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Cosplay Experiment (3D Print + Cloth Mache) Spiral Horn

7 Jan

steps of spiral horn

Papier mache (and the related “cloth mache”) techniques has some excellent features. It’s extremely cheap, and can make strong and light weight objects. However – at least when I do it – it can end up rather lumpy and irregular.

I love 3D printing, but making large structures with a normal printer gets expensive fast, and also takes a long time. The longest print I’ve done took 16 hours, but some people routinely print 50 to 100 hour prints. The shapes should be exactly what you planned (except when something goes wrong) but laying down all those layers takes time.

I’m not the first person to think of combining these two techniques. I got the idea from 3d-print-and-papier-mache and I’m sure others have done it as well.

I was playing around with “vase mode” on my printer the other day. This is a special way of 3d printing where, rather than laying down a series of layers, the printer lays down molten filament in one continuous SPIRAL layer. The resulting object has to be hollow, with thin walls only one layer thick. However, since the extruder doesn’t stop and start but just keeps looping around while slowly rising, the results tend to be very smooth and are surprisingly strong for their weight. It’s also much faster as only the outside skin is being printed

horn render

I drew up this horn shape in Fusion 360. (For those interested, it’s a loft between two circles, with a coil edge as the guide rail).


Here it is printing. It came out very nicely, with lovely smooth curves that felt very nice to the touch.


My first attempt wasn’t so good. In vase mode, each line of filament must partially overlap the one below, since there’s no interior. If it moves too far horizontally from the previous layer, it ends up splodging in mid-air. I need to do some more experimenting to find the shallowest angles I can print.


I cut some strips of cloth from the rag pile, and wrapped my 3d printed “horn”. I worked in a spiral pattern from the bottom, dipping the cloth in heavily diluted white pva glue (probably 50/50 water to glue). It took a couple of tries but was surprisingly easy.


The very wet mix took a long time to dry. I left it sitting for a couple of days. Since the armature was 3d printed, I didn’t need to worry about it getting damaged or mouldy.

I need to do a bit of trimming and sculpting at the ends, where the cloth ended, but only minor stuff.

Here it is on the turntable, ready for painting. My turntable is built from a car wheel bearing, with a cordless drill motor for rotation. Using spray paint, this gives me a much more even coating.


This is after a very quick paint job. I just grabbed the first couple of cans that came to hand (which happened to be blue and gold). However, it does look a lot nicer than the plain white.

It looks, and is, pretty rough. I’m sure I’ll do more experimenting with this, though. One big advantage of this technique is that I can simply mirror image the model, and hence the 3d print. Compared to trying to make two parts look the same by hand, that should be a big improvement.


Christmas Lights Obelisk/Pyramid

9 Jan

Barbara wanted some pretty Christmas lights. It was a bit late for Christmas (i.e. it was January). So?


We started with some 100×25 Oregon, ripped in down to 50×25. Here I’ve chopped four 1600mm lengths to form the sides of the pyramid/obelisk. We found a nice looking christmas tree on Google Images then used a graphics package to measure the angle – turns out that 80°  from horizontal was the angle we thought looked good.


Some simple trigonometry gave us the size of the base (close enough to 500mm), to get the angle we wanted. Some more 50×25 oregon and various offcuts from the mitre saw gave us a base.


We braced it up for strength, since I planned on placing one or two concrete blocks onto the base to weight it down. (We get strong winds around our place).


Some 7mm holes and M6 bolts attached the ‘legs’ to the base. Forgot to allow for the 25mm offset from the ends of the pieces of wood, so our angle won’t be quite correct.


A very sophisticated (not) mechanism fastened the top together. One zip-tie.


Here’s the result so far, with a human for size comparison.


Chicken wire! Messy stuff to work with, but a compressed air stapler made it easy to pin it down. We only put wire over three sides, leaving the fourth side open to allow placing concrete blocks (for weight) and christmas tree lights (for pretty).


We put it up on an earth bank overnight, to check it wouldn’t blow down.


Barbara fitted the lights through the chicken mesh. Took quite a while. Here we ran a quick test in a darkened room. Looking good!

Come nightfall, it was very pretty.

Cardboard Sword Coffin

22 May

00 sword coffin

My daughter asked me to pack some of her belongings, including some swords. Before I packed the fancy Japanese ones, I thought I would practice by making a protective box for a (cheap) wooden one.

01 sword

The sword – a bit over a metre (40″) long , 250mm (10″) wide.

