For nearly a month now (I began construction on 22 October), I have been working on an armature for an elephant mask I am sculpting. This has been a massive learning experience for me because, although I have welded in the past, I have never built anything of this magnitude before.
The first hurdle crossed was the welding. I spent a day or so familiarizing myself with the equipment, an arc welder. Previously I had used a MIG welder which feeds wire continuously into onto the metal, creating the arc and filling the seam simultaneously. Arc welding (aka. Manual Metal Arc Welding, MMAW, or Stick Welding) uses a coated electrode which completes the circuit, creating the arc and consuming the rod during the welding process. Both processes are similar in concept, but I found the MIG welder to be easier to use because the real trick on stick welding is starting the arc.
I spent a day simply learning to start an arc with the stick welder and drawing weld lines on sheets of scrap. After that I figured I was ready to tackle my project.
My first step was to create the centerline of the elephant, basically the profile. Since this was the primary support beam, I used a thicker steel than the other pieces, approximately 5/8 inch square. I used brute strength and a pipe bender to get this into the shape I wanted. The next pieces defined the form of the head from a frontal view, minus ears. Then it was a matter of building a network of intermeshing pieces that defined the actual 3-D form of the elephant.
Although that was simple to write, it has taken me nearly a month to get close to completion. Each piece had to be bent and shaped by hand, either literally or with hammer and anvil, or both, and each piece was welded to the frame wherever it crossed or touched another. For the most part, I was winging it–I had an idea of what the finished armature would look like, but not enough to put it down on paper. The sketches I did do of the armature are pretty basic and I ended up deviating from them immensely.¬†The further I got though, the better I became at determining what was needed next.
The trunk was a particular pain. Each hoop was created using a Bending Roll, a hand cranked machine that was designed to bend sheet metal into tubes. Ours has been modified with some groves craved into the rolls that match different thicknesses of steel rods. The mechanism consists of three rollers arranged in a triangle. You feed the metal in between B and C and turn the crank. Each time the metal goes through, you raise the height of D just a little. The pressure thus exerted causes the metal to curve. In order to make a hoop or a tube, you need to pass the metal through multiple times, over and over and over and over again. A bit tiring and tedious.
The base for the temporary support which you can see on the floor in photo 08, was created using a Tube Roller, another manual machine that works on the same principal, but is designed to create circles from pipes, tubes and other elongated pieces of metal. This one also requires you¬†to pass the metal through multiple times, over and over and over and over again. Also tiring and tedious.
My next step is to stabilize it and remove the temporary supports. Initially, I had toyed with the idea of using the rolled L-Beam as an extension of the trunk, curling around behind the mask and providing support and stability. After getting that in place, I realized that it was too long to be part of the trunk and to flexible to provide the stability I wanted. So I scratched that idea and went back to my original thought of using a sheet steel base that is welded to the trunk. This should provide enough stability and inflexibility to support this beast.
After that I will begin on the skin. For this I am currently planning on using the plaster buildup method. First I will cover the armature with chicken wire to provide a denser surface, and then cover it in plaster-soaked burlap (or hessian as they call it here). After that a couple of coats of plaster will allow me to give it the details and final form.
But more on that later….