Saturday, December 6, 2014

What A Crappy Year

I can't believe it's been almost a year since I posted anything to this blog! WTH! My life just isn't the same as it was when I started this. I hardly ever get into my workshop any more. I miss crafting tomes, and making props and binding books. I miss it, but the rest of the world has me stretched so thin, if I ever do have any free time, I just want to veg-out. Still, it's nice to have a reliable income, even if it's not from the kind of work that I want to be doing.

Well, I haven't been in the workshop much this year, but that doesn't mean I haven't made anything. I still make stuff at work (sometimes). Not the kinds of stuff I normally make, but it is enjoyable. So, since the year is almost over, and I just couldn't stand the thought of ending the year with only one single post from way back in January, I thought I would throw up a couple pictures of some of the things I have made while I was at work.

Yep, that's a stairway. And no, I didn't build it. But I did modify it. Those blue parts were built by a professional metal fabricator. They look nice, and they were well made, but they don't actually satisfy OSHA safety requirements. The hand railing was inadequate. No rail on one side, and no mid-rail. So, I had to add a mid-rail, and build a complete railing for the other side. Those ugly brown rusted metal bits, those are mine. I just did that yesterday. Designed it, cut it, welded it, all by my lonesome. My boss never lets me paint anything. He thinks is't a waste of time, and given the life expectancy of just about everything at this plant, he's probably right.

Made the railing to protect this transformer, the day before yesterday. The blue bits were made in-house a few years ago (one of the last projects we were actually allowed to take the time to paint) and were installed elsewhere in the plant. We re-purposed them and added to them (that would be the brown bits) to make a corral around this transformer. Exciting, yes? But wait, there's more.

OOh, look. More hand-railing! I built this over the summer. Just the handrail around the catwalk at the end just above the grey control box. It has a removable gate to make maintenance on the machine easier. I helped build that end of the catwalk too. It was added on. The platform didn't originally extend around that end. Oh, you see that big honkin' trapezoidal thing on top? That's a hopper that feeds into the top of the Artech shredder (the machine that I run as the main part of my job). I built that too. Well, me and a guy named Carl, who doesn't work there any more. We built that a couple of years ago. That thing is built like a brick shit house. Reinforced walls of five-eighths inch thick plate steel. WAY stronger than necessary for the amount and type of material going into it. But I didn't design it.

No, not a hand railing this time. A safety guard (fence). Certain areas have to be gated off if they have mechanical hazards, like moving belts and rollers that could rip your arms off if you got your hand in them (and yes, it has happened, at this plant, though not while I have been working there). I made about a dozen of these metal barriers to cordon off dangerous areas in the past month or two. Unfortunately, they keep falling over in high winds because the angle iron they bought was way too light for the job. But the boss wanted them, and that's what he bought to build them with, so that's what I used. Iv'e also had to repair most of them at least once, because people keep bumping into them with the heavy equipment, and they are so light duty, they bend all to shit if you hit them with anything. C'est la guerre.

So that's been my life recently- safety guards and hand railings. I've built some conveyor belts done a little carpentry work around the plant too, but I don't have any pictures of those (and frankly they are as boring as these anyway). Not as sexy as movie prop tomes or steampunk diving helmets, but it pays the bills, and at least I'm making something. A maker makes, always.

So, Merry Christmas, and thanks for coming and checking out my blog, even though I haven't posted all year. I do have one personal project that I did this summer, sort of an adjunct to a project I did last summer, but I'll save that for another post. It'll give me something to look forward to for next month.

Friday, January 3, 2014

DMG repair and recover

It seems like the only time I get to post anything is when I am off of work for some reason, which isn't often. This time I am home sick with bronchitis. So that makes it a wonderful opportunity to post about one of my projects I recently finished.

This project took a LONG time to complete. Way longer than it should have. I experimented with a few new techniques, a few new materials, and I was never really sure where the design was going. All in all I'd say I have mixed feelings about the outcome. It started when a friend of mine, we'll call him "Eric" (because that's his name, -duh), left his Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 edition Dungeon Master's Guide at my house after a game session. Before I could return it to him, the book got dropped and the spine cracked. I promised to fix it for him, though he didn't really care. He would have just replaced it. That's the kind of guy he is. It took me almost a year to make good on that promise!


For those of you who are not familiar with it, here is what the D&D 3.5 DMG looks like. The cover image evokes the feeling of a 3D sculpture, and that's what I wanted to do with this re-cover. I envisioned a multi-layered design with ridges, baubles, and thin strips of riveted metal trim. That is not quite what I ended up with.