02 base outline

I drew lines onto a cardboard box, forming a six sided shape. Out from the ‘coffin’ shaped hexagon, I drew parallel lines 50mm, then 10mm (for a fold), and another 50mm.

03 base cut out

Cutting around the outside makes the shape more obvious.

04 base cut and bent

Then scoring all the fold lines and cutting out tabs.

06 pizza wheel

This is my favourite tool for putting folds into corrugated cardboard. It’s a pizza wheel from a $2 shop, but I ran the edge against a grinder for a moment to take the cutting edge off it. Pressing down on that 1mm edge will crush most cardboard quite easily – even the triple thickness stuff. I found it tends to run off the line rather easily unless I prescore the line with a knife.

05 side glued and clamped

Here I’ve folded over a side, glued it (cheap white PVA glue) and clamped it to a piece of wood to keep it straight. Keeping it vertical (i.e. perpendicular to the base) was a problem. I used a bungee cord to put tension on it but I should really have grabbed a right angle brace of some kind.

07 clamping other side

And then gluing and clamping the other sides. You can see the first long side glued up here, looking quite solid.

08 base folded and glued

Gluing sides with PVA glue is a slow process, with time to watch about 1/2 an episode of NCIS before the glue has set enough to remove the clamps.

09 test of sword in base

A quick test to make sure the sword actually fits inside. Did I mention that this was the second box I made?

10 marking lid shape

I found another chunk of cardboard box and drew around the coffin to mark out a lid.

11 pattern of lid

The pattern of the lid is much simpler, as the sides are only one thickness of cardboard, not two folded over. Equally, it’s nowhere near as strong.

12 lid cut and bent

The lid cut out and folded. Unfortunately, since I used a chunk of cardboard from a shipping carton, there was a large slot going most of the way through it. Hence the offcut waiting to be glued in to strengthen it.

13 gluing support for lid

Gluing the support piece onto the lid. I was working in the living room so some flour and a bag of potatoes got drafted as gluing weights. They worked well.

14 lid partially glued

Again, working around the sides to glue the lid. As with the base, I was able to leave sizable tabs to glue to, for four of the joints. However the joints in the sides are at a very shallow angle which means the tabs left over are quite small. I had to add small strips of cardboard to make the joints solid enough.

15c sword with supports

I folded and glued a couple of support brackets out of cardboard, cutting notches to hold the handle and blade. The handle notch had to be cut reasonably accurately. The one for the blade was easier. I just cut it oversize then slid it up the (tapered) blade until it fit nicely, then glued it in place.

15b support bracket closeup

A closeup of one of the support brackets.

16 closed coffin

Result, one closed coffin which should protect the sword quite nicely. Rather a lot of work when I could have just wrapped it in bubble wrap, but a good chance to try out some different techniques.

Quick and Cheap Mounting for Laserprints

1 Oct

There are all sorts of fancy, and often expensive, ways to properly mount your photos. However, sometimes you just want a way to tidy up a printed image. It doesn’t matter that it’s not archival and may die after a year – you can always print another one. This is how we’ve mounted a few recent pictures. No guarantee of longevity but that’s ok with us – we plan to cycle at least one new picture onto our walls every month.

  • Find out the heaviest card that you can print through your laser printer (in my case 170GSM) and that you can buy cheaply (in my case 160GSM), and print your picture out on this A4 white card. If your printer has manual feed options for printing heavier materials, you will want to use them.

  • Here’s a table full of requisites:  The printed A4 picture, black A3 card, metal ruler, pencil & paper, glue stick, paper cutting device (knife or guillotine), a sheet of glass, and a couple of heavy weights with straight edges (in this case samples of granite benchtop). Also required, a cloth and (in my case) magnifier.
  • All printers have an “unprintable area”, in my case about 6mm, at the edges of the card. Unless the picture happened to be exactly the same aspect ratio as the paper, there will also be a wider white strip at top/bottom or sides. These look ugly – but don’t just chop them off. Measure outwards from the printed image for 2mm.

  • And cut the card back to leave just the 2mm of white along the edge.

  • Repeat on all four sides.

  • Now measure the dimensions of your trimmed photo, and also the dimensions of the A3 black card (which should be 420mm x 297mm).

  • Calculate the offset from top/bottom and sides. Ii.e. left offset = (width_of_a3 – width_of_picture) / 2.

  • Put the black A3 card down and position heavy, straight-edged objects in from the edges by the calculated offsets.

