Sunday, December 4, 2011

Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.3)

Wow, It's hard to believe it has been over a month since my last post! I'm still working 60 hours a week at my new job, so I have very little time to craft or blog. But on the up-side, the issues with my hands have almost completely subsided. Just a little stiffness in the mornings now. I just finished editing the last of the photographs for the Space Helmet, so let's have an update, shall we.

When last we left off, I had just finished a crap load of sanding and bondo to smooth out the helmet. Once the sanding was finished, I gave it another coat of flat black spray paint (which I use as primer), then I began working on the trim on the breast plate.

I cut out a strip about an inch and a half wide, from chipboard, and glued it to the edge of the breast plate. I used clothespins to clamp it in place while the glue dried so that it conformed to the curves. As usual, the chipboard was sealed with Mod Podge so that it takes the paint better. Then I studded it all the way around with rivet heads cast from resin.

With the main body of the helmet done, it's time to work on some of the steampunk features and additions. Gears and sprockets are too cliché and would serve no rational purpose on a space helmet, so they were out. But hoses, conduits and unidentifiable thingamabobs, those are the stuff of steampunk dreams!

I knew I would need some ventilation, so I searched around the shop for a suitable vent cover. I looked all through my plastic parts bin and found nothing useful. I tried out a couple of plastic bottle caps, but couldn't find anything that looked right. Then, I noticed something that had been sitting on my worktable the whole time. I had always intended on adding some of those cheap l.e.d. touch lights to the front breast plate to serve as headlights. I had one torn apart to get ready to paint the casing when I noticed that the casing itself would make a good vent cover. I cut out a small piece of chromed wire mesh from a drawer divider (used for separating silverware in a kitchen drawer) and fixed it with hot glue to the inside of the plastic casing.

I also found that a particular plastic canister lid from my parts bin (like the ones that come on Pringles cans) fit the bottom of the light casing perfectly. I epoxied the lid to the helmet and used a dremel to carve out a hole in the center for air flow. Using the lid as a base allowed me to be able to remove the vent cover easily. I eventually added two of these vents, one at the top and one at the bottom, but that was still not enough. The portholes still fog up terribly. I am considering, in the future, adding a small electric fan to aid with the ventilation.

The corrugated hose you see on the starboard side is a plastic cable cover that I found at a junk store for $0.10 a foot. It fits perfectly into the pvc male adapter that I screwed into the side of the helmet. This hose will run to the back of the helmet and connect to the tank assembly.

While I'm on the subject of corrugated hose, remember those hoses that I got real cheap and intended to attach to the top of the tanks? Well, here's a little trick I adapted from a technique I read about on Tom Banwell's blog. He used it to mold leather to a corrugated hose, but I thought it would also work for my paint job. I wanted the hose to look like it was copper. I first tried dry brushing the hose with copper acrylic, but the effect was too subtle. I wanted to use a copper spray paint for this, but I needed to mask off the deep recesses so that they would remain black. I wrapped the hose with cord so that the paint wouldn't get into the recesses. Then I spray painted it, and removed the cord. I had to do a little touch-up with acrylic paint, but overall the technique worked well.

Heading back over to the work on the tank assembly; I needed a sort of box to fit between the two tanks. This box would have all sorts of controls and gauges on it and also serve to anchor the bottles together. I started by making a cardboard model for the box. This is something I never used to do, but I find myself creating more and more models for items for which I am uncertain of the design.

I used the model to test fit with the bottles and to finalize the design. When I was happy with both, I cut the box design out of a sheet of wood paneling. The completed box would be stained and sealed and then have all the gauges and stuff added later.

I still used a little cardboard on the parts that wouldn't show. It is more forgiving, and my measuring skills sometimes fail me. Below, is the finished wooden box anchored between the two bottles, which have had their rivets added to the bands. The box was secured to the bottles.., I mean tanks, using glue and two small sheet metal screws.

