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.

I escaped! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

So the doctor didn’t say that I couldn’t go back to work when I had my last checkup. I may have ‘accidentally’ forgotten to ask. I have been bored to tears sitting on my duff, waiting for my silly body to fight off infection and heal up properly. All I’ve wanted to do for the past three weeks is just go to the workshop and make stuff!

Yesterday, I did just that!

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The heck are you doing Ethan? That’s not a sword.

Yeah I know it’s not a sword, but here’s the thing: silicone and resin are both really expensive materials and I’m using a lot of new equipment at this point. So I realised I needed to do something small first to make sure that everything is working properly and the materials are doing what I expect them to do.

This’ll be a little sci-fi computer chip thingy that I can use as a coaster on my desk. I’m going to be testing out the silicone moulding compound, the Alumilite resin, and the resin dye that I bought. That’s right! This will be the first time I’ve done transparent resin in another colour! I’m excited. 🙂

I’d also like to take a moment to thank all of you who have been poking me for sword commissions. I’m so, so sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I’ve been struggling with this medical thing and it’s been no fun at all. I’m going to ask my doc if it’s at all possible to postpone the next surgery until the new year so I can continue working at my job for the rest of November and the month of December

I’m definitely not in danger of losing my workshop. I just want to make that clear so you don’t have to worry about that. But it would be really nice to at least be able to cover the cost of my rent with sword sales instead of taking it out of my own pockets as I’ve been doing.

I also want to reassure you that the medical thing isn’t a degenerative condition or anything. It’s just a quirky little birth defect that we’ve been working on correcting to give me a better quality of life. 🙂 The only reason I’ve had to go back for more corrections is because there were some complications with the healing. Apparently, the body took offence to the doc trying to do too much correction all at once so we’ve had to slow down and do the fixing-up in smaller steps.

That’s rather annoying for me cause it means I have to keep taking time off work for two weeks here, three weeks there to heal from each stage. As anybody who knows me well enough can tell you: I am not good at sitting around doing nothing all day.

In other news: the metro station near my house has opened up and that means I can get to and from work much more easily and much faster. Yay for less travel time! Instead of waiting for a bus, taking the bus to the nearest metro stop, taking the metro to the neighbourhood where I work, and then taking a bus from there to as close to my workshop as I can get, I can simply take the metro from home and skip the whole first bus leg of the journey.

Speaking of journeys … workshop tiiiiime! The workshop is my happy place and I can’t wait to get there and make some cool stuff! Catch ya later guys.

Runes That Stay Put

Hi everyone! I’ve been doing a bit of product testing with the Inkbox freehand tattoo kit. This is a type of temporary tattoo that is very much like traditional henna but black instead of reddish brown. It looks exactly like a real tattoo and it will not come off no matter how much sweating, scrubbing, or scraping you do!

I was curious to see if this stuff was really as robust as advertised so I put it on the most high-traffic area of my skin: the palm of my hand. I wanted to see if Inkbox could prove itself under the harshest conditions. Hand-washing multiple times a day with regular soap, dish-washing, wearing work gloves and operating power tools, sweating, showering … I was not gentle or careful with it.

So how did it perform?

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This image was taken the day after I put the temp tattoo on. Oct. 13th.

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This image was taken on Oct. 17th. Hasn’t budged at all. (The wee smudge of ink over by my pinky finger is marker from a project I was working on. Not related to the tattoo.) As you can see from the rough scrapes on my skin, I was not coddling it at all.

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Here’s a pic from this morning, Oct. 20th. I tried to get a nice close photo so you can see that it’s just starting to fade now.

So how does Inkbox work? Pretty much the same as henna. You doodle it on your skin, let it sit for an hour, then go wash it off with regular soap and water. No special treatment needed. The design will look faded when you first wash it off, but don’t panic. It will darken in a few hours/overnight.

This is because Inkbox dyes/stains your skin but don’t let that put you off. It’s a fruit-based dye that is completely harmless. It will fade naturally over 1-3 weeks as your skin cells refresh themselves.

How long it lasts depends on how thick you put on the ink. The tattoo on my palm is the result of spreading on the “goo” about 2-3mm thick. I did another test on the back of my hand with only 1mm thickness. Let’s take a look at that one.

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After 1 day, Oct. 13th.

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Some barely-noticeable fading on Oct. 17th.

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And this morning, Oct. 20th. It’s noticeably faded but still obvious to anybody looking at it.

So there you have it! Doodle, wait an hour, wash it off, and you will have runes you don’t have to touch up or worry about smudging no matter what you do. No mess, no weird smells, no needles, and best of all no regrets. It’ll be gone in three week’s time.

Are any of you being Shadowhunters for Halloween? I’d love to see your rune-drawing skills!

First Hiccup

So, the vacuum pump I got to degas the silicone (and after that, the resin) isn’t working. Yep. And because the seller is in China, I have to wait a day between each response via customer service. So I’ve lost a week of work now.

See that pressure gauge on the big ol’ bucket there? It’s supposed to be dropping. It’s not moving. Boo.

What’s the next step for me? I go through the troubleshooting process, see if we can get this machine working and, if not, I return it. Whether I get a replacement from the same company, or buy from someone else in hopes of getting a more reliable product remains to be seen. We have to determine what the problem is first.

