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!

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!

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!