Paul Geromini

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Saturday 18 April 2015

Melting Metal:Attempt 2

When last I attempted this I was met with a decided lack of success. Whether it was a faulty microwave or a generally bad plan I will not pass judgement. Luckily, I was groomed to be stubborn and one failure was not going to dissuade me from my dream of controlling intense heat.

Thus we arrive at attempt two (try one):

What are we looking at here? My very own homemade foundry with a hairdryer for a bellows. Instructions courtesy of this youtube video. The general idea here is, put a bunch of coals in the foundry, turn on the blower, and hope it gets hot enough. The results were again disappointing. After about half an hour the foundry was at about "hamburger grilling" temperature and the zinc block still resolutely solid. I needed to get to, "melt your hand" temperature and that did not happen. Another failure, but an instructive one. This leads us to attempt two (try two):

For the first try with the foundry I had not filled it with coals, using only a conservative six coals or so. This time I could really amp the number up so I packed in as many as I could which was 21. I accomplished this by reducing the size of the crucible from a stainless steel pet food bowl to a tall shot glass. I also significantly increased the air flowing into the foundry by replacing the hair dryer with a leaf blower. The results were impressive:

And this was on the low setting. It is hard to see clearly, but there is a very hot glow from the foundry this time. The difference in heat and noise was immediate when I turned the blower on. With the hair dryer, the heat was tepid at best. With the leaf blower there was very much a fiery roar. Looking in from the top, the coals were glowing with heat within a few minutes. A marked difference from last time. The heat pouring out the top was, in the words of a person who never looked at a thesaurus, very hot. Worryingly, I found a part of glass blown out from the foundry. Regardless, I let the whole thing run for about ten minutes. After I turned off the blower, the sound died down and I took a look. Upon removing the lid I came to a few conclusions:

1. The coals looked like moon rocks.

2. I could not find the glass.

Digging around a bit I eventually found what was left of the glass:

Yes it seems I put too much faith in the $2.09 Walmart glass purchase I had made. Looking online it says glass does not melt until 1000-1500 degrees, but it could become malleable around 700-900 degrees. Since 787.2 degrees is the melting point of zinc, the metal I was trying to melt, this was not good. Lesson learned the hard way, do not use a glass crucible next time. What of the zinc though? I too was perplexed until I dug to the bottom of the foundry and saw it had pooled at the bottom as a liquid. Yes, sweet success never felt so hot. Moving quickly we were able to pour it into a coffee can and then to the mold. The liquid was so hot it burnt the label off the can, but thankfully the can was stout enough to not melt itself.

You can see the bottom of the mold was not good enough as the metal pooled out, but the general shape is there. I would call this a success.

What did we learn?

1. Glass is not a good crucible.

2. 21 coals and a leaf blower is enough to get 800 or so degrees of heat. I honestly did not expect it to get so hot. I really must get a IR Temperature Gun to see how hot I can get it. Also would be interesting to see if I can get the same results with less coals.

3. I need a bigger foundry cover. A number of embers slipped out via the edges and we had to constantly put out small fires and keep the ground around it wet. This should not be too hard to do, I can just add on to the cover I already have.

4. I need a better mold, with a better seal on the bottom. Perhaps investigate these sand molds on the same youtube channel.

Overall, it took three tries, but after some tweaks I got it. I look to make some improvements and give it another shot. You can find a few more photos in the album.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Melting Metal:Attempt 1

A little while ago I read a how to on melting metal in a microwave. So having more money and time than sense I figured it was worth a shot.

First I needed some safety equipment for this job:

Here we have some metal tongs for grabbing the dish the metal is going to melt in, some gloves that can hold hot things, and a face guard to prevent molten meal from showering my pretty boy looks.

Now here is the general setup:

Microwave plenty of distance from anything that can catch fire, safety equipment ready to go, and a fire extinguisher in case things get out of hand. As per the instructions I fashioned a brick kiln in the microwave. The brick under the steel bowl is silicon carbide and should provide a nice hot surface to warm the bowl.

In addition I sealed off the entry and exit vents of the microwave to try and get the inside as hot as possible. We do not want our hot air flowing out the back.