If it’s a simple “whoops! we put the fan on backwards!” then, no problem. If it’s “oh yes, some of our models can be a little leaky …” then I’m probably going to have to consider other options.

Why didn’t I buy locally? You might ask that. Well, because this vacuum pump kit cost me only about 200 euros. Comparable ones sold in Finland are at least 1000 for the pump only. No attachments or chambers to hook it up to.

It’s frustrating, but I’m stubborn.

Now, if it would only stop raining… Wish me luck!

Final Moulding: Clariel

Hey guys! I am really excited and nervous today. I’m using my brand new vacuum pump and taking the final mould for the Clariel model sword. (I hope.) It has taken way longer than I thought to get that plaster sword prototype as smooth and shiny as I possibly can.

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The glossy varnish I have needs about 12 hours to fully set before I can put on a second coat so you can imagine how long it took to get multiple coatings on and then polish the thing.

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I think it was worth the extra effort. 🙂

Now, the next step is getting it fitted into the moulding box nice and snugly. That took a long time as well. Why? Because you saw how sloppy my first mould was. Let’s not have a repeat of THAT nonsense! We want the two halves of the mould to line up all straight and smooth and beautiful so that I can easily clamp them together with no leaks or weird seams.

To do that, I have to find the exact middle of the object I’m taking a mould of. That’s tricky when it doesn’t sit flat on the table. It’s chubbier in the middle than it is at the point of the blade or the pommel (butt end). So that makes it do a see-saw thing when I try to lay it flat. To compensate for that, I have to put a cushion of clay under the blade and the handle to make it sit perfectly level. Then, I have to cut a piece of laminated foam (or anything else that’s flat really … could be wood but I used foam) to fit in the space between the sword and the edges of the box. That’s so the silicone doesn’t fall down through any gaps and fill the whole darned box. That would trap the sword inside and I’d be really sad. (Hey! Give me my sword back!)

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And that gives us exactly one half of Clariel to make exactly one half of a mould. Yaaaay!

But what’s all that green stuff in there? No one said there would be green stuff aaahhhh! Don’t worry. that’s just clay. Some of those clay noodles are touching the sword and some aren’t. The ones that are touching Clariel are air vents. Those allow the bubbles to escape from the resin when I pour it into the mould so (hopefully) they get out of the sword and don’t get stuck in there.

The noodles that aren’t touching the sword are what we call “findings”. You know when you’re closing a plastic container of leftovers and putting it in the fridge for later? Take a look at the lid sometime and you’ll see there’s a trench all the way around where it fits over the edge of the container. That makes a nice snug fit so air doesn’t get inside and so you know the lid is in the right spot before you push down on it for that nice satisfying “click!”. Container closed and ready to go. Like your plastic sandwich box, the two halves of the mould need to fit together nicely and the findings help you figure out when both sides have lined up just right.

And then I pour 300 Euros of silicone into it. Haaaaah … yeah send me Luck runes guys! You can probably see why I’m a little nervous of screwing up! Haha!

Well, that’s enough procrastinating for me. I’d better go Iron Brother it up in the workshop. (I’m just kidding. I love talking to you guys. LOL) Oh, and if you’re a Matthew Daddario fan like me, don’t forget to wish him a happy birthday if you haven’t already!

Ciao for now!

A Pure White Blade

What an amazing ride last week was! Here’s where we left off with my last update:

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That’s the second prototype of Clariel curing in its silicone and plaster jacket. No way of telling if it worked or not. If it cured all the way through. If it cured with giant bubbles in it … So, it’s time to reveal what was hiding in that plaster cast.

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Ahhhhh it worked! It worked! It’s really rough on the surface there but the plaster is solid all the way through and the imperfections that are there are really small.

Let’s take it out of the mould.

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Aw yeaaah! Hello me beauty! I’d recognise that shape anywhere. No time to gloat though; let’s get sanding.

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Ah, now that is just a lovely sight to behold. You can see a shift in colour where the handle is because I poured the plaster in two stages. Plaster cures with an exothermic reaction. That means it gives off heat while it’s hardening. I didn’t want to overwhelm the rather shoddy mould I’d made so I decided to do it in two pours instead of just one. Next time, I’ll do it all in one go as I’m more confident that the materials can take it.

There are tiny imperfections on that blade though I really doubt you can see them. I vibrated the mould while it was curing to jiggle the air bubbles up and out of the plaster so there really aren’t many bubbles and the ones that are there are really small. Still, this prototype has to be perfect. Any imperfections left will be present in every Clariel from now until I make a new mould.

The Iron Sisters aren’t known for their “okay” craftsmanship. 😉 I demand excellence!

This week, I am correcting the remaining errors in Clariel prototype 2.0 with a very fine spackle and … yeah … more sanding. Then it gets sealed and polished up just as shiny as I can make it. Then, we take a mould with the expensive professional moulding silicone. That mould will be the one that makes all my Clariel swords from now on.

Yes I’m terrified but hopefully we’ll have just as much luck as we had last week! Cross your fingers for me folks.

That’s all from me for now. See ya later!