Here is the first and largest of those gauges that would be attached to the box. It was constructed from the lid of a spray paint can, a piece of cardboard and a gauge face printed out on the computer (my own design). I laid out the gauge face design in Inkscape. I made several designs and tried out each one to see which I liked best for this application. The markings are nonsensical and cryptic. The dial face pictured below was my front runner, but did not make the final cut.

I mounted the gauge to the top of a copper fitting assembly, using a wooden dowel, some wadded up paper (to secure the dowel inside the copper fitting) a washer (to lock the dowel onto the plastic gauge body) and some epoxy.

For the crystal cover, I used the plastic lens and bezel from a $0.99 travel alarm clock I got from a discount store. It was the perfect size. It was attached using E6000 glue.The pointer hand is a brass clock hand picked up for $0.10. It is fixed in position and does not move.

I used some brass tag frames (I don't know what else to call them; label holders, I guess) as the bezels for more gauges on the box face. I cut some acetate to serve as the crystal and printed out the gauge faces. Different clock hands served as the pointers. Below is a test layout for the gauges on the box face. The three brass dots are large thumbtack heads that have stick-on silver numbers added. The brass thingy below them is part of a broken porcelain drawer handle that I salvaged. It made a satisfactory and ornate pointy knob thingy. I attached it with a screw through the wood so that it can turn to point to the different numbered settings. It would have been great if it could have actually activated something, like lights, when it was turned, but sadly it doesn't.

After finallizing the layout, I scribed around the parts to show their placement so that I could drill my holes and whatnot. I had originally intended for the vertical gauge on the left to have a movable slider that would adjust the pointer, but again, sadly it was not to be.

 I did add one more detail in the form of an axillary hose line running from the box to the bottom of one of the tanks. The hose is a piece of plastic sprinkler system tubing, painted copper. For connectors, I used brass hex nuts. In order to help it maintain its shape in that "S" curve, I inserted a piece of wire clothes hanger inside the tubing and bent it to shape. This was harder than I had expected, but it did work. The tubing is attached to the box and bottle with epoxy. Below you can see the entire box and tank assembly.

There's more to come, so stay tuned. I promise that I will post sooner next time. Now that the pics are all cropped and re-sized, it will go much faster.

See Also:
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.1) WIP
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.2)
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.4)
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.5)
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet Full Costume

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.2)

It's been several months now since I started work on my Steampunk Diving Helmet  / Space Helmet, and a couple more since it was finished; so you might want to refresh yourself on this project by going back and reading the first post  for it here: Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.1) WIP. When we left off, I was almost finished with the air tanks, and their construction had been a series of failures. We will finish those off later. First, let's get started on the helmet itself.

Fortunately, the helmet itself proved to be less troublesome than the tanks, though still quite a bit of trial and error and a whole pile of work. It all started with the search for the perfect sphere. I hunted for days looking for something with the right size and shape to be the basis for my helmet. In the end, I could not find exactly what I was looking for at a price I was willing to pay, so I settled on an inflatable beach ball. I was still experimenting with materials and techniques at this point, so I wasn't too worried that the ball was a little large and looked more like a pumpkin than a sphere. I figured I could always find something else and re-do it later. Of course that never happened.

I inflated the beach ball and coated it with petroleum jelly as a release agent. Then I went about covering it in a coat of papier-mâché. I used strips of paper torn from a phone book and cheap white glue. As you will recall, I am not adept at papier-mâché, so my results were not pretty.

Then I went about trying my newly found fiberglassing skills on the sphere. I used the ill fated "cheesecloth and resin" technique that I was pioneering on the tanks. It made for a leathery surface that had a lot more flex to it than I had expected.

When I was confident that the fiberglass was thick enough  to hold the sphere's shape, I removed the beach ball. Then I started figuring out where and how big I was going to cut my holes for the neck and three portholes. I used the rim of a bucket as a guide for the neck hole, and I used a 6" plastic plate as a template for the portholes.

