Steampunk inspiration and resources

Conventions and Special Events

Tips for Makers: You Can Fake it When You Make it Part 1, “Gathering Resources”

I hope you have been enjoying my Tips for Makers series based on the sessions at the Weekend at the Asylum festival so far. “Taming Metal” parts 1, 2, 3 and 4, were for the people who want to use real metal in their props, costumes and gadgets, but that’s not for everyone. Sometimes you want things to look a certain way but you don’t have the time, materials or skills to make it happen. And there is no shame in cutting corners or substituting one thing for another. I know some people are all about the “authenticity” but Steampunk should be a bit of silly fun and lack of know-how shouldn’t keep you from trying your hand at making something cool.

I went to a session hosted by “Major Quicksilver” during my great weekend in Lincoln and he had tons of advice about materials and how to get them at an affordable rate. The most important thing he told the audience was if you see something, buy it right then and there. Don’t wait for a project to start gathering materials, because chances are when you go back to get something it will be gone, or it will have gone up in price. I have been moving around a lot in the last few years so I have been holding off from gathering too much myself, and I can’t wait until I get settled enough to amass the craft room of my dreams.

"Sky "Shadowbox by ForWhomTheGearTurns

“Sky “Shadowbox by ForWhomTheGearTurns

But even with my space restriction I can’t help myself from going into overstock and scrap store I come to, and I usually leave with at least one treasure. It may take years before I use it, but whenever I start a new project I take infinite pleasure in going through my materials and rediscovering things that will enhance my work. For instance, I started collecting pieces of chandeliers because they were crystaline and shiny. Then I discovered if you turn them upside down they make wicked mini hot air balloons. Some of the scrapbook paper in this piece were from the first pad I ever bought years ago.

There are lots of random things around your house that can be put to new uses. Pill bottles, for instance, can hold tiny things like beads or screws, and the covers can be used as knobs or dials on a jet pack or ray gun. I made a pair of aviator goggles for my toy poodle and I used the caps from pill bottles as the makeshift lenses. He was never going to let me put goggles on him for real, so it didn’t matter if they were functioning. Unfortunately he and the goggles are back stateside or I’d post a photo, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that they are adorable.

Want to add a little brass? The wire used for hanging framed art comes in a brassy color and you can get it for pretty cheap. There are also a lot of old cameras and other gizmos at your local thrift store just waiting for you to take them apart and find all the goodies inside. Drawer pulls which can do double duty as various cosmetic adornments and come in lots of shapes, sizes and finishes and there are often bucketloads of these are scrap yards.

So get on out there and start gathering your resources, you never know when a project will come up!

Here are a few places where I get my arts and crafts supplies. (Sorry UKers, I mostly make and therefore shop in the US).

Ax-Man (4 locations in MN)- hands down the best place to get random mechanical parts that actually function, or just look cool. Glass bottles and beakers, circuit boards, switches, leather scraps, magnets, you name it, they have it and it is SUPER cheap.

ArtScraps (St. Paul, MN)- When I got married I made my own wedding invites by getting cheap art prints and cutting them down to size. They have stamps, fasteners and bulk randomness, plus classes and birthday parties for kids.

The Scrap Box (Ann Arbor Michigan)- This is where I got all those pretty chandelier dangles that I use in my shadowboxes. There is a back room where they charge you by weight so you just go in, load up a grocery bag and it may cost you $5 for a full one.

Scrap Creative Re-Use Center (San Franciso, CA)- This is advertised as a great place for teachers to come and get supplies for their classes. In addition to overstock and bulk goodies, there are magnets, wooden blocks and whiteboards.

Urban Ore– This is a pretty hardcore scrapyard with lots of doors, furniture, marble tiles and other home

Do you have and advice about where to find cool and useful stuff? Please comment below!


Tips for Makers: Taming Metal Part 3, “Torch and Scorch”

Even though it is strongly associated with the Industrial Revolution and the World Wars, welding has been around for thousands of years in one form or another. The Bronze Age (in Europe 3200-600 BCE) and the Iron Age (in Europe 800-51 BCE) were both eras shaped by the pounding, heating and joining of metals. But what happened in the Steam era were new techniques with fancy new power sources.

Stick weldingFor a long time, application of fire or hot coals was the only way to get metal to reach a high heat, and together with pressure (ie, hitting it with a hammer) with time and patience you could create weapons and other items that were made of metal fused together (this is called forge welding). But, at the beginning of the 19th century, the electric arc was discovered almost simultaneously in two different countries and shielded metal arc welding and its versatile tool the stick welder were born a short time later. An electric arc, in the simplest terms, is the shape that an electric current takes  as it “jumps” from one point to another and ignites the gasses between those two points. This burning gas is hot enough to be considered plasma, which means that it burns extremely brightly, can throw off intense UV radiation, can create noxious fumes that you don’t want to inhale and is extremely likely to make your nice unmarred flesh resemble a roast suckling pig if it makes contact so BE CAREFUL.

