Sunday, January 1, 2012

Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.4)

So now that the tank assembly is finished (see part 3), I needed to attach it to the main helmet. To do that, I had to modify some brass L brackets. I bent them 90 degrees so that one side would lay flat against the cowl, and the other would stick out so that the bottles could attach to it.

I attached the L brackets to the cowl with machine screws (keeping the heads on the side of the wearer (for comfort). I was originally intending to attach the bottles with sheet metal screws from the back of the cowl straight into the bottles, but I quickly realized that was not going to be strong enough. The side of the bottle is too thin and flimsy. The neck, however, is quite stiff and strong. I cut a notch in the neck of the bottle, where the cap screws on, for the L bracket to fit into. Then I ran a small wooden dowel (a piece of a bamboo skewer) through the pre-drilled hole and coated it liberally with epoxy (but not until final assembly of course). I would then also use a sheet metal screw down at the bottom edge of the cowl into the side of the bottle. This would keep the bottles attached to the cowl and firmly held in place with minimal wiggling or flexing.

Here they are being finally assembled, after everything is painted and ready. But lets not get too far ahead of ourselves.

With the dome, the cowl and the tanks constructed, the rest is mostly little details that will make it all come together as a steampunk helmet. I got a good start on that with the details of the tank assembly, but I needed to extend that to the whole helmet. My design remained very fluid throughout the build, which is to say, that I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but didn't really have it worked out until I was piecing things together and test fitting them.

The front of the cowl (chest area) would need more than just the two tap lights I had planned for it. It needed a centerpiece, like IronMan. Something steampunk. One tap light in the center was just too lame, so I needed to design something else. What I came up with was basically just a mish-mash of parts from my plastic parts bin. It started with a piece of a twist-tie roll dispenser. It looks like a round cage, and was the perfect size for the chest. As it turns out, it was also the perfect height to fit over one of those tap lights (when disassembled).

Those gray cylinders in the pic above will also become details later on. They were made from pieces of pvc pipe with the ends capped off with chipboard. Bamboo skewers were stuck into the ends as mounting points for tubing, and one of them had some silver wire wrapped around it for effect.

Now back to the centerpiece. It's construction was a bit complicated, but once I saw the plastic cage of the twist-tie dispenser in place, I knew I had to use it. I trimmed off a few unneeded bits and painted the whole thing black. I also decided on my orientation, and filled in two of the open side sections with chipboard so that I could attach tubing to it. On the chipboard panels I glued a hex nut for the tubing to fit into. I was fortunate that the size of tubing I was using fit perfectly over a bamboo skewer and fit perfectly into a hex nut (I don't know the size). I used both of these extensively as connectors, both aesthetically and functionally. Below are some pics of me test fitting the centerpiece and some tubing. Again, I used wire coat hanger inserted into the tubing to keep its shape, and painted it copper. It had to be bent and fitted before painting, because if it was bent after painting, the paint would crack and peal off. Some lessons you learn the hard way.

I added some of this tubing in the back too. I wanted most of the systems to be connected (chest piece, tanks, box, helmet, etc). So I tried to use tubing to tie them all together, one piece running into another. Over the shoulders I ran some of that cheap corrugated tubing I mentioned earlier. I tied it down with copper plumbing straps. The straps will later be glued in place with epoxy and topped off with a fake screw head cast from resin.

You'll also notice there are now two large male adapters (pvc pipe fittings) screwed into the back of the helmet. These are where the hoses from the tanks will connect.

For the detailing of the centerpiece, I knew I wanted to incorporate that small tap light, and I wanted some color. Since the cage had open sides, I needed to close them in, and I wanted something that was translucent and would diffuse the light from the tap light, so I used a sheet of velum. I cut a strip to run around the sides (which was more difficult to fit properly than one would think it should be), and a cut disk of velum for the front. The velum was very flimsy, so I also cut a piece of clear Plexiglas for the front. To the plexi and the velum disk, I taped pieces of colored cellophane cut into wedge shapes the same size as the holes in the front of the cage. I used different colors and random spacing. There will eventually be a knob in the center that will allow the plexi

 With almost all of the parts ready, I needed to do some more fine tuning of the helmet before final paint, so back to the spot putty and sanding. The original shell was so lumpy that I had no illusions of it ever being smooth, but after this (I think it was about my 7th or 8th bondo and sanding treatment) it was actually getting close.

The results were pretty inpressive after giving it one last coat of primer. I actually used a good quality primer this time, instead of cheap flat black spray paint. The results are undeniable, but I can't justify spending 5 times the amount for good primer for most projects.

 Then, finally, gold spray  paint for the brass finish.

