While I’ve been working only with wood for the past year or two (well, and some stained glass) I’ve always been more of a “metal guy”. I got hooked on customized cars as a kid, and growing up in the rust belt it made sense to be able to fashion patches for cars and weld them in. My buddies were all “engine guys”, so I gravitated to metal fab — probably to annoy them.
Over the years I’ve done bits of different kinds of metal work, but my main focus was always forming shapes in sheet metal. Today there was a local meet up of similar minded folks and I decided to join in. It was a fun day, with some interesting demos, and it helped detox me from the Powerpoint presentation I was up until midnight completing for my boss. If anything is the absolute opposite of creative endeavors, it’s Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint decks.
The event was hosted by John Forbes. Interestingly, John is a renowned stained glass artist, his business is Bonney Doon Art Glass. His shop space is really interesting, it uses bits of architectural salvage in it’s construction. I was able to see the metal shop and some of the glass shop, but not the tower addition. Maybe another day.
There were easily 50 people at the event, probably twice the number since the last time I attended one of these. That made it a little over-subscribed for my tastes, but there were some great demos during the day and a nice lunch was provided. I ran into several friends.
Part of why I was drawn to attending this year is I have a metal project in mind that I will probably start on soonish. I’ve always been fascinated with the hammered copper Arts & Crafts lamps like those fashioned by Dirk van Erp in the early 1900s. I’d like to recreate one of those. That a project for another day though, I’ve got my hands full for the moment.
I’ll post pictures from two of the demos. The first demo was by Don Houseman, who owned a metal fab shop in Watsonville for many years called Mercury Metals. Don has a commission to create six accurate reproductions of an air cleaner from an early Alfa Romero. He demonstrated some good techniques for making patterns and hammer forming parts. He also talked about making press forming dies using a special low-temperature melting metal called Kirksite. It melts at a bit over 700 degrees and can be easily cast. When cooled it has incredible strength and can be used to produce “short run” tooling. In this context, “short run” is tens of thousands or more impressions.
Another demo was done by my pal Ron Covell. Ron demonstrated shaping an aluminum sheet to fit a wooden “buck”. When doing prototype or one-off car body fabrication you need a “target” to work to. Something that represents the shape you want to produce. In this case, Ron has a form made from plywood that represents the major contours of the part he wants to produce. This is a “track roadster nose” for a hot rod body, something Ron’s made many variations on over the years. This one ends up being six separate aluminum parts that are individually shaped and fit to the buck, then welded together and the seams hammered and ground. When completed it looks like it was stamped from a giant sheet.
In the demo Ron showed making a pattern for the top middle piece of the shell, and forming the part using a mechanical shrinker and an English wheel.
The event really gave me the “itch” to do some metal projects. I’m finish the Greene & Greene cabinet (and finish re-growing my fingertip), and then try and work some metal jobs into the plan with the bookcase for my wife and other projects I want to do.