Round Two: FIGHT!

I know, I know, I haven’t got any new pictures for you today. Bad Ethan! 😦 I was so busy getting the mould box reconstructed that I forgot to take a photo of it! I’ll make it up to you and take lots of photos of the process today. Forgive me?

I got my order of silicone in at the end of last week and I am ready to have a rematch with the half of the sword mould that cured too fast! Everybody cross your fingers, toes, and eyeballs for me and hopefully we’ll have a brand new mould ready to rock by tomorrow.

Are you excited? I’m terrified! Let’s go! ADVENTURE! 😀

I hate bubbles.

No really. They’re all well and good when you’re blowing them into the air on a sunny summer day, but when they’re in your mould? Sucktastic.

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This will not produce a lovely smooth sword. This will produce a mostly lovely smooth sword with weird little warts all over it. Unacceptable.

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So why is it like this? What happened? Well, it turns out that my workshop was hotter last week than I thought it was. Zhermack’s beautiful ZA22 silicone’s normal working temperature is 24 degrees Celsius. That means that, at 24 degrees, this lovely blue goo will set in 60 minutes. If it’s colder than that, it will set more slowly giving you a longer working time. But if it’s hotter …

The setting time is dramatically faster! I was in the middle of degassing it when it started turning into a sticky glop the consistency of cookie dough. I knew I was in trouble. 3 litres of silicone is NOT cheap. I pulled it out of the vacuum chamber and poured it as fast as I could. It was sticking to the inside of the container and I had to shove my hand into it (gloved of course) to pull out the rest because it wouldn’t flow anymore. It was like working with a huge mass of chewing gum.

As you might guess, bubbles got trapped in the silicone because it was just too viscous (thick) for the air to escape.

What to do? That right there is about a 108 Euro mistake. Yikes. Well, the important bit is the mould that immediately touches the sword I’m going to be casting. That has to be perfect. The rest of it? Meh. Nobody’s going to see any of that. So I decided to cut out the middle section of the mould and re-pour it instead of re-pouring the entire thing.

I should have re-poured the entire thing.

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So what’s this crazy deformed blue crocodile thing? That’s the mould. You might notice a slight gap there in the side.

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And by ‘slight gap’ I mean it’s wide enough to see the model sword inside the mould when it’s closed. So if I used the mould like this, all the resin would leak out the side. Why did it do this? Well, you might notice that the left side of the mould there has no gap. Let’s have a top-down view so you can better see what I’m about to explain.

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The top half of the mould is where hilt is and also where all those funky vents and the pour spout is. That makes it thicker than the funny banana-shaped bottom half where the blade is. Of course, the thicker bit is heavier. So when I poured the silicone into the middle section that I chopped out, the heavy top half stayed put, but the lighter bottom half floated! Since it only lifted up about a centimetre, I didn’t notice the movement.

The silicone I poured into the middle part to re-mould the sword bonded nicely with the rest of the silicone mould around it. Yay! But the silicone that crept in between the two halves of the mould didn’t stick to either side even though I cleaned one of them really, really well, and sealed the other very thoroughly. It would not obey my wishes and stayed a crazy blue flap just hanging out in between the two halves of the silicone sandwich.

So what do I do? Uhh … well I don’t have enough silicone left to re-pour the half of the mould I messed up. I’m not completely sure my budget can withstand another silicone purchase this month. We’ll have to see. So I’m going to attempt a weird “spacer” where the gap is so I can at least use the mould until I can re-pour the other side. What I’m going to make that out of is still up for debate. Possibly some kind of polymer plastic. Possibly rubber of some kind. Possibly uh … I don’t know. I’m going to experiment with many kinds of goo and see what works.

I have learned a lot from this mistake so it’s not entirely doom and gloom. So I’m trying to look on the bright side. It’s still frustrating for me cause I really wanted to be casting my first sword in the new mould this week. Oh well. The Iron Sisters are stubborn for a reason! Don’t give up!

Stay tuned for more exciting news including a brand new sword I just finished. I’ll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with Shadowhunters!

Silicone Sandwich

Otherwise known as the two-part mould. It’s half finished guys! Actually, it might be all finished right now; I have to go to the workshop to check. But I wanted to share with you the progress shots from last week because playing with goo is exciting!

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There’s the mould design sculpted in clay.
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And placed in its box for silicone pouring!
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Some kind of strange Ikea cake …
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Now to clean of allllll that clay. It took hours.
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Then a quick re-sculpt of the spout and air vents.

