You Can Ask Me Cosplay Questions

I’ve noticed that I get questions now and then from people who want help with creating their cosplay props. I decided to make a quick post letting you know that it’s okay to do that and I will get back to you as promptly as I can.

You can ask me on my website, my Facebook page, or by email. I don’t mind and I don’t ask for payment for my advice. I don’t know everything but I have been doing this for a few years now and I can usually help track down solutions to problems people run into while crafting.

Fans gotta help fans after all. Just remember I’m doing it in my spare time kay? Good luck with your projects guys. 🙂

Well, Let’s Try That Again!

Okay, so the first moulding didn’t work out. The latex cured mostly okay. All the important bits dried all the way through but sadly, the rubber shrank and pulled away from the prototype.

Translation: It didn’t hold its shape and that sure doesn’t make a good mould! We want a beautiful, elegant sword, not a weird blobby stick.

But the good news is I learned a lot about the ratio of plaster and cloth to use for a nice outer shell. (The bit that keeps the wobbly, rubbery mould from coming open when you put the resin in.) And I learned that the latex I used isn’t good for the kind of mould I need.

So, I’ll be starting the first moulding again, this time with a cheap silicone. This mould doesn’t have to yield a stellar quality product. It just has to allow me to make a plaster model of the sword that I can polish to perfection. That’s the prototype that will give me my final mould which I will then use to make y’all some pretty Clariels. Yay!

Wish me luck everyone!

Clairel: First Moulding

I started writing this post yesterday and then realised I didn’t have a picture for you! Durrr … That’s not nearly as exciting without a pic.

So you can see my first Clariel prototype (carved in foam) in there, covered in latex and ready for its hard casing to be put on. The casing is already on there now but I forgot to snap a photo before I left the workshop yesterday. (Cause I’m brilliant like that. XD )

I’m really hoping I did everything in the right order. BUT if I didn’t, it’s okay. I can always do it again.

Remember: if you failed but you learned something, you haven’t wasted your time!

Clariel Model Prototype

Ahhh yeah. It took me a couple days to carve the prototype for Clariel. Now I can take the first mould of it. After that, we move on to the second prototype which will be made of plaster. I’ll be able to get a much, much smoother surface with higher detail with plaster.

Also! Special news!

I’m moving to a new workshop! Don’t panic. It’s in the same building on the same floor so it won’t take long. Probably a day or two. This new room is a bit more expensive but it’s also a bit larger and has a couple windows.

I decided to take on this added expense for the sake of having a window so that I can have fresh air and natural light to work with. Alumilite is a very low-smell resin but it’s still recommended to have fresh air when working with it. I’ll post pics as soon as I’m able.

Until then, stay safe out there Shadowhunters.

Forgot to Say I Went on Vacation Whoops!

Hi folks! I logged in today to say I’m back from my trip to Canada and realised I didn’t make a post to say I went away in the first place. Duuuuuh good job Ethan. XD Sorry about that everyone.

To the people who have been waiting patiently for me to get back to their emails, thank you so much and I will respond as soon as I can. I’m still really jet-lagged and I want to give you a response when my brain is actually working.

The finger I accidentally chopped is healing up nicely. I still have a lot of numbness in the tip of it but the feeling’s gradually coming back. There’s one spot that’s rather sore that I think I damaged the nerves there. Feels kind of like when you bang your elbow on something whenever it touches a hard surface the wrong way. Typing is still annoying but getting better slowly.

Even on vacation, I was still thinking of y’all. In fact, I spent an afternoon chattering with an engineer friend about manufacturing. He also does resin casting and moulding projects though on a much larger and more industrial scale than me. But whether you’re casting machine parts or art, it’s the same principal.

In short, I got some really valuable knowledge on rapid prototyping, moulding, casting, saving money on my development stages while still producing quality stuff. He wants to have a look over my sketches and schematics as I launch into resin casting my swords so he can give some feedback as I go.

To tell you the truth, it feels great to have a bit of practical support in this crazy endeavour of mine. I don’t need much. Just an occasional glance over my shoulder and a comment or two steering me away from pitfalls and letting me know that there’s an easier way to do something. I’ve been doing this alone for more than two years now and it’s been hard. It’s been lonely. And I’ve had to learn everything the hard way by trial and error. But, like the Iron Sisters, I’m too stubborn to give up.

“A Shadowhunter must behave as though victory is assured,” as the Codex tells us, and I haven’t forgotten that. Quitting is not an option for me, and never has been.

What’s coming up in the near future? You can expect to see in-progress photos of my planning, prototyping, and casting phases as early as next Monday. I’ll be answering your emails as early as today. I will be continuing development on witchlights and steles and you can expect to see my progress on that too. (So far I’ve got silicone boogers that were not the density I wanted so I’ll be making resin versions of the witchlight instead. LOL )

After I’ve moulded and cast a Clariel model I’m satisfied with, I will be putting up a poll for you to vote on the next model to be put into production. I have a feeling I know which one it’s going to be but I want to hear from you all! Your input is my guiding light and steers what I create in my workshop.

As soon as I have a reliable system of production, I will be putting up an Etsy store for a much easier ordering process. So far, I’ve been hiding out in this remote corner of the internet because I’m totally overwhelmed by orders as it is. XD Once I know that I can keep up with demand, I can put my fuzzy face out there for all to see and get Seraph Blades out to all the lovely Shadowhunters who need them.

Before I trundle off to the workshop, I want to let you all know that I’m so very grateful for your support. The emails and comments that pop up in my inbox every morning put a smile on my face and remind me of what all this work is for. I feel super lucky to be making cool stuff for other Shadowhunter fans. You inspire me to create, forgive me when I screw up, and give me courage to keep going when the going gets tough. We have such a great fan community. Love you all. ❤

OOOOWWWWW! Darnit!

Yes, I know. I went quiet again. Thing is: I cut the tip off my left ring finger by accident. Well, of course it was an accident. I’m not that bonkers.

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Now, it’s healing quite well. Got some nice pink new skin coming in and I should have full function of my finger, but the wound is still fresh enough that I still can’t do any carving without it … uh … well, leaking. Ewwwww. No I’m not gonna show you any pics of the boo boo itself. That’s gross.

I go on vacation to Canada to see my friends and relatives that I haven’t seen for two years. I had hoped to have the sword model finished and moulded in silicone, ready for resin casting when I got back. Needless to say, that’s gotten pushed back.

It’s frustrating. I get a new request for a sword pretty much every second day and I really, really want to be making all those pretty shiny things for y’all right now! This is just rotten luck I tell ya. I’m super duper bored cause, well, it’s my finger. Everything I do requires the use of both my hands. Even typing is weird and slow because I can’t push the W, S, or X button with the finger I’m supposed to.

Anywho, grump grump grump, pout pout pout, rawr. I swear I’m not being lazy. I’m just full of OUCH. Yes I will get to your emails. Thank you for being patient with me. Stay awesome. ❤