To begin, I started sketching out some designs on butcher paper at 1:1 scale. I had no idea where I was going with it. I just sketched as the spirit moved me. One thing I knew I would need for sure were titles. So I started with those, figuring I could design the rest around them.
 Then I sketched a framework around the title elements. What I ended up with was a sort of art deco style applique.
 I glued the original sketch to some chipboard and cut it out with a hobby knife.
 Then I got around to fixing the broken spine with some tyvek. As with many modern RPG books, there was no mull in this book. It relied entirely on the strength of the end paper and the varnished paper covering material to hold the boards to the spine. As pretty as varnished paper can be, I think it makes a lousy covering material, and even more lousy text block pages. It is brittle and cracks and tears easily. It was the varnished  paper covering material that cracked and split when the book was dropped.
 I used the cut out chipboard as a template to draw the same framework design for the back cover, and also to make an archive copy of the design, in case I ever want to use it again. Since the back cover didn't need the titles on it, I put cut outs in the areas where those were.
Then I cut out the back cover applique and glued both to the original cover boards, after roughing the original covers up with some sand paper. Another drawback to varnished paper covers. Glue doesn't want to stick to them.
 I wanted the titles to be 3D too, so I re-drew them on some thinner chipboard (a shirt box) and cut them out, gluing them directly over top where they were originally drawn on the cover sketch. As you can tell, I'm not really good at drawing custom fonts.
 For covering material I was trying a new product that I had purchased a few months earlier and was dying to try out, bonded leather. The look and feel of leather at a fraction of the cost. When I first got it I thought it looked great. But now that I have worked with it a little, the honeymoon is definitely over. The surface looks and feels more like vinyl than leather, and it has much different handling properties than working with leather. It doesn't absorb glue the same; it doesn't stretch the same. I don't like it. I don't like the look of it, and I don't like working with it. But I have a bunch of it, so I guess I'm stuck with it.

After gluing down the bonded leather covering material, I filled some large zip-lock bags with sand to use as weights that would conform to the intricate curves of the appliques and hopefully give me a nice contour to the leather.
 Then I added more weight to make sure I got the best possible compression. A lot more weight.
 Sadly, the results were unimpressive. I have successfully used the sand bag trick before on a smaller scale, so I had high hopes. But after the weights were removed, the leather showed poor definition around the appliques. Time for plan B.
 I went down to the local pharmacy and asked for some medium sized syringes. After explaining what I wanted them for, and convincing the pharmacist that I was not a junky, he agreed to sell me some. I needed a needle that was big enough to let watered down glue flow through it, but that was small enough not to damage the leather with a noticeable hole. I think the ones I got were 25 gauge. I injected the cover with some more glue at all the edges of the appliques, working it around by massaging the leather with my fingers. Then I took the cut out pieces from the original appliques (thank goodness I hadn't thrown them away yet) and taped them down in their respective places. Then I reapplied the weight and let it dry. I only did one half at a time, because I had no idea if this would work.
 Success! You can see in the picture below, the difference in definition that the chipboard pieces made compared to the sand bags. Not all of the areas were as crisp as I would have liked, but it was a vast improvement.
 I repeated the process to the other half of the cover and finally I got something that I thought was passable, though I wasn't thrilled with it.
The cover of this book was going to be busy and bright with lots going on (or at least that's what I wanted), so the subtle raised letters of the titles would simply not do without more embellishment. I decided to try another experimental technique, gold leafing. I had tried it once before on a small leather journal, but the results were unimpressive. I don't know why I though it would be different this time, but I was hoping for something akin to a miracle.
 I applied the sizing agent (glue) to the cover as carefully as my artistic skills would permit. Then I covered the affected area with a thin delicate sheet of fake gold foil. Then I covered that with a sheet of waxed paper and used a rolling pin on it to ensure good adhesion. Then I carefully flicked away all the unstuck foil with a paint brush.
 The results were, once again, not particularly impressive, but at least it did make the titles pop. I probably could have gotten at least as good of an effect with a gold paint marker. Maybe it's because I can't draw for crap.
Moving on, It was no use crying over amateurish gold leafing. Time to bring the rest of this design marvel to life, starting with some brass studs. These were brass upholstery tacks. The holes were all pre-drilled. A drop of super glue was applied to the shaft of the tack. The tacks were hammered through the cover. Then the protruding shafts were cut off from the underside with wire cutters and ground down flush with a Dremel tool.
My grandiose plans were being whittled down to much more simple designs. Instead of the complicated multi-layered metal trim pieces I had sort-of envisioned, I opted for some much more feasible metal appliques to fit into the recesses of the art deco framework. These were all hand cut from a sheet of thin copper sheet (I think it was something like 30 gague). They were glued on with Barge brand contact cement, the best contact cement I know of.
And then I added brass brad heads in the same fashion as the brass upholstery tacks. This was the first time I had used sheet metal in this fashion. In the future I would stay away from acute angles. They tend to get pokey, even if glued down well.
The text block was cased in with a proper mull and grey end papers. I had a little trouble with the spine as the original text block was a "perfect bound" glue binding, but I sorted it out in the end. The pva glue from my new mull didn't want to stick to the glue from the perfect binding, and ended up with the new mull pulling away from the spine, but glued to the end papers. I solved this by cutting up some tiny floral glue beads into thin slivers to fit down the gap at the spine, then applying a hot iron to melt them. This affixed the old perfect bound spine to the new mull nicely.
I don't think the book turned out terribly, but I wasn't really happy with it. And of course Eric could care less about a custom cover. He just wanted a functional book. Some of the new techniques and materials didn't turn out as well as I would have hoped.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Doctor Who - River Song's Diary

Merry Christmas everyone! 
I have the day off so I thought I'd clean the house and write a post for my most recent project. I'm very happy to say that my daughter has become a big Doctor Who fan. I personally have been a big fan of the show since I was very young, maybe 6yrs. old or so. Some day I will have to show you my home-made knitted Doctor Who scarf that I made for myself in Junior High!