  • Apply glue-stick to the back of the printout, paying particular attention to the edges (a waste piece of paper helps). This is a $2 stick of “Amos” brand glue.

  • Place the trimmed and glued printout carefully onto the backing sheet. You don’t want to get glue anywhere but underneath the printout as it will show on the black.

  • Burnish flat with a piece of cloth (here, a tea-towel). Laserprinter toner is melted plastic – it doesn’t rub off easily.

  • Place a piece of (clean) plate glass over the picture to press it flat. This piece is out of a flat-bed printer.

  • Put some heavy-ish objects onto the glass to press everything flat. A sheet of paper protects the glass from getting scratched. There’s about 3kg used here.

  • Leave for 30 minutes (min) to 24 hours (max). I haven’t noticed much difference. Final result is as below. Bonus for us, if when we have another earthquake, these won’t do any damage when they fall on your head!

DIY De-Cluttering with Cardboard Folders

15 Sep

Why, and how, to use box folders:

Like many craft/DIY people, I find myself in a perpetual battle against clutter. To make it worse, I have a hobby of dismantling things and saving the “perhaps one day this will be useful” parts. Many parts. Many, many, parts.

This is a quick tutorial in one of the things that helps me (almost) stay on top of things. Using standard commercial box folders for  storage – but not quite in the conventional way.

Here’s some standard box folders, being used the WRONG way.

And this is why I say it’s the wrong way – look what happens when you store “things” (in this case chunks of ribbon cable) rather than “papers” with the folder vertically.

However, store the folder on its side and all the “things” stay where you put them.

Even when you have a box with many small parts, like these spare drill bits.

You can stack them three or four folders deep. Of course, the one you want will always be at the bottom.

Even better, you can build some custom shelving that stores many boxes in a tight space. This photo shows part of my main box storage area. With 21 shelves, each holding 4 boxes, the unit stores 84 of these folders in only 1660mm (5′ 6″) of wall space. It took me a while to fill it!

A note on colours: I try to keep a colour coding system for the labels: GREEN is for technical stuff (e.g. small DC motors, gears, wire). YELLOW is craft (beads, polymer clay, tools for working paper). WHITE is for documentation (manuals for household appliances, financial papers – one box per financial year, computers – one per computer with driver disks / receipts / configuration info). It makes it quite quick to go to the box marked “\\Hastur” for that computer’s Windows CD or the funny cable that came with the video card. Similarly, I can go straight to the box marked “FY 2008 – 2009” for a receipt from August 2008.

Assembling box folders:

You can just follow the instructions, but a few extra steps makes for more durable and convenient box folders.

(1) This is a standard folder, as purchased at your local stationary store. Despite New Zealand being firmly metric, the folders are available in both metric A4 and imperial Foolscap sizes. You want the FOOLSCAP – it’s a much more convenient size. I buy about 20 or 30 at a go when they’re on special – usually down to somewhere in the $1 to $2 range.

(2) A squirt of PVA glue will make it last longer, locking the parts together. I use generic white wood glue.

(3) A critical step if you’re gluing – squash it square. This makes for tidier looking boxes and you can’t do it once the glue has hardened.

(4) Clamp the sides for 30 minutes while the glue hardens. Use a couple of spring clamps plus something to spread the pressure.

(5) Prepare a label with BIG writing. I use 72 point Arial which does limit the length of text but you can read it from the other side of the room. The text is on twice, once for the front face and the once wrapped onto the top.

(6) Wrap the label around the front face and top. Staple through the front face, twice.

(7) And staple twice more at the top edges of the label on the top face. Sometimes I run a strip of clear tape across the top. This stops the label from getting caught when pushing the box (perhaps a bit over-full) into shelving.

(8) Since the stapler was used opened out, the ends of the staples won’t have been folded over – they stick into the box as little sharp pins. Use a flat-bladed screwdriver to fold the ends flat. You may have to apply pressure to the outside of the staple.

An experiment in half-size:

A supply of un-folded cardboard sheets was damaged by water on one corner (I hate earthquakes). By tracing the outline of one side, moved over a bit, I made some half-sized boxes. By trial and error I got two of them to fit exactly in the space of one normal one. I don’t know how well these will work but they may come in handy.

Conversely, the stationary store also sells a double-height (or double-width, as they see it) box folder. Handy for PC cooling fans, my supply of heat-sinks, and various other “just too big” items.