During the Taming Metal session at Weekend at the Asylum the panelists didn’t get to spend too much time on any one method, but this was definitely Trevor Frank’s favorite. Stick welders are especially easy to use nowadays because of advancements that keep unwanted gasses from the air out, thus creating a more stable and predictable arc. You definitely must use a mask that covers the full face to protect your skin, eyes and lungs. Frank and others mentioned developing something they called “the welder’s nod” because of deploying their mask with a nod of the head. Plasma burns so bright that the eye part of a welding mask has to be so dark you cannot see what you are about to weld when you have your mask on. So the artist can lift their mask, get their pieces into position and right before they ignite the plasma they give a sharp nod of the head to bring the shield down. But masks have also been coming a long way, and there is now a type that darkens to eye shield the moment the arc is struck, thus saving your neck from all that nodding. There are many different kinds of welding, but for the non-professional, stick welding is a great method that their portability and relative ease of use.

There are some welding methods that use open (and extremely hot) flames in the form of torches. Personally, I have used a cutting torch to do some freehand sheet metal art, but I have never actually done welding myself. So in lieu of giving you bad information, I wanted to provide some links to resources instead.

Instructables- Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding tutorial

Welding Tips and Tricks website


Tips for Makers: Taming Metal Part 2, “Treat and Heat”

One of my very first sun-catchers.

My favorite of the sun-catchers that I have made

Last time I covered some of the kinder, gentler ways to work with metal. In this post, I want to tell you about soldering. This is the metallurgical technique with which I have the most personal experience. I have used it to create silver jewelry and to attach transistors to electrical components like circuit boards, as well as making stained glass sun-catchers and sculptures.

Soldering

    • Solder, a metal alloy used to join other metals together, comes in different varieties that have different melting temperatures, and your solder must always have a melting temperature lower than that of what you are joining.
      • There is soft solder (melting between 190 to 840 °F) and hard solder (840 °F and above), which is sometimes called ‘silver solder‘. When working with high-temperature solder it is often referred to as ‘brazing.’ When a joint is particularly delicate (ie, joining two very small things or a small thing to a large thing) or the finished item is going to see a lot of wear and tear, it is better to use a harder solder and more acidic flux.
    • In some cases, once your solder hardens it may actually be stronger than the materials you are joining. (This is also true of wood glue, by the way. It is usually easier to break the wood that you join than the place where it is joined.)
    • Solder is often in the form of wire on a spool that is unwound and cut to the size needed for a particular joint. I have also used soldering solutions where tiny bits of solder are suspending in a liquid (see ‘flux’ below).
    • There are two different kinds of tools you can use to melt your solder. A soldering iron is more or less shaped like a fat pen and is held as if you are writing. Be careful with this kind because once gets hot it stays hot as long as it is on. A soldering gun is shaped like a pistol and has a trigger that the artist presses to heat the tip each time. In both of these cases, the tip of the tool comes in direct contact with the solder and melts it so it can flow into the crack between whatever is being joined. When I making circuit boards, I used a hot air soldering iron that was held like a soldering iron but it had an open tip where air was heated and forced through, so the tip never came in contact with the solder itself. This was used with a very low temperature tin solder that has a high rate of conductivity which made it is ideal for electronics. Some hard solders may require a torch instead of an iron or gun.
    • Before you can solder, you have to treat the joint with flux. This is a slightly acidic solution that takes away residue left from handling with bare hands, and it facilitates the solder’s flow into the joint. It is only mildly acidic, but if it gets into your eyes it can cause discomfort (trust me, I know from firsthand experience.)
  • Safety: It is a good idea to wear gloves when soldering, especially if you are using a soldering iron which stays hot between joints. Stained glass soldering works at a low enough temperature that I have never gotten a blister from contact with the iron, but I have gotten sore, red fingers that last for a couple days. Keep in mind that the longer you have to apply the heat to the solder, the more the surrounding metal will also heat, so you can get burned if you are holding the materials you are joining with bare hands. Also, when flux heats it can sometimes spit like bacon grease in a frying pan, so if you may also want to wear goggles to keep the hot liquid from getting into your eyes.

Tips for Makers: Taming Metal Part 1, “Glues and Screws”

Friends, makers, cosplayers, lend me your ears! (Or eyes as the case would be) I attended several different sessions during my awesome convention experience in Lincoln, including three that were all about making the cool props, costumes, widgets and gadgets that can add that extra zing to your Steampunkery. This is the first installment of a multi-part tipfest for those of you who like to get your hands dirty just in time for Halloween.