And it was all ready to go back in the box for the second half! Then I hit a few snags. First, since it’s the other side, the bendy part around the blade had to be put on the other way and when I did that, it somehow ended up about one centimetre shorter. I have no idea how this happened. Oh well! I just added some more corrugated plastic on the end.

Then, I noticed that the straight pieces of foam board I had used for the upper parts of the sword had become badly warped overnight! I tried to patch the gaps with extra hot glue but it just wasn’t working. I had to cut some MDA board instead and use that. That sucked up some extra time.

Then, as I was degassing the silicone for the second pouring, I realised something: it was really hot in my workshop. I thought it couldn’t be more than 24C or so in there and I was really focused on my work, not my comfort. BUT, with this silicone you can accelerate the curing time by increasing the temperature. Handy right? Except when all the bubbles aren’t out of it yet and it’s starting to set! AHHHHH! By the time I noticed what was wrong it was already as thick as cookie dough. I had to stick my gloved hand INTO the bucket of silicone and pull it out glob by glob. It even started curing to my glove and I had a big hand-sized blob of blue slime dangling off my fingers as I desperately waggled it, trying to get it off. It eventually plopped into the mould box with the rest.

So … will it be okay? I don’t know! The top of it won’t be as smooth and glossy as the top of the “Ikea cake” picture there. I’m afraid the silicone had already thickened so much that the last blobs that fell in will probably stay as they are and make the surface bumpy and weird. What does that mean for me? Well, it just means that I’ll have to do a fibreglass jacket around the mould instead of a wooden clamping box. Oh well! I have the stuff to do either one and I was on the fence about which way I wanted to do it anyway.

The real question is: did it cure nicely against the SWORD? Because if there’s bubbles or spaces against the sword, I have to do this part of the mould again. I’m making a pretty new mother mould for every Clariel model sword that will come from my shop. If there’s a mistake in that mould, there will be a mistake in every sword it produces! And I’ll have to take time to fix each and every one. That would ruin the point of making a better mould in the first place! It’s gotta be just as perfect as I can possibly make it.

Wish me luck! I have a feeling I’m gonna need it today.

New Silicone Test

Woo! I got some new platinum based moulding silicone from Materialshop.fi and oh my gosh it is the best stuff I have ever worked with. I wish I had started working with this from the very beginning. It would have saved me so much time and money!

I got a small test batch to see how it would work since I’ve only ever worked with tin based silicones before and I was nervous about messing it up. I decided to try casting a stone that has about the size, shape, and texture that I want for the much-requested witchlights. (I know you guys have been asking for them and I promise they’ll be available as soon as I get through all the design challenges!)

Enough jabbering. Let’s have some pictures!

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Step 1: Seal object to be moulded.
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Step 2: Cover object to be moulded in clay up to the halfway mark.
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Step 3: Pour in silicone. Wait. Take out finished mould.
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Step 4: Flip it over. Seal the completed half of the mould. Pour in more silicone. Wait. Take out your finished mould!

What’s next for this week? Well, I will be testing out this baby with some resin and fiddling with some light fixtures. (Have I mentioned how freaking hard it is to hide electronics inside a transparent object? AAAAHHHHH!) And I will also be finishing the closure on the Clariel sword I have almost ready to go. Then some very patient Shadowhunter will be getting an email they’ve been awaiting for a long time!

Thanks everybody for sticking with me and supporting me while I go through the hurdles of designing, improving, and crafting. I’m doing my best to make my art works available for everybody. It has forced me to make big changes, innovate, learn, and step so far out of my comfort zone I’m not sure where it is anymore. HA! But seeing the results makes it all worth the blood, sweat, and tears.

Wish me luck everybody! Off I go to make some more magic.

 

Good news!

It has been decided that I will have a new residency permit given to me and I can continue living and working here. That’s a big relief for me. I was afraid I’d have to go somewhere else and start all over again.

Where does that put us in terms of sword-making? Today I am making some alterations to the mould I have in hopes of reducing the bubbles that I’m still getting in the finished product. I feel that you deserve professional quality in your sword and and I’m determined to get it just as perfect as I can.

While I’m waiting on resin to cure, I’ll continue testing the resin polishing paste I bought in the hopes that it will reduce the amount of time I have to spend on the surface of the swords and result in a smoother, glossier finish. I’m still not sure if it’s as good as the wet/dry sandpaper. So I’m buffing up one sword with the polishing paste and another sword the “traditional” way with the sandpaper to see which yields a better finish.

After that, we move on to the electronics. I’ve already got the LEDs, batteries, and casings to play with but I’m still hunting for just the right kind of switch.

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!