When I was in college I figured out that the most dangerous room on campus wasn’t what you might expect. It was the print-making lab where I spent a goodly portion of freshman year. There were several large and powerful presses that could crush your fingers, a large box full of sawdust soaked in kerosene from cleaning ink off of metal plates, and my personal favorite, a vat of acid for etching copper plates. Thankfully, you don’t have to use something nearly as corrosive and dangerous as acid to do your own etching.
Etched metal is absolutely gorgeous and oh-so-Steampunk. In short, etching is a process where metal is removed chemically or with electricity. The metal is selectively protected by a resistant medium (called the mask or the resist) and the etching occurs on the exposed metal surface.
The oldest method of etching, called intaglio, is the same one I used for print-making. A metal like copper, zinc or steel is covered with a substance that is resistant to the etching solution and the design is incised into the mask with a sharp tool, leaving some of the metal exposed. Then the plate is bathed in a corrosive solution which “bites” into the metal and leaves lines behind. If you are making a print, you rub ink into the lines, wipe off the plate and use a press to transfer the ink to paper. When making jewelry or other accessories the next step is often to treat the metal to give is the right patina or finish, ie color and shine.
To do etching at home, you don’t have to need much in the way of fancy equipment, just some salt water, batteries and some tape. It turns out that the toner used in laserjet printers is a resistant to some corrosive chemicals used in etching, and it is easy to transfer designs that you have scanned into the computer onto your etched thing-to-be as long as you print onto the right kind of paper. So you can draw whatever you want and print it in black and white, and then presto! you get to see it in metal. Sharpie and sticky-backed vinyl can also be used for your mask.
There is an article in the Steampunk Bible about making awesome etched tins, and the author Jake von Slatt has also posted a great page on the Steampunk Workshop website with pictures. You can check out the tutorial here.
I also found a nice youtube instructional video that focuses on jewelry.
October 16, 2014 | Categories: DIY and Crafts, Steampunk You Can Wear | Tags: Copper, copper plates, etch, Etched metal, etching, etching solution, Jewelry, metal, steam punk, Steampunk, tins | 4 Comments
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.
For 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
October 14, 2014 | Categories: Artwork, Conventions and Special Events, DIY and Crafts, Steam Tour | Tags: Brass, Copper, DIY, Making, metal, steam punk, Steampunk, Steel, Stick welder, Torch, Weld, Welding | 3 Comments
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.
- 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.
October 10, 2014 | Categories: Artwork, Conventions and Special Events, DIY and Crafts, Steam Tour | Tags: Arts, arts and crafts, Blog, Crafts, DIY, metal, Solder, Soldering, soldering iron, steam punk, Steampunk | 7 Comments
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 🙂
At 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.”
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.
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.
Check out Part 2: “Treat and Heat”
October 9, 2014 | Categories: Conventions and Special Events, DIY and Crafts, Steam Tour | Tags: Arts, arts and crafts, Blog, Crafts, DIY, metal, steam punk, Steampunk, steampunk blog, Tips, Weekend at the Asylum | 9 Comments
The site of the Victoria and Albert Museum was purchased largely through the proceeds from the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was the first international exhibition of its time, though not the last. Many of the wonderful items showcased at these types exhibitions that were held all over Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries eventually found a home at the museum and are still on display today. When walking through the exhibit halls I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt looking for these pieces of history which were seen by millions of people during the course of exhibition and are still breathtakingly beautiful to behold over 160 years later. One of the appeals for me about Steampunk and the era that gave rise to the aesthetic is the emphasis on craftsmanship, and there is no shortage of that at the V&A. Here are two pieces of the most impressive pieces that I encountered during my visit.
This “cathedral in wood” was a gift from the Austrian Emperor, Franz Ferdinand, to Queen Victoria. According to the museum label, it’s decoration reflected the debate about the unification of all German-speaking peoples under one rule. The bookcase had to be at least 20 feet tall, which means it just might hold the entire literary collection of one Steampunk fan 🙂 In the center there is a Belgian altarpiece on display that looked like it had been carved out of the most delicious dark chocolate, but it was also made of wood. These two pieces were not originally shown together, but they both made cameos at the Great Exhibition. The altarpiece reflects the revival of the Gothic style that is often seen in Steampunk works, and makes it a lovely addition to the imposing bookcase.
This symphony in metal is called the Hereford screen, and was on display at the International Exhibition of 1862. Like the altarpiece above, this was a way of harkening back to the Gothic era when churches employed magnificent screens like this one. The choir would stand behind large and ornately carved wooden screens, but this one was intended to showcase new advances in metal-working techniques as much as celebrate the Gothic style. There are several figures on the screen, which is over 10 meters high. The figures could very well have been cast in bronze, but instead were created by using newly-discovered electroplating technology that employed plaster molds and electricity to bend copper to the artist’s will. This is truly an example of old-meets-new in the Victorian era, so it definitely piqued my Steampunk interest.
Have you spotted any pieces of the Great Exhibition or the International Exhibition in London? Please share!
September 29, 2014 | Categories: Artwork, Entertainment, History, Museums and Exhibitions, Steam Tour, The City of London, Travel | Tags: art, Great Exhibition, International Exhibition, metal, Steampunk, Victoria, Victoria and Albert Museum, Victorian, Wood | 1 Comment
Some people might think the V&A is not up their alley if they hear the focus is on ‘decorative arts,’ but believe me when I tell you this is not a place where you are going to be inundated with doilies and end tables. Personally, I love the decorative arts because these are the objects that people really did touch, see and experience in their everyday lives, including architectural features. In addition to the fabulous clothing and sumptuous household goods, there is an amazing gallery of just samples of ironwork.
There are still lots of examples of wrought and cast all over London (which will get their own post soon), but these items have often been painted and repainted so many times that the delicacy and detail that can be achieved when working in metal has been totally obliterated. This is not so at the museum, where everything from window grates to railings to candlesticks have been preserved for posterity. If you are a fan of metal, you should definitely make sure you stop by the Victoria and Albert Museum if you are visiting or living in London.
Here is sampling of what I saw when I visited.
September 10, 2014 | Categories: Artwork, History, Home Decor and Accessories, Museums and Exhibitions, Steam Tour, The City of London, Travel | Tags: architectural features, architecture, decorative arts, iron, London, metal, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria, steam punk, Steampunk, Victoria and Albert Museum | Leave a comment