While flipping through the ThinkGeek.com website, looking at rubber d20 molds, I stumbled across two officially licensed versions of the River Song TARDIS diary. The standard version, and the limited edition deluxe version. Both look very nice, and I was trying to choose which one to buy my daughter for Christmas, but then I started looking at them closely and decided that I thought I could do at least as good of a job, if not better, making one myself. Let's see what you think.

I started with a Google image search for some screen grabs of the actual prop. It appears to me is that there are several versions of the prop in various states of age and deterioration, which is to be expected, but more than that, the surface details seem to be slightly different.

In this image of the book, as it is new, the cover is clearly embossed, or rather in relief. And the covering material appears to my eye to be paper; probably painted kraft paper, judging from the way it wrinkles on the spine reliefs.

But in these pictures, at first glance the cover details look the same, but under close inspection, the  rectangles and squares look, to my eye, to be painted on. The spine relief is much less pronounced. The cover material looks to be cloth. The top and bottom horizontal lines of the outer rectangles extend past the vertical lines, which they clearly do not on the "new" version above. The Standard version from ThinkGeek also looks to be painted on (with the extended lines), while the deluxe edition is in relief, without extended lines (but it's in faux leather, and the color looks off).

So first step was to decide on which screen grab version to use as my model. Since painted on surface details were just not going to do it for me, I opted for the "newer" version, with a relief surface, non-extended lines, but with a cloth cover.

A quick look around the shop and I quickly spied a very serviceable blank book to use as the base. Rather than make the TARDIS door design out of piecemeal strips of chipboard, I decided to cut out the whole pattern from one piece of chipboard. I measured my book and made a full scale mock up of the surface details in CorelDraw and printed it out to use as a cutting guide.
I made a little bit of a mess of the French groove while removing the book block. This particular brand of sketch book is bound very tight and has a good mull, but the covering material is very thin and it ripped along the spine while I was cutting through the mull. No problem. Easily fixable.
I just turned to my old pall, Tyvek. This stuff is very lightweight, thin and flexible, it glues well, and is super strong. Seriously, I can't even rip this stuff with my bare hands. And it's cheap too! You can recycle mailing envelopes to get a free supply. I love Tyvek for strengthening the spine joint of books I make or repair. I usually use a brush or a sponge roller to apply the glue, but this time I tried using a car body putty spreader. It works very well. Faster and easier than a brush, and less wasteful and cleaner than a roller.
And so with a little smoothing, voilà, the spine is stronger than ever.
To create the surface relief, I used my standard 0.057in. thickness chipboard. I glued the printed cutting guide directly to the chipboard and used a hobby knife and a metal ruler to cut out the blackened outline. This took a while. There are a lot of cuts in that design. Then I spread glue on the cover boards and pasted down the cut chipboard pieces. I just eye-balled the spacing.
Front and back, of course, and then some more chipboard for the spine reliefs.
Fearing that the cloth I had selected as the covering material was a little too thin and might reveal some of the underlying framing and color differences, I decided to first cover the boards with kraft paper and glue, working the paper into the crevices with a bone folder. Then I gave it a very light and quick spray of flat black spray paint to make the underlying surface a little darker, which would slightly darken the color of the cloth cover (or so I figured). My blue cotton cloth was light weight and might soak up too much glue as I worked it into the crevices, wetting it out and creating a mottled surface, so I decided to use a strong spray on adhesive, 3M 77, to attach the cloth to the kraft paper. Again, I worked the cloth into the cover's crevices with a bone folder.
Then flip it over and tuck in the edges...
And there you have the finished cover.
Case in the book block using the double end sheet method (using a blue end paper)...
and voilà, a TARDIS book fit for a Time Lord!
Sorry if the texture of the cloth made the pictures come out a little weird. They look better at full scale.
I made this book pretty quickly. It took a few hours, 20 minutes here and there spread out over about five days, because my daughter was also working on a project for a Christmas present and I could only work on this when she wasn't in the workshop with me. I hope you (and she) enjoy it. I think it turned out pretty well and, with the exception of the tedious cutting out of the panels, it was pretty easy. I may make a few more and sell them in my shop. I wonder how many Doctor Who fans are in my area?

 Merry Christmas, Isis!