Archive for March, 2012

A scroll bender has been on my list of tools to acquire for quite some time. I have looked at all manually operated ones available to the home guys and those on a budget. They all operate pretty much the same and involve no more then bending some flat, or round bar, around a scroll die. I keep waffling between purchasing one or building one. I think the biggest challenge with building one is constructing the die itself as you will see if you read on.

Normally I start my posts with an introduction, continue with the build, and finish with the result. Well sit down and hold on cause today I am switching it up! Let’s start with a video shall we? I’ll show you what I came up with and then you can decide if you want to read on. The following it a video I shot after building my own version of a scroll bender. I bent a ½” x 1/8” piece of hot rolled flat bar. Take a look.

So now on with the build. What was the criteria? Well I wanted it to be a universal contraption. I didn’t want to build something dedicated to one die, I wanted to ensure I could switch things up if need be. I also wanted to keep my working envelope clear. Many of the commercially available scroll benders use a T handle attached to the center of the die to allow the operator to turn the die. I wanted to come up with some way to keep things as clear and open as possible.

So I started to rummage around to see what I hand kicking around for metal. I had section of 3” x 1.5” x .065” rectangular steel tubing as well as some old bicycle gears and a chain. I was also able to dig up an old broken ½” ratchet extension that may come in handy. Looks like I have everything I need except for a couple of 5/8” flange bearings as with some 5/8” drive hubs. A trip down to the local supplier got me the remaining components and I was good to go.

So as you can already figure out from the video I had planned to integrate a countershaft to drive the main shaft with. I used a couple of sprockets off an old bicycle cassette and machined a couple of drive hubs down to fit the sprockets. The sprockets then got TIG weld tacked to the hubs. The welds were laying on so nicely that instead of tacking the first sprocket I ended up running a complete bead around it. Mistake…I should have known, the sprocket looked the taco’d front wheel of my mountain bike after I hit that tree last year. Yeah…too much heat for the little guy to handle, it had no choice but to warp. No problem, lots of cassette gears to spare. I machined the wavy sprocket off and tacked on a fresh one, much better. As far as gearing went I did not get too scientific about it. The benders typically use a 1:1 ratio coupled with a Tee handle. The tee handles are not huge as there is not a large amount of mechanical effort required. I used a 24 tooth for the drive sprocket and an 28 for the driven giving me an overall 1.16:1 ratio. I figured going just under a 1:1 would be more then sufficient.

In order to drive the gearing I opted to adapt a ½” extension onto the drive gear mechanism. I had an old broken ½” extension laying around so I machined down the extension to fit into a machined 5/8” hub. The two were married with the TIG welder officiating. The drive hub now joins up with the drive gear via a 5/8” keyed shaft.

With the gearing and the leverage taken care of it was time to move onto the die making. I was going to have to support the dies as well as build something to allow me to use different tooling. I opted to build a 9.5” diameter 3/8” thick base plate. This way I could drill holes into the plate as required to accommodate different dies. The base plate was plasma cut from a scrap plate using my homemade circle cutter. The edges were cleaned up and a 5/8” hole was drilled in the center to allow the plate to rest on top of the 5/8” driven shaft.

The dies were next and these proved to be a huge challenge. I do not know of a way to mathematically build a scroll in AutoCAD, I am sure it is possible except I do not have the know how. I ended up finding a picture of a scroll that I was able to enlarge on paper and the cut it out to act as a template. It took a lot of staring before I could figure were to cut the scroll in half to allow it to be used as a 2 piece die. There was also a certain amount of guess work when it came to building the die to allow for proper clearances of the scrolled flat bar.

Using a ½” thick plate I traced out my scroll die, grabbed the plasma torch, took a deep breath and started blowing out molten metal. My initial plan was to build an MDF template as a guide but in the end I opted to free hand the scroll cut. When cutting ½” steel I have a little more time when handling the torch as opposed to sheet metal. The cutting is much slower in the thicker material which gives me more time, and better control, of the cut. With the scroll die rough cut by hand I then chopped it in half and trimmed the larger die to allow for bent flat bar clearance.

I worked the die edges over with both the 4 ½” grinder as well as the belt sander. It came out fairly round however it did have a few flat spots. To look at the die it was fairly obvious that it was not CNC, or machine, cut. I figured the few flat spots would not create too much of an issue. Well I was wrong…more on that later.

