First Resin-Cast Clariel!

I waited until today to show you guys this because I wanted to have a full set of photos from start to finish. It was a tough wait! This is so unbelievably exciting for me! A lot of you know how very frustrated I was with this project because there was just so very much to learn.

The fact is: you can read tutorials and articles and watch all the videos you like, but when it comes right down to it, practice is the most essential part of learning any skill. How firm or squishy will the silicone be when it’s fully cured? How warm does the container of mixed resin feel when it’s beginning to catalyse? How fast will it cure with the temperature and humidity of the room I’m working with? How does a vacuum pump sound when it’s running well versus running poorly? All these questions can only be answered by getting your hands on the materials and working with them.

Every mistake is a learning experience, but when your materials are this expensive, every mistake is costly. I’ve ‘wasted’ about 80-100 Euros worth of silicone to get where I am now and I have a lot more learning to do.

So you can imagine, after weeks and months of materials not arriving on time, machines not working, chemicals doing weird unexplained things, how overjoyed I was to open up the mould and see …

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Perfect. It looked perfect. I couldn’t believe it. I had expected to fail, yet again, as I had failed so many times before. Expected it with such certainty that I could not accept that it had actually worked. I had convinced myself, with every heartbreaking flop that I was too stupid to get it right.

I poked the little side tubes where the air vents are because I was so afraid of messing up the sword after all this struggle. It was solid. No stickiness. No softness.

I put my fingertips on the blade of the sword, expecting to encounter a gummy, gluey surface. It was completely smooth. It was still warm from the exothermic catalysing process and it felt like a living creature.

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Honestly, I teared up. I was so exhausted from fighting with this project and now it was finally here. All I could do for several minutes was just run my hands over it and marvel at how a bucket of thickish goo could become something like this.

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I had been worried about clarity, unsure if this resin would be as beautifully transparent as the PMMA resin I’d been carving. Well, I snapped a photo straight down the pour-spout. I think I have nothing to be worried about. It’s so clear it looks hollow.

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After nipping off the extra resin from the air vents and the spout (I affectionately call them ‘umbilical cords’ since that’s really what they looked like!) I buzzed off the seams around the edges with the Dremel tool. In this shot, I haven’t even started polishing it yet.

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The edges are still scratchy from the Dremel. Can’t have that! The finish must be even!

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This is polished. I gave it my favourite frosted finish (800 grit polish).

This sword is one I’m going to keep for myself and not just because it’s the first and very special because of that. There are some tiny air bubbles in it. I think it’s from when the mould started leaking because it wasn’t clamped tightly enough during the pour. The bubbles are only in the handle, mostly in the pommel which is exactly the point during the pouring that the resin started seeping out at the seams.

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You can tell that these little imperfections are barely the size of a needle-point but you know what a stickler for perfection I am! I will be experimenting on this sword to see if I can get the bubbles filled with epoxy or other type of liquid resin and get the surface totally flawless. The bubbles that are encased in the resin I can’t do anything about, but that’s okay. I’m pretty sure no one but me can see them.

I want to make an even better quality mould with this sword since it’s smoother than the plaster prototype and I would have even less work to do with the polishing. That means better quality swords straight out of the mould, and less time taken with buffing so they can be in your hands sooner. Yay!

So what’s next for Clariel and when will I have swords available to sell? Well, technically, I could start putting out unlit blades right now, but for everybody wanting their swords with LEDs equipped, I’ve got to cast another sword, decide on the light mechanism I want to implant, mill out a slot for the light to go in, check and make sure the electronics work the way I want them to, make a mould for all the swords that will have lights in them.

Easy … peasy? Man I hope so after all this but I fully expect a “Mistakes with Metal” photo series to be coming up. Haha! Wish me luck okay?

Before I scamper off to the workshop, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for being so supportive through all my frustrated yowling. Those of you who have commented on my page, in person, here on my website, the hugs, the suggestions, the shares, the likes, the kitten pictures, the coffee … it all helped so very much to keep me somewhat sane … okay functional while throwing myself at this project. The demon Depression is the scariest of all; it steals your will to fight, to even try. It needs a full team to defeat and it’s great to know you’re all part of my posse.

Stay awesome everybody. I’m off to make cool stuff.

A Mould for Clariel

Yay! After harrowing adventures, I finally have a completed silicone mould for Clariel

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Why is it two different colours? Well, I ran out of the pink silicone from Alumilite halfway through the moulding. It took a little bit more than I thought it would. Then the white silicone from FormX didn’t set the first time I used it because I accidentally mixed too little catalyst. (I thought it said 100:1 but it actually said 100:5.) Annnnd when I was cleaning the un-set silicone off the pink stuff that I did have on the other side, the turpentine shrank the pink silicone and caused parts of it to rip. So I had to re-cast the entire half mould all in the white stuff.