Bricks with holes in them was not ideal, but it was what I had to work with. The metal to melt is zinc:

Yup, I hand cut that with a hacksaw and it took a ton of time to do. The melting temperature of zinc is 786.2°F. Supposedly the max temperature you can achieve using this microwave strategy is 900°F-1000°F so it should be possible to get the metal up to melting temperature. Fumes from molten zine are relatively harmless, but if you breathe too much it is possible you can get metal fume fever. The long term effects are negligible, at most it seems to produce flu like symptoms for a few days. Here is a material safety data sheet if you want to know more. Of course we are going to need a mold for our molten metal:

A bit rough, but should work. This mold is made out plaster of paris with wood blocks to give the plaster a form to mold around. Of course I broke it getting the wood out so its been put back together and secured with a rubber band. Nothing else to do but fire it up and wait. I turned on the microwave for about an hour and here is the result:


I was unable to achieve a high enough temperature. The metal and bricks were certainly too hot to handle, but I had no temperature gauge so I have no idea how off from the melting point I was. A couple things contributed to this failure:

1. After 30 or so minutes the microwave front became loose reducing its ability to build up heat inside.

2. I did not make a full kiln with the bricks, and the bricks I did have had holes in them making it harder to build up heat in there.

3. The microwave I was using was $5 and was made in 1993, it is possible it just does not have enough power to build up the heat I need. Over time the magnetron inside the microwave will weaken based on how much use the microwave gets. Since I have no idea how intensively this 21 year old microwave was used this may or may not have started to happen.

4. It was quite a hefty chunk of zinc. Perhaps things would work better if I had a smaller block.

So things were a bit of bust, but I have not given up yet. I may try again once I get some more bricks to build a better kiln. A better microwave might be found at a yard sale or I might try doing this the old school way with charcoal. It might also be good to try and get a baseline for this by melting something with a really low melting point like solder (370°F).

Sunday 29 June 2014

Prop Updates

Two quick prop updates from the workshop today. First I have attached a strap and inner padding to the Cadian helmet:

The inner padding makes things much more comfortable. I hot glued velcro to the helmet interior which the pads bind to so they are adjustable to a degree. It also makes the helmet sit a little higher on my head giving me a clearer line of sight. The strap helps cut down on the helmet rolling around on my head, which is still a minor issue, but it has been mostly mitigated.

Still some issues with craters on the helmet. Trying to level things out with some wood filler and spackling paste. Results are mixed, but still investigating.

Next up I attached a handle to my chainsword.

Not exactly canon, but it makes it easier to carry around. It is just some cheap chain and a red painted dowel. Seems sturdy enough, but I have my doubts it will last long. Also the chain gets tangled up sometimes, have to work on securing it so that does not happen.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Purity Seal Revision The Third

Finished some purity seals today. I think I really accomplished my goals this time which makes sense as it generally takes three times for the normal mind. First here is the general look I am shooting for:

The general structure is a wax seal at the top with some symbol of the Imperium (Aquila, skull, equipment, etc) and about a two inch wide cloth scroll about 10 inches long featuring a prayer of some sort. It is a sign that the wearer is of pure faith (untainted by chaos) and is fully devoted to the Emperor and by extension the Imperium. I like to make them as they are good gifts for people who recognize my cosplay. However, if I am giving out a lot of these seals I need a good mass production solution. It is no good to me to make just one or two really nice seals. I need to make a lot. My first two revisions predate the blog's creation so this post, while motivated by finishing a third revision, will be talking about all the versions I have made.

Lets look at how all three versions line up:

Version one on the left, two in the middle, three on the right.

Revision One

The first seal was made with apple scented wax. It is a pleasant scent and very vibrant. I made it by drilling out about a 2.5 inch diameter circle in a board of wood and filling the inside of the circle with tinfoil. Then I would pour the wax in. The wax itself I melted and mixed with hot glue. The idea being the wax and glue would cool together and strengthen the resulting disk. The actual paper is just lightly colored construction paper I printed some prayers on. The prayers I used have been attached at the bottom of this post. I hot glued the paper and a fastener to the back. On the front I used a wood burner to melt out the Cadian gate symbol and then I painted in the indentation with black paint.

