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I make toys for kids who don't want to grow up. I'm on the lookout for new projects. If you're interested in commissioning me to build something ridiculous, shoot me an email.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Kid's-Eye View of the Workshop

From time to time my nephew Lincoln stops by to visit in the shop.  He's four.

Most of the time he does a good job of keeping himself busy playing with a box of Star Wars action figures I've accumulated under one of the benches.  But when they stop being interesting, the questions start...

"What's that?"

"What movie was this guy in?"

"What does this thing do?"

"Can I wear that helmet?"

"Can I hold that gun?"

For a while it's charming, but sooner or later I have to find something else to entertain him.  Fortunately for me, I have a pretty sturdy little point and click digital camera that I keep in the shop to document projects.  So it's really easy to hand it to him and ask him to take pictures.  

The best ones happen when I just tell him I need him to get photos of all of the important things in the shop.  It's always fascinating to see what a small child does with instructions like that.  He does not disappoint.  The sum total of technical training he was given was "push this button to take a picture."  The rest of the magic was all his:

Lincoln Shop pic a4

So here's a few of my favorites out of the dozens of images he captured.  They haven't been altered in any way in order to maintain the artist's original intent as purely as possible.  I just had to be selective to make sure there wasn't any NDA material that showed up in the pictures.

Here's his impressionist image of the "noisy/dusty room" where my Carvewright CNCs, belt sander, and rotary tools live:
Lincoln Shop Pic 1

The rafters are full of all kinds of interesting things, but apparently none of them are as interesting as this cardboard Captain Phasma mask someone gave me a few years ago as a joke:
Lincoln Shop Pic 2

Tucked away in another corner is this box fan, one of the very few things that was worth focusing on:
Lincoln Shop Pic 3

In this corner is...  probably something cool behind his finger:
Lincoln Shop pic a3

This is a bucket seat, a padded lid to convert a standard 5-gallon bucket into a comfy stool:
Lincoln Shop Pic 4

Back to the rafters, in the middle of this pic you can almost make out the boxed set of Republic Commando action figures I consistently won't let him open and play with:
Lincoln Shop Pic 5

Then there's a couple more helmets he recognizes:
Lincoln Shop Pic 6

Back at eye level, here's some of the molds currently in use:
Lincoln Shop Pic 7

And another useful stool to forgo kneeling:
Lincoln Shop Pic 8

Also qualifying as "important things in the shop:" an unopened pack of Priority Mail boxes:
Lincoln Shop Pic 9

This picture was probably framed much differently, but it seems he got some unwanted help from Tiki the chocolate lab (aka "Moop the Spastic Dog Noodle"):
Lincoln Shop pic a2

Then there's this collection of vacformed parts and an empty Amazon box:
Lincoln Shop Pic 10

And another shot of molds because they're twice as important:
Lincoln Shop Pic 11

I think this is the view from the same spot, but in the opposite direction.  Maybe:
Lincoln Shop pic a1

So there it is, a few snapshots from the point of view of a four year old.  Good times.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

High-Speed Solution to Prepping Printed Plastic Parts for Paint

I don't tend to do video tutorials, but I've seen enough stupid #sandinghacks to convince me that there's a lot of amateurs out there teaching what they don't know how. Here's my high-speed, low-drag, fool-proof method for rapidly prepping printed parts for primer and paint:

Forgot to mention: this method will only work with ABS printed parts. The low melting point of PLA parts make them a bad idea in the clothes dryer and the higher pH value of the vegetable-based plastic counteracts the effects of the citric acid. Don't even ask me about PETG printed parts. If you insist on using PETG, you've got your own problems and I can't help you. Also, I need a damned haircut.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Quick and Easy Project of the Week: Jarnbjorn

Back in November, Do3D.com was having their Black Friday sale and offering deep discounts on all of their printable prop models.  While I already had a lot of things in the pipeline, the files were priced so cheap I couldn't resist the urge to stack up a bunch of things to keep the printers running during the idle time between more important projects. 