In addition to that, because my workshop is so cold (17 degrees C or 62.6 degrees F) I had to rig up a little hot house out of foam for the white silicone to cure. It’s much happier at 24 degrees C. I almost despaired and tossed it out because it hadn’t gotten totally solid overnight (Thursday night) and when I arrived on Friday, it was still very smushy. The thing about tin-curing silicone is: if it’s not cured by the end of its stated curing time, it’s not gonna. Unless …

Unless it’s too cold. If it’s too cold, it’s probably still curing just reaaaaaally slowly. So I crossed my fingers and warmed it up. In a few hours, it set! Woohoooo! I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I was.

So, today, I still have a bunch of cleaning to do from the failed curing (last Monday) and the retarded curing (last Thurs/Fri). Un-cured silicone is a nightmare to clean up cause it doesn’t react to very many chemicals. I use turpentine, and then concentrated dish-soap to clean up the residual oil. Or I use acetone or 100% isopropyl alcohol. It depends on how cured it ended up, what it’s stuck to, and how stubborn it’s being.

Once I have a nicely cleaned working area, I can tackle the actual casting in resin. I’m kinda terrified. I hope it’s not as challenging as the silicone!

Some Progress?

Okay! Good news: I’ve completed one half of the silicone mould for Clariel and about 1/4 of the other half. (It’s a two-part mould.)

Bad news: I’m out of silicone and my supplier still hasn’t delivered my shipment yet. Rrrrrgh! Come on! I ordered it back on December 22nd! Get the lead out guys!

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Not half bad if I do say so myself. Uh, no pun intended. The silicone looks a bit tacky and weird on the surface in this shot but it’s just because it has mould release painted over it. I need to be verrrrry sure that it will come apart when the top layer is finished curing, otherwise, my sword will be trapped in a solid block of silicone. That would suck.

Now, hopefully, I will get to work this morning and find that my new silicone shipment is waiting for me. Wish me luck everybody! I’m trying my hardest to make this happen!

Finicky …

So, the latest test I did, using a more resin-friendly dye, making sure the containers, tools, my hands, everything were as surgically clean and dry as possible, cured beautifully with no bubbles or delamination.

Except. It made a big ol’ wrinkly fissure in the back which tells me that it was somehow too cold while curing in the oven for three hours. Really? Really?

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Alumilite is supposed to be a pretty user-friendly resin. I don’t want to see one of the “difficult” ones!

This is the fifth or sixth time I’ve done this trial and I’m thoroughly sick of looking at these little pink squares. At least the silicone is working nicely so let’s do it. Let’s make mould for Clariel!

… right after I finish my coffee.

Happy Monday everybody!

Breakthrough!

Research is annoying, boring, and absolutely necessary. I bet you’re tired of seeing these little squares aren’t you? I sure am. Silicone and resin are both notoriously finicky substances. Each brand and each type has their own particular formula and behaviour. Luckily, I knew to expect this and bought extra to test and fiddle with before casting a big beautiful sword.

Always. Buy. Extra.

So what can you do when your materials are not behaving themselves they way they should? Search online for the answers, do some more digging, ask other artists, watch videos, read tutorials, contact the manufacturer. If it turns out that there’s more than one possibility, you’ll find yourself in the unfortunate situation I’ve been in for the past few weeks.

You have to make the best guess you can as to what went wrong and do it again changing only one thing at a time. It’s tedious and frustrating and you’ll really, really want to make it go faster, but it’s necessary to isolate the problem so you can fix it. If you change more than one thing and suddenly it works, (or messes up even MORE) then you’ll never know where the mistake happened in the first place! The ultimate goal is learning more about how the materials work so you’ll waste less and be more sure of yourself later on.

You’ve all seen my first attempt with Alumilite.

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Why is it sticky!?
What happened? The resin was too cold. My workshop is only about 17-18 degrees Celsius. (Yeah it’s not so comfy this time of year.) That’s too chilly for Alumilite waterclear to cure and not even a heat gun on the mould beforehand made a difference.

For the second attempt, I put the silicone mould in my mini oven that I use for clay baking and propped the door open. This kept the internal temperature of the oven at a toasty 50 degrees Celsius.

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Well, it’s not sticky at least … It cured all the way through, nice and hard, but there were weird, flaky patches on the surface of the resin. What could possibly have caused…

Wait a second. Ah! The plaster “jacket” I made to keep the silicone mould flat and secure was made of gypsum. Why is that important? Gypsum doesn’t conduct heat very well at all. That can be really useful for some projects. For this one, though, it sucked. The plaster caused the temperature of the resin to be inconsistent.

Worse than that, the flaking of the resin actually scratched the silicone mould. That means anything I cast with that mould will have scratches all over it. Greaaaat. So I had to make another mould. I made it double the thickness of the original mould so it could stay flat and secure all by itself.