So I need to somehow connect my starter die with my 5/8” keyed shaft as well as construct a way to hold my flat bar in place while performing the bend. I used another hub and cut out a ½” x 1/8” wide slot in it to allow me to hook the flat bar into it. I was able to TIG weld the hub onto the smaller die section.

Next it was time to attach the 2 dies to the base plate. The smaller one got a 3/8” hole drilled through it and then a threaded hole cut into the base plate which would allow bolting of the smaller die to the plate. The larger plate was going to need to be installed, and removed, quickly and easily as to allow for quicker rolling of the scrolls. I opted to press in two 3/8” cold rolled pins into the die and then drill mating holes for the pins to drop into onto the base plate. I allowed for a little bit of slop to ensure no binding, or prying, would be required.

Last component on the agenda was a support roller to allow the flat bar to bend. I dug through my junk and came up with an old timing belt roller, perfect! It had lots of height to allow for larger flat bar plus it wasn’t too large in diameter. I machined a steel spacer for it to bolt onto therefore allowing free movement of the roller. A hole was drilled in the steel rectangular tubing base to allow for mounting as close to the 9.5” base plate as possible. I ended up using a 5/16” threaded rod to secure the roller, unsure if this will be heavy enough.

So with all the components fabricated it was time to put the bender to its test. With it clamped down tight in the vise I went and found myself some scrap ½” x 1/8” hot rolled flat bar. Using a 48” section I marked off a tick at every 6 inch increment. I wanted to know how many inches of bar was required to make the bend. I proceed by placing the flat bar end into the center hub notched section and started cranking on the ½” ratchet. Effort to bend was incredibly light, no issues there. The actual shape of the flat bar with the starting bend? Not so great. The flat bar would not make a tight enough 90 degree bend at the center hub slot to allow it to tuck up nice and tight to the first die. Ok…I guess the bending will require a 3 stage process. Round number 2. I started off this time by bending a starter 90 degree bend into the end of my flat bar. All I did was clamp it down in the vise and, using a hammer, gave myself a clean, crisp starter bend. Back to the scroll bender and with my flat bar locked in place into the center hub I started cranking. The bar hugs the die beautifully, in fact too well.

Earlier I was whining about how I had flat spots in my hand cut dies. Well I thought that the spots may go unnoticed in the bending process. Turns out I was wrong. The flat bar hugs the dies so tight and close that every imperfection in the dies become evident in the finished bent scroll. So now what? I suppose I have a couple of options. First one is to build up the low spots with the welder and then keep smoothing the curves out by hand or get the dies CNC cut. For now I will opt for the cheaper of the two options and spend some time reworking the dies. I suppose I could still go back to my original idea and build an MDF template as a guide. Either way I will try and perfect the process in house first. For now the tool functions fantastic, no mods required. Once the dies are sorted out things are good to go.

As far as the completed scroll goes it used right around 30 inches of material. There is some spring back experienced, this is expected, however it’s not a factor. I am unsure if I am happy with the actual shape of the scroll, it looks a bit too uniform. I think it needs to be a bit tighter around the first die. Anyway…I would call my first prototype a success. I will continue to improve and hopefully come up with a solid method for building dies.

So I continue to make progress with my “sun” project. I keep “hacking” my way through the creative process and continue to try and come up with some unique designs for the remaining 6 rays. It has been a struggle and I find myself gaining very little satisfaction as I complete each ray. I quite often find that when I am forced to stare at a project for too long things start to get warped in my head. It makes it difficult to determine what is the right move to make as I no longer see the project in its entirety but instead I obsess with it square inch by square inch. I am holding on to the hope that when all the pieces get assembled they will all blend together and form a unified image thereby hiding all the “small” issues I am coping with in my head.

So for my next ray I decided to build one based on a celestial theme. I decided to build a solar system based on the twelve zodiac constellations. I understand the biblical debate involving Christianity and astrology however astrology is not what this ray is about. It is simply a map of existing stars plus I do not plan to reveal, to the church, how I came up with the design for the ray. If they happen to read this blog posting then I suppose the secret will be out.