One of the models I got was their rendition of Jarnbjorn*, Thor's axe as depicted in the Sideshow Lady Thor statue:

Since I'd already made the comic book version of this costume (build details here: LINK) I figured I might as well add this one more prop weapon to the wall of potential armaments for her to carry.  The axe is pretty sexy on its own:

Considering the steady stream of rayguns and robot parts I've been making, it would be nice to do something a little more analog for a change.  Plus, I have a stark shortage of melee weapons on the big wall of prop weapons.  This beast was just what the doctor ordered.

The modelers at Do3D did a pretty good job of translating that sculpt into the digital realm:

Jarnbjorn Model by Do3D

Printing the Head:

The head of the axe was way too big to print in one piece.  Instead, over the course of a few days, my fleet of Zortrax M200 3D printers grew the head as a series of separate chunks.  Here's the digital layout showing one of the first pieces set up in the Zortrax software:

Jarnbjorn Print Setup in Zortrax Software

After printing six or seven such chunks and gluing them together with copious amounts of CA glue, I started adding primer and had the printed head mostly done:

Printed Head During Smoothing

Printed with about 30% infill, the head of the axe was a good compromise between strength and weight.  A carefully balanced notion of low cost and durability.  That's all well and good since I would not likely be using it to cleave the heads of dark elves invading the nine realms. 

Making the Handle:

If the handle was going to be 3D printed as well, it would need some kind of reinforcement to keep it from breaking whenever someone gets overzealous about brandishing it.

So what to use for handle reinforcement?  After noodling over a few options for printing it hollow and filling it with resin or fitting it with a metal rod or wooden dowel, I started thinking of all of the additional work I'd need to do in order to smooth out the print lines.  Then I'd still have to prime, prep, and paint on a convincing wooden finish.  Then I'd have to pick out all of the leather parts and paint them to look the part as well.  In the end I decided that there was no really good reason to print the handle at all.  I would do something different.  Something new.  Something completely revolutionary.

I would build a wood-looking axe handle from scratch.  Out of wood.

I know, I know.  It sounds crazy, but I actually had all of the necessary technology close at hand.  My friend Mark works at a mill that makes custom trim and molding for home restoration contractors.  I asked him to keep an eye out for a suitable scrap of something pretty-ish.  He managed to find me a six foot piece of cedar 4x6 that would do nicely.

To make my initial cut for the shape of the handle, I printed out a side view of the 3D model scaled up to lifesize.  Then I laid it out and traced it onto the big ass cedar plank:

Handle layout

Because I'm lazy and the bandsaw was in a whole different building, I made the initial cut with a jigsaw instead.  This meant that I had to make the cut on both sides and I ended up with an understandably ugly edge:
Handle Rough Shaping

I did the initial rough shaping the end of the handle with a rasp and a knife.  Eventually it was a good fit for the head of the axe:
Tiki and Axe Head

My plan had originally been to round out and taper the handle with a spokeshave or a draw knife.  But digging through my father's odd assortment of antique woodworking tools, they turned out to be a bit rusty and way overdue for a sharpening:

Dad's Spokeshaves

Since I really wasn't in a sharpening and stropping mood, and because the open grain of the soft cedar wood would make it a tricky proposal at best, I opted to skip the spokeshaves.  Instead, I did more rough shaping with a rasp and a drywall knife.  This is the decision of some sort of deranged person, but it was late and I was on a roll.

When I was pretty happy with the overall proportions, I did the final rounding and smoothing on the flat and the round end of my trusty bench mounted belt sander:
Belt Sander
If you need that same warning label for some piece of your equipment, you can find your own here: https://amzn.to/2XlOmUj

I'm pretty happy with the results.  Wood is pretty:
Rounding Begins

The next day my nephew stopped by the shop.  He was pretty happy with the results too:
Nephew Test Fitting Axe

After sanding the handle down to 220-grit, it looked about like so:
Natural Grain

Of course, the handle of Jarnbjorn shouldn't look like a buttery soft chunk of cedar.  Instead it should look like it was hewn from something mightier than oak by dwarven forgemasters of Nidavellir  over a thousand years ago.  Fortunately, Minwax makes that exact color:
First Stain Pass

Once the stain was set, I went ahead and laid on a few coats of satin polyurethane finish to even out the sheen and toughen up the surface of the handle.