I have taken many art classes in my time, and I was a fine arts major in college before I injured my drawing hand too badly to continue. I still minored in Art History though, and to qualify I took one of my favorite classes of all time, Intro to Sculpture. We worked with a variety of materials over the summer, but my absolute favorite was metal. I love it for two reasons: under the right conditions it is totally malleable, and when you are done it is incredibly strong. And shiny of course, let’s not forget shiny 🙂

Herr DoktorAt Weekend at the Asylum there was a session called “Taming Metal” that was run by a panel consisting of “Herr Doktor“, Trevor Frank and “Dr Quack.” They started with the easiest way to join two metal pieces together and moved to the more involved techniques as the session went on, and they also touched on some important tools and safety tips, and etching advice. The following bullets are based on my notes that I took during the session.

    • Metal can be joined in many ways ranging from “glues and screws” to welding. The stronger the joint you are looking for, the more sophisticated the equipment and the more safety precautions you need to take. There are serious safety concerns when working with torches, both for burns to your skin and to your retina which can result in temporary blindness and serious long-term effects on vision, so NEVER cut corners when it comes to safety. “Metal doesn’t care how old you are, or how experienced you are.”
    • Epoxy often looks like two syringes that are connected.

      Epoxy often looks like two syringes that are connected.

      But let’s start with the easier stuff. Epoxy is more effective than other types of glue for adhering metal to other metal, or metal to other materials. And what is epoxy, you ask? It is usually a combination of two resins that are only mixed at the time you are using them and any extra must be disguarded, unlike glue that can sit on your shelf forever and more or less stays the same (though of course, glues to dry out over time).

    • Any time you are going to use an adhesive rather an a screw, solder or welded connection make sure that you rough up your surface. The little scratches left behind by sand paper or steel wool will give your glue more to grip and create a better seal. And to give your glue its best shot, try to find a way to clamp or weigh down the connection point for at least a day or two while the adhesive sets. To preserve the look and texture of the metal while clamping, it is a good idea to put a cloth between your material and the shoes (or holdy-onny part of your clamp) or use a clamp with rubber covering the shoes.
  • A few shapes that nuts can take.

    A few shapes that nuts can take.

    Nuts and bolts are a great way to hold metal together, but you will probably need to drill holes before you start. Dremels and other small, handheld drills can get through most thing sheets of metal, but watch out for shavings that can be sharp. But, it can be hard to find nuts and bolts that are the right color or type of metal (most are shiny, stainless steel like those at the right) to go with steampunk designs, so you may want to pre-rough them up if you are planning to add paint or use rivets instead.

  • Rivets are cool and very steampunk. Unlike screws and nuts n bolts, rivets are more or less meant to be permanent fasteners. The look a bit like a screw, but the shaft is smooth. The shaft is put through a pre-drilled (or pre-existing) hole and the tail end get smooshed to create a little barbell that holds your materials in place. If you like the look of rivets but don’t want to take the time or find the right tools for the job, I will give you some advice about how to fake rivets for cheap in my “Creating with Quicksilver” post next week.Rivet01

Check out Part 2: “Treat and Heat”


Weekend at the Asylum: The Markets

Europe’s largest Steampunk convivial was the host to several markets and tons of talented traders and craftspeople. There was one open to the general public in Castle Square, but the rest were only available to convention attendees. It was fun to be at the open market because of the opportunity to see all the “normals” mixing with the Steampunk crowd, but the closed markets were a great opportunity to visit booth after booth without being overcrowded.

I got a chance to talk to lots of people and collect several business cards, so I will do some posts on individual folks and businesses where you can get some stuff to add extra steam to your own cosplay. For now, here are some pics of the general hub-bub and the kinds of things you could purchase as part of the convention. Even with the pounds to dollars conversion I found the prices for vintage and handmade goods to be very reasonable. I picked up a utility belt, some art supplies and lovely lace collar for less than 50 GBP total.

 

 


Weekend at the Asylum: Steam Bears

When I was reading through the program for Weekend at the Asylum I was intrigued by the competition category for “Steam Bears.” These are stuffed animals (mostly bears) that were dressed up or modified especially to reflect the Steampunk aesthetic. Maybe if you make the trip to Asylum VII you can enter one of your own!


Weekend at the Asylum: The Great Exhibition

Besides the amazing outfits and incredible sessions, there was also an exhibition of Steampunk arts and crafts during the convention. There were some fun gadgets, punked paintings and imaginative accessories on display all weekend in the Tennyson Suite of the Bailgate Assembly Rooms. Check out the gallery below, and if you want to know about any particular work or artist, feel free to leave me a comment. I took pictures of almost all of the labels for the gizmos and I can pass them on if you want more info.


Cosplay at the Asylum: The Costume Contest

IMG_1828You should have been there. The buzz in the ballroom was happy and excited as the DIY models assembled to strut their stuff for a very appreciative audience. I had hoped to get a seat at the end of the runway, but even 10 minutes before the show started it was difficult to find any empty floor space at all, so I had to settle for sitting on the floor seat near the stage. I hope you enjoy the gallery of photos as much as I enjoyed being there, and I also got a chance to shoot a quick video of the models’ final procession right before the judges made their decision.