I started by making paper templates of the 12 zodiac constellations that would help me layout the stars on a ray. The idea was to jumble all the constellations together to create a mish mash of scattered dots. I was able to lay out all my templates so that they interlaced with one another. Once in place I drilled out all the stars with a ¼” drill bit. I think it came out close to 115 holes. I had kept track of each constellation sequence and labeled them all individually to help me out later on.

So with holes drilled I needed to build my stars. I purchased 2”, 3”, and 4” long ¼” bolts along with 200 nuts. I opted to machine all the hexes off all the bolts and half of the nuts in order to create round stars. Once machined I simply bolted in all my stars, all at random heights, to all my previously drilled star holes. I used the machined nuts as the visible support nut on the top of the ray. The star was then locked down with a regular nut from in behind the ray.

So with the stars mounted I moved onto linking all the individual constellations together using 14/2 Romex house wiring. I used the bare copper ground wire as well as stripped off the neutral and hot wire insulation in order to make use of all the wiring. I wrapped each sequence of stars to create the constellation pattern. To look at the finished result it is impossible to indentify what the pattern is, which is good cause that is what I was going for. I added some brass and copper star bursts and called it done. The star ray, on its own, is not much to look at however when it is introduced into the rest of its team hopefully the contribution it makes will be a positive one.

For the next ray I wanted to implement some expanded metal. I freehanded some “flame” style lines into an empty ray and proceeded to do some chopping with the plasma torch. I cleaned up all the edges and then backed one of the openings with fairly tightly laced expanded metal. The look was a bit too dense so I cut out the expanded metal and replaced it with a section of .250” galvanized steel mesh. The mesh was a little more transparent which was more of the look I was going for. I opted to rivet the entire sheet of mesh onto the sheet metal as I figured the riveted look would add.

To help tie the “flame” ray into unity with the others I added some copper wraps to it using the same house wiring I used on the stars. In the end I was happy with the result. I have been trying to create a mixture of 2D and 3D rays and the flame ray has made its contribution to the 2D sector. So with 5 rays completed I have 4 to go not including the 3 highlight rays. I’ve got a few ideas stirring; some sleepless nights will help me finalize things.

With the main fame and the roughly fabricated “rays” it was time to move on and attempt to customize each ray of the current “sun” project. As previously stated I have continued to struggle with the design and vision since day one. Things are not getting any easier.

The idea is to customize each ray using metal of different shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. I will attempt to make each one uniquely different. I need to ensure that the entire structure will end up having a feel of unity but at the same time things need to have contrast and be different. I want to ensure that there will be plenty on detail that will provoke thought and contemplation however I don’t want things to get weird. Some rays will have my own significant interpretations built into them; others will be left to the imagination of others to help tell the story.

I needed to come up with a color/material palette. I have chosen to use bare sheet metal, galvanized sheet metal, copper, brass, expanded metal, mesh, cold rolled round bar, mix of cold and hot rolled flat bar, as will as different pipes that I have laying around. Using all these materials in different ways will hopefully allow me to create different colored and textured rays. I will take turns sharing all the different materials, and combinations of, on each ray. This will create my consistency and unity. The one big risk that I will run into is that I won’t know if my idea(s) will work until the project is complete. By that time it will be too late to change.

On with the fabricating…I started out with some basic ideas to see how things would progress. Each ray is being built “rough”, in other words, each piece of metal, weld, or cut is going to be done by me flying by the seat of my pants. My intention is to make 9 of the 12 rays far from perfect; however they need to be visually stimulating. I started my first design using a “dented” concept. The work was fairly straight forward, using 1 of the pre-shaped 20 gauge rays I hammered in different sizes of convex and concave circular dents. It took a wee bit of beating but the pattern worked out well. As far as all the hammer marks go I had planned to leave them, they add character.

The next ray I call a “patch” panel. I took another pre-bent panel and drew out a series of patches over the entire ray. Then with the plasma torch in one had and the MIG gun in the other (who am I kidding, I am not an ambidextrous fabricator) I started to cut out the patches 1 seam at a time. I followed the cuts with the MIG welder and tack welded them all back together again. Skill level required was 1 star but even though it was simple to do the overall image is going to work.

The third panel I named “pick up sticks”. The idea was to use .250”, .3125”, and .375” cold rolled round bar and create a jumbled pile of sticks. Since I intend to clear coat the panels I wanted to ensure that I could take the sticks of to aid in the finishing process. I rough welded up some support washers, bolted them to the ray, and then began building my sticks. Since I wanted to incorporate some copper and brass into the mix I decided to metal solder in a few highlight sticks to start to bring some color into the mix.