These boxes, and this way of using them, has helped me greatly. There’s a saying I’ve come across – “If you can’t put your hand on it within 5 minutes, then you don’t really have it”. I can usually lay my hands on things quite quickly. I’m planning another large storage unit (or two) and that will help as well, by tending to keep each box in a consistent place.

Another major advantage for me, is that I have a bad case of  “out of sight, out of mind”. If I don’t see things frequently, I tend to forget about them completely. As I glance across the ranked boxes, I tend to be reminded. For instance, I made a box up the other day to hold sticky-adhesive hooks. Weeks later, I was cleaning out an old container (unlabelled and full of mixed junk) and found some more. Because I’d seen the “Sticky Hooks” box frequently, though I hadn’t had any occasion to use it, I instantly remembered where to stash my extra hooks.

Typecast as a Nerd

15 Aug

I’m not too sure WHY this chap spent so much time and effort, but an interesting result, none the less. From July 1950 Popular Mechanics:

Tapestry in Typewriting

ERNEST MESSELY, an instructor in business correspondence at Roubaix, France, sat down at his typewriter, struck the keys 180,000 times and “wove” the beautiful tapestry shown on these pages. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. He was inspired to try his hand at “painting” with a typewriter by an article on the subject which appeared more than a year ago in Mecanique Populaire, the French edition of Popular Mechanics.

The completed work of art measures almost 4 ½ feet in length by slightly more than two feet in width. From a few feet away it looks like a tapestry woven in great detail. It was typed on paper panels eight inches wide. Three different colors of paper – green, yellow and blue – and three ribbon colors – red, black and violet – were combined to achieve the multicolor effect in the painting. Messely varied the intensity of the colors by his choice of typewritten characters and the pressure on each stroke. The 84 characters of the keyboard produce many different results; for example, an “M” is darker than an “I” and a black “H” combined with a red “I” produces a shadowed red. The typewriter artist experimented many hours with the various characters before he started his painting. He estimates that he worked 400 hours in completing the art work.

  • Messely is typing his new work of art on a cotton cloth which will not deteriorate as fast as paper. Several panels will be combined in finished painting.

  • From a few feet away, the typewritten masterpiece looks like an exquisite tapestry. Variations in the characters and pressure of strokes produce shading.

  • Enlarged detail of the small area outlined above shows how individual characters produce the painting. There are about 180,000 strokes in work of art.

Sometimes arts really do become lost

31 Jul

When I came across the following article in the December 1930 issue of Popular Mechanics, I was intrigued:


The world is about to list another lost art, one that came into being less than half a century ago and yet is doomed to pass within a few short years. For Rudolph Blaschka, maker of the famous glass models of flowering plants in the Ware collection at Harvard University, has passed his seventy-third birthday and feels that he has few more working years ahead of him. And there is no one else in the world who knows how to make glass flowers like his. Many master workers have tried to duplicate the products of the art started by Leopold Blaschka, father of Rudolph, forty-five years ago. All of them have failed. For a Blaschka mode is as the flower itself; root, stalk and bloom are there in faithful detail.

Just recently, there arrived from the Blaschka studio at Hosterwitz, near Dresden, Germany, a consignment of twenty-five specimens representing the entire product of six years’ work by the artist-glassworker.    Perhaps another genius, capable of carrying on the work, will rise alter Rudolph Blaschka has passed on. He has promised to leave behind complete written details of how the glass is fused upon the tiny wires and how the coloring is attained. But Louis Bierweiler, who is devoting his life to the preservation and cataloging of the collection, as the Blaschkas have to it creation, points out that even with this detailed information at his command, it will take a most extraordinary person to add to the collection specimens worthy of a place beside the work of the two masters.

However, it turns out that was correct. The glass flowers of the Wade collection have become famous and would certainly on my “must see” list if I was visiting the American Cambridge. (If I was visiting the British Cambridge, I’d want to see my father’s college).

This from Wikipedia:

The Glass Flowers, formally The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, is a famous collection of highly-realistic glass botanical models at the Harvard Museum of Natural History at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

They were made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka from 1887 through 1936 at their studio in Hosterwitz, Germany, near Dresden. They were commissioned by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, founder of Harvard’s Botanical Museum, for the purpose of teaching botany, and financed by Goodale’s former student, Mary Lee Ware and her mother, Elizabeth Ware. Over 3000 models, of 847 different plant species, were made.

According to Rossi-Wilcox, the question people most often ask after seeing them is, “‘Where are the glass flowers?’ Because nobody can believe these are made of glass.”