This was a pretty decent first attempt. I achieved the general shape and look, but it has the feel of a cheap knockoff. Regardless it was easy to make. The glue on the back failed on a few of them, but for the most part it seems to hold things together well enough. The tinfoil mold method works, but the resulting seal is bumpy and not uniform enough. I made about 30 of these.

Revision Two

Three main changes in this revision. One, I used printable cloth this time for the scroll part. The scroll is cloth like in-universe so the purity seals are now more closer to reality. Two, the cloth started out white, but I stained it with some black tea to give it a more weathered look. I then burnt the edges using the stove to further this look. Three, I used slightly darker wax which I still mixed with hot glue. This color is less vibrant, but more in line with the actual purity seal look. Also of note, this version shows my first attempt to use a tuna fish can as a wax mold. Aside from it being incredibly difficult to remove the wax, the seal looks just a bit too big. I only made a few of this size, the rest I used the tinfoil method described previously.

This seal is a marked improvement over revision one. The cloth part makes it look much better. Further improvements to the molding process also made for a more uniform look. I made around 20 of these.

Revision Three

Two big changes in this revision. One, I stained the cloth much darker to be more in line with the in-universe examples. This was done by two successive tea stainings. Two, I was able to get a much nicer rounded seal by using a silicone muffin tray as my mold.

The silicone tray allows me to easily remove it once it is cooled and gives a very uniform circle.

Two small changes of note. One, the placement of the fastener on the back. Previously I placed the fastener in the middle of the seal. This unfortunately makes the seal flap around unnaturally when worn as it will rotate around the middle. Now I placed the fastener at the top of the seal which reduces the amount of flapping that happens when worn. Two, I abandoned the wood burner indentations and instead just painted the gate on freehand. I was a little concerned I would mess up a few times, but for the most part I exhibited a steady hand. This sped up the production process and did not noticeably change the look.

Overall the darker scroll makes these seals look much better. Now that the seal itself is more uniform I would say this revision is much closer to the in-universe examples. I made 18 of these and am ready for Connecticon.

Future Revisions

Couple things I want to clear up in future revisions:

  1. I need some way to capture the lip around the edge of the seal. This happens because the seal image is stamped down. I have tried to stamp some seals in the past, but the results have been very poor.
  2. Hot gluing the fastener and scroll to the back of the seal is not sufficient. There is too high a rate of failure with this method, I will have to investigate other ways of attaching things.

Further images available at the gallery here.

Prayer Documents: PuritySealPrayers2 PuritySealPrayers1

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Two New Projects

Last convention of the year coming up soon so it is time to start considering new projects for next year. I am looking to do two costumes this year:

  1. Vostroyan Firstborn
  2. Anatoray Soldier

Vostroyan Firstborn

A Vostroyan Firstborn is a type of Imperial Guard unit that looks like this:

I have already done two Cadian costumes and while it may be tempting to try and shoot for perfection with the third one I am looking to try something a little different.

Areas I am looking to improve in with this project:

  • Armor quality. The Kasrkin armor (latest project) was a step up from the Cadian Shock Trooper (first project), but there is still some room for improvement here. Specifically I am hoping to achieve a more rigid form for the armor plates. Either I will use the foam method I used the last two times, but this time with a fiberglass mat backing, or I will try some form of cast. Units of this type can have limited armoring (the example photo is probably the high end of the scale) so it will not be too prohibitive to iterate a couple versions.
  • Costume sewing. Seems odd I have ignored this problem set with my past projects. I was able to get away with it before as the actual cloth part of my past projects have been pretty basic (read: able to find good matches online). This unit type however has a far more intricate coat which I think will have to be custom done.
  • The overall costume has a lot more doodads than the Cadian ones which should be a good chance to work improving my poor detail skills
  • The Vostroyan Lasgun show here:

Is more intricate than the last gun I made. Prime chance to take what I learned from the last lasgun construction and make a more detailed/complicated piece. Probably will stick with the medium-density fibreboard I used last time or get something with a bit more prominent wood grain. Also prime chance to practice my paint skills.