I am unsure how all these different panels will gel together once installed. Hopefully I am heading in the right direction, time will tell. Until then I need to come up with 6 more designs for the remaining panels.

So I continue to try and find some rhythm with my current metal art project. So far it has been a real struggle trying to find some solid direction. As I prepared to make some progress with the sheet metal I found myself continuing to feel very scattered and unorganized.

I had previously built the 1” square tubing base that was going to support all the sheet metal “rays” of my “sun” It was now time to start to add some form to the structure. I have flaunted my fondness, in the past, for sheet metal gurus and their abilities to envision 3D shapes, curves, and contours. This is a skill that does not come natural to me. As I sat and stared at the base I was trying to calculate how I was going to cut the sheet metal. Well it turned out I didn’t know. There was nothing I could do except clamp the ground of the plasma to the 4×8 sheet of 20 gauge sheet metal and start chopping.

I had built a paper template of the minimum size I needed each ray to be. So I used the minimum spec as a rough guide and then, without measuring, started to cut rays out that were a few inches larger thereby allowing for some overlap. I wasn’t going to get too concerned with an exact shape for each ray until the project started to come to life. So for now I ended up with 12 triangles.

I built a center pivot, on the base, using .500” threaded rod which would allow me to find some placement for each ray. With the 12 sheet metal triangles laid out the sculpture was not providing me with much inspiration or vision. I was hoping that at some point something was going to click and I would find myself gaining some momentum. I think I spent more time sitting on my shop stool staring at the structure then I actually spent physically working on it.

I have developed a technique over the years that have been a stepping stone to help me get out of situations when I do not know what to do. Instead of focusing on what I don’t know I turn my attention to what I do know. In the case of the rays I do not know how to shape or bend them. What I do know is that 3 of the rays need to be significant and stand out among the rest. So I got the ball rolling by placing the 3 rays in their approximate positions ensuring that they were doing the overlapping of their neighbors. I then started to weld up more bracing to help hold the rays in place.

Once the 3 were set with proper placement and proper height I began to bend and shape the remaining 9 rays till I had something that was representative of a 3rd dimension. So I finally started to get some shape going on. It was time to start bracing all the rays so that all my heights would be set and solid. Like I stated in my earlier posting I need to ensure the whole assembly can come apart for both painting and installing. My plan was to use 3/8” threaded rod, along with coupler nuts, to help my set in place all the rays.

Since this was going to be a long term project I needed to get it off the garage floor and into the work shop where I can work. I set up my saw horses and rebuilt the structure in the middle of the shop. I had never measured how wide my work space was in the shop but I can tell you that it is approximately 8.5 feet across. How do I know? Because that is how wide the structure is. It looks like for the next little while I am going to have to perfect the crouch and shuffle maneuver as there is no longer anyway for me to get from one side of my shop to the other in an upright vertical position.

So for now the basics have been done and the next stage will involve having to come up with some unique ideas to customize each ray.

I have had a project in the queue since around September 2011 so I figured it was time to start the progress process and see if I could achieve some success. However before the details of build get outlined there needs to be some background information first.

Back in September of 2011 a member from a local church got in touch with me. Through a series of connections they found out I tinkered in my garage and so I was approached with a request. This particular church is planning a celebration for their 50th anniversary which is scheduled to take place in late June of 2012. As part of the celebration they wanted to have a significant piece of “art” built and hung in the courtyard of the church. I had agreed to meet with the church member to see what exactly they were looking for. I had no idea what the expectations were nor was I sure I could even help them out.

So I trekked my way down to the church to take a look at the space they were trying to fill as well as listen to their ideas. It turns out that the courtyard had an empty, south facing, wall approximately 12 feet wide and 2 stories high. They wanted to fill the space with some type of metal work art that had some significants. As I talked more with this church member I was able to gain an understanding of what kind of “feel” and imagery she was after. It so happens that the lady I was working with was a veteran potter and would also be considered an artist. She had a vision however she did not have the means to bring it to life.

