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!

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!

Breaking New Ground

Yeah, I’m still healing. Yeah, it’s taking a frustratingly long time. But! I have enough stamina to do a little light work each day so I’ve been whittling away at the model I’m going to be casting.

Wooden Sword

Recognise the model? It’s Clariel! This is the sword type that most people request when they email me so I decided to make it the first mould I do for the resin casting.

It’s still looking quite chunky because I’ve only got the outline cut out so far. The next step is to shave down the sides into the right shape.

I’ll try to keep y’all updated as I go. Sorry I’ve been quiet. I’m trying to save most of my energy for actually making the thing. That’s the important bit after all!

I’m hoping to have this model completed and moulded before I leave for summer holidays at the end of this month. I haven’t seen my friends and family in Canada for a couple of years so I figure you’ll forgive me a little break eh? Heheh!

Wish me luck everybody! I can’t wait to be back to work full time.

Introducing Heosphoros!

Hm, does that shape look familiar? I sure hope so!

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This blade is a re-imagining of what the Morgenstern short sword might look like if it had been crafted from adamas. The Shadowhunter who ordered it specified which runes she liked and we put our own spin on the piece. I think it came out rather well.

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So exactly how hard is it to engrave on a curved piece of acrylic with no router or CNC milling machine? Well, on a scale of 1-10 it’s somewhere between 12 and crying in the fetal position. See, the lovely thing about automatic machines is that they are very stable and they don’t get tired. Hand-engraving with the Dremel tool requires the craftsman to hold his body and arms perfectly rigid and force the tool to stay in one place when all it really wants to do is skitter off into Narnia.

The other challenge was cutting 90-degree angles and sharp corners. I have a Dremel tool, a Bosch multi-tool, and Chewie my faithful belt sander. So how do we get these kind of angles?

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30% creativity, 70% tenacity, and 112% profanity.

Needless to say, Heosphoros challenged me and pushed me to my limits.

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I think it came out pretty nice though. 😉

The pommel is actually made of pine but thanks to the wonders of paint and a really nice high-gloss sealer it not only looks like metal but also feels like it too. It’s pretty fun to watch people run their fingers over it and then, perplexed, ask “what’s it made out of?” I figure that if you can’t really tell even after touching it, I’m doing a decent job.

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The runes themselves are inlaid with liquid acrylic (yes the stuff that smells like Satan’s personal urinal when it’s curing) and then inlaid again with a semi-transparent lacquer. I had to do this for two reasons: #1 It’s impossible to smooth out the tool marks from the engraving without using the acrylic because I don’t have a CNC milling machine or laser cutter, and #2 the acrylic is so clear that they were too hard to see without adding some opacity.

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Without the inlay.
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With the inlay.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this post. Sorry it’s been a long while between updates. I’ve been pretty busy and now you can see what I was working on!

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Haha take that demons!

Hopefully, it won’t be so long between posts next time. I’d like to give you a wee presentation on some product testing I’ve been doing and some neat ideas I have for future creations.

That’s all from me for now. I’ve got to dash off to the workshop and get started on the next sword. Until next time, stay safe out there Shadowhunters.