Anatoray Soldier Last Exile was one of my first animes and also one of my favorites (correlation?). It follows that I would like to try and pay homage to it by making a costume of one of the faction's soldiers. Here is a good example of one:

Areas I am looking to improve in with this project:

  • Sewing. No way about it the jacket will have to be custom. Hopefully I will be able to find a pattern to work with before I go off script. The actual uniform looks pretty basic so it should be within my skill set as long as I have some guidance.
  • Custom hat. The hat is a bit different than the Cadian helmet as it is mostly cloth, but seems to be a logical progression to work on next.
  • The Anatoray rifle shown here (obscured, but gives a good sense of scale):

represents an interesting challenge. Construction should be relatively straightforward as it has a simple mass produced look to it which is in line with my past projects. The real issue is in transportation. The height alone makes this difficult. The final product will have to come apart somehow so that it is at least manageable to move around. Should be an interesting challenge.

I am looking forward to many months of crushing disappointment pursing this work. Stay tuned to watch me post the results of my crushed dreams.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Cadian Helmet Complete, Mostly

Finished the helmet for the most part today. If you have forgotten what got us to this point please see my previous post. Couple of tiny things I will look to address, but I would say the bulk of the work is complete. Objectives for this post: look at the final piece, give a brief overview of the final steps, critiques, discuss some possible future work, and offer some project conclusions.

Final Piece

Here is a shot from the front and the back:

More images over at the gallery.

Finishing Steps

When last we met I had sanded smooth, as best I could, the bondo covering the top of the helmet. Still there were a number of craters where the bondo did not quite fill in enough. So I did another layer of bondo and sanded that down again. This did not help much. I still had a lot areas where it never quite smoothed out. Furthermore, the more attempts I made at sanding things out the worse it seemed to get. Similar to Father Ted.

I would sand too much and get rid of all the bondo, or too little and it would be inconsistent with other areas. So where does that leave us? A Helmet that is mostly smooth, but has some craters and some jagged edges all over the place. I tried two solutions with mixed results:

1. Fill the craters with white glue. This did not work. The glue just evaporated out of the crater and did not fill it.

2. Fill the craters with hot glue. Almost all of my projects end up defaulting to using hot glue at some point. This was moderately successful in filling in the craters, but should be done sparingly as it was easy to use too much and end up with a worse problem.

Even doing that it is still clearly not smooth in some areas, but I continued anyways as it was good enough. I applied two coats of primer to prep it for painting. Then I used some generic olive paint (same color as the Kasrkin armour) to cover the whole thing. For the Imperial Guard insignia on the front and the unit number on the back I used plain white. To finish everything off I covered it in a clear matte lacquer to protect everything from chipping.


  1. Not smooth. While this is a critique normally applied to my character, try as I might I was not able to get the helmet as smooth as you would expect a helmet to be. Although I do not have a time breakdown I would say after assembling the paper model most of time was spent bonding and sanding trying to get things to look nice. I think it looks ok as it is, but close inspection reveals a number of imperfections. Like lions at the zoo, the helmet looks best from a distance.
  2. The Imperial Guard insignia on the front is not mirrored correctly. Not sure what went wrong here, the wings of the symbol are sized different even though they were originally not. Perhaps this can be fixed by improving the paint job on the front.
  3. The Imperial Guard insignia needs eyes. I tried a couple times to add eyes to the skull, but the results were unspeakable awful. Right now that is beyond my meager paint detailing skills.
  4. Inside of helmet not smooth. Not a huge issue, but some of the fiberglass mats have solidified into some quite sharp stalactites that should be smoothed out. Should be mitigated once I install some padding.
  5. Sizing issue. People always said I had a big head and it shows trying to get this helmet on. It does fit and I can wear it, but it scratches the sides my head while trying to put it on. Also, if you remember, I had to hack out some of the back out to get it to fit in the first place. I have to be more careful in the future to find these issues earlier.

Future Work

  1. Install a strap. Looking at some strap options now, hopefully something that will screw in easily to the helmet itself. Probably something I should have done before the bonding.
  2. Install padding on the inside. Definitely need to get the inside comfortable if I plan on wearing it for awhile. I have some excess EVA foam lying around, or I could pick up some helmet inserts.
  3. Make better Skull Eyes.