Previously she had made a pottery plate that had significant Christian symbolism. It was a round plate with, what I call, a series of rays made of different colored glazes. 3 of the “rays” were all of similar color and the rest varied in shape and tone. Her theme was “God among us” and it was represented by the 3 similar rays as “God” and the remaining different rays representing different people, culture, and walks of life. The idea was that no matter what differences separate people, and the world, God is always present and among all. I have included a picture of a picture of her pottery plate. Please forgive the picture quality, I could make excuses but I won’t.

What she was looking for from me was a larger scale sculpture made from metal. She wanted the sculpture to incorporate different textures and designs to symbolize differences among people in the world. She then wanted 3 of the rays to stand out among the rest and tie everything together in the center. Hmmmmmm…sounds like art to me. I am not sure I do art. The project would involve more abstract thinking and vision and not so much calculating and planning. I am sure that if my left brain was put into an octagon with my right brain my left brain would have my right side tapping out within the first round. I suspect the east side of my grey matter is excessively underdeveloped and taking on such a task may cause whatever neuron activity that may be present to cease all together. Or just maybe it was time for the little guy to grow up and take on the challenges presented to him with adult life, what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger right? Plus if the runt fails I can always rely on lefty to bail him out.

Anyway…I rarely say no to a project. Although I didn’t commit to the task I said I would think it over. Me telling someone I will think it over is another way of me saying I’ll do it. I know this is true about me however I still enjoy denying it hoping one day I’ll do myself proud and turn a project down. I had explained to the lady that I would try and put some ideas and thoughts down on paper and see if I could come up with something that would couple her wants with my capabilities.

So a month went past and I dedicated a lot of brain power to the project. And I mean a lot. I was struggling, I had no vision, no idea how to accomplish what was being asked. I tried to AutoCAD some ideas plus I tried to even sketch some images. Nothing was working. I could accept that it wasn’t working if it was a simple matter that I had an image in may head with no way to put it on paper but this was not the case. I didn’t even have a vision.

Eventually the day came when a proposal had to be made to the church committee and I was forced to either decline or come up with something. Well we already covered the “I’m not doing it” part a couple of paragraphs up. Instead I put in a 2 page proposal that sounded just good enough that made it look like I knew what I was doing yet it lacked detail and was just vague enough that it would ensure me some freedom to come up with the actual plan once the building commenced. I submitted the proposal for review fully expecting the committee to come back to me declining the work. I was just fine with that, I wasn’t sure I had the creativity to spare to the project. Instead the committee was actually somewhat excited about the project and was more then happy to authorize the work to be done.

So I made the commitment to the church and I intend to stick with it. I have until the end of June to get the project built and installed. It looks like I get to be the designer, engineer, project manager, fabricator, finisher, and installer for the entire project. In the end I know I will enjoy the challenges that it will bring. Hopefully whatever metal sculpture I turn out I will find some sense of satisfaction with it.

So on with the details of the build. The overall diameter of the sun is going to be between 8 – 9 feet. It’s going to be a challenge building this in the garage due to the size. As there are lots of unknown details at this point I will start with what I do know. I need to build a base to support the rays and to have something to bolt onto the wall. My initial plan is to build the structure in such a way that I can disassemble the entire unit thereby making it easier to paint and install. Each ray will get supported and bolted to the base structure.

I had decided on building a total or 12 rays, 9 of them to be uniquely finished, the other 3 are pending ideas. The base is going to built 7 feet in diameter. I decided on 7 feet hoping that I will be able to fit it diagonally through a door way once complete. Since the structure is getting hung in a courtyard located in the center of the church my only options for getting the finished product in place is to ensure it fits through a door way or it will end up getting heaved onto the 2 story roof and then lowered into place.

So the base is nothing more then a hexagon built from 1” square .065” wall mild steel tubing. I used my hexagon building skills that I acquired from the construction on my gazebo a couple years back. I had built a triangle jig to ensure my hexagon arms would be spaced accurately. Once they were welded in place a measurement verified that they were only out by 1/32 of an inch. Pretty good! Too bad accuracy doesn’t much matter with this project, why can I never pull that off when it’s crucial? The rest of the hex got finished off with 2 sets of cross bracing and then was wrapped with 1” flat bar.

So the posting this time is not that exciting to look at. I apologize for the lengthy reading content however it helps set up what I will be blogging about for the next little while. With the base built I will move onto achieving some kind of structure that will hopefully have some resemblance to my non-vision.