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.

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.

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!

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!

 

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!