With the shape, shade, and sheen all figured out, it was time to start adding the remaining details.  I started with the faux iron rings.  These began as strips of scrap ABS plastic I had laying around:
Handle Rings

Each strip was pre-bent to help it sit properly in place:
Handle Rings

Once they were fitted, the excess length was trimmed off;
Handle Rings

They were glued in place as well as nailed with furniture tacks:
Handle Rings

The final detail was a styrene half round fitted along each edge:
Handle Bands Progress

At this point, the whole thing was really starting to look the part:
Handle Bands Progress

The metal rings were painted with a few coats of hammered metallic silver paint:
Hammered silver metallic basecoat

Silver Bands

Once the paint had dried, it was time to take off the masking tape and get to the leather parts.

Fortunately, I tend to have sacks of leather scraps kicking around in storage for no particular reason.  For the grip section between the iron rings, I used a soft, black buckskin leather like so:

Leather wraps

For the brown binding, I had a strip of thicker cowhide that looked to be the right color:

Leather wraps

And lo, the handle was maked:20210225_154504

Painting the Head:

Meanwhile, the head still looked like a 3D printed, chintzy piece of crap. After a few coats of primer, I gave it a cheap coat of rattlecan silver and instantly regretted it:ugly silver head

Still, I figured maybe I'd like it better once I'd picked out the inlay details in gold:
Ready to Weather

Still not loving it, I gave the whole thing a blackwash:
blackwash progress

I guess it was a bit better:
Blackwash Completed

The other nephew thought it was cool:
Sizing Test

But still, I felt it needed to be better looking.  That may be due in part to the fact that I've been messing around with a lot of stuff like this:
Alumaluster Mythosaur Skull Wall Hanging

While Jarnbjorn wasn't especially shiny in the statue, I couldn't shake the notion that this was supposed to be an axe wielded by a god, forged by the mythical master weaponsmiths of Asgard and blessed with the blood of Thor himself.  It shouldn't look quite so shabby.  

So I went ahead and stripped off the paint, sanded everything down to 600 grit, and gave it a nice glossy coat of black:
Repainting Jarnbjorn Head Gloss Black

Once that was done curing, I dusted on a nice, shiny coat of Alumaluster:
Jarnbjorn Head in Alumaluster

A little while later I was working on an unrelated project that needed some gold candy coat.  So once those parts were sprayed, I broke out a brush to pick out the inlay by hand:
Repainting Alumaluster with Gold Candycoat

Then the whole thing got a couple coats of automotive clearcoat and finally, when the axe head was installed on the handle, it was given another blackwash to take just a bit of the shine off of it and give it the look of a relic worthy of a place of honor in the armory of Asgard:

Oil Based blackwash

Ragging off

Blade finished

In this case, the black was a flat black oil-based paint and the thinning and wiping was done with mineral spirits.  This isn't an option with normal hardware store spraypaint because the thinner is likely to mess up the finish, but the automotive urethane clearcoat is stable enough to be unmarred when the thinner is wiped off with a rag.  The end result is a nice, durable finish that won't rub off quite as easy as an acrylic blackwash.  It makes me happy:
Jarnbjorn Done!

So then the fully-finished thing of beauty sat on the shelf for a minute waiting for a clear, sunny day so I could get some photos of it in natural light.  That proved problematic:
Jarnbjorn Finished003

One of these days I'll get the Lady Shawnon dressed up in the Thor costume and do another location shoot.  In the meantime, here's Jarnbjorn in all it's glory:
Jarnbjorn Finished002

Jarnbjorn Finished001

It's still a bit tricky to find a "natural" backdrop that showcases all of the different colors and textures:
Jarnbjorn Finished004

But having taken a few photos, it was time to test it out:
Jarnbjorn Finished005

The Lady Shawnon tried it out too:
Jarnbjorn Finished006

Before anybody gets too excited about us abusing my poor dog Leeloo, know that she wasn't even the least bit frightened and the only way to get her to run for these staged photos was to kick a ball for her to chase.  You can see the ball in this failed attempt:
Jarnbjorn Finished010

And when it was all said and done, she remained perfectly happy and healthy:
Jarnbjorn Finished009

Jarnbjorn, meanwhile, will rest amongst the pile of recently finished things until I find a better place to display it:
Jarnbjorn Finished007


*In Old Norse, "Járnbjǫrn" means "Iron Bear."  Now that's a thing you know.