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.

Forgot to Say I Went on Vacation Whoops!

Hi folks! I logged in today to say I’m back from my trip to Canada and realised I didn’t make a post to say I went away in the first place. Duuuuuh good job Ethan. XD Sorry about that everyone.

To the people who have been waiting patiently for me to get back to their emails, thank you so much and I will respond as soon as I can. I’m still really jet-lagged and I want to give you a response when my brain is actually working.

The finger I accidentally chopped is healing up nicely. I still have a lot of numbness in the tip of it but the feeling’s gradually coming back. There’s one spot that’s rather sore that I think I damaged the nerves there. Feels kind of like when you bang your elbow on something whenever it touches a hard surface the wrong way. Typing is still annoying but getting better slowly.

Even on vacation, I was still thinking of y’all. In fact, I spent an afternoon chattering with an engineer friend about manufacturing. He also does resin casting and moulding projects though on a much larger and more industrial scale than me. But whether you’re casting machine parts or art, it’s the same principal.

In short, I got some really valuable knowledge on rapid prototyping, moulding, casting, saving money on my development stages while still producing quality stuff. He wants to have a look over my sketches and schematics as I launch into resin casting my swords so he can give some feedback as I go.

To tell you the truth, it feels great to have a bit of practical support in this crazy endeavour of mine. I don’t need much. Just an occasional glance over my shoulder and a comment or two steering me away from pitfalls and letting me know that there’s an easier way to do something. I’ve been doing this alone for more than two years now and it’s been hard. It’s been lonely. And I’ve had to learn everything the hard way by trial and error. But, like the Iron Sisters, I’m too stubborn to give up.

“A Shadowhunter must behave as though victory is assured,” as the Codex tells us, and I haven’t forgotten that. Quitting is not an option for me, and never has been.

What’s coming up in the near future? You can expect to see in-progress photos of my planning, prototyping, and casting phases as early as next Monday. I’ll be answering your emails as early as today. I will be continuing development on witchlights and steles and you can expect to see my progress on that too. (So far I’ve got silicone boogers that were not the density I wanted so I’ll be making resin versions of the witchlight instead. LOL )

After I’ve moulded and cast a Clariel model I’m satisfied with, I will be putting up a poll for you to vote on the next model to be put into production. I have a feeling I know which one it’s going to be but I want to hear from you all! Your input is my guiding light and steers what I create in my workshop.

As soon as I have a reliable system of production, I will be putting up an Etsy store for a much easier ordering process. So far, I’ve been hiding out in this remote corner of the internet because I’m totally overwhelmed by orders as it is. XD Once I know that I can keep up with demand, I can put my fuzzy face out there for all to see and get Seraph Blades out to all the lovely Shadowhunters who need them.

Before I trundle off to the workshop, I want to let you all know that I’m so very grateful for your support. The emails and comments that pop up in my inbox every morning put a smile on my face and remind me of what all this work is for. I feel super lucky to be making cool stuff for other Shadowhunter fans. You inspire me to create, forgive me when I screw up, and give me courage to keep going when the going gets tough. We have such a great fan community. Love you all. ❤

OOOOWWWWW! Darnit!

Yes, I know. I went quiet again. Thing is: I cut the tip off my left ring finger by accident. Well, of course it was an accident. I’m not that bonkers.

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Now, it’s healing quite well. Got some nice pink new skin coming in and I should have full function of my finger, but the wound is still fresh enough that I still can’t do any carving without it … uh … well, leaking. Ewwwww. No I’m not gonna show you any pics of the boo boo itself. That’s gross.

I go on vacation to Canada to see my friends and relatives that I haven’t seen for two years. I had hoped to have the sword model finished and moulded in silicone, ready for resin casting when I got back. Needless to say, that’s gotten pushed back.

It’s frustrating. I get a new request for a sword pretty much every second day and I really, really want to be making all those pretty shiny things for y’all right now! This is just rotten luck I tell ya. I’m super duper bored cause, well, it’s my finger. Everything I do requires the use of both my hands. Even typing is weird and slow because I can’t push the W, S, or X button with the finger I’m supposed to.