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Ah yeaaaaah! That’s what I’m talking about! The resin stayed nice and toasty throughout its curing and hardened all the way through. No stickiness, no weird bubbles, no probl- Oh. Yeah there are some dark flecks in there. It’s not a uniform pink.

Sigh.

Yeah, the dropper I used to put the dye in the resin had a semi-dried “booger” in it. (I call bits of congealed paint, glue, whatever that gets stuck in the nozzle of something a “booger”. I don’t think that’s the technical term for it.) So the clump of dye came out in the resin and failed to dissolve into it.

But I’m still happy. “Use a clean dropper” is a really easy fix!

As I always say: “There’s no such thing as perfection; only beauty.” So how can we feel better at being forever imperfect? Just have a look at where we started and see how much we’ve grown!

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Are you stoked? I’m stoked! Let’s get to the workshop and make cool stuff!

Still testing …

I wanted to have some more positive news for you before I posted again but it looks like that’s going to come a little later than I hoped. Remember the pink plastic coaster thingy I said I was making?

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Yeaaah, it’s not supposed to look like that. The darned thing just didn’t cure properly. I’ve been doing more research and realised that my workshop is too cold for curing Alumilite in small quantities like this. (It’s only about 4-5mm thick.)

The plaster jacket I made to hold the silicone mould nice and flat is unfortunately sucking the heat out of the material because gypsum is a substance with very low thermal conductivity. What does that mumbo-jumbo mean? Well it’s cold. And it stays cold. (There’s more to it than that but the coldness is the important bit to this project.)

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It ended up sticky and not fully hardened. You can probably see my fingerprints all over it. That’s not good.

So, yesterday I ran an experiment with my mini-oven at work, heating up the resin and holding it at 50 degrees Celsius while it cured. I couldn’t stay for the last hour of its curing because it was my wife’s birthday and I had to go spoil her properly. But before I left, I noticed a few tiny bubbles that should not have been there and it looked like it was separating from the mould in a few places. Not good! But I didn’t see any cloudiness that would indicate it didn’t cure all the way through. If there’s still no clouding when I get to the workshop today, that means we’ve made some progress!

So, why are small things harder to cast with Alumilite than large things? Well, when you mix part A and part B together, the resin has a chemical reaction that causes it to harden. This chemical reaction is exothermic (it gives off heat). If the piece I’m casting is large enough, I don’t have to worry about the mould being chilly. The resin will heat it up nicely for me.

While I’d love to simply go ahead and cast the Clariel patiently waiting for me in its box, and I think it will do fine with its own heat, a sword is a LOT bigger than a wee coffee coaster and will eat up more of the resin. If I should mess up on a sword casting, that would be a very expensive mistake! This is why I’m doing something small first so I can understand how this material works and get a feel for it before I tackle the seraph blade.

Wish me luck guys!

Finally, a Vacuum!

Yes indeed; the lovely new vacuum pump I bought from Unicorn Tools seems to be working beautifully. I messed around with it for the entirety of Friday and managed to mostly degas 200mL of silicone.

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Mostly. I was having some problems with this. For one thing, I had to tinker with the levels of oil inside the vacuum pump. The oil expands when it warms up so I have to be careful how much I fill it. I can’t just dump the oil in until it hits the “FULL” line because when I turn it on and it heats up, it will sputter and spit out the exhaust port. Yuck!

The other problem I had was that there were still bubbles in the silicone after 15mins of degassing. I had already been tinkering with the silicone for awhile and I was getting dangerously close to the end of its working time. If I didn’t just bite the bullet and use it, I’d have a blob of semi-solidified garbage and the material would be wasted. So I just crossed my fingers and poured it into the moulding box.

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I don’t think you can see the air bubbles in the silicone from this shot. I was having problems taking a photo of a completely transparent object encased in a completely transparent layer of silicone. It’s a pain in the butt taking pics of a see-through object! The camera does not want to focus on it.

The green and white goo under the plastic square I’m moulding is just modelling clay. It’s there to keep the square stuck to the bottom so it won’t float and also to keep the silicone from sneaking underneath it. As you can see, I missed a spot. Oh well. That just means I’ll have to trim the silicone “flash” (extra bits of mould material that sneaked where I didn’t want it to go) when I take the mould out of the box.

Hopefully when I get to the workshop today, I will find that the air bubbles have escaped the silicone and I will have a nice solid, smooth mould to work with. Everybody cross your fingers!

I have a couple ideas as to why the silicone misbehaved. It could be that it was too old. It was very chunky and blobby when I took it out of its container. There’s also the possibility that the vacuum chamber was simply too big for this tiny amount of material. I’m going to try putting some extra stuff (plaster brick or somesuch) in the pot with the liquid I’m degassing to see if it will pull the air out faster and more efficiently. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. It’s just a little frustrating.

Before I run off to work, here’s a video of the new pump at work.