Project Conclusions

This was my first attempt working with a resined paper model and the results are a bit of mixed bag. The end result is acceptable, but far from good. I remain unconvinced of the need to bondo the top. I deferred to the advice of the tutorial I was following, but I think I gained little from it. Structurally the helmet shell seemed rigid enough for use, and after applying the resin, it was smooth enough to work with. The bondo did provide a nice armour like layer on top, but cost too much time to sand down and was too difficult to work with. Maybe I was too hasty and should have stuck with it more, but it seemed like I spent increasing amounts of time for decreasing gains. So, like most of my projects, there are nuggets of good work to be found embedded deep amongst the rest of the shoddy construction.

Monday 12 May 2014

The State of the Cadian Helmet

I mentioned I would talk about this as it is a work in progress. Objectives for this post:

  • Explain what I hope to accomplish.
  • Briefly cover the work up to now.
  • Discuss future work and improvements.

The End Result

Lets look at what an ideal final product would look like:

Pretty cool, but there are a couple tough elements to replicate.

  1. The sides of the helmet reach down much further than a modern day military helmet.
  2. The Imperial Guard logo on the front is pretty detailed and I have always been rubbish with intricate work like this.
  3. There are three rectangular side bits.

These reasons make it tough to just buy and modify an existing helmet so that was out. This is why I started from scratch with a paper model.

Materials and Construction

The general idea is to take a 3d model from a game (in this case Space Marine - RELIC) and 'unfold it' so that the 3d model is reduced to its constituent 2d elements. Lucky for me someone did this already with the helmet I want to make. You can find the file here. You will need some free software like Pepakura Viewer to view the file. The end result of all this is you print out a bunch of sheets that in total look like this:

I used cardstock (heavy paper) to print out all the shapes. Then you have to put this together based on the fold lines and the 3d model you can see in Pepakura. I used hot glue to piece everything together. It is generally easy until you come to a piece like this:

Complicated Cadian Helmet Fold

You ever seen I Borg from TNG? Where the crew is thinking of sending an indiscernible shape back to the Borg collective to destroy them. Borg would be toast trying to process this thing. After about a weekend of time you get something that looks like this:

Gallery here.

Its a neat look and it is probably the hardest part of the project. Next I covered the whole thing with fiberglass resin (inside and out) and then covered the inside with fiberglass mat. The mat is coated with resin and bonds with the inside of the helmet to form a hard shell. Couple of quick pointers on this process:

  1. Work with small batches or you will end up having the resin turn solid before you can use (re: the 20 bones worth of resin wasted on the Kasrkin project).
  2. For goodness sake MAKE SURE THE HELMET FITS BEFORE USING THE RESIN OR MAT. I did not do this and that is why I had to hack out the bottom portion of the helmet so I could actually wear it.

After you do all the resin go over the helmet finding streaks of dried resin. Sand these out so everything is smooth. You will end up with something like this:

Gallery here.

Then apply a layer of bondo. This should hopefully give the helmet a nice smooth look and provide additional strength to the outside shell. This is what I ended up with:

Gallery here.

Yes it looks ugly, you sand all that off. Get a power sander. Your time is too valuable hand sanding. This is the stage I am at now and here is what it is looking like:

Gallery here.

Next Steps

Couple problems I encountered:

  1. Not sure I went to light overall on the bondo or just to heavy in places, but while sanding it is uneven in places.
  2. The logo on the front is not quite right. Right side is not mirroring the left, needs more sanding.
  3. There are a bunch of places where the there are little bondo craters.
  4. The bits that jut out the front are not quite finished.

Unsure how I want to proceed. I would like to fix the front tabs and smooth out things a bit more. I could do another layer of bondo, but I am concerned about the helmet weight and I would like to avoid adding more if possible. I could try and fill in all the craters with regular white glue, but not sure how well that will stand up to general wear. I could do another layer of resin, but again concerned about the weight. Might be light enough to justify though.

After the helmet is sufficiently smooth I will paint it and add some eva foam padding on the inside so I can actually be a bit comfortable wearing it.

Will update as project continues.