Anywho, grump grump grump, pout pout pout, rawr. I swear I’m not being lazy. I’m just full of OUCH. Yes I will get to your emails. Thank you for being patient with me. Stay awesome. ❤

Still Healing …

Yep … I’m still recovering from surgery. I desperately want to be back in the workshop creating things and the boredom is driving me bonkers. I was able to visit the workshop on the weekend to bring some small crafting stuff home with me; paints and such.

The trip was really painful. I needed to stop partway there and take some painkillers. Thankfully my wife was there to help me. It made me happy to at least see the place just as I left it. All my tools waiting for me to come back. Right now, it’s pretty much all I can do to get there and get home. It’s progress.

There’s some good news in the mix though and I want to share it with you. 🙂 I’m just about ready to place my order for a big batch of silicone and liquid resin from a Swedish distributor. They’re quite close to Finland so the shipping won’t be ridiculous and they sell the kind of resin that I want to work with. They’ve been really helpful in assisting me to choose the right kind of resin for the job.

Casting things that are as large as a seraph blade can be tricky! There are so many things that can go wrong. Overheating during curing (which leads to cracks). Bubbles trapped in the resin (usually we would use a pressure pot to prevent this but there’s none big enough for a sword!). Resin in the thick parts not hardening all the way through. All these things can be overcome with the right ratio of hardener, careful mixing, patience, and practice. My Iron Sister (… Brother?) skills are about to be put to the test once again. Wish me luck!

In response to the many email inquiries I’ve gotten:

While I’m not taking orders right now, you absolutely CAN send me messages to tell me what kind of sword you want to buy! This is super helpful to me so I know which style of blade to make first when I get back in the shop and how many of them I need to make.

I will bookmark each and every email I get about swords, steles, and witchlights and do my absolute best to get back to all of you as soon as I have something for you. I will be sure to make lots of noise and fanfare here on my site when I’m back to producing Seraph Blades.

Until then, send me iratze’s guys. I need ’em! Heal faster dangit!

No I’m Not Dead Yet

Hi everybody! Just a quick update to let you know that I haven’t vanished. Yes I am still making swords and shiny things. I was in the hospital for a bit and I’ve been recovering from surgery. There’s nothing to fret about. It was all planned for and not an emergency of any kind. I’m not sick with anything.

Just getting that out of the way. So, if you’ve sent me an email, I’m not ignoring you and I’ll reply as soon as I have some time. I plan on digging though my inbox tomorrow.

I have now completely finished chewing through my backlog of orders from last year when I had to go workshop hunting on short notice. Big thanks to all the Shadowhunters who waited so patiently for their swords! You guys are the best. ❤

So what’s next? Next is going to be a big research and development phase for me. I have some exciting new ideas about witchlights and I need to nail down exactly how I want to do the electronics. I’m also going to be doing some experiments with resin casting in hopes that I will be able to make more swords more quickly.

I hate only being able to make roughly 24 swords per year. It’s just not fair to all the people who want them. It’s also not fair to me because … well that’s just not enough sales to keep my business up and running. But because I literally cannot make them any faster carving them one at a time with my power tools, my strategy and techniques are going to have to change.

I have two choices: Carve them with a CNC router or cast them in resin. Both of these options have serious challenges and steep startup costs. CNC machines are rather high-tech. They’re also noisy and dusty. Resin, on the other hand can give off really stinky fumes and it’s hard to get the stuff to cure perfectly without any bubbles or blemishes.

First, I’m going to try the resin. I’ve got some experience with moulding and casting things so I’m slightly more confident in those skills than I am with my computer programming. I will be getting my hands on some Alumilite resin as I’ve heard it doesn’t smell like Satan’s personal urinal. If it cures nicely and the fumes aren’t intolerable, then AWESOME, we have our solution to the production problem. If it doesn’t work …

Then I’ll go ahead with my first plan of building a CNC machine and continue being the crazy, crazy weirdo who carves sculptures out of plastic.

Wish my luck with the rest of my recovery and explorations into new creative territory!

Stay safe out there Shadowhunters.