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.

Some Progress?

Okay! Good news: I’ve completed one half of the silicone mould for Clariel and about 1/4 of the other half. (It’s a two-part mould.)

Bad news: I’m out of silicone and my supplier still hasn’t delivered my shipment yet. Rrrrrgh! Come on! I ordered it back on December 22nd! Get the lead out guys!

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Not half bad if I do say so myself. Uh, no pun intended. The silicone looks a bit tacky and weird on the surface in this shot but it’s just because it has mould release painted over it. I need to be verrrrry sure that it will come apart when the top layer is finished curing, otherwise, my sword will be trapped in a solid block of silicone. That would suck.

Now, hopefully, I will get to work this morning and find that my new silicone shipment is waiting for me. Wish me luck everybody! I’m trying my hardest to make this happen!

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!

 

Clairel: First Moulding

I started writing this post yesterday and then realised I didn’t have a picture for you! Durrr … That’s not nearly as exciting without a pic.

So you can see my first Clariel prototype (carved in foam) in there, covered in latex and ready for its hard casing to be put on. The casing is already on there now but I forgot to snap a photo before I left the workshop yesterday. (Cause I’m brilliant like that. XD )

I’m really hoping I did everything in the right order. BUT if I didn’t, it’s okay. I can always do it again.

Remember: if you failed but you learned something, you haven’t wasted your time!

Clariel Model Prototype

Ahhh yeah. It took me a couple days to carve the prototype for Clariel. Now I can take the first mould of it. After that, we move on to the second prototype which will be made of plaster. I’ll be able to get a much, much smoother surface with higher detail with plaster.

Also! Special news!

I’m moving to a new workshop! Don’t panic. It’s in the same building on the same floor so it won’t take long. Probably a day or two. This new room is a bit more expensive but it’s also a bit larger and has a couple windows.

I decided to take on this added expense for the sake of having a window so that I can have fresh air and natural light to work with. Alumilite is a very low-smell resin but it’s still recommended to have fresh air when working with it. I’ll post pics as soon as I’m able.

Until then, stay safe out there Shadowhunters.