 The lumps and pits (much smaller now) gave it a hand hammered look that I quite like. The gold paint was too bright though. It looked fake. I softened it up with some antiquing which I accomplished by applying flat black acrylic paint and then rubbing it off with a cloth. Getting the timing right was critical. Wipe it off too soon and it would all come off, leaving no antiquing. Wipe it off too late, and too much of it would dry and not enough would come off, making it look too dirty. In a couple of spots, I had to compensate for having too much antiquing by giving it a little dry brush with gold acrylic paint to brighten it up again.

Here is a pic with the bottom half antiqued and the top half not, so you can see the contrast.

And now the whole thing. I was afraid of antiquing it at first, because I was intending it to be a "new" piece, not an old one, as the LARP it was being made for would be set in the 1880's. But after a day or too of looking at it bright gold like that, and I decided it had to be done. Now it looks more like real brass, and less like fake gold.

 Now, short of final assembly, there was only one major piece that needed to be fabricated. The porthole covers. The porthole covers gave me a bit of consternation. I had to think about them for quite a while before and during construction to get them right. I started with several rings cut from chipboard. And three discs cut from clear Plexiglas.

I glued two rings together face to face to double their thickness. then I sealed them with mod podge and primed them with black spray paint. Then I gave them a very quick coat of bondo to even them out and give them a slightly harder and smoother surface. Then of course I had to sand them, and prime them again. This I did for each of the three porthole covers.

Those silver rods you see below will eventually become the cage that protects the glass. I had originally intended on using brass brazing rod for that, but since the wire mesh on my vents was chrome, I decided to stick with chrome for all the wire accents. I had to search the hardware store for the right size wire. Eventually I settled on cutting the parts I needed from those wire sign posts that people put in there yards when they have an apartment for rent or a garage sale or something. They were the right thickness, and the right stiffness, and the right color, and they were already straight pieces that would be easy to work with.

After sanding and painting my chipboard rings, I carefully glued the plexi disk in place. Then I added one more chipboard ring (also prepped with bondo and spray paint) to the top of the pile. So that makes three layers of chipboard (two on bottom, one on top) and one layer of  plexiglas sandwiched together. Next I had to mask off the plexi to protect it. Then I ran more bondo around the outer edge to smooth it out and even up all the layers. Then more sanding an priming. You can see a test fit on the helmet below.

The placement of the wire cage over the porthole cover was tricky. I started by making a paper template to figure out exactly where the wires needed to go. I also had to do most of the finish painting to the rings before the wires were added. I didn't want to have to mask the wires or paint around them. I used a hammered black/grey metallic spray paint as my finish color, and then I dry brushed it with a pewter metal effect paint to make it look like blackened iron.

I had already spent a good deal of time and effort making sure each of the wire pieces was cut and bent to the exact same length. Each piece was bent at 90 degrees on each end to make it stand out from the plexi. These bent tabs would be inserted into holes drilled through the flange (outer ring). I used a small drill press to drill the holes because they needed to be perfectly placed, perfectly straight, and all the exact same depth (I didn't want to drill all the way through, but I needed to drill through the first layer of chipboard and the plexi for strength). But since one set of wires would cross over the other, I had to make two of the wires for each cover longer than the other two, on the downward tab that is. That way one pair would set up higher from the face of the cover by the same amount as the thickness of the other pair if wires. All the wires, after test fitting to make sure they fit perfectly, were glued into their holes with epoxy. This all had to be done very neatly and carefully, since the final painting for these pieces had already been done.

 Between the wires I added some fake screw heads to the flange, to make it look like that is how the porthole cover is bolted to the helmet. I made these screw heads by taking a real screw and punching the head into a flattened out piece of clay. I made sure to use a screw with a standard head, not phillips, because that would look wrong for the period. I used this as a temporary mold and cast it with resin. I would use these screw heads as finishing touches in several places around the helmet, so I made a bunch. By this time I was becoming pressed for time, so my work started to get a little sloppy.

 I removed the masking tape from the plexiglas and positioned the porthole covers over their respective portholes. The fit wasn't perfect, so I used E6000 to glue them on. E6000 has the benefit of being somewhat flexible, even when dry, but very strong. And it is thick and gel like, so it fills gaps in uneven surfaces. I use it in place of epoxy, when the situation calls for it.

Almost finished! Isn't she looking good? Nothing left now but final assembly of all the little do-dads that will make it steampunk. Tune in next time for the final product. See you soon!

 See Also:
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.1) WIP
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.2)
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.3)
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet (pt.5)
Steampunk Diving (Space) Helmet Full Costume