 I cut out the holes with a pair of scissors (the fiberglass was pretty thin, so this was possible), but I had to be careful of cracking at the edges. I do not think I could have used scissors to cut the holes if I had not used the cheesecloth instead of actual fiber mat.

For the rims of the portholes, I searched the local dollar store for the right shape. I found what I was looking for in a child's plastic Easter bucket. I cut most of the bucket off, as I was only interested in about 2" at the base.  I used scissors for this too, as I could clean up the edge with a dremel after it was in place.

 I made adjustments to the portholes until I got the fit I wanted. Then I cut out the bottoms of the buckets with a dremel bit and glued the porthole rims in place with five minute epoxy. Now it was finally starting to take on a more recognizable shape.

 Next, I started work on the shoulder cowl. This I made out of cardboard. I taped two pieces of cardboard together and cut a large hole in the center for the neck. Then I bent the cardboard into a curve that would come over the shoulder, and down the back and chest. I left the back a little straighter and the chest a little more curved, as I am a big guy. I did a few trial fits on myself to see how close the front and back edges should be. The piece was very flexible at this point, and had to be held in place by blocks, but would eventually be ridged and hold its own shape after the fiberglass was applied.

 Before I could fiberglass, I had to marry the sphere to the shoulder cowl. That was a little tricky. As with most of the process in the build, I was flying by the seat of my pants. I had no idea how I was going to do any of this until I was elbow deep in doing it, so some things worked out better than others. The neck was a trouble spot.

 I created a collar out of cardboard to serve as a bridge between the sphere and the shoulder cowl. Getting it the proper size and placed perfectly was difficult.

 Once I was happy with the placement of the collar, I taped it in place with masking tape. Then I sealed the deal by laying on a coat of fiberglass all around the neck, thus permanently marrying the sphere with the cowl. This time (and from this point forward)  I used real fiberglass matting instead of cheesecloth. Then I went ahead and finished coating the entire cowl with fiberglass. This would give it the rigidity to hold its own shape without blocks. Once the fiberglass was dry, I could cut away the unnecessary parts of the cardboard collar. Actually, for the sake of getting my head into the thing, I would end up ripping or sanding out the entire cardboard collar, and even a little bit of the fiberglass covering it. I would patch these holes later with some more fiberglass and bondo. 

 After the cowl was fiberglassed, I went on to cover the entire sphere with two coats of fiberglass matting. I used the fiberglass to make a smoother, stronger transition between the sphere and the porthole rims, covering the rims from the outside with fiberglass mat.

At this point it was really starting to look like a diving helmet. I couldn't resist taking a picture of myself in it during a test fitting.

 With the helmet all glassed, I hung it over the back of a chair to get a look at how the air tanks would fit on the back. Those black hoses are something I found at a warehouse store for $0.45 each. I think they are supposed to be part of a funnel for automotive oil changes, or something. Not really sure. But for $0.45, hey, who cares!

I trimmed the corners off of the cowl to make for a smoother look. Then I gave the whole thing a coat of flat black spray paint  (I'm too cheap to buy actual primer) so I could get a better look at it as a solid unit. It would also give me a good base color that would help with the sanding, which comes right after covering the whole thing in bondo to smooth it out.

 I was unprepared for the nightmare that was the bondo and sanding ritual. I think it took about three days to get it somewhere close to smooth, and believe me, it is nowhere near as smooth as most of the prop artist's pieces I have seen on the web. I think the process when something like- primer, bondo, sanding, more bondo, more sanding, more bondo, more sanding, more primer, more sanding, spot glaze putty (which is a one part smoother version of bondo), more sanding, more spot glaze putty, more sanding, more primer, more sanding, more spot glaze putty, more sanding, more primer, give up.

I know it looks like a diving helmet already, but there is a lot more to come, so stay tuned.

See Also:
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.1) WIP
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.3)
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.4)
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.5)
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet Full Costume